Ever tried to explain chemistry at a party?

21 September 2020
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You know how it goes: "Hey, what do you do for a living?" "Well, I work in the chemical industry for a company called AkzoNobel."

Video animations help explain chemistry

We all find it difficult to explain to our mother what our job involves. All the more so it you work in the chemical industry. Yet it’s perfectly possible. Video animations make it easier to elucidate complicated topics to people with no background in chemistry. Haimo Tonnear, marketing communication manager at AkzoNobel Polymer Chemistry tells us about his experiences.

You know how it goes: "Hey, what do you do for a living?" "Well, I work in the chemical industry for a company called AkzoNobel" "That's interesting! What kind of products do you make?" "We produce organic peroxides." "What?" "Organic peroxides." Yes..., uhh..."

Polymers, better known as plastics and rubbers are used in a lot of stuff that's around you. The shampoo bottles, shoe soles, drain pipes, cables and many parts in cars and household equipment. Without organic peroxides a large part of these products would not even exist.

"Oh, that's interesting, I had no idea. But what are these peroxides doing then?"

And here comes the difficult part.

It's not easy to explain chemistry to someone who doesn't have a chemical background. But why? Is it because chemistry is so complex and intangible or are we simply not used to explain it to the outside world? We decided to start experimenting to see if we can bring polymer chemistry closer to a wider audience by using video animation. Together with C4Real we recently created our first two educational animations.

The above comes from a blog Tonnaer. We asked him some questions about this.

Let people actually see

AkzoNobel has started using video animations to clarify complex chemical subjects. According to AkzoNobel’s Haimo Tonnaer, video animation is the ideal method for explaining difficult areas. ‘The perception created by the images is different from that produced by texts or pictures,’ he says. ‘You become really involved in the process. People obtain true insight into how the process takes place because they can see what’s happening. You can explain things in very simple terms so that it’s easy to understand. A video animation we made about how polymers are produced is a good example. There’s also another animation that explains how the properties can be improved. We use practical cases, and we show for instance how you manufacture polyethylene or PVC and also how you can ensure that the sole of a running show keeps it shape,’ continues Tonnaer.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0yOJajPJptA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Making the intangible clear

The animations, which have been produced in collaboration with C4Real, were developed in the first instance to provide customers in a modern and lively way with insight into how our products work and what added value they deliver in the customer’s process. It soon emerged, though, that this approach offered more possibilities. The videos are now being used for our employees and for students who have not studied chemistry. The need arose in the organization to use the animations for more educational purposes. Two modified animations have therefore been produced that explain the processes in somewhat more detail. Tonnaer says that these steps also illustrate the learning process in AkzoNobel and the growing interest in what the company does. ‘I’m a chemical engineer by profession, but chemistry is relatively intangible for very many people. You can’t see a chemical reaction. It’s useful for us to be able to explain to people with no background in chemistry precisely what polymers are and how they’re made. Fellow professionals think the technique we’ve used to make visualizations is really good, and in this way people with no chemical knowledge get a clear picture of what we actually do. We also use these animations in our internal HR process to give non-chemical job candidates a low-threshold way to learn about chemistry and our specific products. This is how we make chemistry more attractive,’ he explains.

Zooming in at a molecular level

Tonnaer says that visualization of chemical processes remains a challenge. ‘You can’t film a chemical reaction. So we and C4Real thought it would be a good idea to zoom in at a molecular level in order to show how it works. It’s not new and it’s been done for years. Now, though, the way we can visualize in 3D makes the animation much more attractive, clearer and appealing. We switch from real video images to 3D animation and then back again. This is how the visible and invisible worlds blend together. We gave a great deal of thought to what we wanted to visualize for which target group and the best way to do it,’ he recalls.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dXT1r5WA6SM" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Continuous learning process

But of course the question that will remain in the minds of many of those who read this article is how they can get cracking themselves. Tonnaer thinks that it is important not to aim for perfection. ‘For us, too, it’s still a continuous learning process. Actually creating the animations does gradually get easier though. It’s very satisfying that more and more interest is arising inside and outside AkzoNobel thanks to this approach. The power of video animation makes complex processes understandable to a broad cross-section of the public. We therefore also want to share our enthusiasm with our fellow professionals. This method works for different target groups too, so everyone in the industry can benefit,’ he concludes.

Click here to view the AkzoNobel case

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