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College of Arts and Sciences

COVID video: ‘Things are a little less scary when you know more about them’

By: Kathy Hovis
A&S Communications
April 8, 2020

Clara Liao ’17 stayed up late into the night for four days sharing her knowledge of biology by creating an animated hand-drawn COVID-19 video. The video is now part of a Yale University page, where Liao is a graduate student, and has been widely shared throughout the U.S. and Taiwan.

“My background is in molecular biology and I was finding it super hard to pick up key pieces of information out of all the news coverage,” said Liao, who is in Yale’s Ph.D. program in neuroscience. “I thought that this must be even more of a barrier for people who don’t understand scientific jargon.

“And it’s more important now that people do understand, when we’re in a time when it’s critical to rely on everyone to do their part. People make better decisions when they’re informed.”

Clara Liao
At Cornell, Liao was a biological sciences major with a concentration in neurobiology and behavior. She was a member of Professor Andrew Bass’ lab, which researches the neural basis of communication by studying vocal communication in fish.

“This video by Clara reflects so many of her wonderful traits,” Bass said, “ immense creativity, great clarity of purpose, seemingly boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for learning and scientific inquiry, natural ability to effectively communicate complex ideas to a broad audience, and generous sharing of her time and knowledge with others.”

For her COVID-19 video, Liao spent two days doing research and writing a script to explain the basics of how the virus works, how it spreads and why preventive measures like social distancing and hand washing are so vital to flatten the curve, a concept she also explains in the video.

She filmed the video on her iphone, using a simple white board and some editing techniques she taught herself using Adobe Premiere Pro. It was the first time she’d made a video like this one, she said

“As a student, I find this kind of visual learning really useful,” she said.

She tweeted the video to friends, some of whom shared it with a postdoc group at Yale, where it caught the attention of the Yale provost’s office, which asked her if they could post it on their info page. She also sent it to her father, who is director of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, who translated and recorded his voiceover in Mandarin, then Liao re-edited the video to match his narration and he shared it with colleagues there. The video has 90,000 views on the Yale website and 200,000 in Taiwan as of April 9, Liao said.

“I started making this during the stage when people were freaking out and I saw a lot of fear,” she said. “I think you are more likely to fear the unknown, but if you understand how it works and take proactive measures against it, things are a little less scary.”

Liao said most of her work as a first-year Ph.D. student would normally have been done in a lab, but since she can’t do that, she’s been reading papers and tackling other work. The communications advisor to the vice provost at Yale has been in touch with her about making another video focused on infection prevention and the potential of a second wave, but that project is still in discussion, she said.

Rays of Hope is an ongoing series of stories showing how Cornell faculty, staff, students and alumni are responding with creativity and kindness to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have suggestions for a person to feature, please email Kathy Hovis at kah53@cornell.edu.