Nanotechnology: What is it, what can it do, what are the downsides, and how can we ensure it reaches its full potential?

Managing the Small Stuff. Also available in High Definition on Vimeo

The promise and challenges of nanotechnology is something I lecture on a lot.  And when I do, I’m inevitably asked for a copy of the slides.  But here I have a problem: I have a rather idiosyncratic lecture style that moved on from the 3-bullet point PowerPoint straitjacket some years ago—which is great for the live performance, but lousy when it comes to handing out intelligible PDF’s of the talk.

So with the help of my trusty Mac and YouTube, I’ve been experimenting with other ways to capture the essence of these lectures.  The video above is the first result—a short primer on nanotechnology:

First, let me stress that this is an experiment… I’m not sure whether it succeeds in conveying anything useful about nanotechnology, or whether it ends up being rather crass and unintelligible.  But I would love some feedback.

You’ll notice as you watch the video above (if you are observant) that I eschewed a simple movie of myself giving a lecture.


Well, would you sit and watch me droning on about nanotechnology for more than a few seconds?  I wouldn’t!

Actually, this would have been easier to pull off than what I ended up doing, but I was more interested in how the presentation medium (Keynote on the Mac) and the internet (YouTube in particular) could be used to convey information in a more innovative and accessible way.  If you are reaching out to a non-specialist audience, to what extent do eye-catching visuals and a soundtrack make the experience more informative and enjoyable?  Again, I’m not sure—but that is all part of what I am trying to find out.

(I should add here that rumors of this whole exercise just being an excuse to play with Keynote’s fancy graphics capabilities are entirely unfounded…)

The resulting video is rather short—it’s an unashamedly high-level view of nanotechnology that avoids specifics, and instead focuses on underlying concepts.  This seems to be a format that lends itself to conveying general information in small chunks.  I’m still tossing up whether to try formatting and posting a full 60 minute lecture in this style, but my gut tells me that this could end up being the YouTube equivalent of Vogon poetry—something no-one should have to endure!

The bottom line here (to get serious for a second) is that compiling animated movies from presentations and posting them on the web does seem to offer new opportunities for us amateur communicators to convey information on science in an accessible and informative way, using readily available tools.  I suspect that if it’s done well, this could be an effective way of packaging information to reach a broad audience.

I’m not sure how successful the movie above is in conveying what nanotechnology is all about to a lay audience.  But I do think it demonstrates the possibility of using today’s digital technology to convey complex information in new ways.  And as science and technology become increasingly important within society, we certainly need innovative ways to bridge the gap between those who generate new knowledge, and those who use it.


Technical Stuff

The original presentation was developed in Keynote on a MacBook Pro.  A confession here—I really like the simplicity, utility and visual appeal of Keynote, and develop all of my presentations using the package.  Using PowerPoint just makes me miserable in comparison.

Most of the slides in the presentation were culled from previous lectures I have given, but were formatted specifically for this video.  In particular, animations within and between slides were added to help the story develop as the video progresses.  The slides were formatted at a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels, allowing them to be saved as a high definition video.

The final presentation was exported as a movie and—you’ve got to love the integration on Macs—imported into GarageBand to allow soundtrack and commentary to be added.  The soundtrack is from my own doodling within GarageBand—for which I must apologize.  The end movie was exported, and uploaded to YouTube.

Finally, first time round I did this, I just included the slides and the soundtrack in the movie.  The result was artistically intriguing—but surreal, cryptic, and ultimately unfathomable – if you don’t believe me, check out the video below.  Which is why I ended up adding the commentary.  But it still makes interesting, if somewhat obscure, viewing.  Whether it makes any sense or not, I hope you enjoy it!

Managing the Small Stuff – without the commentary. Also available in High Definition on Vimeo

Andrew Maynard