If you like Joanne Loves Science, you can thank Alan Alda

If you have the time, watch Alan Alda (of MASH fame) talk about his role on Scientific American Frontiers, a science TV show that ran from 1993-2007. (BTW, the audiobook version of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned is entertaining!)

In a way, we have Alan to thank for the inception of my website/blog ‘Joanne Loves Science’ and my foray into social media.

My “Dream Job”

Several years ago, as I was standing in front of a section of my “Cell Culture and Concepts of Tissue Engineering” lab class at the University of Illinois, I introduced a video segment from Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda. In this program, Mr. Alda traveled to numerous laboratories across the world to inquire about their research, bringing the audience along with him. He figured if the scientists could make their research understandable to him, then the general public would understand it, too!

To my surprise, the sentence “He’s doing my dream job!” tumbled out of my mouth.

Wait a minute!

I’m a biology educator at a major university. At the time I blurted that out, I was already doing what I love, or so I thought. I was teaching hands-on laboratory courses about my favorite topics in cell biology to upper level students who take their education seriously (for the most part), WHY did I suddenly say THIS was my dream job? I never gave any thought to appearing on TV to talk about science prior to that. I had modeled internationally many years earlier, but that was done out of practicality, not passion. I didn’t take seriously the time in front of the camera and had little care that this would ever be something I resurrected in my life. I’m a scientist, an educator, a mother. I had many more priorities to consider over going on TV.

And then I contemplated it. I love science–all of it–the methodologies, the people, the theories, the discoveries. I realized that what Alan Alda was doing was immersing himself in all those things I love and sharing it with a wider audience. Why wouldn’t I want to do that? But how COULD I do that? I was savvy enough to know that you don’t just walk into a TV studio and take that position. Anyway, I was busy with various outreach activities one could do through a university including the Science Olympiad, state and regional science fairs, a girls’ bioengineering camp, helping to run Bugscope, and various other activities related to schools and libraries. I was already doing my share to inspire young people to consider a STEM career!

Blog, Books and Videos

At some point, I realized that if I ever hoped to catch the attention of anyone who would allow me the privilege to pursue this ‘dream job’, I needed a presence somewhere. So I created a website with a blog. I had plenty of ideas of science I could easily share. It wasn’t easy to start out though.

Naming my website WAS easy. I thought, “What was the one thing about me that would always be true, even if everything else fell away?” I knew the answer–it was that I loved science. In 2008, “Joanne Loves Science” was born (I loved science well before IFLS came to be). My audience tends to be middle and high schoolers and adults who may have forgotten that they used to like science once-upon-a-time.

After acquiring a video camera, I thought I’d attempt a video related to science. Not many people were making science videos in 2009, but the ones who did covered current topics or did experiments from their garages. I wanted to stand out and do something no one else was doing. I’m a big believer in the power of literacy as well as science literacy, so a book review was a natural choice. Thankfully back then viewers on YouTube were forgiving of homemade videos and didn’t expect high production values. I was able to create a good number of these reviews, learning more about editing and video production as I went along.

Me, in LEGO form, with my next victims! Photo by Maia Weinstock
Me, in LEGO form, with my next victims! Photo by Maia Weinstock

Book reviews were a natural for me. I love to read and I love science! Then gummy bear science videos began because one of my college students asked if a gummi bear could be liquefied through the process of sonication (using high frequency sound waves). I made a video showing that this could happen! I then followed up with videos where I subjected the gummi bears to other lab techniques.

One of my favorite videos is The Science of Cats In Sinks, which was inspired by a goofy website that showed numerous cats in sinks prompting me to think that I could talk about theoretical vs. experimental science by trying to figure out how many cats could fit in my large lab sink. I also really enjoyed using cookies as my models of blood cells to create a series called “Blood Cell Bakery”, whose uniqueness earned a shout-out from the website BoingBoing.

I recall reading magazines with stories that would say, “The Science of Beauty”, followed by text that would not say anything remotely scientific, but using the word “science” as a marketing tactic, so I decided to make videos about some science concepts that can be explained through cosmetics. I created videos about the chemistry of mascara, the flammability of nail polish, and the science of Botox. I hope to return to making some videos with the cosmetics theme in the near future because they reach a niche audience of those young ladies who produce and watch make-up tutorials and may not normally want to spend time learning about science.

What happened next? Learn more by reading the “About Joanne” page. 🙂