The films “Waterworld” and “Benjamin Button” present some pretty extreme ideas. But is any of it scientifically viable? That’s part of the premise behind the new NPR network podcast “Seeking a Scientist.”
The program’s host may be familiar to you as an occasional guest on programs such as “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” or “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” Kate Biberdorf, aka Kate the Chemist, is also the author of several books – many aimed at children. But, she says, in the podcast, she gets to dig deeper.
“I’m not ‘blow up girl’ here on the podcast. I’m actually Dr. Kate Biberdorf. I’m using that academic piece of my – I mean, I have a PhD in organic chemistry, so I’m actually using that here, which I love,” Biberdorf said.
Biberdorf is an associate professor of instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She says she began to gain attention beyond the classroom when she worked with local schools.
“Every Friday morning I’d roll in at 8 a.m., get the kids riled up, and then walk out,” Biberdorf said.
Her reputation – and social media followings – grew. So when a science podcast team was looking for a host to uncover the truth behind the science fiction presented in movies, they quickly found Biberdorf.
“And as soon as I heard the premise, I fought tooth and nail for it because I was just like, ‘This is my dream job,’” Biberdorf said. “We can turn scientists into rock stars. Like, I’m here for it.”
She says in this role she gets to delve deep into academic papers and then follow up with the scientists behind them.
“And be like, ‘Hey, what did you mean by this? Tell me more about this booster shot you gave a mouse. What happened? How did that work? What inspired you?,’” Biberdorf said. “So it has been so wonderful, just amazing, talking to these brilliant minds.”
Biberdorf says “Seeking a Scientist” isn’t aimed squarely at kids – though it might also be interesting to them.
“If you like sci-fi movies, you will absolutely love this podcast,” Biberdorf said. “And we’ve tried to make it accessible by adding in pop culture references. So you’re going to hear clips from ‘The Little Mermaid.’ You’re going to hear clips from ‘Benjamin Button.’ We’ve got a clip from Mariah Carey. So, I mean, we are using things to try to make it as accessible as possible, but the science is cool. I mean, it’s so fascinating.”
She says, for her, success with this podcast will be measurable long-term.
“I love what we can track – where you ask these kids to draw scientists. And so back in the seventies and the eighties, it was always the stereotypical scientist with the white lab coat and the bow tie maybe. And it was usually a male, right? And now when we ask students to draw scientists now, sometimes they draw women, sometimes they draw women of color,” Biberdorf said. “So my ultimate goal would be to diminish the stigma around women in STEM, just like the next generation, if they just didn’t even know that that was there, that would be just the best thing.”
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