September 15, 2013

Bay State woman a 'superstar teacher'

She produces weekly YouTube videos on her 'Bite Sci-zed' channel to explain phenomena.

By EMILY O'DONNELL The Sun Chronicle

MANSFIELD, Mass. - Fun facts: Some people can see shapes and colors when music plays. Bright light cause 35 percent of people to sneeze. Humans maybe get wrinkled fingers in water to help them better handle wet objects.

All those interesting tidbits are brought to you by Mansfield native Alex Dainis, who produces weekly YouTube videos on her channel "Bite Sci-zed," where she explains common scientific processes and misconceptions.

Dainis was recently chosen as a "superstar teacher" by YouTube's free educational website YouTube EDU, along with seven other YouTube educators across the country.

In videos that often run less than four minutes, the 24-year-old breaks down the science behind everyday phenomena, such as the common cold, hamburger digestion, lactose intolerance, Thanksgiving naps and the "face on fire" symptom of eating wasabi, to name a few.

"I get ideas from things I encounter in my daily life and from conversations with my family and friends," the Bishop Feehan graduate said.

For example, "I went to Rome, and was surprised to hear all the cicadas in the trees, so I did a video on cicada exoskeletons," said the former Watertown resident.

Dainis said she also got inspiration for videos while working as a teaching assistant in a bio lab.

"I would often get asked questions I didn't have the answer to, so I felt this need to figure it out and tell people," she said.

Dainis graduated from Brandeis University in 2011 with degrees in biology and film, and started the video channel as a way to bridge those two loves.

"I also just missed talking about science every day, like I did in college," she said.

One of her most popular videos, measured by YouTube views, was about caffeine.

In the video, Dainis demonstrates the physical effects of caffeine by downing two large containers of black coffee from Dunkin' Donuts in just 20 minutes.

"I'm going to get very, very caffeinated very, very fast -- for science," she says in the segment from September 2012, which got 183,198 hits.

Her favorite video to make, though, was a 3½-minute film noir about genetic dominant and recessive alleles.

Since starting "Bite Sci-zed" last year, Dainis has made close to 60 videos, and said she has gotten an "overwhelmingly positive response" from viewers.

She said most of the feedback comes from students and teachers, who validate the conversational, often humorous teaching style Dainis uses in her videos.

According to the science star, "People tell me my channel helps students better grasp concepts that can get a little complicated."

"Alex is one of a growing number of talented educators on YouTube who are using video to explain complex topics in fun and engaging ways," said Angela Lin, YouTube education partnerships manager. "Bite Sci-zed is building a devoted fan base with informative videos that inspire people to come back and learn more."

This isn't the first time YouTube noticed Dainis' talent.

Last year, Dainis was one of 10 educational filmmakers honored by YouTube and the Khan Academy, and received a $1,000 prize and attended an education summit.

Despite her success, Dainis has started cutting back on science segments because she is starting a doctoral program in genetics at Stanford University.

She said she will still post videos once or twice a month in an effort to help her audience "go forth, and do science."

 

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