Science’s Leading Lady

It’s probably easier to sell real estate in Chernobyl than sell a seventh-grader on the idea that science is cool. But somehow, in the face of that high degree of difficulty, Haley Chamberlain Nelson ’02 has found a way to pull it off.

As a key member of Untamed Science, this mother of a toddler travels across the globe to make slickly produced videos that thousands of middle schoolers across the country – as well as kids in K-12 and adults – will watch to help them learn about everything from cloud formation to the physics behind hang gliding. Her humorous and entertaining take on topics quite often distracts kids (and adults, too) just long enough to teach them something before they even know what’s happened.

Untamed Science, which Nelson’s husband cofounded in 2004, is made up of a bunch of scientists, educators and filmmakers who all have the same passion for making learning fun. Over the years, Nelson has ridden motorcycles and ATVs, shot a music video while skydiving, gone SCUBA diving on shipwrecks, swum in caves and tagged baboons in Kenya – all in the name of science.

“This is my dream job,” the biology major says. “I love what I do. I can’t believe that I’m able to have a husband and a family and – really, this is my job? It’s a pretty neat way to live.”

Looking at the jobs Nelson held after graduating from the College, it’s obvious she was on a collision course toward Untamed Science: She was a teacher, an actor, a model, a filmmaker. In fact, it was while making one of those films that she met her future husband, and the link to Untamed Science was formed.

In 2007, the group struck a deal with the national textbook company Pearson Publishing and writers Ken Miller and Joe Levine, or – as Nelson refers to them – “the rock stars of the science education community.” Under that deal, Untamed Science would do one video per chapter of Miller and Levine’s Biology –what Nelson calls “the most popular science textbook of all time.” From that gig came a notoriety and legitimacy that gave them a broader footprint in the industry.

Today, with the financial backing of various educational groups, Untamed Science produces weekly video podcasts on everything from why the ocean is blue to the science behind electricity (content that is available for free on iTunes or on their own website).

“It’s all about getting kids excited and interested. It’s not to replace what a teacher does in the classroom,” Nelson observes. “Our mission is to make Untamed Science synonymous with bringing the cutting-edge work of great scientists to video for every demographic. And, hopefully, a few things in there – the adventure of whatever topic it is – will help everyone, from kids to adults, get excited about what they’re learning.”

It’s certainly exciting for Nelson, who got to bike from Italy to Sweden this summer. She and the crew documented the entire journey and emerged with hundreds of potential future topics, ranging from cabbage to frogs.

It’s during these wild adventures, Nelson says, that her inner geek can’t help but come out: “You study up on a particular type of tree frog in a textbook and then you actually see one out in the wild and you’re like, ‘You’re so famous and you don’t even know it!’”

And, thanks to Nelson, perhaps now a few more seventh-graders do know it.

– Bryce Donovan ’98
Photography by Mike Ledford

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