Dr Naomi Koh Belic, biologist and communications specialist, World Science Festival Brisbane

As we see more science events across the country, there needs to be a continued focus on making them free for community, ensuring they are in accessible venues and having Auslan interpreters ...

Why don’t we poop ourselves in public? Who is the oldest bisexual? What the heck is a bacteriophage? Why do hot girls have IBS? Dr Naomi Koh Belic has not only researched these exact topics, but has broken down her findings in a wide-ranging series of informative, yet easy-to-understand, videos.⁠ The biologist and communications specialist is all about making science accessible to all, and has a real knack for coming up with creative ways to make complex topics engaging – be it through videos or live presentations.⁠⁠ Dr Naomi is coming to town this month for World Science Festival Brisbane, hosting an adults-only science-meets-drag night and also putting her knowledge to the test in a night of brain-racking trivia. Before the festivities begin, we chatted to Dr Naomi about bringing science to the masses and her most-surprising science fact.⁠

To start, we’d love to know about your fascination with biology –and science in general! What sparked your interest in learning more about living organisms?
I was born and raised on the Gold Coast and was fortunate to be surrounded by science at the school I went to, Queensland Academy for Health Sciences. When I finished school, I thought I’d knock out my Bachelor of Biotechnology and get a job. Little did I know I’d stumble into research and fall in love with the ability to create knowledge. I spent eight years at university – eight! That’s longer than high school takes! But hey, now I have a PhD in stem cell biology.

Can you recall the first scientific fact that really blew your mind?
I wish I could tell you a fascinating story about something that pulled me into science but, if I’m being honest, it was a slow burn. Science helped make sense of the world around me. Now I think of science as the language I speak – I’m fluent in biology, conversational in chemistry, and my physics is… alright, haha.

You’re a massive advocate for making science accessible, and content you’ve created for the likes of the ABC and the Discovery Channel often makes complex topics simpler to understand. What is your approach to conveying subject matter in a way that is more digestible for those without a heap of scientific knowledge?
I’m incredibly passionate about making science accessible because science should be for everyone. This is going to sound so incredibly nerdy, but I always start by reading a fat stack of peer-reviewed scientific articles. I trawl through them, write pages upon pages, upon pages, upon pages of notes, and then I start the process of condensing it down to key points. Once I’ve decided what my key message is, then I get to play by finding creative ways to make it engaging. I’m currently developing a Screen Australia and AIDC-funded social media series called Bimbo Biology Body Breakdown, you can follow me @naomikohbelic to watch it when it comes out.

You’ve explored some pretty wild topics for the ABC. What would you say is the most surprising answer you’ve found during your research?
I made a handful of videos about sexual education for ABC Health – one of them was about anal sex. What didn’t surprise me is that around 20-per cent of straight folk engage in anal play. But what did surprise me was a study that looked at 30 heterosexual undergraduate men attending a UK university. How many do you think used lube when putting their penis in bum holes? Go on, lock that number in. Are you ready for the answer? You sure? Ok – drumroll please. The answer is zero – ZERO! None of them were using lube! Bum holes are not self-lubricating! Use lube, people! USE! LUBE!

Your advocacy for accessibility also extends to events you produce and host, like The Drag (S)experiment, which you’ll be presenting at World Science Festival Brisbane on Friday March 22 alongside science communication extraordinaire Lee Constable. The event is described as a stigma-free event for science enthusiasts to learn in a safe space. Can you tell us a little bit about how the event came to be and what Brisbane audiences can expect?
Dr Samantha Yammine started the world’s first and longest-running science drag show in Toronto. I wanted to bring that queer joy to Australia, so I launched The Drag Experiment in Sydney last year during National Science Week. This was where Lee Constable made their science drag debut as the drag king Milton Mango. Old mate Milton will be joining me at World Science Festival to teach you all about the birds and the bees in the adults-only spin-off The Drag (S)experiment.

On Saturday March 23 you’ll also be participating in World Science Festival Brisbane’s variety game show, Night of the Nerds, alongside many other big-brained guests. What would you say is your biggest strength when it comes to challenge-based group activities?
Night of the Nerds is a battle between two teams, Nate Byrne and I are opposing team captains. Nate mate, you better watch out! Hahaha, look – I am fiercely competitive, but I am also awful at trivia. I am however an absolute woo girl, so I’ll bring the vibes and I’ll be cheering loudly for my team whether we win or lose (we better win though!).

In your opinion, how important are events like the World Science Festival in making science accessible to all demographics?
I particularly love when science and art intersect, and I hope to see more events like World Science Festival. National Science Week is a great opportunity to bring science to your local community, and I encourage you to use their funding opportunities to do just that. As we see more science events across the country, there needs to be a continued focus on making them free for community, ensuring they are in accessible venues and having Auslan interpreters.

Finally, what are some scientific topics (in or outside of your realm of expertise) that you would love to see the general public take a greater interest in?
I made a short film with Demon Derriere called FA(C)TS, it premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and it just received runner-up in the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Mardi Gras Film Festival by Queer Screen. Our documentary used burlesque to show people that fat bodies are still healthy. I wish people would take the time to unlearn their fatphobia. Fatphobia is frequently dismissed as there is a perception that the shame of fat stigma will motivate people to lose weight, but fat stigma actually contributes to binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of medical support, reduction in physical activity, increase in weight gain and increased susceptibility to mental health issues. To start unlearning your fatphobia I would encourage you follow @bigthickenergy_ for shows that take up space and @dremmabeckett who is a PhD qualified nutritionist.

Dr Naomi Koh Belic will be appearing twice at the World Science Festival Brisbane, which takes place between March 22–26. Head to the festival’s website to browse through the program and to buy tickets.


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