I don’t know about you, but there is nothing I love more than to read about science that’s presented in an entertaining and digestible way, especially when it pertains to topics I geek out about anyway, like comics and video games. When I got the opportunity to interview Kyle Hill, the science editor for Nerdist Industries and host of Because Science, I almost fan-girled. Kyle is kind of what I want to be when I grow up…some day. No, not a Chris Hardwick lackey—though that does seem like it would be awfully fun. I’d love to be able to spread my passion for science and how things work, explain the hidden stories behind the seemingly mundane, and make sense of things that seem so much bigger than us. But Kyle Hill does it in a much more engaging way than I ever could.
At least, I’ll concede that point for the purposes of this article.
GeekMom: What spawned your interest in science, and what made you want to teach others about it?
Kyle Hill: I’ve always liked science and the natural world. I’d be that kid playing with LEGOs or trying to catch bugs to stare at them. My parents were very supportive of that kind of outlook, taking me to museums and buying CD-ROMs (remember those?!) about dinosaurs. After high school I went right into an engineering program and starting blogging for myself. Sometime before I finished my degree I figured out that I liked talking about science and explaining it more than actually doing it. During my graduate program I started submitting articles to Scientific American, and things sort of spiraled upwards from there.
GM: Can you tell us a little about how Because Science got started?
KH: From a logistical standpoint, working with a brand like Nerdist means producing quality digital content, so a video series was probably an inevitability. But personally, I’ve always wanted to do something like Because Science. I find that actually talking out loud about what you are trying to explain helps you understand it even better yourself. And I do. A lot. So that combined with my over-caffeinated delivery was a good foundation for a show. And since I find myself saying “because science” to justify my nerdery a lot, the name was obvious.
GM: What would you say to someone who says they are interested in, say, space, or how things work, but they don’t feel they are “smart enough” to pursue any knowledge or research?
KH: Our educational system seems to have a hard time dispelling the “science is too hard” stereotype. I’d bet that if you talked to our best scientists, they’d say that this passion for a subject is the most important part; working out the homework comes later. Science at its core is a systematic exploration of how the natural world works, and we are all ingrained with the curiosity to ask the same questions that science does. Don’t let this “ivory tower” facade that science has scare you off. It’s fascinating first.
GM: What is your favorite topic? What really gets you geeked out beyond measure?
KH: I love physics, especially where it lets you talk about power and energy and explosions! Physics is one of those fields that most people have an intuitive understanding of—whether or not they know the math, we have a good idea how things are supposed to move and interact. So when I can say that a punch from a “Pacific Rim” Jaeger is like having a 747 hit your face, it’s immediately understandable, nerdy, and accurate!
GM: What do you think is the most important thing a parent or mentor could do to get kids excited about science?
KH: It’s hard to say what the most important thing would be, but I’d say listening to a child’s interest first has to be up there. Children are naturally curious, and you can build and foster that curiosity by introducing them to the science that explores what they love. A love of the night sky, of insects in the grass, of a computer whirring away, these can be bolstered by introducing them to the people, books, and videos that let them get deeper involved. Let children explore, and give them the tools to help them explore better.
GM: Have you ever had any science misadventures? Has science ever gotten you into trouble?
KH: Well, there are things I’m aware of—physics and chemistry-wise—that I know I shouldn’t try. I try to steer clear of possible explosions as a rule. But when I was a kid collecting insects, I unknowingly forced a pretty gruesome situation. One day, I collected three monarch caterpillars in the park near my house. I put them all in a carrier and waited for them to metamorphize into beautiful butterflies. But I didn’t give them anything to eat. After the first caterpillar attempted to change, the other two climbed up to where it was and ate it alive. It was pretty rough. I wasn’t trying to run a caterpillar fighting ring. Feed your pets.
GM: If a younger person (or heck, even an older one!) wanted to be Kyle Hill when s/he grew up, what advice would you give?
KH: As my friend and fellow video-maker Joe Hanson (of “It’s Okay to be Smart”) says: Stay curious! I’m not a scientist, and I’ve never taken formal writing classes. I have a background in science but I’m not an expert. Any success on my part is from trying to stay perpetually curious, and seeking out the information that will help me get my passion across while being accurate. That means taking free writing courses if you’re not a writer. It means staying up to date (I am on the Internet *constantly*) and taking science communication seriously. And don’t ever think that you are being too nerdy!
GM: What is your favorite source for science news?
KH: It has to be Twitter. I have a pretty hefty RSS feed, but I use Twitter to keep track of the writers, creators, and scientists that I like directly (not institutions or brands themselves). Social media is a great way to stay in touch with the people that inspire and inform you, and for the most part they are happy to engage with you! Start taking notice of who seems to be writing/filming/speaking about all the stuff you like or are interested in and check up on them. Chances are they are still producing great content.
GM: Anything exciting in the works that we can look forward to?
KH: The beauty of the digital age is that you never quite know what comes next. Currently I’m writing and making videos, but there is certainly room for more science-y goodness in the future. TV spots? Maybe a podcast? If it has to do with science and geeking out about this universe, I want to try it!
Kyle Hill is a science writer and communicator based in Los Angeles, California. He received his Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Marquette University, and his Master of Arts in communication from the same university in 2013. In 2013, he started writing for Scientific American, finding a niche in the intersection of science and pop culture. Since then, his nerdy work has been published in WIRED, Popular Science, Slate, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared as an expert on Fox News, Al Jazeera America, and Huffington Post Live. And he has held writing positions at Nature Education and Discover Magazine. Kyle has worked as a TV science correspondent for Al Jazeera America. In 2013, he was named one of the top 20 science communicators to follow by WIRED magazine and is currently the Science Editor of Nerdist Industries and host of Because Science. His goal as a science communicator is to use popular culture to teach science in a fun and digestible way.