Scientific American’s “Iron Egghead” contest, a competition that challenges readers to explain a part or process in the human body using everyday items, was won by a group of five that included current U of T chemistry graduate student Dorea Reeser, U of T alumni Raluca Ellis and Nigel Morton, and their friends Mike Ellis and Jason Lee.

The group decided to make a video about adrenal glands, organs that are located on the top of both kidneys and produce a number of important hormones such as cortisol. “Picking a topic was almost as challenging as creating the video,” Reeser said. The group eventually chose something that they “were all interested in learning more about.”

Armed with the seven everyday items required by the contest rules (including cups, balls, pens, paper, paperclips, string, and rubber bands), the group created a two-minute video filmed entirely at Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories on U of T’s St. George campus.

The video was intended for a general audience, with the kidneys represented as paper cups with colourful balls and crayons, and the group members themselves serving as the hormones and their functions.  The contest’s judging panel included an Emmy award-winning documentarian, American university professors and journalists, and a science media personality. Scientific American praised the video for its use of “quick cuts, brilliantly over-the-top acting, and clever stop-motion graphics.”

Reeser found the use of everyday products to be the most challenging aspect of the contest, especially since “nowadays most videos can use complicated graphics and technology.” Nonetheless, he believes these types of avenues are an important way to give scientists a chance to explore their creativity. The group has caught the filmmaking bug, and given this season’s flu outbreak, the next topic on the horizon is germs.

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