A YouTube channel for exoplanet researchers

Professor Ignas Snellen has developed an online platform where exoplanet researchers can post videos about their work: exoplanet-talks.org. ‘For young researchers in particular it’s a way to bring their research to people’s attention.’

Exoplanet-talks.org is a kind of YouTube, but ten with presentations on research into exoplanets, or planets that orbit another star than the sun. The platform will solve several problems, says Professor of Observational Astrophysics Ignas Snellen.

Snellen explains: ‘In our field we have loads of meetings around the world and do ridiculous amounts of travelling . The problem with big meetings has always been that there are very few places for presentations, which means young researchers in particular have little opportunity to effectively present their work. Yes, you can make a poster, but that has less impact. Since the pandemic, more meetings have been online, which has meant even less room for presentations. That makes it more difficult still for young researchers.’

Greener

On the online platform any member can post a film of a presentation, and this can be watched at any time. There is also room to ask or answer questions whenever it suits you. ‘And within the discipline we’d been discussing for a long time already how to make our work greener because all that flying isn’t ideal,’ Snellen adds. And one more advantage: ‘The film of a presentation is more likely to sink in than a real-live presentation because you can watch bits again in your own time.’

The platform is a secure environment where researchers can post films within different categories of exoplanet research. You have to be a member to post a presentation, but anyone can watch one. Snellen sent out a mail and shared some posts on social media about this and promptly received more than 400 responses from colleagues who were interested in joining. Over a quarter of the roughly 1,500 researchers in the world who are currently active in the field.

Idea for other disciplines

Leiden colleagues from other disciplines have also expressed an interest in a comparable platform. ‘We’re definitely open to this kind of collaboration,’ says Snellen. ‘Although the idea is that everyone would be in charge of their own platform.’

A limited number of members are expected to start using exoplanet-talks.org in a soft launch before the end of the year, and the platform should be open to all at the start of 2021. ‘I can imagine a new kind of hybrid conference emerging that will remain once the pandemic is over. With online presentations and meeting in person. We obviously don’t know if it’s going to catch on. Maybe it will die a death, but the first impressions look good. Perhaps it will really take off.

Text: Jan Joost Aten

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