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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

With 147,000 YouTube Subscribers, ODU Physics Alum Is Making a Big Bang

By Sherry DiBari

When Andrew Dotson began posting physics videos to YouTube, he had two followers: his mother and his best friend.

Three years later, his channel boasts 147,000 subscribers. One of those videos, "Physics Professors be Like, "has 2.5 million views.

"I thought of, wrote the jokes for/scripted, recorded and edited that video in one day," Dotson said. "It blows my mind that that's the one that blew up."

Dotson, a native of Virginia Beach, began producing and posting the videos during his freshman year at Old Dominion University.

He felt documenting his experience as a physics student could help other students considering the discipline.

"Physics gets a pretty bad rap and is often touted as being incredibly daunting and difficult," Dotson said. "Though students may have some interest, some never give it a shot because all they've heard about physics is that it's hard.

"I told my friends and family not to subscribe because I wanted to know that the people who watched my videos were watching not because they were being a supportive friend, but because they genuinely wanted to see what studying physics was like. So, when my subscriber count went from two to three, I knew I was in business."

It took a year to reach 1,000 subscribers.

Then Dotson started posting a new video daily for more than 300 days.

"I noticed I actually started to develop an audience," he said.

He's up to 430 videos.

"I chose video types which, as far as physics goes, weren't being made on YouTube. There's no shortage of skit channels, or vloggers. But hardly any of them are about science, let alone physics," Dotson said. "There are a million videos on solving the inclined plane problem, but not many on deriving the Feynman Path Integral."

Dotson makes three types of videos; comedic skits, vlogs and those dealing with higher-level physics. He said the comedic ones are by far the most popular. They often mock the complexity of physics and include inside jokes.

Titles include "How to Tell if Someone is a Physics/Engineering Student," "Let's Look at Physics Memes," "Ten Types of Physics Majors" and "Reading my Grad School Rejection Letters."

Many of Dotson's videos offer short lessons on complicated subjects. He has a playlist dedicated to Tensor Calculus - a method used by Albert Einstein to develop his theory of general relativity.

Roughly half of Dotson's viewers are between the ages of 18 and 24. One-third are from the United States. Subscribers hail from India, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada, each making up 5-7% of viewership.

Only 10% of his audience is female. Dotson hopes to remedy that.

"I've been speaking with women in physics and astronomy about potential interviews to record and post on my channel," he said.

In addition to the videos, Dotson also sells physics-themed clothing and accessories.

"They're a wink and nod to my channel," he said. "They're typically recurring inside jokes I make in certain videos that have just stuck with the channel over the years."

Dotson is working on his Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics at New Mexico State University.

"Ideally, I'd love to have a faculty position at a national lab as a theorist one day," he said. "Wherever it takes me, I'll be sure to document every step along the way."

Dotson graduated from ODU in the summer of 2018.

"I had such a great experience with the physics department, its professors and the SPS (Society of Physics Students)," he said. "I've had professors who took time out of their week to hold optional recitations so we could get extra practice, who would meet with me just to talk about cool topics in physics and professors, and who took me in for a summer research project when no one else did.

"You can't expect to keep a department like that a secret for long."

And for students considering Old Dominion University for physics?

There's a video for that.

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