She had no idea that Veysi Erkcan Özcan would one day represent science programming on FluTV, a popular Turkish YouTube channel. The experimental particle physicist has been the star of monthly videos since mid-2020 to explain topics like the ATLAS experiment at CERN and quantum physics, filling what he claims is a gap in Turkish popular science. The average number of views of their programs is over 600.000.
In addition to his work in the field of science communication, Özcan also played an important role in the development of Turkish R&D. He teaches at Istanbul Boğaziçi University and is the interim director of the Turkish Nuclear Energy Research Institute. In 2018, together with academics from Boğaziçi and eight other Turkish universities, he founded KAHVELab to produce equipment, detectors, particle accelerators and more for commercial use in Turkey. The name of the laboratory is both an abbreviation and a play on the Turkish word coffee, which means coffee. Turkish coffee is world famous.
Since the appointment of the rector to the institution with the appointment of President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on New Year's Eve 2021, students and faculty members in Boğaziçi have been constantly protesting. Some students who participated in the protests raided their homes by law enforcement, and some staff were forced to leave. Police handcuffed the protesters and closed the university, which supporters of the demonstrations claimed represented the current administration's control over freedom of thought. This was a particularly remarkable event.
Özcan had a Zoom meeting with Physics Today.
We are presenting this interview to you now.
PT: Describe your school and work history in a few sentences.
ÖZCAN: Although I enjoy studying every field of physics, particle physics mostly makes me feel at home. I received my undergraduate degrees in electrical and electronics engineering and physics in 1999 from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Later, I moved to California to pursue my PhD at Stanford. I worked on the BaBar experiment at SLAC, where B-Meson precision measurements were made.
In 2006, I moved to Geneva as a postdoctoral researcher to take part in the ATLAS project. I worked on models without Higgs, looking for the expected results in the absence of the Higgs boson. After the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012, I did a lot of analysis and focused my focus on the ATLAS trigger mechanism and unusual physics.
When I returned to Turkey in 2011, I focused most of my research on creating compact particle accelerators and detectors, almost desktop size. I took charge in Bogazici in 2017 and the following year we established KAHVELab to take initiatives towards the demands of the country's industrial sector.
I have spent the last nine months working on a contract at TENMAK, the Turkish Energy, Nuclear and Mining Investigation Agency. It serves as the administrative center of the research, development, testing and evaluation branch of the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
I am the interim director of TENMAK's Nuclear Energy Research Institute, where we work on everything from particle accelerators to research reactors, from nuclear agriculture to medical physics.
PT: Can you explain your relationship with KAHVELab?
ÖZCAN: I truly believe that fundamental engineering demonstrations for applied physics research are an excellent way to inspire the general public. For this reason, we tried to establish a facility that would meet all of Turkey's needs for particle physics, thus Turkish COFFEE (Kandilli Detector, Accelerator and Instrumentation). We have undertaken various initiatives that are pioneers in Turkey.
These are an RF quadrupole accelerator expected to be the smallest of its kind in the world, an electron beam welding system, a delay wire chamber, numerous simulation programs and more.
"A cup of coffee has 40 years of memory" is a Turkish proverb. Similarly, we intend to produce products that will benefit the Turkish and world economy for many years. Any researcher who has the opportunity to work in our lab for even just one day should value the experience and remember it for years to come. We aimed to create a place worth 40 years of wonderful memories.
PT: You studied engineering and physics. Do you think engineers and physicists have different ways of thinking?
ÖZCAN: Both professions have one very important feature in common: the ability to divide a difficult task into manageable steps, each of which can be tackled on its own.
In my view, I would say that physicists think differently on this matter. Anything can create a sense of wonder.
The main goal of an engineer is to accept some processes as they are and quickly reach an effective practical solution. Theirs is a results-oriented process.
As long as they have a basic knowledge of the phenomenon, they do not need a detailed explanation of what happened at each step leading to a resolution.
As an experimental particle physicist, I aim to use both aspects of my knowledge. Because you have to collect data in the lab, you rarely have time to identify the root causes of equipment not working as it should. My engineering background goes there. While encouraging the work of physics students to be useful, I also try to attract the attention of engineering students.
PT: What triggered your partnership with FluTV? What kind of content do you create?
ÖZCAN: Director İlker Canikligil, whom I can confidently describe as a Renaissance man who deals with every aspect of life with curiosity, started FluTV. He gathered experts in the fields of history, psychology, music, and economics and began recording his one-on-one conversations with them.
