Jamie and Adam’s Masterclass

26 03 2015

I’ve just stumbled across this video on YouTube featuring Mythbuster’s Jamie and Adam. It is an excellent piece of science presenting packed with good stuff we can learn from.

The presentation is sponsored by a company called Corning Incorporated. Jamie and Adam have obviously put the video together on behalf of the company as an advertisement. I don’t think this takes anything away from it.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer pace of the presentation. Within the first minute Adam has posed Jamie a puzzling question: what age would you say we were in? He’s then explained what different ages are and set up the Story of the video. We are living in an amazing Glass age. All in the space of one minute.

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The next minute is spent establishing what most people understand glass to be. Ubiquitous yes, but something that is fragile. We are teased about all sorts of interesting developments to come in the presentation but first reminded of glass’ fragility with the cool slow mo smash.

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This is a technique I call Before and After. For someone to truly appreciate something new, or something you’ve done, you need to show them what happened Before so they can appreciate the change, the After. The glass smashed here is the Before, the rest of the video will be the After.

At 2:10 Jamie takes over with a brief history of glass.

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This is a lovely section. Not a single word is wasted.

We learn how glass is made and from what materials, we are then told what the first glass objects were, that glassmaking techniques spread from Mesopotamia developing over 4500 years, that the Romans mastered the use of glass and used it in windows in 100 A.D., and that the last 150 years has seen advances in glass technology that would’ve seemed like magic to our predecessors.

Phew! So much information condensed into such a fast section but it doesn’t feel rushed because it’s been so carefully written.

This section continues and the work of the company is introduced. Both sections are filled with Factoids. These are really important nuggets of information that an audience will go away remembering and wanting to share with other people. Factoids punctuate and highlight the science message you are trying to get across in a similar way to a science demonstration.

Did you know that Corning began making glass for railway lanterns that revolutionised rail safety because their glass was uniformly coloured and didn’t smash when it rained? Or that the company made Pyrex? And even cooler they no longer make Pyrex because they’ve got so many other modern innovations?

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At approximately four minutes we see our first glass innovation, optical fibre. The material is obviously important but is it really that exciting? Watch this section for Adam’s reactions. He communicates just how important and amazing this product is by the way he reacts to what Jamie is saying.

Jamie winds fibre around a pencil. Not the most interesting demo in the world. But listen to what Adam says:

That there is pure glass. A glass strand inside the wire tightly wound around a pencil and yet not breaking. When you stop and think about it, that is a mind-bender.

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Adam has expertly 1. shown us that we should be excited with his body language and 2. told us that we should be excited with the way he describes the demo. Without his commentary this could’ve been dull.

Sometimes demos don’t sell themselves. Not every demo you have in your presentation can be a showstopper. This is a perfect example of how presenters with words and reactions can help sell demos more effectively.

There is another excellent example at 5:20. Reacting to a fairly dry piece of spoken information about how glassfibre has changed the way we communicate Adam says: Wow! He also expertly sets Jamie up with a question: So just how much data can these optical fibres carry? And this brings me to the next point I’d like to bring out of their presentation.

All of the information in the video is perfectly pitched for a non-science specialist Audience.

Earlier in the video we learn the technical term for light not leaking from a glass fibre, attenuation, but it’s not just thrown at us, it is carefully explained in a way the audience will understand. Here we are told how much information the glassfibre can carry, a million gigabits per second, about a petabit. By itself this is just a big number but Jamie and Adam put it in context by comparing it to something we are more familiar with.

That would be like downloading 17,000 high definition movies from Netflix… in a single second.

Not only is this a great factoid, it puts the information in a format the audience’s non-science specialist brains can deal with.

If Corning engineers were talking to data transfer engineers in an industrial meeting explaining this would be unnecessary. As presenters we need to change the way we speak about our science depending on who our audience is and what we can expect them to know.

The final piece I’ll point out in the video comes at 6:20 when Jamie and Adam use a rig to demonstrate the flexibility of a piece of glass. The segue here is expertly written, we’ve seen a strand of glass spend but what about a pane of glass? Adam shows us what we might expect to happen using another brilliant reaction.

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What I really like here is the clarity with which they set up these demonstrations.

1. We are shown the Before, normal glass breaking.
2. Then we are shown the After, the Willow Glass bending.

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Look again at Adams body language. He is communicating excitement but also focusing our attention on the glass. You could just watch the video for his reactions as they are brilliant. You can see another example as we see the Willow Glass bending.

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But they don’t just stop there they back this up with a chain of demos, a Demo Chain, to further reinforce the message about the amazing properties of this glass.

And this carries on into the second part of the video which I would highly recommend you watch as well.

Well done Adam and Jamie and Corning glass for putting together such an excellent piece of science presenting. We could all learn a lot from watching and re-watching this in detail. Perhaps you picked something else up from the video you’d like to share? If so leave a comment.

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