During physics classes, Brady Haran used to look up at the periodic table and wonder what the more exotic elements were like. 19 years later this seed grew into what are now Periodic Videos and Sixty Symbols YouTube and Internet sites. These examine the whole Periodic table and the world of Physics, guided by Brady’s innate curiosity. I met Brady to discuss his work.
Brady had always intended to embark on a journalistic career and studied journalism for a year at university. He was then taken on board by The Adelaide Advertiser. But it was only after moving from Australia to the UK to work for the BBC that Brady was given the opportunity to work with film.
“They quite liked things I was doing and thought I should be making films for TV, so I was sent off to be trained as a video journalist. I always had a bend towards doing science stories.”
His strong passion for science saw him start a side project called ‘Test Tube’ through which he met Professor Martyn Poliakoff. Originally, the idea was to produce a long documentary.
“I was always of the mind that that [the documentary] was not the best way to go. Who would watch a 2-hour long film? So right from the start, I decided to put all my raw footage on Youtube.”
Brady began producing short filmlets which focused on how science works through the eyes of the scientists and followed discoveries as they happened. ‘Test tube’ transpired, which also spawned other projects, namely ‘Periodic Videos’ and ‘Sixty Symbols’, all of which have become huge online successes.
“If you want to deliver online videos, YouTube is the biggest and the best, but the videos are delivered in many different ways. A lot of people who watch the YouTube channel might not know about the actual website and vice versa.”
There is also a direct link from filmmaker to audience that would be missing if the videos were not available on YouTube. “I really like the community on Youtube” Brady commented.“It’s something that starts dialogues and is an active social community which allows for discussion about the ideas in the videos.”
I asked Brady if scientists received the videos well. “Every academic is different, some adopt the idea very readily some are indifferent and then later become very passionate. Most I think are really surprised how much they enjoy it and start to contact me with their own ideas.”
Brady’s videos quickly draw views; a video uploaded only an hour before we spoke had already earned nearly a thousand views and a very positive response.
“A lot say to me that by talking to me for 20 minutes, they are able to talk to more people than they have lectured to in their entire career.”
Not being part of the scientific community has given Brady the freedom to ask questions and shine an enquiring light on to complex topics without fear or preconception. “I’m not awed by titles or publications, I’m on the side of the viewers so I feel free to ask questions, for example if you were interviewing another scientist in their lab and they had a cool piece of kit you wouldn’t ask what it is as you’d already know, but I would be free to.”
What Brady and his project are doing has a far-reaching influence beyond the frivolous; as testament to such, when I watched the videos I wished I had done physics or whatever subject the video was on. “That’s because everything is interesting; you just have to find it.”