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Granite Geek: Want to Make Science Interesting? Try YouTube!

Cody's Lab on YouTube features experiments with bullets, toilets, gunpowder, gold, and other objects.

When I was in high school, I had a chemistry teacher who liked to blow things up. Mix a little of this chemical with that chemical, light a match, and then—bam! Smoke, flames, and a whole room of teenagers saying, “Wow, cool! How did that happen?”

The shock of the explosion—even a small explosion—was enough to compel a group of teenagers to pay attention to a lesson about, for example, formulas and atomic weight.

But let’s say you’re a scientist without a captive audience of students. How do you get people to care about the nugget of scientific wisdom you’d like to share? Granite Geek David Brooks has been reporting on this for The Concord Monitor. He spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.

David, you started looking into this question of how to get people interested in science when you heard about a guest speaker scheduled to come to St. Paul’s School in Concord this week. Tell us about this guest.

I’ve been trying to get people interested in science since practically before you were born, young man!

I stand corrected!

All right, there we go. The guy’s name is Cody Don Reader. He’s actually a Utah college student who has something of a following on YouTube with videos he makes, homemade videos about science-y stuff. He calls it Cody’s Lab. It has garnered enough attention that it came to the attention of the teachers at St. Paul’s School. They have the Lovejoy Lecture Series on Friday evenings where they bring interesting people to talk about different stuff. He seemed like someone interesting to talk to, not just about the research he’s done or the science he likes to do, but the approach he takes to it.

You don’t need to know a lot about science to appreciate what Cody’s doing in Cody’s Lab.

Absolutely not. He’s an outgoing guy. He lives on this ranch in Utah and he carries a gun around. For example, one of his videos is about how to make your own gunpowder using your own urine, among other things, which is really appealing to start with, right? But what happens after the apocalypse, when the zombies come, and you run out of bullets? Well, I can make my own gunpowder. So it’s entertaining in that way.

In one video,Cody attempts to clog a toilet with mercury. David, why is this kind of video valuable? 

I think it’s valuable because he’s showing what the scientific method is, which is that you have an interesting question and you think of ways to study it. You see what happens, and as a result of what happens, you change your questions and study some more.

Science, for many of us, is this boring thing that gets thrown at us from people in ivory towers and who cares? Instead, this guy is demonstrating how science is a process and it’s fun and interesting and can give you an insight into what’s happening around you.

So is part of the value here the fact that this might be a gateway for folks who aren’t necessarily automatically interested in science, but this might be a doorway into science?

Well, that’s certainly, I think, his appeal. I mean, he just started making these because he thought they were fun. He made one because he wanted his grandma to see what he was doing and then enough people started watching them so he kept making them. So he didn’t have some hifalutin plan, but I think it’s a great way for the 95 percent of the world that doesn’t do science to get some vague science is. Certainly we need that these days. There’s a lot of anti-science thinking out there, so at least this makes you realize that it not only has value but it has an appeal and it’s really interesting.

I’m not sure what he’s planning to do at his presentation at St. Paul’s on Friday at 7 o’clock. One thing he is doing is some weighing with a very precise scale on the flight to see if he can detect the change in weight caused by traveling for and against the spin of the earth. So that’ll be interesting to hear. 

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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