Czech scientists’ “knight in iron armour” wins Nature science journal award

BIOCEV's video Iron's Will

A video created by a team of scientists from the BIOCEV centre on the outskirts of Prague has won the “Science in Shorts” competition, organised by the prestigious scientific journal Nature. The minute-long video, which explores the role of iron particles in the human body, had to face off against a wide-range of international competition before it was shortlisted by a jury and picked as the final winner by a public vote.

A tall knight, clad in iron armour, is led into the BIOCEV research centre by a team of scientists whose faces are covered by paper bags. Various funny interactions commence between the knight and the science team as a narrator explains what researchers do at the facility and why iron is important in their work. All of this happens in just under a minute.

Pavel Doležal | Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

The narrator in the video, and the leader of the team who made it, is Pavel Doležal from the Department of Parasitology at Charles University. He says that they had no prior experience of making videos and just wanted to have a bit of fun creating something that could also have an impact on the public.

“In the end we had just three days before the submission of the video. We thought that big US universities and UK universities would apply and that we would therefore have to try and find a different angle.

“We decided to make it really funny, at least for us. We decided to represent the iron metabolism in the cell that we are working on, this metal, as a knight in iron armour. This knight enters our institution, works in our lab and the whole thing kind of represents the metal in ourselves.”

Pavel Doležal and his team at BIOCEV sumbitted this video into the Science in Shorts competition:

Iron’s will

The video was then sent to the prestigious journal Nature, which had recently set up a new international competition called “Science in Shorts”. Top scientific teams from across the world, who had had their work published in the Nature Portfolio journal over the past year, took part in the contest.

The top 10 videos were selected by a jury and each received EUR 5,000 in prizemoney. Mr Doležal says that there was a wide range of videos that were submitted, some focusing on the scientific aspect, others putting more trust in humour.

“As far as I understand, when they were choosing the top 10 videos, there were people from the actual film industry there and there were very conflicted opinions. The majority ended up voting for us. I saw the other videos and some of them were funny too.

“It is hard to say why we won. I think it was a specific type of humour and we also represented what we do well. I think that it was this combination that won it for us.”

The Czech video also won the public vote and received the journal’s Curious2022 Favourite award.

Asked about what his team at BIOCEV do, Mr Doležal says that he and his colleagues explore the biological processes that iron is involved in inside the human body.

“The cell has to take the iron from the environment. Of course you can’t just get your iron by eating a fork or a bicycle, because that way you wouldn’t be able to take in the iron into your body. So you have to ingest it in some special form and carefully transport it into the cell. That is what we look at.

“We also study the competition between the pathogen and the host organism for iron nutrients.”

Doležal’s team is just one of many at BIOCEV, an association of various scientific institutes and departments that belong to Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences. He says that the team will use the prize money to buy either a billiard or foosball table for his students at the lab.