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Bringing ‘Significant Figures’ to Podcast


Assistant Professor of Physics Viva Horowitz interviews science faculty about their research on her podcast “Significant Figures,” which airs on WHCL radio every Monday from 11 a.m. to noon. We asked her a few questions about the series.

Why do you interview science faculty about their research?

There’s amazing science happening here on campus. The Science Center is full of faculty who are conducting cutting-edge scientific research across so many disciplines. I don’t think it’s easy to learn about all this variety of science. I love getting lab tours and seeing the equipment people use. Even though I know a lot of people in the Science Center, it’s rare that I sit down and say, “Tell me about your expertise.” They’re experts in subjects and I want them to tell me, but if I get them talking, sometimes they’re like, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I ended up spending 10 minutes telling you about what’s cutting-edge in my field.” I’m completely rapt attention and I’m like, “Why are you apologizing?” They know they’re interested in it, but they’re not sure other people are. I’m interested — I’m interested in all of it. That’s my blessing and curse. Every single thing sounds fascinating to me. 

You interview them for your podcast “Significant Figures.” Why a podcast and its name?

I had this dream of communicating science out everywhere. Radio’s such a beautiful idea of transmitting information. When I was talking to the exoplanets researcher, Professor [Adam] Lark, we were talking about how we could possibly transmit out to other planets. Even aliens could someday be listening to our radio transmission. That’s what radio can do: We’re sending the signal out everywhere.

[“Significant Figures”] has two meanings. It’s about acknowledging the imperfections in our numbers. The other meaning of “Significant Figures” is that my guests are significant. 

How do you select the guests for your show?

It’s random. I know people. The thing is, every professor here on this campus could spend an hour talking about their expertise. People are busy, so I keep sending the emails. I hereby invite any science faculty who would like to be on the radio. I’m not nervous about talking to someone about their science. To me, that’s just pure joy. I’ve had an opportunity to learn a lot.

What have you learned from hosting the podcast?

Honestly, I’m not even sure I’m going to hold hard to my plan to stick with science faculty. You only get to take 32 classes as an undergrad. It’s a hard choice, but through a radio show, you can always listen and get a glimpse into one class that you might want to take in the future. 

People are listening. Every time a faculty member is on my show, I send them the link and say, “Send this out to people.” Somebody who’s spent an hour on the radio can send it to their students, friends, and family and say, “Listen to this.” I think that many of them are going to have their students listen to their episode. It’s recorded now. And that gives it legs.

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