Q&A Charlie McDonnell

Charlie at Union Square

YouTuber Charlie McDonnell, whose initial claim to fame was teaching the Internet how to make tea and painting himself purple, has just come out with a book called Fun Science. On Friday, October 21, I caught up with Charlie at Union Square Park in New York City right before he headed over to Books of Wonder for his NYC book signing. After grabbing some tea at Think Coffee, Charlie told me how he’d spent the morning finalizing the edit of episode 1 of his new 5-part web series that shares the same name as his book. His visit to New York, which was his first solo trip to the Big Apple, was a stopover between home and Toronto, where he’d be screening the first episode of Fun Science at Buffer Festival on Sunday. Apparently finishing your piece more than 24 hours before it screens is early compared to most webisodes at the festival.

Fun Science is a book that is written by a science fan rather than a scientist. Charlie’s advice to other fans looking for an outlet for their science enthusiasm is to find ways to leak science into the creative things that you make. He also likes to slip science facts into conversations and listen to music with science themes. We had a little chat about They Might Be Giants before settling down for a Q&A about the book.


unnamed-1Fun Science is on sale everywhere books are sold. If you purchase from Powells, you’ll help fund Anglonerd.com with no extra cost to you.


You say in the book your favorite science fact is that we’re all made of star stuff, but what’s your favorite little known fact?

I do really like the thing about the 9 senses. That’s a good one for anyone who’s like, “Why do you care so much about science?” You can throw that out there, and it messes with this thing that they’ve known to be true for their whole lives, that we have 5 senses. No, you definitely have more than that.

“Did you know that you actually have nine senses, not five? As well as sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, you also have senses of heat, balance/ pressure and pain. The final one is known as proprioception (probably my favorite sense) which is the sense of where your body parts are in space!”

Fun Science, Charlie McDonnell


Did you consult Hank Green while you were working on Fun Science?

I did not. Hank originally asked me to do a fun science series with him, and then I ended up doing this YouTube channel Cereal Time with him instead. Hank is very much in his element when it comes to his science communication stuff. I wanted to try to do my own thing. He has a copy of the book. He seems quite excited about it.


What podcasts, TV, or radio do you recommend to science fans?

Cosmos: I think it is worth going back to the original 80s show as well, even if it is a bit of its time…For Carl Sagan’s little insights in it of itself, I think it’s worth watching. The new version is very good as well, with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

RadioLab: That was one of the podcasts that got me into science.

Invisibilia: That was born from some of the people on the RadioLab crew.

Science Vs: I think it’s similar in tone to Fun Science—very silly and light-hearted—but it’s much more serious than Fun Science at the same time. The host Wendy Zukerman tackles quite controversial topics, topics that people are quite argumentative about, and is just like, “Let’s put all of that aside and just look at the science.”


What technological advancement is most interesting to you at the moment?

The only ones that stick in my mind are the ones that scare me, honestly. I’ve been reading a book about super-intelligence and if you give a computer any ability to think for itself and learn for itself, given that computer processors are so much more powerful than our brains are, you can create an intelligence that’s so much smarter than us. This is the thing big tech companies are focusing on right now!


What would be on your Golden Record?

I’d ask the Beatles again to put “Here Comes the Sun” on it because they really missed a trick with that one. More recent stuff. I don’t know if there’s any Beyoncé in space, but that should probably be on it. We want to send up our best!


If you got a second life, what field would you go into?

I don’t know if I quite have it in me to be a scientist. I go into it a little bit in the book, but I think the reason I’m quite good at science communication is because I am a little bit slow. I need to condense these ideas down in order to fully understand them myself. Once I have understood it, I’m like, “Okay, I feel like other people would probably get this now, too.” If I was going to do anything [in science], it would definitely be cosmology or astronomy. Possibly neurology as well. The tiny bits of astronomy I’ve done myself in my back garden or in my flat are just like, “Wow, the planets are real!”


What’s your favorite dinosaur?

I don’t know that I have a favorite dinosaur, but I’ve always liked the Velociraptor. I wouldn’t want to meet one, but I guess they’re cuter now [that they’re thought to have had feathers].


Charlie McDonnell’s Ultimate Recommendation List:

• Flowers
• Black Mirror
• Westworld

“I was invited to the premier of Class, but I had to be in New York,” Charlie laments before joking, “Darn my lovely life!”


unnamed-1Fun Science is on sale everywhere books are sold. If you purchase from Powells, you’ll help fund Anglonerd.com with no extra cost to you.


Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd.com. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.


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