The blog post discusses Alex’s experience as an experimental physicist and the difficulties he faced in keeping track of important events during experiments. He suggests that using bodycams, similar to those used by police officers, could be a solution to this problem. Alex explains that the use of bodycams would provide a wide field of view and record all the problems that arise during an experiment. This would make communication between the experimenter and the supervisor more efficient and improve the replicability of experiments. Additionally, Alex argues that using bodycams would make experiments more rigorous, as it would be easier to catch mistakes and improve methodology. Alex concludes by pointing to NileRed’s YouTube channel as an example of how video recordings can be used to counter positive publication bias.

I wasn’t exactly a natural at experimental work. My undergraduate lab marks were, erm, not brilliant. A poor memory mixed with a lack of practical intuition, a good experimental physicist, does not make. So, it is a tad ironic that I decided to do a PhD in electron microscopy – a mostly experimental field.

I liked planning experiments and analysing their results. I just didn’t very much like doing them. Sessions on the electron microscope always felt clunky. I had to frequently stop doing the experiment to note down significant events in my lab book and I was not the best at deciding which ones were worthy. Actually, I was terrible at deciphering happenstance from important experimental happenings.

I had plenty of notes on things my supervisor was not concerned about, and missing quite a few that he was. Poor quality handwriting and a lack of talent in the drawing department made my notes difficult to interpret at best, unintelligible at worst. Add to this my remarkable ability to forget to do parts of the experiment I had planned and long sessions of redoing messed-up experiments were the norm.

After a year or so of frustration, an idea popped into my head “Why don’t you just record the experiments on video?” I was naively hoping it was one of those very rare “solves all my problems in a single step” kind of solution.

I bought a knockoff action camera along with an accessory that would allow me to strap it to my head – I figured I would probably look at everything I needed to record. I made sure to buy a video camera with a fish-eye lens (to provide a wide field of view) just in case. I looked very weird with it on, but weird is normal in the world of physics.

Astonishingly, it actually worked pretty well. The security provided by the camera made me feel more relaxed in the anxiety-inducing arena of delicate experimental instruments. The constant pauses disappeared, my time in the lab was reduced by a significant amount and I had evidence for all the problems that came up during an experiment. The camera helped me to communicate more clearly with my supervisor. The vague descriptions of problems I had no understanding of disappeared into the past.

I am left feeling a bit perplexed as to why bodycams, like the ones used in police work, could not be used as standard practice in scientific laboratories (At least in material science). Even the most detailed lab book could not reproduce the amount of useful information a camera could. Also, using a bodycam is definitely an easier strategy: simply turn it on and clip it to your lab coat.

Speaking of reproducibility, I believe it would help with the replication of experiments by other research groups. In experimental science papers, the small and intricate details of experimental set-up are often not mentioned to keep papers concise. During my PhD, I was quite surprised at how much “reinventing the wheel” goes on in experimental research. It must cost a lot of money and time – much more than the relatively cheap price of bodycams. A supplier must already exist due to the usage in the police force in the UK.

Perhaps most importantly, I think bodycams would make scientific experiments more rigorous. It would be easier to catch mistakes, collaborate and improve experimental methodology. Video recordings could be placed in the digital supplementary information of publications. Journals are increasingly becoming more digital anyway.

A real-world example of the potential usefulness of bodycams exists in an unlikely location. The YouTube channel of NileRed contains a library of videos chronicling experiments. All the mishaps and problems are captured in real-time. Perhaps this might be one of the ways to counter positive publication bias.