By Cristian Cernov and Tatiana Erukhimova
With support from the American Physics Society, we started Real Physics Live. Since then, our 14 person team composed of Texas A&M undergrads, grads, and one faculty member has produced over 20 high-quality videos, which you can view at our website: realphysicslive.com
Needless to say, Real Physics Live has been a dramatic success! The videos are not only educational but also entertaining, exuding excitement and curiosity. The effort and time students and contributors put into writing the scripts, acting, and editing the videos clearly shows. Our flagship physics festival and outreach programs are geared towards in-person experiences and Real Physics Live allows us to make our plethora of demonstrations available for everyone!
Our videos are viewed by people of all ages belonging to the general public with the mean age range of middle to high school, which was our intended audience. We tried to make videos using a variety of equipment that are not traditionally available in high schools, such as liquid nitrogen, infrared videography, superconducting trains, and flammable methane bubbles!
Due to our choice of demonstrations, the videos are loved by all age groups ranging from children to Texas A&M physics professors. Given the pandemic and remote learning, some professors even show our videos in class to demonstrate complex physics concepts they would normally exhibit in person. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the students involved.
The student experience and involvement with Real Physics Live is the main driving force for our commitment to putting out quality videos. Student team members get practice elucidating complex topics to age groups with no prior experience in physics. This is arguably the hardest task any physics educator tackles on a consistent basis. Real Physics Live provides students an opportunity to elocute topics they normally wouldn’t touch as a Teaching Assistant in a traditional introductory physics course. To take advantage of this opportunity, students write scripts that unpack these difficult to explain concepts into easy to understand visual demonstrations. The best part is that this process is team-driven, and no student involved considers it laborious or tedious, indeed it’s quite the opposite!
The process begins when a student electively decides to write a script that incorporates a chosen demonstration. The script is posted in a shared drive and edited by the group during a collaborative meeting. Upon gathering, we constructively critique the script and arrive at a final version that presents the demonstration the most effectively, and with a strong sense of humor of course.
Credit is overwhelmingly due to our media director, Martin Hinojosa, who has ample experience creating storyboards, adapting scripts, and editing videos. Martin brings in needed expertise from the educational technology and visualization departments at Texas A&M that we here at the physics department desperately needed for this endeavor. Upon deciding on a script, we then present it to Martin so that he can form a storyboard, decide on the lighting required, and what location would be ideal for the filming. Some locations are obvious, for example when we filmed “Home Run Acoustics” detailing the acoustics of a baseball bat it made perfect sense to film at the university baseball field, and even get the baseball team involved! It was also important for the rest of us to exhibit patience when a video was being edited since the process of editing is by far the most time-consuming element of video creation. Our patience was always rewarded with outstanding quality from Martin and his work with our video narrator Morgan Nasser.
Another key element of our videos is having an ambitious narrator such as our own physics graduate student Morgan. When reading the final version of the scripts we would always have Morgan and Martin there to get a sense of the tone of the narration. When a storyboard was finished, the tone of the narration of the script had to be attributed to each scene with abundant humor and appropriate inflections. As a group, we would listen to Morgan recite the script as he would when he narrates into the microphone for the final product. This would help us also get a feel for how we would act during each scene and how long each scene would take.
The acting was by far the most relaxing and enjoyable part of the video-making process. Relaxing sounds counterintuitive, but the students already had Martin’s storyboard and Morgan’s narration of the script in mind making the acting process a breeze. Getting behind the camera may have been intimidating for the very first time, but upon the realization that students were surrounded by friends and colleagues, the acting came as naturally as explaining a concept to a younger brother or sister.
All in all, Real Physics Live has been a blessing during this trying time. Having an online repository of videos and demonstrations has been helpful for our learning process as we have all mostly gone to remote teaching. Thanks to the support of APS, our process and experience with Real Physics Live has also transcended into our teaching methodology and has improved the way we communicate with students online. In the end, the most important thing is that it’s fun!