Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Film and Media Studies | Radio | Television
For over a year a half, I followed Steve Maheux, a Biology major, throughout his journey to conduct a research study on honeysuckle, an invasive plant. He posed a question regarding the possibility of predicting the occurrence of an invasive plant based on certain environmental factors: soil depth, soil pH, neighboring plants and other aspects that would make up an ideal environment for this menacing plant. The focus of my documentary was to show what true research looks like in all of its tedious glory. Research isn’t fancy. It often doesn’t make for “sexy film,” but it is vital for those revolutionary results that change the way we understand our world. So often we see documentaries that gloss over the research. I wanted to introduce a non-science-oriented audience to the steps that actually make up a research project – the mechanics of how scientists and researchers come to their conclusions.
Steve’s research produced inconclusive results. While results may be the crucial factor for the scientific community, they aren’t always for the actual people involved in the research. Therefore, while I wanted to focus on the details of Steve’s research project, I also wanted the audience to see what motivates a person to engage in a research project and how they deal with inconclusive results. Something draws people to research and it isn’t the endless hours of data analysis in a lab or spending one’s life searching for the answer to a question that may not even exist. To me, science is engaging because it involves people dissatisfied with merely existing in the world around them – they yearn to know the processes and systems they are a part of. In my documentary, I wanted the audience to see those two tracks: the hard science of the research project itself and the personal story of a student who had questions about a plant and sought an answer.
This project began by sitting alongside Steve as he studied other scientific papers on invasive plants – I read the papers to gain knowledge of the area. I kept in touch with him as he revised his own research plans and learned of the various stages of setting up a research project. I spent a month during the summer of 2008 inSyracuseto film Steve working inGreenLakesState Park. During the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009, I continued to film him both in the field and the lab as he began to analyze his data. Throughout this process, I became fascinated with the idea of the actual person conducting the research, as opposed to the results of the study. With footage of both my interviews with Steve and the year following Steve throughout his process, I began to piece together a film that focused on the human story that will always tread alongside research.
Overall, this project represents the desire to pair science and film in a meaningful and educational way. Sometimes documentaries only show the “pretty pictures” of science and nature. I endeavored to go beyond that, not only focusing on the specific details of the science involved in research, but also the discipline that is required and cultivated during those studies. Scientific enquiry is fascinating and I hope that scientists always continue to ask those questions, even when, like Steve, their first attempts don’t return dramatic results.
Houghton, Danielle S., "The Lovely Invader: A Documentary on Lonicera Research" (2009). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 418.
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