James Orgill wanted to use his chemical engineering degree to help others learn about science, but he never imagined that he would become a popular YouTuber.
Before the new BYU engineering building was constructed, before Harvey’s served lunch (let alone all-day breakfast), when the Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) competition had existed no more than three years—that's when James Orgill attended classes for his chemical engineering Ph.D. That’s when he decided to enter SIOY, a decision that helped him become who he is today: the creator of a successful YouTube channel called The Action Lab with 4.45 million subscribers and videos that have attracted 940 million total views.
As a student, the thought of becoming a YouTuber never crossed Orgill’s mind. Instead, while preparing to compete in SIOY, he developed a device that measures running form. At his presentation booth, an investor took interest, others saw the product’s potential, and Orgill ended up among the final seven competitors.
“There’s something when you create something that didn’t exist before—an actual working product—that is really cool,” said Orgill. “I got a taste of that with Student Innovator of the Year.”
Following his graduation, Orgill stayed in touch with the investor and continued to work on his innovation and other ideas while maintaining a day job. Then, one day, his brother Davey Orgill suggested that James should create a YouTube channel.
“There were lots of channels in his genre. Science education always does well on YouTube,” Davey said.
James took his brother’s advice and set a goal to post a video every day of the week for six months. He joined in the trend of hydraulic press videos and filmed various items being crushed, from a golf ball to a giant gummy bear. Then Orgill began to shift to more science-based videos, answering intriguing questions like “Can you chew metal gum?” and “Why are ping pong balls so flammable?” He tried to explain his experiments in simple terms and make content that was understandable and accessible to all viewers.
Meanwhile, Orgill kept his day job, but demands from the YouTube channel grew until it became difficult to maintain both. When Orgill’s channel became monetized, he realized that it might be worth more than he had thought. He decided to commit full-time to content creation.
With a channel now seven years old and continuing to increase in popularity, Orgill is glad that he made the transition.
“I just kept doing it, and I really liked that I could teach people because I had always wanted to be some type of teacher,” Orgill said. “...Somehow this kind of just worked out. And it kind of took off.”
“I'm super proud of my brother,” Davey said. “I hope he keeps educating a lot of people. He’s gone really far with this YouTube channel.”
Looking back, Orgill sees his participation in SIOY as an important step in his career journey. As he negotiates sponsorships with companies, Orgill uses the marketing and business skills that he developed through SIOY to make informed choices for his YouTube channel.
“It's scary to put yourself out there and present an idea that you have,” Orgill said. “Student Innovator of the Year is so helpful for that… You have to kind of embarrass yourself in front of people sometimes to find what you're good at or not good at. So I say: just try it, even if you're on the edge of not wanting to.”
Aside from SIOY and his education at BYU, Orgill feels grateful for his brother’s advice, his wife’s support, and the help he’s received from others. He plans to continue to make science and engineering more accessible to all through educational and entertaining videos.