When it comes to outreach, most scientists resort to in-person demonstrations followed with a brief explanation of the science. Although these demonstrations are captivating, the audience is not large when compared to the audience capable of being reached by social media. In the past few decades, resources such as online lectures and web-based classes have been an educational tool used to reach a much wider audience. One of the people utilizing a different platform with educational potential is the McNeil Lab’s own Tyler Lopez, an undergraduate student majoring in chemistry at UM, who is known online as Prof. Bunsen Burns.

Before becoming a Wolverine, Tyler attended Delta College in University Center, MI. At Delta, Tyler was approached by his friend about filming an instructional video on chemistry for a class project. This project turned into the Bunsen Burns YouTube channel.

Lopez has been able to share his Chemistry in Context video series via YouTube and Facebook to get high school students interested in chemistry, and other science-related topics. Through his channel, Lopez has had the opportunity to impact the lives of his 3.1k followers by sparking their interest in chemistry in an entertaining way.

When asked about his motivation to create the Chemistry in Context video series, Tyler said: “Motivation for me was show everybody it’s interesting. I can actually show some of the cool things that you can do, and how visually interesting it looks, and also educating.”

A screen shot of Tyler as Professor Bunsen Burns

In each video, Prof. Bunsen Burns introduces the chemical reaction showcased. This introduction is followed by a time lapse of the reaction perfectly in sync with a topic-appropriate song. As the reaction comes to completion, Prof. Bunsen Burns gives a brief but accurate explanation of the chemistry we just saw. His explanation is complemented with fun facts, puns, and jokes by Joey Pinkman, Prof. Burns’ assistant.

These videos were also useful for his own personal learning process by realizing what he understood and what he didn’t. For example, in How to Grow Copper Crystals with Electricity! | Electrochemistry Explained, even though he thoroughly understood the reaction shown, Lopez had to learn more electrochemistry to make sure he was explaining this process correctly. He also found these videos useful to share with his students while tutoring organic chemistry at Delta College.

In an effort to help bridge the gap between academia and the public, Tyler’s initiative to showcase reactions in an entertaining yet educational way can be used to communicate science to a wider audience in a short amount of time. This can be achieved by taking full advantage of social media platforms such as FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.  

Tyler is no longer filming these videos due to lack of funding. Given how much he and his students have gotten out of these videos, he would like to see an effort to fund more educational videos in chemistry from universities and other educational institutions. Tyler is a senior in the chemistry department at UM and will be graduating in the spring. After graduation, he will be headed to a job in the chemical industry.