VOLUME 23 #2

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YouTube's First Upload

Yakov Lapitsky in screen capture of video

ALUMNI & FRIENDS | The video that launched YouTube—the website that has become the world’s drive-in movie theater—was all in-the-moment stuff. The 18-second clip, filmed by a UD doctoral student in 2005, was nothing like the highly choreographed 2012 dance routine South Korean pop icon Psy delivered in Gangnam Style, which leads YouTube’s charts with more than 2 billion views.

Yakov Lapitsky’s clip at the San Diego Zoo was minimalist by comparison and would have been considered unremarkable except for one thing: It laid the groundwork for every YouTube video to come.

Lapitsky, EG06PhD, working on his doctorate in chemical engineering at the time, was in San Diego to present his research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

His high school buddy, Jawed Karim, lived in San Diego, so they decided to meet at the zoo and catch up.

At the elephant exhibit, Karim handed Lapitsky his camera—a point-and-shoot type, nothing fancy—and asked him to film him.

In the video, Karim stands in front of several elephants and remarks their trunks are “really, really, really long, and that’s cool… And that’s pretty much all there is to say.”

End of video. And the start of a cultural phenomenon no one could have seen coming.

Lapitsky certainly didn’t. His mind was on his research, which was focused on the interactions of surfactants with polyelectrolytes, interactions that have many potential applications for pharmaceuticals, capsules and many other household products.

But Karim, his buddy, was one of the three founders of YouTube. He uploaded Lapitsky’s clip to the new website on April 23, 2005, and “Me At The Zoo” became the first YouTube video.

Article by Beth Miller

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