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Science Communications, One White-Board Video at a Time

FitzGerald Nat Med mouse side by side image Nov 12Science comes to life in countless ways -- in hundreds of booths on the Ben Franklin Parkway and dozens of cafes during the Philadelphia Science Festival, in children's books like the "Magic Schoolbus" series, but sometimes it's the simplest tools that provoke an aha moment.  

In an online video series, Florie Charles, a doctoral student at the University of California at San Francisco, and founder of Youreka Science, simply uses a white board and colored markers (and occasionally a small cut out mouse -- animal, not computer peripheral) to explain findings from recent papers in an accessible, fresh, and engaging way. One of her newest videos happens to feature a recent publication from the lab of Garret FitzGerald, MD, FRS, director of Penn Medicine's Institute of Translational Medicine and Therapeutics.


"I found the title of the article very intriguing and when I read the paper I thought it would be a very interesting basic finding to produce a video on," she explains. Charles says she chooses the topics for her videos - over six since she launched the site in late 2012 - by browsing the table of contents and news sections of journals, at journal clubs, or by word of mouth.

Fitzgerald's paper, "Obesity in mice with adipocyte-specific deletion of clock component Arntl," published in Nature Medicine in December 2012, explains that deletion of the clock gene Arntl, also known as Bmal1, in fat cells, causes mice to become obese, with a shift in the timing of when this nocturnal species normally eats. His research team essentially found that the link between clocks in peripheral fat cells and the brain means it's not just what you eat, but when you eat it, that can contribute to obesity.

The paper also caught the attention of mainstream consumer media, when it was first published. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia magazine and WHYY radio, picked up on the practical concerns about weight gain that the paper addresses. As FitzGerald mentions in the Inquirer about how this basic science paper is relatable to human behavior: “One message from our paper is, 'Don't raid the larder at night.' Circadian regulation has long interested doctors, who noticed that certain conditions such as asthma, depression, heart attacks, and stroke varied with the time of day.”

A Q&A with Charles about Youreka Science on the SpotOn blog describes her process and how she came to produce the videos. For example, the video of her writing on the white board is sped up slightly to match her rate of verbal explanation: "I wanted to have enough visual explanations and keep a good pace so the video wouldn't be too long." The videos are in the range of seven to eight minutes, with at least 20 to 30 hours of production time behind that. 

Originally from France, Charles is a PhD student in biomedical sciences studying the role of autophagy in response to telomere damage. "But I try to cover papers from a variety of fields so this requires some background reading to understand a specific field," she says.

After participating in UCSF's Science and Health Partnership program, where she taught 2nd and 5th grade science in public schools, she became interested in science policy issues related to public outreach of science. "As a result, I started the Science Policy Group at UCSF with a few students and postdocs, and founded Youreka Science,” Charles says. "My main goal really is to prove to the public that biomedical research funding is very important and directly relevant to everyone's daily lives." Paschos GK, Ibrahim S, Song WL, Kunieda T, Grant G, Reyes TM, Bradfield CA, Vaughan CH, Eiden M, Masoodi M, Griffin JL, Wang F, Lawson JA, & Fitzgerald GA (2012). Obesity in mice with adipocyte-specific deletion of clock component Arntl. Nature medicine, 18 (12), 1768-77 PMID: 23142819

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