Moving to the Moon

That’s not the promise that some of you would have hoped for, but a UK Space Agency funded project I’ve been involved with alongside my colleagues at Discover Materials. Let me tell you about it, and what I’ve learned from my time in the process.

Imagine you are wishing to build a moon base; what materials would you take with you? Think in the wider scope about what lightweight, low density, strong materials you’d want to create buildings with, or what you’d need for ultraviolet light protection for the visor of your suit. And how would you get there?

Pupils would discover things about material science, engineering and maths through a series of eight experiments, all included in a lovely box along with booklets and online videos for teachers to use on the chalkface.

I was brought in to make a single video with two In2Science students, Idiris and Dorina over two days. Day one resulted in us scripting what would become the first mission, and on day two they filmed it. Dorina was insistent she didn’t want to present, so became the director by default. We completed an assembly cut by the end of day two, and then I took over a little post-production; adding ‘the rocket of progess’ to let kids know how far through the task they were, and ‘pause triggers’ for teachers to begin discussions and activities. This is what they produced:

I think they did great; especially for people who had never done this kind of thing before! Plus, we had an amazing time. There are hilarious stories to tell about how Idiris draws his ‘fours’, and how Dorina went off on a power trip, getting Idiris to repeat perfectly good shots, ‘just because she could’. If you want to check out the behind the scenes footage, you can see it here:

This video set the standard for others to follow around the country as they tackled the videos for the other seven challenges, something they found presented some issues.

Science Communication and filmmaking aren’t things that people can ‘just do’; there are lots of things to consider and even professionals find themselves making mistakes. This message may have become evident when other Discover Materials ambassadors were invited to create video content. It was made especially difficult for people to even start, as some elements had already been decided before they were consulted. For instance, while a noble idea, each challenge had been given the title of a famous woman from science and related fields. I liked this very much, until I realised that the women presented often had no link whatsoever to the topic of the challenge they were named after.

So the first thing scriptwriters had to do was force a link into the narrative. That is enough to put off even a determined volunteer, before they have even cast an eye over the complexities of filming a decent quality instructional video, that is pedagogically sound and appropriate in the classroom. That meant that few people volunteered to make videos and it fell to just a handful of people to do it on top of all their other commitments.

Did this impact on the quality of videos? You bet! When you view the playlist, you will see that the videos all begin the same, but they are different in many ways. That similarity is largely due to the fabulous work of illustrator Emma Falconer. Would I have liked this to become a showreel? Sure I would. But in order to do that I would have liked to have been engaged as a freelance creative at an earlier stage. I could then have had control of the filming schedule and quality. These challenges are what occurs when a well-intentioned academic forges ahead based on little more than, ‘I’ve had a great idea’ without first bringing onboard a scientist and creative to a project that requires their input.

Am I proud of what outputs I contributed to? Yeah, I suppose I am, but primarily because I learned so much in the process and I had a great time working with the people I’ve met. I’ve also realised that I’m wanting to do more narrative-based filmmaking, being much less overtly instructional and ‘resource-like’ . So, I’m heading out this evening to have a chat with my long term buddy, who I suspect is wanting to do the same. We’ve lots to pick up and plan.