For the past decade, AJP authors have had the option of supplementing their articles with videos, either as supplementary material or linked directly to the online article. Videos are a great way to enhance a written article, particularly when a static picture does not quite capture the full impact of a particular experimental setup or physical phenomenon. For example, consider the precession of a spinning object. This is something that can be described mathematically so that a reader should be able to form a mental image of the motion. But if you are trying to demonstrate, say, that the spin rate (about the symmetry axis) and the precession rate (about the vertical axis) are perfectly synchronized, then it might be better to include a figure that shows a series of images of the motion. Figure 1 shows an image collage of such a precessing object.1 Notice how the lines painted on the object appear in precisely the same position each time the object has undergone one complete rotation about the vertical.2 While such a figure will almost certainly help to clarify the motion of the object, a video enhancement that shows the actual motion is even more compelling (the video can be viewed by clicking on the link in the figure caption). In this sense, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps a movie is worth a million.

Fig. 1.

A set of still frames from a high-speed movie shows a double-sphere rotating at 2449 rpm. A red line was painted on the object to visualize spinning about the symmetry axis, and shows that the spin rate and the precession rate are perfectly synchronized (enhanced online) [URL:].

Fig. 1.

A set of still frames from a high-speed movie shows a double-sphere rotating at 2449 rpm. A red line was painted on the object to visualize spinning about the symmetry axis, and shows that the spin rate and the precession rate are perfectly synchronized (enhanced online) [URL:].

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The American Institute of Physics (AIP), our publishing partner, is in the process of overhauling its Scitation platform, the home of AJP. As part of this overhaul, video abstracts will become an integral part of the online reading/viewing experience. These videos will be embedded directly into your web browser and can be seamlessly viewed with the click of a button; there should be no need to download any additional software or make any configurational changes to your browser.

As the name implies, a video abstract provides a brief overview of what is discussed in the article in the format of a short video, and acts as a supplement to a traditional abstract. However, unlike a regular abstract a video abstract provides a much richer environment to describe the article, and can include pictures, diagrams, voiceovers, animations, simulations, and, of course, video footage that might highlight a specific dynamic phenomenon or provide a detailed look at an experimental setup. When used appropriately, this media-rich environment has the potential to deliver an abstract that is much more useful and compelling than one that is constrained to the written word. The video abstract accompanying this editorial provides a sample of what can be done using this new feature.

Moving forward, all articles published in AJP will be eligible to include a video abstract. Of course, there is no requirement for every article to include a video abstract; it will be up to the individual authors whether or not they want to submit one. But given how easy it has become to produce simple videos, we encourage all authors to consider submitting a video abstract, particularly if there are visually striking aspects of the project that are difficult to describe using words alone.

If you are interested in submitting a video abstract with your article, note that it should not be submitted until the external review process has been successfully completed. At that point, the article will be conditionally accepted and you will be asked to submit an editable version of the manuscript, including figures and any other supplementary material (e.g., the video abstract) that might be available.3 Video abstracts will be reviewed by the editors for overall quality and suitability; poor quality videos will not be used. To help authors produce high quality video abstracts, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Keep your video short, simple, and engaging. Remember, this is a video abstract, it is not intended to describe the entire project in detail. Generally speaking, a video abstract should be no longer than two minutes in length, and may actually be more effective if it is even shorter.

  • Be sure to include a general overview of the project that is accessible to those outside the immediate subject area of the article. It is not necessary to include all of your results; in fact, it might be better to leave the viewer wondering about a particularly interesting aspect of the phenomenon/apparatus to pique their curiosity about the details.

  • Make sure that any written text or symbols are large enough to be readable and that any spoken words are clearly enunciated so that they are easy to understand.

  • When filming, be sure to use appropriate lighting and an uncluttered background. It is best to use an external microphone (such as a lapel mic) and have the camera on a tripod; hand-held video is often jerky and unsettling to viewers.

  • Be creative, and remember that you are trying to engage the viewer. Thus, the inclusion of images, simulations, and animations are highly encouraged. On the contrary, long segments with a person speaking directly to the camera or performing a derivation should generally be avoided.

  • Practice, practice, practice. If you are trying to capture a particular event or verbal message, try filming it multiple times and then critically analyzing the video. Typically, you will find a number of things that can be improved with very little effort and this can have a large impact on the overall quality of the video. (It is the exception rather than the rule to end up using your first take.)

  • There are many online resources available to help with making videos. In addition, most institutions have information technology (IT) specialists with expertise in this area. Most IT departments have good equipment that you can borrow and may even be able to help you with the actual filming and editing. So while there is nothing wrong with going it alone, particularly if you have experience with video editing, the final product may be of much higher quality if you enlist your IT department's assistance.

  • Adding background music can be a great way to improve the overall feel of a video. Unfortunately, the legal complications involved in using copyrighted music make this a very confusing issue. Generally speaking, you need to obtain permission to use any music that is not in the public domain. And trying to obtain permission to use music that requires royalties is extremely difficult and probably not worth the effort. The only realistic option is to use royalty-free music, which is not in the public domain but is usually easy to obtain permission for use. It is important to note that royalty-free does not necessarily mean free to use; you may still need to pay something for the license, although there are some websites that offer free, royalty-free music that you could explore. The bottom line is that it is the author's responsibility to provide documentation that they have permission to use any music in their video abstract or the video will not be used. Authors are strongly encouraged to consult with their institution's IT department for help in obtaining appropriate permission for the use of music in their videos.

  • Videos can be submitted in many different formats (AVI, MOV, QT, MP4, MPG, WMV) with an aspect ratio of 16:9 or 4:3 (all videos should be in landscape mode). To help foster a good user experience, it is important for the file size to be as small as possible; you should aim for less than 10 MB, though larger files will be accepted. One way to reduce the overall file size is to decrease the resolution to, say, 640 × 360 (or 640 × 480) and then lower the video data rate until the quality begins to suffer. As an example, the video abstract for this editorial was output as an MP4 file with the H.264 video codec (and AAC audio codec) using a resolution of 640 × 360 and a data rate of 1024 kbits/sec. The file was then further compressed (to “optimize for the web”) using an open source video transcoder. The result was a final file size of 8.2 MB. (If this sounds Greek to you, all the more reason to enlist the help of a video specialist from your friendly IT department.)

This list of suggestions is only meant to cover the basics and should help you produce a reasonably good quality video. Of course, there are many additional steps one could take to produce professional-quality video, but most of these are unnecessary for creating acceptable video abstracts. If you follow the above guidelines, being sure to keep the AJP readership in mind, then the result is likely to be informative and engaging. I for one am looking forward to seeing how authors make use of this new feature.

This image was taken from the article by
D. P.
, and
B. J.
, “
Hurricane balls: A rigid-body-motion project for undergraduates
Am. J. Phys.
Readers curious about the motion of these so-called Hurricane Balls can consult Ref. 1 or the article by
W. L.
, “
The dynamics of Hurricane balls
Eur. J. Phys.
Detailed information on the AJP submission process can be found at <>.