Making Short Work of Science

Alex Dainis ’11
Courtesy Alex Dainis
Alex Dainis ’11

You strike a match, and the flicker of a thought crosses your mind: How does this little stick make fire?

Alex Dainis ’11 can tell you, and — more important — she’ll get you engrossed in the answer, whether you’re science-challenged or science-obsessed.

Last October, Dainis was named one of 10 YouTube Next EDU Gurus, in recognition of the effectiveness and sheer fun of her aptly named Bite Sci-zed videos. In roughly four minutes or less, the videos answer science questions many of us have wondered about: Why do we sneeze? How does caffeine give us pep? What causes brain freeze? How does a match work?

Everyday life is the best source of “oh, wow” topics, says Dainis: “There’s so much cool science out there.”

Dainis’ video stardom hinges on the combination of her sunny, expressive personality and her clever, substantive content. Each Bite Sci-zed episode ends the same way: with Dainis saying, “Go forth! Do science!” and flashing the American Sign Language sign for “I love you.”

“I science-ramble at people all the time,” she says. “This is just a slightly more public way of doing that.”

The 24-year-old’s science cred is impeccable. At Brandeis, she won a research award for her work in biologist Paul Garrity’s lab, where she fed wasabi to fruit flies to study how genes affect taste. She also worked for two years as a teaching assistant for another bio lab before graduating summa cum laude with a double major in biology and film.

Since graduation, Dainis has been an associate producer at Richard Lewis Media Group, which creates interactive video presentations for museums. The experience she’s gotten in video editing, media research and organizing film shoots has helped shape the Bite Sci-zed videos, which she shoots in her bedroom at home in Watertown, Mass., and posts at the rate of about one a week.

Each Bite Sci-zed episode can take five hours to research, write and film — if it’s on a topic she knows well. “If I’m covering a topic I don’t know much about, it could be as much as 20 hours per video,” she says.

At the end of August, Dainis begins a whole new adventure: a PhD program in genetics at Stanford. Her ultimate career? She thinks it’ll likely be some combination of science and film, perhaps in the museum realm, academia or educational-video production. “I really want to continue to spread my love of science out to more people in the world,” she says.

During grad school, she hopes to keep making Bite Sci-zed videos, though probably at a slower pace. She’s also thinking about putting other kinds of videos on her YouTube channel, especially pieces that document the challenges of a first-year PhD student.

Yet Dainis the genetics scholar is realistic about how much time Dainis the science auteur might have: “I imagine some of it is going to involve me looking at the camera and saying, ‘I’ve studied a lot the past month! The end.’”

— Susan Piland