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Calling most existing videos of seminars “not visually engaging” and “very focused on just the latest data,” Vale says he set out to make videos that would keep the viewer's attention. One approach, derived from his collaboration with the UC Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center, is “chroma key” films—videos that can combine two overlaid images, such as of a researcher together with slides depicting his or her science.
Less than two years after its launch with four pilot videos, iBioSeminars—hosted on the Website of the American Society for Cell Biology—boasts 32 seminars on biology, and Vale has received positive feedback from numerous colleges in the United States and around the world.
Baker, at the University of Washington, is also taking advantage of the Internet to reach a diverse audience. He has developed an online game that challenges players to predict how a chain of amino acids will fold into a structured protein—a process that biologists have long struggled to master. Baker says his game requires little knowledge of science, as long as one follows directions and enjoys puzzles—not unlike playing with Rubik's Cube—and its players “range from 12 years old to well into retirement.”
To tailor the game for use in classrooms, Baker has been collaborating with local high school teachers to develop a new release that will let students design proteins for medical applications and learn about biology along the way.
Carroll, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is embracing television. The author of two books on evolution—Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Making of the Fittest—his project is to turn them into a NOVA documentary. The two-hour program will air in fall 2009, around the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and just a few months after Darwin's 200th birthday. “All the new developments in evolutionary science in recent years, plus the anniversaries, were compelling reasons to do something for 2009,” says Carroll.
The challenge of assembling video footage differs greatly from that of book writing, he concedes. “It has to be visually engaging. The idea of showing bacteria, yeast, and fruit fly after fruit fly would give filmmakers night sweats. A lot of the organisms that make for good research don't necessarily make for good television.”
Thus “any time I'm trying to explain something to somebody,” says Carroll, “whether they're my kids, students, a neighbor, or a colleague, I'm sort of in that mode—trying to decide what the appropriate level of detail is, where the hooks are, and what's really interesting.”