Student Filmmakers Win Awards for Bioresearch Documentaries

Student in lab

From May, 2014

By Dianna Douglas

Two students in the College have won cash prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York for documentary shorts about their fellow students.

Yoonji Kim, a second-year biological science student, won first place for her profile of graduate student Jason Torres, who studies the genetics of Mexican Americans with Type 2 diabetes.

Dove Barbanel, a fourth-year political science student, was a semifinalist with his profile of Vanessa Leone, a postdoctoral scholar studying the interactions between gut microbiota, metabolism and obesity.

The project is supported by LabTV; a web-based video channel that aims to inspire the next generation to enter careers in medical research.

The subjects of the students’ documentaries said they were happy to participate in a project that makes medicine and science accessible to young people.

“This approach makes sense as a way to get younger students thinking about going into science,” said Leone. In the short film by Barbanel, Leone measures and mixes substances while talking about her career in scientific research. The film was shot in labs on the UChicago campus.

“It was cool to have access, to see what goes on inside a big science lab,” Barbanel said. “All the people we met were really smart and interesting, not just about science but about life in general.”

Torres said the people who work with him in the lab also were excited about the project, and willingly carried on with their research as Kim shot the film.

“Most of the kids I grew up with never considered science as a career opportunity,” Torres said. In the film, he talks about how his love of punk rock piqued his interest in science.

Torres is a graduate student in molecular metabolism and nutrition. He works as a researcher in the laboratory of Nancy Cox, professor of medicine and section chief of genetic medicine. 

“Talking to Jason wasn’t really like an interview,” said Kim, the gold medal winner, “it was more like having a good chat. He was fun and open and engaging. And he was really genuine in his answers.”

LabTV uses video profiles to attract young people, especially women and minorities, to the field of biomedical research. Created by Jay Walker, founder of Priceline and curator of TEDMED, LabTV is supported by the National Institutes of Health and Google. UChicago is among the first universities to contribute LabTV videos.

LabTV is currently soliciting more films from UChicago student filmmakers. 

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