Digital interning at the Ri

As our intern Kate McCallum heads back to Brighton to finish her multidisciplinary PhD combining art, linguistics, enthnography and mathematical communication, she takes the time to share her experience of working on the Ri Digital team.

  • Close-up of the Braggs' Nobel Prize

    Credit: Royal Institution

I have just finished up my time at the Ri after a three-month placement as a Digital Intern, helping the digital team make science podcasts and videos.

The first thing I want to say was just how fun it was to be at the Ri. It’s actually a relatively small organisation that seems to be entirely made up of really nice people with diverse interests and interesting paths through life, and it was great just being involved with them and getting a sense of what the organisation is aiming for.

While I was here I really wanted to learn a bit about producing podcasts and videos to a high standard, and that’s exactly what I got the chance to do.

I was able to learn various bits of software (Final Cut, After Effects, Illustrator etc.) and hardware on the job, which is of course the only way to do that effectively, and to learn some of the principles of making visually polished, engaging content. The Ri also has a clear picture of who it’s aiming to engage and it was really interesting to see how that filters through into discussions about which videos to make.

I love podcasts and learning new things (especially ones I wouldn’t necessarily seek out), so being able to make my own ones was awesome for me.

I basically just had to listen through recordings of old talks and choose ones that seemed like they would make good podcasts, and then edit them into shape. And these talks are really interesting, so that added up to a really fun task. This meant lots of hours spent listening to super interesting talks on all kinds of topics.

I even recorded an intro for my favourite one, which is this one on Unruly Memory . Same for editing video – I edited this one. As well as learning loads about how to make it good to watch, like when to switch camera angles, I also got a good update on the current state of particle physics.

Another really fun thing was working with Sarah and Anand on the short videos published on the YouTube channel.

We had various ideas sessions for ‘How to’ videos we could make (I came up with the most middle-class one ever, on how to stop your soy milk curdling in your coffee it’s all about reducing the heat and the acidity).

We made a video about the psychological effects of swearing and I was a test subject for an experiment involving a bucket of ice water.

  • Faraday's wooden desk with glass apparatus

    Inside Faraday’s actual lab

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Open notebook with Michael Faraday's handwriting

    Faraday’s notes on Davy’s lectures

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Open notebook showing magnetic field lines

    The first ever iron filing experiments to show magnetic fields, preserved on a waxy page

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Two framed painted paper certificates

    The Braggs’ actual Nobel prize, beautifully hand-painted

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Detail of painted certificate - yellow disc surrounded by green leaves

    Detail from the Braggs’ actual Nobel prize, beautifully hand-painted

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Hand holding a large lump of metal

    A piece of meteor

    Credit: Royal Institution

I also got to play with Gallium and was party to a real live unintended explosion, which is pretty much the science video holy grail. We also worked on a video about pH-indicating gin  and filmed how to make bath bombs and how they work, which was a pleasantly fragrant experience.

One particularly enjoyable job was researching ideas for videos, and I wrote a script for a video all about daylight savings.

Many people assume that there’s some really clear reason why we change the hour in the summer, but it turns out that there is a lot of debate about it and a lot of work done by scientists to figure out whether it’s helpful or harmful. I worked on some ways to present the ideas visually, and hope to see that one coming out when the hour changes in October.

I also got involved with filming various talks that are part of the Ri’s public programme, including this one on The Physics and Philosophy of Time which was fascinating. The Ri is also working on releasing all of the old Christmas Lectures online so I did some work on getting those ready, which was a brilliant tour of retro graphics/sets/haircuts etc. as well as interesting content.

And speaking of the history of the Ri, I had a brilliant tour of the archive while I was here, and I thought I’d finish with a few of my favourite things from in there  – please note it’s possible to make an appointment and come and see things from the archives, which is awesome, because there is some seriously cool stuff in there!

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