Chemistry teacher inspires with live “lab”


It’s another Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., once again time for chemistry professor Joshua Melko to impart his scientific knowledge, with a good bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, to an audience that s ‘is developed far beyond the University of North Florida students taking his classes (“Roger, from Bolivia. Wow!”).

It’s the Melko Lab, a bi-weekly live stream that Melko runs on Twitch, an online streaming service. He designed it as a way to extend his office hours to students who couldn’t be there in person, but it’s kind of a wacky, scientifically dense life, drawing in hundreds of scientifically curious people from all over the world. and covering all manner of subjects, as well as its courses.

After a clip from the Melko Lab garnered 50,000 views on Reddit, an online discussion site, its office hour experience now has 1,800 subscribers, up from around 100 in January. And he’s tall, apparently, in Denmark.

Melko, 36, is a likable assistant chemistry professor at UNF, with a great tendency towards self-deprecation and a bit of a stand-up comedian in him. He admits he now feels the pressure to be entertaining. He therefore makes sure to keep a fast pace and includes elements such as a voice changer, sound effects and animations in his shows.

Regular talkers get their names placed on his periodic table of discussions and can choose the square that designates their favorite element (his, for the record, is aluminum).

Then there’s the Fishy Cam, which shows the tiny aquarium on his desk where a little blue fish, Lord Kevlin III, “the most beautiful beast of all seven sea kingdoms”, is seen swimming happily.

One of his listeners that day asks what happened to the first two Lord Kelvins. Melko draws a line on his cheek. “A single tear. We don’t talk about it.”

However, before the show, he mentions dark theories that the Lord Kelvin before this one (the three Kelvin, by the way, were named after “a famous guy in thermodynamics”), was poisoned by students the day before a test. Maybe from overeating.

But he prefers not to get into all of this. “Swim in peace, little buddies,” he said.

Melko broadcasts on every Monday and Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. Each segment lasts at least an hour, although it often lasts much longer. Some of this stuff is wacky.

Like the person who asks what they prefer: Teacher or doctor?

“Prof, I guess. I’m a doctor, I have my doctorate, but I’m not the right kind of doctor if you’re on a plane and someone has a heart attack. ‘Yes, I’m a doctor. Oh no, not that kind of doctor. Just a chemistry teacher, I can’t help you at all. Sorry. ‘”

On this day, one of the topics for discussion at the Melko Lab is the recent Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to three scientists for their work on lithium-ion batteries. One of the scientists, he can’t help but note, has a pretty distinctive name.

“Nobel Prize, Professor Goodenough. Yep, that’s literally the name of the guy who won the Nobel Prize, cat. Can you imagine the complex this guy grew up with? “Yeah, sure I’m good enough. “Hmm. But it allows us to continue. “

A joke, yes, but Melko then embarks on a detailed explanation of how batteries are designed, what it takes to make them work, and where they are used.

Despite all the lightness, the Melko Lab is meant to be a place to revel in the joys of chemistry and science – and as a real helper for its UNF students. He sees proof that it works: he receives good feedback, and during the spring semester of General Chemistry II, the GPA has increased by 0.2 points, as has the instructor rating given to him by students. It sounds small, he says, but it’s important.

Melko grew up in South Florida and put his competitive skills to the service of basketball, as well as as a mathematician and chess player (“I don’t want to get confused, but … “).

He is in his sixth year of teaching at the UNF. After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and his doctorate from Penn State, he was an Air Force contractor living in New Mexico, studying what happens when space vehicles or satellites come back in. the atmosphere under intense heat.

At the UNF, his focus has shifted. “I kind of switched to Mars,” he says. In his lab on campus, he and students are trying to help determine the climate on Mars, by studying reactions in the planet’s middle and upper atmosphere, using information from satellites.

Melko says he wanted to be an astronaut for a long time, but at 6ft 4in he says he’s an inch too tall. “I applied, but I’m sure that’s the reason I didn’t get it,” he says. “It was the dream. Still is.”

He believes the number of his students showing up on the stream, asking about homework or preparing for tests, has increased dramatically. Some arrive under their real names, while others remain anonymous.

“I love to learn, and I love to inspire that in others as well,” says Melko. “It’s a good way to do this because people are very uninhibited in the chat when they are anonymous.”

Few of the students came when he only had a regular office available. Some said they were too busy with work or family. Some had already left for the day and didn’t want to come back. Some have found the in-person questions too intimidating, no matter how much he tries to relax.

This led him to what would become the Melko Lab.

Melko still holds office hours in person. Whenever a student comes into their Twitch feed with a question, that student gets priority – and all other discussions are put to one side.

His work in online education has attracted attention. Twitch even invited him to sit on a panel at its TwitchCon in San Diego, speaking on streaming and education, and he’s part of a network of educators who are training on the online service. They call themselves the Knowledge Fellowship.

He gets all kinds of questions at Melko Lab. An example: “If I mix this and that, will it explode?” It’s common, and I don’t always know, ”he says.

But he thinks they can research it together and make it a topic of conversation and a point of learning.

“It’s a teacher’s job, isn’t it?” Said Melko. “Trying to explain something from that level to that level, according to the audience.”

During this particular lab, so far, no one has asked to detonate anything, but the conversation about the batteries escalates when a participant steps in with a compliment. Melko reads it aloud.

“‘I just want to say thank you for doing this and being a good teacher for your students.'”

“Aww, thank you,” Melko said, before continuing, “I’m pretty sure if I had had a teacher like you before I picked all of my subjects I would have done chemistry. But they can’t let me go back. now then I will see you. Good life !'”

It’s a good time, but Melko barely stops. There is a lot more from Melko Lab to come.

Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082


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