Binghamton University has been home to many celebrities: Billy Baldwin, Tony Kornheiser, “Flo” and now “Unidan,” who is described by one user as “the Reddit version of Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
“Unidan,” also known as Ben Eisenkop, received an undergraduate degree at BU with a double-major in biology and environmental science, and is now a third-year doctoral candidate in biology. Known for his nerdy quips and extensive knowledge on fun — and often obscure — biology facts, he is frequently called upon when a Redditor is in need of the answer to a science question.
Although many of his friends regard his web fame with amusement, Eisenkop said a lot of positive things came out of his celebrity status on Reddit.
“It’s definitely flattering, and it’s really good because I’d like to go into science education,” he said. “I get high school kids and middle school kids who want to interview me for their papers. An ecology high school teacher has been using my fun facts as lesson headers. Some people have asked for Skype interviews or asked to do workshops.”
Eisenkop said his Internet fame began relatively recently.
“I’ve been posting the same kind of stuff for three four years,” he said. “About six or seven months ago I did an AMA — I got about 20 questions when I went to bed, and in the morning I woke up with text messages from my friend to check the front page: I had a ton. I made a mild promise to answer most of the questions, and I’ve answered two or three thousand so far.”
An AMA, or “Ask Me Anything,” is an interactive interview on Reddit where a user answers questions that other users post in a comment thread. Because of Reddit’s popularity, celebrities frequently take advantage of AMAs to promote things or address concerns. Famous guests who have participated in Reddit AMAs include President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Snoop Lion.
To date, Eisenkop’s AMA thread is the sixth-most-popular thread — his AMA received 13,000 unique “upvotes,” a tally of positive points, more than the AMAs of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Korean pop star PSY, actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul of the TV show “Breaking Bad” and comedian Louis C.K.
According to karmawhores.net, which tracks the aggregate karma of each Reddit user — calculated by subtracting a user’s aggregate downvotes from aggregate upvotes — “Unidan” has the fifth-most comment karma of any user, with over 1.1 million points.
Job offers have also come as a result of his Internet fame, and Reddit has contacted Eisenkop about producing a nature-oriented YouTube show, which is currently a work in progress.
“I’ve gotten a job as a science writer for Mental Floss. I write articles about things I like and get paid for it,” he said, mentioning his recent article on plant defenses. “I was asked to do a talk at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF with a friend; we borrowed a falcon and talked about the ecology of birds.”
On campus, Eisenkop has been a graduate instructor for the courses Biology 117: Introduction to Organismal and Population and Environmental Studies 101: Environment and Man/Women: An Ecological Perspective, and currently helps instruct an animal behavior course with professor Anne Clark.
Outside of teaching, Eisenkop is an ecosystem ecologist; he studies communally roosting crows in New York, tracking them across the state to monitor their impact on the environment. He is fond of dangerous research, and recounted an experience during an internship in Costa Rica where he met head-on with a deadly pit viper.
Eisenkop’s Internet fame is a little-known fact at BU, but he prefers it this way. He also enjoys doing comedy on the side. He is a former Pappy Parker Player and has performed alongside the Upright Citizens Brigade.