Only a relative few seekers in the world are actively interested in the chemical properties of ice or tree bark; however, pretty much everybody wants to know why they get hangovers after drinking too much. Making learning part of people’s daily lives isn’t easy, but AsapSCIENCE seems to have that down to a, uh, a discipline of some kind.
The edutaining YouTube channel is the brainchild of Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, a pair of science fanatics who met in college as biology majors. Only out of school a few years, Moffit, who works in video production, and Brown, who is a teacher, decided to channel their passion for science into a video side project this past summer. In less than six months they’ve amassed over 130,000 subscribers and 9 million views. AsapSCIENCE videos are instantly recognizable by their child-like visual style—think colorful markers on a dry-erase board, the hand that’s drawing with them, and the occasional prop—as well as their adult themes. But the main method the duo has caught on is by teaching a very particular curriculum: the things that people think about all the time, but perhaps can’t explain.
"We loved explaining really cool aspects of science to our friends," Moffit says, "but instead of harassing them with what we want to tell them, we thought we’d put it on YouTube where it might also hit some people who were already interested."
Brown had been noticing in the classes he taught that other educators were beginning to integrate online technology into classes more and more, and that students respond to it. Their course was set. All the pair needed to figure out was what subject matter they would try to make accessible.
"It’s kind of hard to get people interested on certain levels of science," Moffit says. "We realized early on that we could apply the stuff that captivated us to things like drinking alcohol, and the phenomena of everyday life, and that’s where other people get captivated. Maybe that pulls them in to want to learn more about it and see the practicality of it." He adds, "Unfortunately you kind of have to dig pretty deep into education to get those connections."
Moffit and Brown, who live in Toronto and the United Kingdom respectively, have a slew of information left over from college to draw from. If they ever get stumped for ideas, though, fans now send in suggestions in droves, and Moffit often open-sources questions on Facebook and Twitter. "It’s a back-and-forth," he says, "of what’s relatable, what people are asking, and what we know that they don’t know."
The series has gotten so popular that Moffit is devoting himself to it more or less full-time. Brown pitches in with research, but has continued his job as a teacher. Together they dig through peer-reviewed journals for the latest research—a lot of Skyping is involved—and then Moffit writes up the storyboards and scripts, and gets to work filming. (That’s his voice you hear narrating.) The partners were acknowledged for their work by YouTube recently, and flown to the company’s headquarters for an educational conference on digital learning.
Although neither of the creators is certain what the video series might lead to, they’re excited to see so many more people are interested in science after all. "You have to actually get knee-deep into science before you can see how cool it is," Moffit says. "But more and more with the Internet people seem to be learning about it for fun and not because they have to."
Watch some of the best AsapSCIENCE videos in the slide show above.