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Vol. LXVII, No. 5
February 27, 2015

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LabTV Exposes Public to Science

On the front page...

Many people don’t know about the medical discoveries that happen every day at NIH or NIH-funded labs. A new web site called LabTV hopes to change that.

LabTV features hundreds of brief documentary-style videos of researchers under 40, who tell the public about themselves and their research. Many of the profiles feature NIH researchers.

“Today’s greatest voyage of discovery is happening in labs at NIH,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. “But the public doesn’t have many chances to see what’s actually going on here. LabTV will personalize medical research by giving scientists an opportunity to tell their stories.”

LabTV was founded by Jay Walker, curator and chairman of TEDMED, an annual conference that focuses on health and medicine. He noticed that there was a dearth of scientist role models for the public—especially for women and minorities.


Walker put together a small team that included documentary filmmaker David Hoffman to produce video profiles of young researchers. Walker and Hoffman then approached NIH about profiling scientists under 40 for a new web site. Collins liked the idea. Filming for LabTV started soon after and has been going on in earnest across campus for the past year.

Hoffman has made more than 100 documentary television specials and series, mostly for PBS, Turner, A&E and Discovery. He worked closely with Calvin Jackson, deputy associate director of NIH’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and John Burklow, NIH associate director for communications and public liaison. Jackson helped Hoffman identify NIH scientists to interview.

For a LabTV segment, cameraman Eric Courtney films Adrienne Smith Long, a doctoral fellow in the NCI Pediatric Oncology Branch’s immunology section. Courtney interviews Dr. Anna Lau of the Clinical Center.

For a LabTV segment, cameraman Eric Courtney films Adrienne Smith Long, a doctoral fellow in the NCI Pediatric Oncology Branch’s immunology section.

Courtney interviews Dr. Anna Lau of the Clinical Center.

Photos: Eric Bock, Calvin Jackson

When Hoffman first visited NIH, he had no idea what happened inside labs here. He thought lab work was theoretical, process-oriented and introverted. Once he started interviewing scientists, he learned better.

“I haven’t met a researcher who’s not passionate about what he or she is doing. Each lab is like an extended family,” said Hoffman, LabTV’s executive producer.

Jackson echoed Hoffman’s enthusiasm.

“It has been a privilege to meet so many young researchers from the various ICs who are dedicated to improving health and saving lives,” he said. “It has also been interesting to hear each of their stories. Some knew from an early age that they wanted to pursue a career in the sciences while others have taken a more unconventional route.”

Hoffman likened medical researchers to detectives. Both researchers and detectives search for new leads and gather facts and evidence to solve real-world problems. Researchers, though, are finding cures for diseases and improving the public’s quality of life.

LabTV’s primary goal is to inspire students who may not think they can cure disease to become researchers, Hoffman said. He noted that almost 85 percent of students who enroll in pre-med undergraduate programs graduate with a degree in another discipline.

Hoffman explained that in each video profile, researchers describe their background, say why they became scientists, detail the challenges they overcame and share what excites them about working in a lab and what they hope to accomplish in the future. The interviews focus on the researcher’s personal

“We have a saying at LabTV: ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” said Hoffman. “If, for example, you’re a 16-year-old public school student from New York City who’s interested in environmental science, you can use LabTV’s search function to find scientists with similar backgrounds.”

Eventually, LabTV will feature thousands of profiles of researchers from institutions all over the country, Hoffman said. Students interested in scientific careers will be able to create a LabTV profile and interact with researchers directly.

Hoffman hopes that one day people follow research developments at NIH as closely as they did NASA’s race to the moon.

“Working with NIH has been thrilling,” he said. “LabTV has gotten cooperation, enthusiasm and an immediate response—just like we’d get at a startup company.”

To view LabTV, visit

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