Neuroscientists Turn Research Paper Into Music Video: Is This A New Impact Factor For Scientists?


The Smith Lab is a Neuroscience lab at Stanford University named after Professor Stephen J Smith. The lab have developed a technique known as Array Tomography. This involves preserving tissue samples, creating ultrathin slices which are then imaged and integrated into a computer generated 3-dimensional representation of the original tissue. The researchers have turned one of the papers into a music video on YouTube. The video is shown above and illustrates the incredible complexity of the mouse cortex but in a way that is aesthetically appealing.

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words but how much true is this of  a video? When the message is communicated so effectively then complementing it with the right music has the potential to create a scientific icon – scientific knowledge embedded in the multimedia fabric of culture. Unwrap one layer of material and there is a jewel of timeless knowledge contained within. Imagine the scientist toiling away in the laboratory for decades. The findings are important but subtle and difficult to communicate to anyone but the specialised community through the medium of the more esoteric academic publications.

What if that scientist had collated analyses from lots of data over that time? The essence of their results could be distilled into a few selected diagrams or videos of their experiments. Time lapse photography or images from specialised equipment would enable them to capture the fascination of the public and to share with them their joy in the research. Now imagine if the university campuses full of students forming their own bands and writing their own music fostered an environment where that talent and energy could be directed towards communicating the research the students themselves engage in.

Now take it a step further. What if there was a ready made funding stream for this research? Part of research grants are given to disseminate the results of research. What if professional musicians and film makers could be recruited to produce these videos for dissemination? Suddenly around the world there would be a combination of amateur and professional artists connecting people with scientific knowledge and generating a multimedia repository of scientific knowledge in parallel with the academic repository. Popular culture would increasingly feature the most iconic elements of this new scientific movement.

Scientists, laboratories, universities and funding bodies would have a new metric for assessing the impact of scientific research. The multimedia impact factor. How many YouTube views did the research paper get? At the time of writing the video above had 1472 views. Now as well as researchers and journalists citing the paper, the paper will be cited or shared by people who do not even speak the language the paper was written in. There may even be a new generation of popular scientists who find more success with these multimedia formats, communicating their own work directly to the public after it has passed through peer review. Such scientists may even help to steer science in the direction most needed by society offering a rapidly responsive societal anchor for the the scientific community.

The videos will generate interest in the other works of these scientists. After watching the video above, I looked at the other videos at the Smithlab. I looked at the Array Tomography technique that had been developed. I read about how the lab had been started by Professor Smith. This led me on to an array tomograph of an amyloid plaque from the brain of a person who had Alzheimer’s Disease.

Array Tomograph of Amyloid Plaque in a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease

The significant work of the Laboratory had become more accessible to me from that first video. The video had succeeded in a way no CV on the homepage ever could have. Is this a sign of things to come? With the flexibility of YouTube perhaps a movement will begin that will forever transform science and society – an increasing coordination between science and the humanities ushering in the era of the co-creator.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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