Facts-Based Worldbuilding With Moiya McTier - Atlas Obscura Experiences

Facts-Based Worldbuilding With Moiya McTier

4 sessions
$80 per person
See Dates
$80 per person
$80 per person
See Dates
What We’ll Do


This course has already started! However, you can still join if you’d like to (and we hope you will!). Students enrolling after the course start date and time will have access to a recording of the first session (which will be emailed to participants within 72 hours) as well as the option to attend remaining sessions live. Please select the “Join Late” ticket type to enroll after the course has begun. 


In this four-part lecture series, astrophysicist and folklorist Moiya McTier will walk you through building an imagined world of your own.

Course Description

For centuries, fictional worlds featured in novels, comics, and films have served as canvases for speculation, entertainment, and even self-reflection. From Wonderland to Middle-earth, these worlds can look drastically different from ours, or can be slight variations of the one we occupy. No matter how these fictional worlds are born from our reality, they take time, effort, and some science to build.

In this four-part course, astrophysicist, folklorist, and writer Moiya McTier will walk you through the process of facts-based worldbuilding—from constructing the physical environment of a world to building the biology of the beings living in it and the culture those beings share. In each session, Moiya will cover basic concepts of various academic disciplines that you’ll need to create an imagined planet and society, building an original fictional world before your eyes. At the end of the course, you’ll have the knowledge and framework to construct your own fictional world.

Please note that this is a modified version of Moiya’s worldbuilding course offered with AO in 2020, and there may be slight overlap between material covered in this course and the previous one.

Syllabus at a Glance

This course includes four total sessions, each lasting 1.5 hours on four consecutive Tuesdays beginning May 14.

Session 1 (Tuesday, 5/14, 8–9:30 PM ET) | Introduction to facts-based worldbuilding

Session 2 (Tuesday, 5/21, 8–9:30 PM ET) | Building the physical world

Session 3 (Tuesday, 5/28, 8–9:30 PM ET) | Building the life

Session 4 (Tuesday, 6/4, 8–9:30 PM ET)| Building the culture + tying it all together

Between Sessions

Outside of class, students will be encouraged to build their own worlds following the techniques covered in the previous session. 

Pricing Options

This course is available at three ticket prices. This tiered pricing model is designed to increase access for a wider range of students as well as to support our instructors. In addition to tiered tickets, we offer a limited number of no-pay spots for students who would not otherwise be able to take this course. No-pay spots are selected via a randomized drawing two weeks before each section begins. For more information and to apply for a no-pay spot, please click here. To learn more about our pricing model and randomized selection process for no-pay spots, please visit our FAQ page.

Community Guidelines for Students

Please take a moment to review our community guidelines for students, which aim to share our classroom ethos and help set the stage for the best possible learning experience.

Atlas Obscura Online Courses

Atlas Obscura Courses offer opportunities for participants to emerge with new skills, knowledge, connections, and perspectives through multi-session classes designed and taught by expert instructors. To learn more about our current course offerings, please visit www.atlasobscura.com/online-courses. For answers to commonly asked questions, check out our FAQ page here.

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Where We’ll Be

Once registered, you’ll receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite that will provide access to each class meeting. Please save the confirmation email as you’ll use it to access all sessions of your course via Zoom.

About Your Instructor
Moiya McTier
Moiya McTier

Dr. Moiya McTier is an astrophysicist, folklorist, and science communicator. Moiya was the first person to double major in astrophysics and folklore at Harvard and the first Black woman to earn an astronomy PhD from Columbia University. In her astronomy research, Moiya specialized in the habitability of planets and the motion of stars around the galaxy.

Moiya’s first experience with facts-based worldbuilding was her undergraduate senior thesis, a science fiction novel set on an exoplanet she studied. She wanted the world to be as motivated by her research as possible, and soon found that it didn’t make sense to stop at accurate planetary science, so she talked to biologists and psychologists to make her fictional world seem more realistic. Since then, Moiya has given hundreds of talks about science and worldbuilding, designed interactive exhibits for the New York Hall of Science, and consulted with companies like PBS and Disney on their fictional worlds. After leading worldbuilding workshops around the world, Moiya started a podcast called Exolore, where she builds fictional worlds with expert guests, interviews professional worldbuilders, and reviews the merits of worlds that have already been built. Moiya also co-hosts Fate & Fabled, a youtube show about mythology for PBS and her own podcast about astronomy called Pale Blue Pod. Her first published book, THE MILKY WAY: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy, artfully wove science, folklore, and fiction and was named one of Publishers Weekly's best books of 2022.

What Else You Should Know

This lecture series is designed so students can participate live or watch a recording of each session, after it airs, at a time that is convenient for them. Sessions will take place live over Zoom, with dedicated Q&A segments for students to ask questions via video or chat. Within 72 hours after each session meets, students will receive access to a recording of the live session, which they can watch for up to two weeks after the course concludes.

Instructors may use Google Classroom to communicate with students outside of class. While students aren’t required to use Google Classroom, instructors may use this platform to post resources, discussion questions, or assignments. This platform also offers a space for students to connect with one another about course material between sessions.

We provide closed captioning for all of our courses and can share transcripts upon request. Please reach out to us at experiences@atlasobscura.com if you have any questions, requests, or accessibility needs.

Dates and Availability

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