Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown are living the millennial dream. The couple’s YouTube channel, AsapSCIENCE, is a scientific explainer series that has 3.6 million subscribers. Posts across their social platforms consistently go viral. They have millions of likes, fans, and video views; they’ve transformed their virtual success to a tangible careers; and they’ve done it all by bringing their passion for science to the public.
Mitch, 26, and Greg, also 26, graduated from the University of Guelph in Ontario in 2012. They both studied biological science, and were already inclined to spread that knowledge. “We were always obsessed with our degrees,” Greg told Fusion in a phone interview. “A lot of our friends were in arts programs and we spent a lot of time explaining scientific concepts to them in layman's terms.”
After graduating, Greg says, they missed engaging with science in their daily lives. Greg was still in school, studying education, and was thinking a lot about how kids learn from the Internet. Mitch, meanwhile, was examining YouTube itself. And so, AsapSCIENCE was born. At first the two committed to making one video each week for a year. “We started with stuff we learned in school, and then began accepting questions It grew, and here we are, three years later.”
It’s not surprising that AsapSCIENCE became a hit. The illustrated videos answer the types of pop-science questions viewers might find themselves Googling. Like, is there a couch-potato gene?
And, what does science have to say about weight loss tips?
Or, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The videos have that home-grown feel so important to the Internet, and YouTube in particular. The tone is conversational without being pedantic or dumb, and the authors don’t shy away from playing with the medium, or getting personal. Greg and Mitch have another channel, AsapTHOUGHT, that features tips and musings on social justice, pop culture, and science. One especially charming and thoughtful segment shows the two talking about coming out (twice):
So how do you take such a vibrant, interactive YouTube community to print? According to Greg, a lot of the work that went into making the book was similar to what they had already been doing for their videos. “We would write these long-form scripts that kind of felt like chapters, and then we would have to eliminate a lot of information. We kind of realized we were already writing a book.”
That easy transition is a testament to how rigorously researched the AsapSCIENCE videos are. If you click on the “Show More” tab at the bottom of each of their videos, you will find a “Further Reading” section that serves as a footnote/bibliography field. Some of the articles cited are from scientific journals, the kind you can’t access without hitting a paywall. An average script takes about four of five days to write, with the bulk of that time devoted to research.
But aesthetically, the move from the screen to the page was tricky. “As soon as we started to design for a static page, everything started to change. We had to reconsider everything, completely.” The book is illustrated by Greg, Mitch, and Jessica Carroll, who manages the team’s social media properties. Though more muted in color, the images in the book are evocative of the channel. To make sure that the book looked like the videos, the team sprinkled images throughout the text. There's plenty of blank space, and not much structure. “We never wanted it to be very rigid. It has that free-flowing look to the page.”
The book is made up of the authors' favorite videos, in addition to original writing. “It’s mostly new content, plus some of our personal favorites, and ones that illustrated different themes in science. We designed a whole new batch of chapters—just what we thought was the most fascinating topic. Essentially, it’s the same process we go about with our videos.”
Photo by Danielle Wiener-Bronner
Photo by Danielle Wiener-Bronner
When asked why write a book at all, Greg says it’s another way to expand their audience. In particular, the authors hope the book appeals to an older readership — the types of people who want bite-sized insights into scientific phenomena, but won’t subscribe to a YouTube page. Basically, anyone who’s left their teenage years behind. And, of course, writing (and selling) a book will help the already growing AsapSCIENCE team. "We hired a lot of people with diverse minds and backgrounds. Over the years, we've upped the amount of content we produce, and we need help."
And the two have done a good job bringing their online followers to print. In an eight-minute-long video blog, Greg shows a (private) note he's sending to a reader, that includes a hand-drawn cutout unicorn. That's not something you can get from a video.
The AsapSCIENCE book is available in stores on March, 17. Images courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.