Illustrated portrait of Florie Mar
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Florie Mar is making her mark on science – with a Sharpie. Ten years ago, as a PhD student at UCSF, she founded Youreka Science, a company that makes hard-to-grasp discoveries and facts easy to understand, thanks to its entertaining whiteboard videos.

At the time, Mar was conducting basic research on how telomeres, the structures at the ends of chromosomes, contribute to early cancer development. But she also wanted to share how such research could impact society. “I’m a very visual person,” she says, “and part of my motivation was ‘How do I explain the impact of basic science, not just to understand it, but also for understanding human health?’” She started animating whiteboard videos in her bedroom. But she hit a roadblock. “My handwriting was terrible,” she says, “and I needed a better setup and a larger team.”

Fast-forward to today. Mar has built her company into a thriving part-time business for herself and her team of six science writers, illustrators, and animators (including seven UCSF interns in recent years). Together, they have created nearly 100 educational videos deciphering subjects ranging from spinal cord damage to drug development. Youreka Science has partnered with 20 nonprofits like UCLA and iBiology; has over a million views to its credit; and has won a following of thousands of subscribers, mostly teachers, college and high school students, and patients.

“There’s so much excitement, motivation, and reward when you see the impact you’re having,” she says, “and when you read comments like ‘You’ve saved my semester in school’ and ‘This video made me fall in love with genetics.’”

Like any other Silicon Valley start-up, the early days were tough. “We needed to find our niche. It took trial and error and a lot of effort to identify, reach out to, and build our Youreka community,” Mar recalls. She’s particularly proud of the work her company has done for the CDG community – children affected by a group of rare genetic diseases. Youreka Science’s CDG videos have been subtitled in 10 languages and reach thousands of people around the world.

“We stay true to our roots,” says Mar. “We still produce videos with a physical whiteboard using a camcorder set-up in my garage…. We get to give back to the community. Together, we’re a well-oiled machine with a shared ambition to make science accessible for the curious mind.”

Watch Youreka Science videos on YouTube and follow on Facebook or Twitter @YourekaScience

– George Spencer for UCSF Magazine

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