Making a Fermilab video

Ian Krass (left) and Jim Shultz shoot footage for a new Fermilab video about dark energy. “These videos are not a short lecture. We want it to be visually interesting and also include jokes and more than one character,” Shultz said. Photo: Amanda Solliday

As of today, Fermilab’s “What is a Higgs Boson?” video on YouTube has more than a million and a half views. This video and hundreds of others are produced each year by Fermilab’s Visual Media Services. Jim Shultz, with assistance from part-time intern Ian Krass and VMS’ Al Johnson, produce the videos that allow the lab’s work to be seen around the world.

The videos provide an accessible way to learn more about particle physics.

“I’m always surprised at the variety of people I encounter both at work and away who have seen the videos we produce,” said Johnson, who takes care of streaming video, operates the teleprompter for some of the scripted videos and assists with the technical set up.

The team produces educational films and training session videos, as well as recordings of meetings, lectures and other events. More than 3,000 of these videos are on servers at Fermilab.

That’s in addition to the videos they post for the public on YouTube.

“What we do is distill concepts in a way that the public can understand,” said Shultz, who’s been a videographer at Fermilab for more than 20 years. “We also try to have fun with it and show a lighter side of physics research.”

For example, the Higgs video features Fermilab scientist-actor Sudhir Malik as Eddy the massive particle splashing through a pool representing the Higgs field.

Krass and Shultz are each behind a camera during filming sessions.

Krass is supported by US CMS outreach funding to produce educational science videos for the public.

“Ian and Jim are the reason the videos are so well-liked,” said Fermilab’s Don Lincoln, US CMS outreach coordinator and narrator in the Higgs boson video, among many others. “They’re the difference between just a boring physicist talking to a camcorder and a polished video.”

The team also documents notable events for a number of Fermilab experiments. For example, to capture the construction of the NOvA near and far detectors, Shultz used seven webcams to create a million and a half stills, or 13 hours of video. He plans to use time-lapse techniques to compress hours of footage taken over almost three years into a few minutes, so anyone can casually watch how scientists and engineers built the neutrino detectors and positioned them underground.

In one of their favorite video series, the team chased the giant Muon g-2 magnet down the Illinois interstate at night. They shot footage from overpasses, on-ramps, roadsides and riverside as they recorded the muon storage ring traveling from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to Fermilab. For them, variety is part of the fun.

“Making videos can require you to see many different walks of life,” Krass said. “And we get to make videos about unique machines that don’t exist anywhere else. My previous projects seem so normal in comparison.”

Amanda Solliday