Being an ardent follower, I believed the same pattern would apply to science. I told this to a friend who knew Canikligil by chance and arranged our meeting. Since I have plenty of free time due to the pandemic, I talked to Canikligil for an hour in his studio.
The first event was recorded after removing his camera. I am confused. I had anticipated that there would be some kind of pre-production phase.
We made a movie about CERN on the first day that started my FluTV experience. Just like that. I have to admit that I was uncomfortable shooting the first video. I was nervous because I wasn't prepared. However, Canikligil stated that he would edit the video to ensure that the audience had a positive experience, and he did. We record one to two hours of conversation for each episode and then cut it into a 30 to 40 minute video.
PT: What do you think is what draws viewers to your videos?
The structure of FluTV is different from other educational science videos on YouTube. Our discussions do not follow a certain pattern. We actually improvise a lot. When the camera starts recording, the conversations we make become the content of our videos. The first episodes had a predetermined theme, so I would arrive at the recording studio having done my research and decided what metaphors I could use to explain physical principles. After choosing the topic of the week for the last few episodes, we go into the studio and shoot our speech.
Personally, I prefer to create an outline for more useful dialogue. However, I think the improvisational format of our program gives the audience the confidence of a talk rather than the fear of lecturing. Because the program doesn't feel like a lecture hall, it attracts attendees from a wide range of demographics, including those with non-scientific credentials. As a result, FluTV not only fills the intellectual gap in Turkish scientific knowledge, but also offers interesting and educational content that many of our viewers can enjoy while dining.
I watch the videos over and over again before they are released and take notes on the parts that I think need more explanation. I leave these comments in the [comments on YouTube video page] field. In the video below, I discuss issues of confusion using a new paradigm. I like to think that this online connection helps viewers and creators meet.
Reading the comments also helped my lesson. My teaching decisions are influenced by bright questions from the audience.
PT: Can physics education use comparable methods to attract more students?
ÖZCAN: As part of our format, Canikligil and [assistant] Serpil Özcan start the conversation by asking me questions they already know the answers to. These are the kinds of issues that are routinely addressed but rarely come up, such as exactly how electricity works. Teaching students the types of questions they should ask is dangerous in our education system. FluTV's science programming deviates from this pattern and raises questions arising from heated debate. People answer questions and simple misunderstandings like, "Didn't you learn that in high school?" I find it unfortunate that he responds with such expressions.
We need to get rid of the habit of harassing others who are just trying to learn. While watching one of our videos, none of our viewers need to be interested in physics knowledge.
Because science is universally so much fun, we should allow people who may have completed a certain level of education to inadvertently ask questions. I aim to take an open, inviting stance in our videos. In my view, the popularity of physical sciences among students will increase rapidly if everyone is given the opportunity to ask the same question.
PT: How did the protests of the rector appointed by the Presidency affect the academic and social environment of Boğaziçi?
ÖZCAN: Since I have been working at TENMAK, I have not been able to follow the progress of the protest or how the appointment affected academic life for the last nine months. Still, we can assume that the Bosphorus is facing situations that have never been seen before. In addition to intimidating the newly arrived freshman, some faculty's research initiatives are thwarted by their opposition to the presidential appointment. I am incredibly proud to be a part of Boğaziçi because of the courage and perseverance shown by my colleagues and students over the past year. It is necessary to be an avid reader of politics and history in order to evaluate the current situation in Turkey.
To a physicist it seems natural to group things by projecting continuous phenomena into discrete phases. However, it is still difficult to model areas between phases where the function is no longer continuous. One of the places where universal principles are strongly defended is Turkey. A good example of this is the Bosphorus. It will turn out that we are on the side of history.
PT: What future plans do you have?
ÖZCAN: TENMAK is actively reorganizing as an agile organization that actively listens to academics, establishes partnerships with universities and the business world, strives to be a reliable supporter of Big Science and strongly connects with the public.
I plan to strengthen the Institute's ties with academia and continue to contribute to this new vision.
We will continue to design and manufacture accelerators at KAHVELab. We are in talks with CERN to work together on a project that will allow us to design and manufacture components for their future accelerators.
I have always had a passion for teaching. I enjoy working with FluTV, so after finishing my term at TENMAK, I can step up my efforts to reach and popularize science.
Source: Physics Today