January 16, 2013 | 1
Cups, balls, paperclips, rubber bands, string, pens, a writing surface and your own body: these are the simple, commonly found ‘ingredients’ that we asked you to use as part of Scientific American’s Iron Egghead video contest. Could you explain a part, process or system of the human body using only these everyday implements and a video camera? We were burning to know.
In the end, one video entry stood out from the rest and persuaded our panel of expert judges that it deserved the title of Iron Egghead. That honor goes to The Adrenal Glands by Raluca Ellis, Mike Ellis, Jason Lee, Dorea Reeser and Nigel Morton. The team consists of, respectively, a Harvard scholar, a comic book writer and artist, a digital producer, a Ph.D. student from the University of Toronto and “a good boyfriend who didn’t know what he was getting himself into,” writes co-creator Raluca Ellis.
Using quick cuts, brilliantly over-the-top acting and clever stop-motion graphics, the video explains how the adrenal glands work and the negative (and sometimes messy) impact they can have upon our modern lives. Perched on top of the kidneys, the adrenal glands pump out hormones in response to stress, which we experience as the “fight or flight” response.
The Adrenal Glands is only two minutes long and breeze to watch, which doesn’t betray the effort involved. According to Raluca Ellis, the video took several days to produce: they brainstormed a topic, wrote and edited a script, all leading up to very long day building props, recording scenes, laughing and eating vegan burritos. “After many hours (and possibly a bit of stress done on our adrenal glands) the day was done, and we knew we had something that we would be very proud of: a video that could educate, inform and entertain young minds and budding scientists!”, Ellis writes.
Here are some positive things that our judges had to say about The Adrenal Glands:
“I thought The Adrenal Glands was by far the best on multiple grounds, including the quality of the acting, its use of humor, its attention to detail and its appropriate use of the props. All in all, it got its message across very effectively.” —John P. Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“I really enjoyed the adrenal gland video. It had all the hallmarks of a great video: short, to the point, well-edited and produced, good sound, great use of props and people, it was entertaining and educational. I would love to watch more videos produced by this team.” —Kirsten “Kiki” Sandford, science media personality and a specialist in learning and memory.
“Adrenal Glands was the hands down winner for me. Not only did the team elegantly and creatively incorporate all of the required props into their story, they revealed the inner workings of an important body system with clarity and pizazz. In two minutes we learn what the adrenal gland is, why we have them, how they work, and even, through some Oscar worthy performances, get to experience what they do. Thanks to this, I’ll be rethinking my graphics budget…from now on it’s just paper, rubber bands, and cups. Highly original and a pleasure to watch.” — Chad Cohen, Emmy-award winning science documentary producer.
One other video entry deserves an honorable mention: The Eyes of Have It by Reggie Chambers, Jen Hernandez, Heather Marr and Nick Spicher of the Science Factory came in a close second. The video makes ingenious use of the props to explain the intricate workings of the muscles of the eye. “The Eyes Have It had it by a nose for me, because the explanations were clear, easy to follow, and made perfect use of the materials allowed by the Iron Egghead contest,” writes Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health and adjunct professor at New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.
Thank you to our partner SciVee for hosting Iron Egghead and to all of our judges and contestants for taking part. Everyone who entered will receive a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American magazine.
For more science explainer videos, be sure to check out our ongoing Instant Egghead series here.