Starting with a seedling idea two years ago, visiting senior chemistry research scholar Jeff Seeman set out to create a handful of online videos about science fairs to improve science literacy.

After receiving a grant and some unexpected help from a local alumnus, Seeman built a powerful online tool that Google now promotes to high school students around the world.

In 2009 the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation awarded Seeman a $40,000 grant to produce eight five-minute tutorial videos for teachers and students to be used as a step-by-step educational tool for science fair projects. Seeman, an organic chemist by education who has also become a historian and sociologist of chemistry, has nearly 15 years of experience in video production.

While working previously on a documentary about 1986 Noble prizewinner Dudley Herschbach, Seeman learned about Herschbach’s interest and involvement with high school science fairs. Seeman immediately realized the benefits students reap from participating in fairs.

“I have a strong commitment to give back to our communities,” Seeman said. “I became convinced that self-learning and self-discovery for our youth is a wonderful method or approach to learning.”

With that in mind, Seeman decided to combine his knowledge of science and his experience in video production on a project where students would speak directly to other students. Called the Archimedes Initiative, the idea was that students could browse an online resource of videos about others’ science fair projects and experiences, and in doing so develop their own ideas and pursue their interests.

After word spread locally about Seeman’s project, UR graduate Tom Lawrence, ’02, decided he wanted to help. Lawrence owns GroundWork Design, a small web design company in Richmond that specializes in content development for educational institutions, non-profits, small businesses, and grant-funded projects. He offered Seeman the use of his studio for free.

Because of the unexpected boost in resources, Seeman’s project grew from eight videos to 17 “of a quality that far surpassed anything that I would have done,” he said.

Seeman collected the videos by visiting three fairs: the Fairfax County Regional Science and Engineering Fair, the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair in Boston, and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta. With the help of professional film crews, Seeman interviewed students about their projects, what they learned about themselves, and what they liked about the experience.

“Kids are wonderful,” he said. “These kids became the experts in their field and all of us like to have somebody listen to what we have to say.”

Seeman even enlisted Herschbach to visit the University of Richmond and watch the videos, summarizing what each student said during his or her interview. Seeman included Herschbach’s comments at the end of each five-minute video.

Lawrence also built Seeman’s website, which compiles the 17 theme-based videos of students talking about their experiences creating a science fair project. It also indexes and cross-lists dozens of shorter clips by topic—from conquering fears to advice for students and parents.

The site went live in February 2009 and Seeman employed former students Heather Robinson, ’11, and Maria Mercedes Guevara Llatas, ’11, to market and promote the Archimedes Initiative. Since then many regional fairs have linked to it as a resource. Even Google contacted Seeman about including the resource on its site for the 2011 Google Science Fair.

Though he has seen hits increase on the site, Seeman said implementation of the tool is the hardest part. His next step will be to market the resource directly to schools and teachers.

“Our primary goal is improving science literacy in the country,” he said. “We don’t believe that we alone will … but I believe very strongly that combined with other efforts, we can make a substantial contribution. We just never know who will be touched by this.”

Originally printed in the fall 2011 issue of Artes Liberales.