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[Beyond Earth] Orbit hopes to bring science closer to public

Korean science communicator says now is crucial time to establish right culture for science

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : Sept. 17, 2023 - 15:26

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Science communicator Orbit speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on August 30. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Science communicator Orbit speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on August 30. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The level of public interest in space here has reached its highest point in recent years when South Korea consecutively succeeded in launching homegrown Nuri rocket and Danuri, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, last year.

Orbit, undeniably the most well-known science communicator in South Korea at the moment, says the science frenzy here should continue by uncovering the more entertaining aspects of science from the vastness of the universe, as well as fun research.

Science communicators are individuals with scientific research knowledge who work to simplify and explain science to the general public, using social media platforms such as YouTube.

“In fact, space is an area that a lot of members of the public take interest in,” said Orbit in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Aug. 29. The science communicator wished to be published only under his professional nickname, rather than his real name.

“I think the degree of interest overall in science and technology has gone up noticeably now. The space sector, where the public takes the most interest, has gone beyond the surface. Think about Danuri, Nuri and Naro in Korea and (NASA’s) James Web (Space Telescope) and DART missions. There have been many issues that have attracted the public’s interest to space.”

As one of the science communicators on Unrealscience’s YouTube channel, Orbit covers a wide range of science topics and explains science issues in an easier way. Unrealscience had over 900,000 subscribers as of Sept. 11.

He credited Korea’s senior science communicators to lay the foundation for his generation and younger science communicators to be active as they try to promote space and general science and make them more familiar and friendly to the general public.

“The reason we are not close to (science) is not because it is difficult. Consider how music, art and films are made in very complex ways. It doesn’t mean that we are close to them because they are easy. We feel familiar with them because we are close to them in everyday life,” he said.

“Once something becomes familiar, it’s no more a matter of its easiness or difficulty. We can then accept it. Take the James Webb telescope, for example. It’s become so familiar that people now have the image of a really expensive piece of equipment looking at what happened in the universe right after the big bang and searching for the great secrets of space.”

As some of the unique charms of space, Orbit pointed to the unimaginable vastness of the universe and how it allows for imagination with no limits.

“In the quantum world, we know it’s in front of us but we can’t see them because it’s too small. On the other hand, space is too far, too big and infinite, so we can only imagine, which I think is a major appealing point,” he said.

“We can imagine anything in space. To that end, astronomy requires a lot of imagination. It has many more areas where imagination is required to frame a hypothesis with zero boundaries.”

Noting that he began his career as a science communicator 13 to 15 years ago, he said he wanted to let the public know what kind of “fun research” scientists do. He explained that the path was tough but things changed so much in the last three years, citing Lee Mal-nyeon, a former webtoon artist who became a famous streamer under the name of Chim Chak Man with his YouTube channel having over 2.25 million subscribers.

“I created good content and asked people to check out the stories of scientists, but no one would listen,” said Orbit.

“Chim Chak Man contacted me and told me that he wanted to do a science lecture on his channel. So I went there and we had awesome reactions as well as a very high number of views. It took off since then. Now people ask me to do more science talks on his channel.”

According to Orbit, the offline lectures offered by his Unrealscience team get sold out within a minute of opening up online ticket sales, reflecting how the Korean public is now more interested in science than ever before. With such a high level of attention, he emphasized the importance of this moment.

“People should be able to enjoy science as entertainment. It’s not some sort of enlightenment,” said Orbit. “The era where the public can get friendly with science has come and this is an opportunity that may never come back."

Asked why he wished to go by only his nickname, Orbit underlined that he wants to serve as a kind of platform to connect people and science.

“I don’t talk about my personal life because if the spotlight is on me and I get exhausted, the science frenzy might come to an end,” he said. “But when people hear the name, Orbit, they get to find out that it’s part of a satellite orbit as well as learn about astronomical movements, an area of science that they may not have known about.”