Lab Life

This Portlander Creates Super-Fun Science Videos for Kids

Lindsey Murphy—aka “Crazy Aunt Lindsey”—makes DIY experiments fabulous.

By Rebecca Jacobson May 22, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

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Ten years ago, Lindsey Murphy was burnt out. She’d just quit a bruising corporate job at MTV and moved into a friend’s pool house in her native New Jersey. So the then-25-year-old did what so many other young women do in such times: take care of other people’s children.

“Parents would come home and be like, ‘Where are all my mason jars?’” Murphy recalls of that time. “And I’d say, ‘We Mod Podged leaves on them so you’d have décor for the Thanksgiving table!’ And they’d be like, ‘It’s June. What do you mean?’”

That Martha Stewart impulse, paired with Murphy’s bubbly enthusiasm and knack for explaining just about anything in user-friendly terms, led to the creation of The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey: a web video series featuring real-life kids (no child actors here) doing at-home science projects, from powering nightlights with lemons to making eco-friendly play dough. Last August, Murphy, who moved to Portland in 2013, won the $10,000 top prize at PitchBlack, a local Shark Tank–style competition for black entrepreneurs. After releasing several “seasons” via YouTube, she’s scored some sponsorships, including from Blue Star Donuts—a recent video shot in a Blue Star kitchen digs into both “yeast farts” and the history of the pastry. A science handbook is in the works, and she has her sights set on a network or streaming deal. (She's also just launched an iFundWomen campaign to help fund the next season.)

Murphy, who doesn’t have a science background (she studied fashion merchandising, among other things), chalks up much of her DIY savvy to her mom. “My mom was always sewing and crafting,” she says. “I grew up in Jo-Ann Fabric and Michael’s. Before there was Pinterest, there was my mom’s Saturday.” (A bit of that fashion flair shines through in Murphy’s signature hair bow and bedazzled lab glasses.)

She recognizes that being a black woman teaching science lessons makes her notable. That’s not lost on her supporters, either. “Visibility is huge,” says Stephen Green, founder of PitchBlack and a longtime local entrepreneur and start-up adviser. “As a dad of three young kids”—all of whom get hopped up on sugar in the Blue Star video—“I was happily surprised that she somewhat looks like my kids, talking about science and making it fun.”

For Murphy, though, her appeal to her audience isn’t about race.

“I appreciate that this is a thing we’re talking about, but I always circle back to [the fact that] kids are kids,” she says. “As a black woman, I have to think about race and gender all day, every day. But kids don’t. I want y’all to be as curious and ask as many questions and get as dirty as you want. Because I know your parents are tired and don’t always have the energy. But I do. I have it for you.”

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