UT alum Joe Hanson’s educational videos teach about the wonders of science

Amanda Kaeni

UT alum Joe Hanson’s educational videos teach viewers about the wonders of science.

Hanson’s YouTube channel, called “It’s Okay to be Smart,” currently has over 1.3 million subscribers and features videos about a variety of science topics, from climate change to the history and impact of the toilet.

Hanson said that his videos are an extension of his brain and the questions he has about the world. 

“What you see are questions I wonder about and want to explain to myself, and I try to take people along on that journey of educating myself and learning about it,” he said. “I’m constantly jotting down notes and remembering little things I want to know more about … It’s about exploring my own curiosity.”

Hanson earned his Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from UT-Austin in 2013. His research focused on genetic engineering and evolution of the genome and he worked in Alan Lambowitz’s lab, where he attempted to develop gene editing technology.

“UT is such a rich and amazing place,” Hanson said. “Some people are scared of the size of the school, but (the size) means it has so much to offer. It means we get to interact and intersect with people, programs, ideas and multidisciplinary approaches that you don’t get to see at other places”

Hanson started his YouTube channel while in school after realizing how difficult it was get people as excited about the science behind his Ph.D. as he was.

“I realized the public needed that (experience) too … to know why what we were doing was important … I made a decision that I wanted to start a project to communicate science to the world,” he said.

Hanson said he sees curiosity as the opposite of fear and hopes communicating science through his videos will inspire more curiosity. 

“A lot of people are nervous or anxious or afraid of what’s unknown out there … That’s why people resist some things that science says about climate change or evolution or food,” Hanson said. “It’s mysterious and it can be intimidating for some people, but if you switch that fear with curiosity you start to get excited about things you don’t know. That’s the feeling I’m trying to get people comfortable with.”

Hanson recently spoke at the Science March in Austin about the importance of science. He said that it was incredible to see 10,000 people attend the march and stand up for their beliefs.

“The science march showed around the world that people support science,” he said. “They want to see it funded and they want the method that (science) uses to solve problems to be the method our government uses to solve problems.”

Hanson said the most important thing for young scientists to learn is how to talk about their research.

“If you’re a young scientist, you should learn how to communicate your science, because it’s increasingly clear that if you don’t do it, somebody else either isn’t going to do it as well as you can, or isn’t going to do it at all,” Hanson said. “If you love the work that you do … then you should speak up about why you’re passionate about it … I think it’s on us as scientists to reach out and show people why what we do is so amazing.”