Featured Projects

Preschool PhD Video Series

Project Director: Leah Witus, Chemistry
Part of our 2021/2022 DLA Faculty Fellows Cohort

My typical chemistry research takes place in the laboratory. However, two consequences of the pandemic lead me to begin a public facing digital liberal arts project. The first was that in person lab work was not possible, so I sought ways I could be productive remotely. And the second was that I began to learn video-creation skills to record asynchronous content for hybrid teaching. So in 2020, I started making animated videos to explain science to the general public. I made a series of videos explaining chemistry and biochemistry for kids called “Preschool PhD”, and I made an animated video explaining how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines work. Although I started this project as a side project, I have since connected it more directly to scholarship. Sociology professor Erik Larson and I collaborated to study the effect of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine video, and through a randomized controlled trial we found a statistical increase in vaccination intention after watching it (although we also found that the messenger mattered!). This showed me that making public-facing science videos could have a real-world impact – our study was described in The New York Times, and we were notified that it was discussed by the White House COVID response team in their efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy. The DLA fellowship is a perfect avenue to continue this public-facing project.

Making animated science videos for the general public embodies digital liberal arts as it makes extensive use of digital tools and draws on skills from across the liberal arts – scientific knowledge; artistic skills to create the animation; sociology and physiology insight to tailor the message to the intended audience. While this project is a continuation of the Preschool PhD video series I have already made, as a DLA fellow I am interested in making videos on new topics – I have a long list of chemistry and biochemistry topics that I’d love to cover! This project makes extensive use of digital tools, including animated video software Vyond and programs to illustrate science such as Biorender. My aspiration is for this project to contribute to the Macalester community and beyond by providing a way to make science more accessible to non-scientists. The past couple years have illuminated just how important that is.