Winning claymation/rap video teaches students about the brain

Julia Hill and Natalia Rozas, both fourth-year students in the neuroscience program at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in the lab of  Pramod Dash, Ph.D., recently entered a video contest to teach kids about the brain. Their hard work paid off with a third-place finish in the national Brain Awareness Video Contest, which was sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience, and the People’s Choice Award, which was voted on by the public.

Q:What was the inspiration for the video?
A: The inspiration was elementary and high school kids. If you look in YouTube you will see that they are all into stop-motion videomaking. We wanted to reach them by doing what they are doing. The point of the contest was to teach about a neuroscience topic, and we work in a lab which studies learning and memory so we are both passionate about synaptic plasticity.

Q: Who is the audience for the video?
A: Elementary through high school students.

Q: How long did it take to complete?
A: The claymation was done in about 2 weeks, while doing a behavioral experiment that required a lot of waiting. Then the song was written in a couple of days and recorded in another day. Editing took another couple of days. This was the first year the contest was announced, and we didn’t have much time!

Q: Who had these talents? Seems like you would have to have film, art, as well as a scientific background to produce this.
A: No, we were just having fun. Julie did attend the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) here in Houston for visual art, but clearly this was not of any benefit to her rapping/songwriting skills. This was the first time Natalia made a stop-motion video. She watched on YouTube a few videos on how to make stop-motion movies and how to make an instrumental song in a Mac computer and did it. We didn’t have a special stop-motion video camera. She took each picture with her own camera and then put them all together. Julie recorded the song in one day; she was singing directly to the computer because we didn’t have a microphone.

Q: Will you use it in other venues?
A: We have no plans to use it outside of the Society for Neuroscience. It will be shown at the brain awareness event at the national SFN conference in November.

Q: Do you anticipate doing other videos – as a series?
A: Our PI suggested now we start a series showing how brain pathology affects synaptic transmission using claymation.

Q: What was your reaction to winning?
A: We were very excited! We knew the week the winners were going to be announced, and with no word by Wednesday we were sure we had not placed. We both have desks in the same room, and when Natalia yelled, we both ran toward each other and started jumping up and down and celebrating! Julie was also very excited to show the video, because we have had to keep it not visible to the public since we submitted it back in June. But really, who can beat claymation plus rap?!

-Darla Brown, Office of Communications