Towering tanks of liquid nitrogen and carts of chemicals are wheeled in and out of labs in Havemeyer and Chandler, but what's really behind the locked doors of these research labs? Startup organization LabTV plans to demystify the medical research happening on university campuses like Columbia's by sending student filmmakers in to profile some of these researchers.
At the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, LabTV will honor its first batch of award-winning filmmakers who have shot and edited short video profiles of medical researchers. Of the hundreds of videos already submitted, LabTV will award twenty at the festival on April 25th.
Founder of LabTV and inventor Jay Walker will also receive an award for disruptive innovation at the festival, and plans for the LabTV website to go live at the end of May. Walker hopes that the website will provide role models in medical research, especially women and minorities.
"Pretty much everybody wants to become a doctor," Walker said, "but very few people think about how fun or interesting or how rewarding a life is in medical research because we never get to see medical researchers."
LabTV executive producer David Hoffman agreed, describing labs at American research institutions as "closed black boxes." The producer called himself a "one-man-band filmmaker," and he hopes to recruit more college filmmakers to profile researchers.
"The labs at Columbia have gotten excited and said send in the filmmakers, but only one filmmaker has signed up," Hoffman said. According to Hoffman, about 80 percent of pre-med students drop out in undergraduate and go into psychology or social work or law, and Hoffman hopes that LabTV will inspire more of them to look into medical research.
For Hoffman, the difference between being a doctor and a medical researcher is the difference between being a practitioner and a detective.
"You [can be] a detective and find cures we don't have yet," Hoffman said. "Medical researchers solve problems instead of fixing them. There's two kinds of personalities here."
Hoffman also points out common misconceptions of researchers as individual units operating separately on basic research instead of targeting specific problems.
"In fact what I found is that these are mini communities where all of the people in the lab work together," Hoffman said, "and what they're focused on is specific things---Alzheimer’s, child diseases, implanting stem cells---very different from what I thought."
"We are looking for young medical researchers under 30 years of age," Hoffman said. "Not the kind of white-haired leaders." Hoffman works with all filmmakers at LabTV and encourages Columbia students to sign up, choose a researcher to profile, and submit a video.
LabTV will award filmmakers at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25th, and labtv.org will go live at the end of May.