The week of August 17, 2014

Me IRL: Hank Green

By Marissa Fessenden

He calls himself “Internet Guy.” The moniker is probably the most succinct, if not the most specific way to describe Hank Green’s contributions to the Web’s ecosystem.

Green makes up one half of the Vlogbrothers Internet power duo with his brother, John Green, the acclaimed author of The Fault in Our Stars. They started making quick and nerdy videos that they shared on YouTube in 2007. Out of that first collaboration many others have sprung, including the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, SciShow, and The Brain Scoop. The Vlogbrothers also started VidCon, the world’s largest video blogger convention.

Green, who is a musician as well as a biochemist, branched out into other Internet-y realms with the DFTBA record label (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome), 2D glasses that make 3D movies viewable for people who get headaches viewing them, and numerous other projects.

In The Kernel’s Back to School edition, Hank Green tells us about science education and YouTube, sea slugs, and why he doesn’t like having goals.


First screenname: Kay9 (The Doctor’s dog)

Earliest memory of the Internet: Downloading a picture of Captain Picard… overnight.

“Jif” of “gif”: Jif… but both are correct.

Favorite bizarre Wikipedia entry: I’m gonna go with sea slugs.

If the Internet didn’t exist: Humanity would have destroyed itself by now.

Essential app: Tumblr

Must-follow on Twitter: Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson), PleatedJeans (@pleatedjeans)

Favorite social network: YouTube

The Web would be better if: More people had access to it.

The Internet in five years: Five years is like a million Internet years… I have no idea.

Weirdest scientific fact learned on the Internet: Sea slugs inseminate each other with sharp, penile spines. It’s called “traumatic insemination.”

Great scientist from history you’d want to meet: That is a very difficult decision for me. I think Newton would be interesting historically as well as scientifically. I’d really like to tell him how much he changed the world.

How is YouTube changing science education? 

It’s just providing more resources. I believe strongly in the classroom as an institution, and it should not and will not go away. My hope, however, is that the Internet will allow teachers to keep more up to date with what they’re teaching, and tap into the excitement born in human curiosity that is the basis of all science.

How do you see girls’ interest and participation in science changing?

I’ve only been in this field for a few years, so it’s hard to report on direct observation. But I think the Internet opens doors and allows all people to be excited about the things they’re excited about without judgement. I want all people to succumb to their innate curiosity and be fascinated by the bizarre reality of the world around them, and since social and cultural barriers still exist particularly for women, I am very encouraged by (and thrilled to be participating in) the growth in efforts to normalize and enable women in science.

What was the most unexpected or surprising response to one of your projects?

I made a video about the James Webb Space Telescope a while back, and within a day I had a number of emails from NASA employees… not asking to collaborate, or telling me what I got wrong or right, but just expressing how nice it was to take a step back to understand how important their work was, and that it was really nice to have someone express the mission of NASA in a new way after all these years. I later found out that it had been forwarded around internally to just about every employee at NASA, including the head of the entire agency. That will always mean a huge amount to me.

What’s the next project you want to tackle?

I like creating real-life spaces for online communities. I like helping the world know more stuff. But I don’t like having goals… I just look at what tools I have and what cool stuff I can do with those tools and then try to do a thing. If you haven’t heard about it yet, it’s because we haven’t thought of it yet. So, in short, I don’t know!


Illustration by J. Longo