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Alba Moreno, physics popularizer: ‘No one should have to change the way they are, dress or express themselves to pursue what they want’

The young Spanish woman has become a star of scientific dissemination on social media, where she explains concepts of physics to her million followers

Alba Moreno
Alba Moreno, science and physics popularizer on social media, in the municipal library of Alcalá de Guadaira, Spain.PACO PUENTES
Andrea García Baroja

Alba Moreno is a 22-year-old young woman from Alcalá de Guadaíra, a mid-sized municipality in the south of Spain, who has become a social media phenomenon that has conquered the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of young people by talking about science. She is currently in the third year of her physics degree at the National University of Distance Education (UNED), but her passion for the discipline comes from an inescapable love that goes beyond the academic interest. “As long as I can remember, I’ve liked the universe and the stars. When I was little I used to point at the sky and tell my mother: ‘That’s for me. I don’t know what it is, but I like it,’” she recalls. She was talking about astrophysics, but neither she nor her mother knew that yet.

Moreno explains concepts of thermodynamics, optics and quantum physics with a more accessible language than that of textbooks in short videos that she posts on social media. Her candidness, the amount of time she devotes to each post, the care she puts into editing the videos and an aesthetic that shatters any prejudice that Gen Z might have yet to resolve, have made her one of the most outstanding science communicators in her country — and an online star.

Moreno’s content exudes naturalness and freshness; a reflection of her personality, even though she describes herself as rather shy, and points out that talking about physics on social media arose from sheer necessity. “Physics is my passion. I have always been the typical bore who wanted to talk about physics all the time, and it got to the point where I started feeling sorry for my friends. I admit it, it’s a tough topic. When I entered college I thought everyone was going to be just like me, freaks talking about news or books. But that’s not what I found. So I created the account to see if I could find people like me that I could talk to,” she explains.

So far, she has found a million followers on Instagram and half a million on TikTok, young people and teenagers who closely follow her posts and comment and discuss them as they would with those of an influencer, with the particularity that Moreno hardly has any haters: people listen to her entire videos, ask for more, analyze the concepts, praise her, call her “queen” and tell her that they do school work about her.

Regarding the keys to her success and why she thinks the audience connects with her in such a visceral way, Moreno has three answers. The first, that her content is attractive to all audiences because it arises from everyday life. For example, she comes up with an explanation for airplane turbulence with a plate of macaroni. The second has to do with her accessible language: “I am not going to change the way I express myself. If I have to explain a physics topic to you and I want you to get it, to understand it, I have to do it in a way we both feel comfortable. My information is just as valid, even if I use common expressions and not just technicalities.” Finally, she acknowledges that her urban aesthetic, far from the stereotypical image of a scientist in a laboratory, has helped her engage the public.

Alba Moreno, science and physics popularizer on social media, in the municipal library of Alcalá de Guadaira, Spain.
Alba Moreno, science and physics popularizer on social media, in the municipal library of Alcalá de Guadaira, Spain.PACO PUENTES

Moreno sports a kind of ratchet, street style: cascading hair, tight pigtails, long nails, tattoos, low-rise pants and tight tops. “I love nails, makeup, looking for different inspirations, I’m crazy about that” she declares, adding that if she had not studied physics, she would have gone for something related to aesthetics. “It catches people’s attention. I’ve also had prejudices throughout my life regarding the fact that a person that looks like me could be studying physics and be just as valid as the typical man who studies physics with a lab coat and glasses.”

Behind each of her videos, there are hours of work. “When preparing a topic, I study everything. You have to know it perfectly in order to be able to explain it. Otherwise, it is impossible to summarize it,” she explains. Moreno uses scientific papers, information from books that she reads for pleasure and content that she studies in class. “But the time I spend on each post varies. Black hole videos are quick. I record directly, because I have been reading about them since I was a child. Now, if I make a video about something I haven’t touched much on, say, electromagnetism, I can spend a whole day researching it. The next day I write the script and then I record it. I repeat many takes. Then I edit it, which takes me about an hour and a half or so,” she says. The most complicated part of the process is condensing all the information. “There are things that simply cannot be summarized in a minute.”

Moreno is equally methodical in her studies, to the point of having repeated a course that she had already passed, but not fully understood. “It’s just that I’m also quite picky with that. I need to understand things so I can move on, you know? Even if I pass a subject, if I feel like I didn’t get it, I do it again. I lose all rights to scholarships, for example. And I always have to work to pay for college, and it’s a grind, but I can’t study a subject that I don’t understand and then move on to the next one just like that,” she says.

She took the second year of physics at the University of Córdoba, but the daily commute was too tiring, so now she is finishing her degree remotely at the National University of Distance Education (UNED). Besides, she finds large cities overwhelming, so she prefers to stay in Alcalá de Guadaíra. “I really am a small town girl,” she says. In addition, she is happy with the flexibility in time management that distance education offers. She wakes up, studies for a few hours, gives private lessons (“I can’t leave them, they’re my children”) and works on her videos — until 8:00 p.m., when it is time to go out and meet with her friends. “I don’t really like university life, having to go to classes every day, all that people. I prefer to study at home, at my own pace.”

The launch last October of the Miura 1 rocket, made by the Spanish company PLD Space, was a key moment in Moreno’s life. She took her car and drove to Huelva so she could see it from the beach in the early hours of the morning. “I saw it live and it was crazy. I mean, I’m a different person since then.” Her enthusiasm for physics shines through the screen as she gives this interview to EL PAÍS. She has a tattoo of Stephen Hawking’s face, although he is but one of her many role models. “My favorites are Jocelyn Bell, Vera Rubin. Those are my idols. Rosalind Franklin, too,” she adds.

She has all kinds of followers, young and old, but those who interact the most with her content are girls who are passionate about science, just like she was. They reach out to Moreno to ask for advice about their university and work careers, which are dominated by a strong male presence. “They send me lots of messages, and it makes me very excited. It is a big responsibility, but I understand them because I was also afraid when I started. I have always lacked female role models in books, at school, at university and everywhere. That’s why I encourage them, I try to make them see that nothing can stop them.”

Not everything about her social media journey has been in good taste. Back when she started, most people only talked about her looks. “Before opening the account I was very naive, I thought that prejudice was a thing of the past. I felt super disappointed, because I was working on topics that people couldn’t care less about,” she laments. Still, she is convinced that “no one should have to change the way they are, dress or express themselves in order to pursue what they want, as long as they are not disrespecting anyone.”

For the moment, she is still doing her videos. She wants to finish her degree in a couple of years so she can work doing research, although the lack of funding in Spain discourages her. Her dream is to work at PLD Space and be part of the launch of a future Miura X. “That would be amazing. My dream since I was a child.”

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