Two films and one short film series produced by HHMI’s Tangled Bank Studios and BioInteractive won awards at the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards. 

Two films and one short film series produced by HHMI’s Tangled Bank Studios and BioInteractive won awards for best journalism, short form, and video series at the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards. The awards, announced at a gala celebration on September 21 at the Harvard Art Museum in Boston, are given for visionary science storytelling. This year’s competition saw more than 500 entries vying for 25 special awards.

“[To win a Jackson Award] is an honor,” said Dennis Liu, Head of Educational Media and Outreach at HHMI. “We’ve been doing this work for years now, to fulfill our mission and to serve teachers. It feels great to get recognition from a different community of artists that our work also succeeds from a storytelling perspective,” he said.

Three films, one series, and one interactive media project were nominated for awards. Some of the films were developed for general audiences by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, a production company of HHMI that produces high-quality science films for the general public. Others were produced primarily for classroom use by HHMI BioInteractive. These nominations illustrate the dual mission of HHMI’s Educational Media group in educating both formal education and public audiences.

Vaccines: Calling the Shots won the Journalism category. It was also nominated for the Health & Medicine category. Produced by Australian filmmaker Sonya Pemberton, the film covers vaccines from scientific and public health perspectives. “We felt it was important to counteract the current of science denialism about vaccines with a film that not only presented accurate scientific information but also conveyed it in a way that was respectful of people who had questions about vaccines,” explained Laura Helft, Senior Manager for Public Outreach and Evaluation for HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. For example, the film debunks the myth that vaccines cause autism and highlights the many environmental and genetic factors that can influence the development of autism, which begins in the womb.

Moth Mimicry: Using Ultrasound to Avoid Bats and Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others, two short educational films primarily designed for use in the classroom, were nominated for the Short Form category. Moth Mimicry won the Short Form category, and is part of a “Scientist at Work” series that demonstrates what scientists do, how they think about problems, and how they design experiments. Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others illustrates fundamental ecological concepts: trophic cascades and keystone species, featuring the iconic work of ecologists Robert Paine and James Estes.

“These films tell thoroughly engaging stories, but also bring home key scientific concepts covered in high school and undergraduate science classes,” says Laura Bonetta, Director of Educational Media for HHMI BioInteractive. “To maximize the films’ impact, our strategy has been to also provide educators with various supplements, such as film discussion guides, interactive tutorials, and animations.”

Think Like a Scientist won the Short Form Series category. HHMI’s Educational Media Group and Nautilus magazine collaborate to produce this series. Each episode in the series features one scientist and one non-scientist, with the goal of showing how scientific approaches can inform our understanding of the world.

WildCam Gorongosa, nominated in the Interactive Media category, is a citizen science project whereby interested members of the public can help identify animals from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. More than 220,000 photos of animals taken by motion-activated trail cameras in the park need to be identified. Since the project’s launch in August 2015, more than 25,000 members of the public have participated, leading to more than 3.4 million image classifications (25 people classify each image to improve the accuracy of animal identification). The data helps the researchers in the park, who are interested in restoring the populations of Gorongosa’s large animals that were decimated by civil war in Mozambique.

A new feature of WildCam Gorongosa is an education platform called WildCam Lab where students can also download datasets to ask and answer questions of their own. “The idea was always to have some synergy between the formal education work and the public-facing work,” explained Liu.

Future projects will build upon this synergy between formal education and public outreach. HHMI’s Educational Media group has optioned Ed Yong’s recent book about microbiomes, I Contain Multitudes, and is currently developing a series of films inspired by the book. “Our model here is to create short pieces on various microbial universe stories. They will be dual purpose from the outset,” Liu said. “I am excited about short form and how much latitude and experimentation it allows us.”

HHMI’s Educational Media Group is comprised of BioInteractive and Tangled Bank Studios. BioInteractive, a resource for AP biology and college-level introductory biology teachers, has been in existence for more than 15 years and receives 2.5 million unique visitors per year through its website. Tangled Bank Studios, HHMI’s film production studio, launched in 2012.

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Jim Keeley 301.215.8858