Paul MacLellan introduces a video series that helps students connect with chemistry research


It is a difficult leap for school students considering a career in science to imagine how the concepts they are learning are relevant to cutting-edge research. Fortunately, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have produced a series of short videos that demystify the nature of chemistry research and highlight its relevance to students.

The site features videos of researchers at MIT, mostly graduate students and lab workers, explaining how their research links to textbook chemistry topics. There are two videos from each researcher: one about the science they are working on and one about their background and personal perspective on science. Currently the site features 24 videos from 12 researchers.

The science videos focus on how the fundamental concepts of chemistry – such as pKa, oxidation reactions, thermodynamics and hydrogen bonding – directly apply to the researchers’ field of study. Wisely, all of these videos are around three minutes long. Only in one or two cases does this limit feel restrictive; the majority of videos are well paced and very watchable.

Because of the priorities of the producers there’s a strong chemical biology focus in all the videos. Even physical chemistry concepts are shown in a biological context – for example, in medical imaging.

While these research-focused videos are well structured and relevant to students, the site’s best feature is the personal stories of the researchers. The scientists featured are chosen well – they are a diverse group and talk clearly about their inspirations and routes into science research. Young students interested in chemistry will not find it difficult to relate to the stories of at least a few of the researchers featured.

The video content presented on Behind the scenes at MIT is distributed under a Creative Commons license and has the added bonus of being hosted on MIT’s own video platform, so there are unlikely to be content restriction barriers to incorporating this resource into your own classroom teaching.