The Big Electron radio show breaks down big ideas

By Catherine Wheeler

Anahita Zare, left, and Jacqueline Gamoba Valera, right, host their show The Big Electron. The show airs live Sundays on KCOU 88.1 FM. Photo courtesy Anahita Zare.

Ever wonder how the iPhone touch screen works or want to know what the stages of cancer really are? Those are just some of the topics discussed on a local Columbia radio show, making science a little more understandable.

The Big Electron on KCOU 88.1 FM makes science topics understandable for those do not have an advanced science education. The radio show recently won the 2017 Best Public Affairs program through the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System.

MU chemistry graduate student Jacqueline Gamboa Varela created The Big Electron in 2013. She got the idea after traveling across the U.S. as part of a documentary series called Roadtrip Nation (she was a part of season 10), she said. During her time on the show, she interviewed leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). That’s when she became interested in science communication and after working at KCOU, pitched a show about science, she said.

Gamboa Varela now hosts the show with Anahita Zare, another graduate student in the chemistry department.

The goal of the show is to make science accessible and understandable, Zare said. Gamboa Varela said the show is curiosity driven.

Zare said she wants to improve science literacy because when people understand science, it can help them make better decisions about their lives and community.

She tries to avoid scientific terms or jargon that can make people disinterested in learning more. “It’s a really easy exit point,” she said. “I want to take off those easy exit ramps in the road to understanding.”

Each week, the hosts invite local specialists, researchers, or professors to talk about their research so that the community knows what is being researched at MU, Zare said.

“When I started the show, it was about showcasing things that are happening and with the hope of providing students different perspectives, that if you do science, you don’t have to be super smart, or that your only career path is only being a professor,” Gamboa Varela said.

Science communication isn’t just about educating the public, Zare said. Scientists also have to be able to communicate why their research is important, especially when looking for funding, she said.

Gamboa Varela said her work on the radio show makes her a better scientist because she is now more critical of her own work and makes her think about how she can describe her research to other people.

Zare said The Big Electron makes her a better scientist as well.

“It has made me question every step of what I do in my science because if somebody were to ask me ‘Why do you do that?’ and I’m not able to explain it in an accessible way, then I know I don’t understand that portion of my research as well as I should,” Zare said.

The Big Electron airs every Sunday from 5-6 p.m. on KCOU 88.1 FM and is available on iTunes.

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