What is Alzheimer’s Disease? How do neurons talk to each other? What’s the big deal with CRISPR?! Welcome to Basically Science, where we are covering the basics of basic science. This upbeat educational video series is intended to entertain, engage, and empower viewers by breaking down intimidating science topics and showing how they apply to foundational “basic” bioscience research.
In less than 90 seconds, Basically Science addresses seemingly simple yet surprisingly complex topics from neuroscience, cell biology, immunology, general biology and science research.
Establishing building blocks for future discovery, for 20 years the Allen Institute has been dedicated to answering fundamental questions about how life and disease work by studying the building blocks of the brain, body, and immune system. The data we collect and the resources we generate are openly available to scientists and educators worldwide.
Basic science is not always flashy, but it is monumentally essential for speeding the pace of discovery. Compared to disease research, communicating the value of basic science to a non-scientific audience can be challenging when that future impact is not obvious.
The ultimate objective of this series is to showcase the value of basic research through frequently asked bioscience questions while leveraging the backdrop of the Allen Institute and our friendly subject matter experts.
Nostalgically inspired by science shows like The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy, we sought to make complex, foundational bioscience fun and approachable while not compromising on accuracy. We invested time and creativity into entertaining first and educating second with the help of sound effects, zippy graphics, and energized acting. Ideation and vision boarding for this series began in January 2023, and we launched the first two videos, focused on neuroscience topics, during Brain Awareness Week in March 2023.
Stylistically we leaned into 90’s nostalgia. From bucket hats and butterfly clips to blocky/bubble font, 90’s retro is having a moment in pop culture, especially with our target audiences: Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X.
Preproduction for each video involved several steps and multiple stakeholders. First, the digital content team and the education and engagement team aligned on topic ideas that both appeal to our social media community and support the science curriculum needs of our educator community.
Next, the digital content team worked with scientists and researchers to develop a video outline and shot list. We identified hooks to engage viewers, key talking points, filming locations, logistics, supporting media assets, and b-roll. We also took care in preparing our talent for filming day including what to expect, what to wear, and earned their trust that we would make them look and sound their best.
Production for each video included: location scouting, gear setup and testing, printed cue cards, and behind-the-camera cheerleading to ensure our talent felt comfortable and confident. In scrappy, non-profit style, most video content is filmed on smart phones with a tiny wireless microphone. We used a ring light, natural light, and beautiful film locations to make the science come alive through our iPhone cameras. From stunning workplace views to dry ice clouds to sections of human brain tissue – we looked for any and all opportunities to visually bring science to life and uplevel the production value during filming.
During postproduction, we applied stylistic brand elements, cuts and sounds, sourced b-roll and other assets from our internal collection and used stock imagery. To support our educator community, we highlighted key vocabulary words and applied relatable and informative visual aids.
To make our videos as accessible as possible, we burned captions into all videos. Given that many people scroll social media without audio on, this also helped us engage more people.
Engaging with science can be intimidating for non-scientists or non-experts in a specific field. In Basically Science, there are no dumb questions. We hope that by exploring the “basic” questions with humor and enthusiasm, we can create a safe place for people to be honest about what they don’t understand - and then find joy in discovering the answers! With this series, users may come for the robots and lasers, but they leave with confidence and an appreciation that basic science is incredibly valuable for advancing discovery.
From March 14, 2023 to July 31, 2023, we published five videos as part of the series on TikTok, Twitter/X, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
In total, these five videos received:
61,600* | Total video views
140,630* | Total impressions
4,670* | Total engagements (likes, comments, shares)
* Rounded to the nearest 10
The reception to this video series has exceeded our expectations.
From the non-scientific lay audience, we squarely achieved our goals to educate under the guise of entertainment. Post likes, upbeat emojis, and tagging other accounts captured the positive engagement sentiment from this group.
From the science professional audience, we received thoughtful praise on our achievements in communicating complexities in style. A science writer on LinkedIn said “….these videos are great! Thanks for all your #SciComm and #SciEd efforts.” A neuroscience Postdoctoral Fellow commented “What a great way to communicate the basics of electrophysiology!”
From our staff, we received positive feedback from management, leadership, and our novice on-air talent. While we initially focused on the external perception of this series, we were delighted and surprised by the internal reception. Together with other science communication (SciComm) initiatives at the Allen Institute, researchers and scientists from all levels have been considerately appreciative of the opportunity to hone their own SciComm skills as part of this outreach campaign. Scientists who thought they were not cut out for social media videos were rightfully proud of how well they did.