When Aravind Natarajan grad isn’t in the lab researching new molecules for better vaccines, he helps create Science Blender, a science podcast based here at Cornell’s School of Engineering that tells the “human stories” of the researcher behind the science.
Initially co-founded in 2017 by Natarajan and fellow engineering students Joseph Brown grad and Kevin Weyant grad, Science Blender features a different Cornell scientist in half-hour-long episodes exploring both their personal life and scientific research. The podcast has already been downloaded more than 1000 times in 24 nations.
According to Natarajan, Science Blender has two main goals: to provide a “widely accessible platform” to discuss the cutting-edge research at Cornell and to “create role models of successful scientists” for typically underrepresented people in scientific research. Three of four researchers interviewed are people of color, one of whom is a woman.
Previous episodes of Science Blender have featured a wide variety of grad students and their research, from scientists applying machine-learning to semiconductor research to researchers developing new materials for energy storage.
“Each episode is crafted as a blend of the personal story of an individual and their scientific endeavors at Cornell,” Natarajan said. “We strive to portray scientists, graduate students, postdocs and faculty as regular, relatable humans with a passion for science and engineering.”
This balancing act between the human elements and scientific aspects of researchers and their work is evident in the topics explored by the podcast.
“You’ll hear about a story of mentorship, what it is like to be a first-generation graduate student, and how antibodies can be efficiently produced in bacteria,” reads the description for the podcast’s pilot episode, in which the students interview Michael-Paul Robinson grad, who studies chemical engineering.
Funded by grants from the Robert Frederick Smith initiative created by a $50 million donation to Cornell Engineering in 2016, Science Blender’s production team faced some issues early on in the production process.
“We had a steep learning curve in understanding both the technicalities of editing and producing sound bites, in addition to thinking deeply and coming up with a story-telling based science podcast.” Natarajan said. “We spent a lot of time playing around with the software and learning the ropes along the way.”
Since almost all members of the Science Blender staff had no prior podcast experiences, Natarajan was “certainly unsure” of the quality of work the team was producing.
But with guidance from three engineering professors, Science Blender has since become a well-oiled machine with an expanding team of graduate students writing, editing and producing each episode. Now, Natarajan believes the Science Blender has become a way to humanize scientists and bring their work closer to the general public.
“I hope that through these podcasts, people will begin to appreciate that scientists too are just ordinary people, and that we care deeply and work very hard to ensure high quality research.” Natarajan said. “I hope [Science Blender] can lead to greater faith in science and scientists.”