This week SciSoc met Dr Derek Muller for a ‘fireside chat’, to discuss his role as host of the renowned YouTube channel Veritasium. Taking its name from the Latin ‘veritas’ and the common element ending ‘-ium’ to mean ‘an element of truth’, the channel produces science and engineering videos.

While film production or direction had long been a viable career choice, Dr Muller explained that when he began his PhD in Physics Education Research at the University of Sidney in 2004, YouTube did not even exist.

As the video streaming platform grew in size and popularity, it began to appeal more and more. In response to one question, Dr Muller told the virtual audience of Eton and partnership schools pupils that YouTube primarily appealed to him because he likes to “control his own destiny” and believed YouTube to be “more meritocratic than the media industry”.

His initial plan for the channel was to pitch videos to those who knew very little about scientific concepts and phenomena. He would increase complexity, from the most basic ideas to PhD-level concepts, over a period of several years. It became clear, however, that people who knew nothing did not want to watch the videos, while people who knew a lot felt it was useless too! As a result, he moved to his current style of video, which generally covers higher-level topics that are commonly misunderstood.

Throughout the channel’s existence the team has remained very small, with Dr Muller himself describing it as “a very lean operation”. Quizzing and questions are at the heart of Dr Muller’s teaching style, preventing him from doing the thinking as the teacher and taking opportunities away from his students. In one particular class of 12, we were told, there was a point where he was averaging upwards of a question every minute!

When ambitious audience members asked for some advice on how to create a YouTube channel, Dr Muller cautioned that practice is the way to improve and progress. He explained that his early videos were not particularly good or skilfully crafted, but he learnt an incredible amount from creating and editing them.

You can see Veritasium’s video catalogue here –