"Not using nuclear power seems a bit suicidal"
Physicist José Luis Crespo is the director of Quantum Fracture, a YouTube animation channel dedicated to showing "how incredibly crazy (and quantum) the Universe is." Currently, his channel has almost 2.5 million subscribers and over 160 million visits, which makes him one of the platform's most important creators of scientific content in Spanish. We asked him about the energy of the atom. "We are very interested in clarifying many prejudices and misunderstandings around nuclear power," he says. "I consider nuclear power a tool that we should make more use of in the environmental transition."
Quantum Fracture is a YouTube channel with thousands of followers. How did the idea and the name come about?
By imitation. When I was 16 or 17, I discovered the YouTube world with iconic celebrities like Rubius. At that moment of discovery I became familiar with English-speaking youtubers, especially those who spoke about science. These people spread their message in a very different way from what I was accustomed to, with a dynamic, friendly and highly innovative format. They dared to talk about thinks that traditionally no one talks about; at least I had never seen this on books or documentaries. They dared to do new things. That's when I asked myself: "why is this not in Spanish?," and when I was in University I took a leap and went for it.
The name comes from trying to find a cool title for the channel; that's why I used the English term "Quantum," which refers to quantum physics, and paired it with something powerful. I basically wanted a strong name. Quantum Fracture doesn't really mean anything in physics. There isn't much mystery to it...
You have revolutionized and conquered social networks by talking about physics. How did you do it?
If I had the full answer I guess I'd be teaching master's degrees... ha, ha! What I actually think helped was having high production values, visually above average videos, always making an effort to maintain this, and striving to make a video no one else has made. Apart from that, I was in the right place at the right time. There is a luck factor that we cannot leave out. I believe this is what makes Quantum Fracture be where it is.
"I strive to share science videos that have never been seen before"
What is your relationship with other young scientific communicators?
I have a very good relationship with practically all of them. We share the same passion for the same things, and I think this brings us close together. This not only applies to the scientific sector; there are other youtubers sharing information on other topics. In fact, it was in that spirit that we created Cultube. We wanted a space where we could tell all these stories and details while having a beer together, and we wanted to share it with the public. I find it very important to have a community of youtubers that share cultural knowledge.
What led you to get a degree in physics?
It was the idea of spreading knowledge that drove me to get a physics degree. While exploring YouTube when I was 14, I ended up watching a theoretical physics documentary on the string theory, and this opened the door to physics for me. It was not the classes or a specific professor, nor was it the academic path.
"It was the idea of spreading knowledge that drove me to get a physics degree"
What job opportunities did you expect to get after graduation?
I never thought about this when I started to study physics. I just wanted to get into university so I could acquire knowledge. Once I was in, it became clearer to me that my future path was research. However, along the way I realized it wasn't really my path. To put it briefly, I would have been very bad at it. But since my hobby was to upload videos to YouTube, I discovered that scientific communication was actually a job opportunity.
Did you picture yourself working at a nuclear power plant?
No, but mainly because no one told me that it was a possibility. It's true that universities should place greater emphasis on the whole range of job opportunities in physics, because there are some that you never even consider and which you can discover later on.
"Many universities should place greater emphasis on the whole range of job opportunities in physics"
In your experience, what videos are most successful?
The topic of the universe is always very popular. Every time you talk about the Big Bang, the expansion of the universe or any space stuff, people are especially interested. However, I have also learnt that the topic of quantum physics is very compelling. Basically, the public will really love anything mind-blowing and almost magic. Still, our experience is that you might decide to cover a topic without any expectations, and then it turns out that people are very interested in it. We were greatly surprised by how invested people were on the impact of Starlink on astronomers. These videos were very popular.
What happened when you spoke about nuclear power?
We don’t have any videos where we cover nuclear power in depth. We talked a lot about other concepts on nuclear physics, but we are very interested in clarifying many of the prejudices and misunderstandings around nuclear power, a technique that can be of great help in our fight against climate change.
“We are very interested in clarifying many of the prejudices and misunderstandings around nuclear power”
From your early start as a scientific youtuber, what changes have you seen in the network, your videos, the way you communicate and your followers?
It is indeed in constant evolution, although, as with any media, some formulas and ways of expressing things are maintained. It is true that the freedom YouTube offers makes us evolve too. For example, at Quantum Fracture we recently went from making 5-minute animations to a much more classical 35-minute long documentary. People must let go of the idea that YouTube is just a place with other people just taking up camera space.
While preparing this interview I saw a recent video on your YouTube channel with the title “Atomic nuclei are not like that”. What are they like, then?
To put it briefly, because there is a story behind how these ideas came to be, the particles that compose the atomic nucleus, as all subatomic particles, are quantum, and since they are quantum they experience strange things, such as the fact that a particle can be in different places at the same time, move at different speeds, have different energies or spin at different spinning rhythms. This means that the notion of the nucleus is not “little balls stuck to each other,” but rather that of a fluid system. Thus, the most complete way of seeing this the idea that every proton and neutron inside the nucleus is undefined, both in position and speed. The most graphic way of visualizing this is a small cloud. This reflects the probability of finding the particle. These little combined clouds compose the atomic nucleus.
How do you react to positive comments, and how do you take negative comments?
It is true that positive comments feel very good, but the negative ones are ten times heavier. This is something any youtuber will tell you, and it is very unfair. Many youtubers say that the best thing you can do is ignore them. However, if these negative comments are also constructive I am completely convinced that they will help me improve my work, and for that reason I give them a bit of attention.
Climate change is another topic you feature in your videos. In your opinion, what is the role of nuclear power in putting a stop to it?
IPCC, the panel that includes a large number of global experts on climate change and publishes reports synthetizing the state of the art in climate change research, suggests that there are various pathways to reduce emissions to zero, regarding the consumption of energy. Some of these pathways include nuclear power and some do not. Personally, I believe nuclear power is a tool we should make more use of in order to achieve the environmental transition. In the future, when the situation with carbonized energies is over, we will be able to analyze any disadvantages of nuclear power. Not using nuclear power seems a bit suicidal.
“Nuclear power is a tool we should make more use of in the environmental transition”
Could you share with us a place we could get lost in (or not), an exhibition, book, concert, trip, movie…?
I think the book by Alfredo García, @OperadorNuclear, is excellent. The title: “La energía nuclear salvará el mundo” (“Nuclear power will save the world”) (2020) Published by Planeta.