Issue Date: September 8, 2008
Dr. Kiki, a beautiful 34-year-old with a Ph.D. in molecular, cellular, and integrative physiology from the University of California, Davis, and otherwise known as KIRSTEN SANFORD, is doing her part to bring science to the general public in a way that's fun, engaging, and accurate. Emblematic of her approach is the use of just about every medium available to her to bring science to the masses—radio, podcasts, webcasts, blogs, and cable TV.
"This Week in Science," which she and a friend started in 2000 as a UC Davis radio broadcast and turned into a podcast with the subtitle "The Kickass Science Podcast" in 2005, is said to have the potential to reach more than 100,000 listeners in 60 countries. Her "Food Science" show on cable TV and online video through ON Networks offers her brand of science on topics including the Maillard reaction (a common cooking reaction between sugar and protein), Teflon, protein denaturation, fermentation, microwaving eggs, and more. In the episode on fermentation, Dr. Kiki makes ginger ale, and she summons computer graphics of chemical reactions to assist her in her explanations.
Her résumé/blog "The Bird's Brain," has this posting from a grateful mother: "My 9-year-old daughter (who always showed an interest in science) has spent this year struggling [with] the 'tween syndrome' of her friends thinking her interests are 'uncool.' After showing her your podcasts, she has discovered that it is not only possible but very rad to be both smart and interested in science [and] to like fashion and lip gloss at the same time."
Another fan suggests possible subjects for future shows: "Honey—Why does it crystallize? Why won't it spoil (or will it)? Bread in the microwave—Why does it either revert to a doughlike soggy mess ... or become rock hard?"
Growing up in a rural environment, as well as watching PBS, helped nurture Sanford's interest in science. "My parents were great about indulging my inquiries into the world even though they often destroyed the kitchen," she says. As for incorporating chemistry into her media productions, Sanford says, "Just about everything is a product of chemical interactions. I love being able to explain those interactions to people in a way that anyone can understand because the more that people understand about chemistry, the better they will be at making all kinds of decisions—from voting on political issues to what kind of soap you buy."
Each broadcast of "Food Science" is about five minutes and ends with Dr. Kiki saying, "Remember, it's not just food; it's science."
Another assemblage of scientists helping the public get the facts straight calls itself THE BEAUTY BRAINS and comprises an anonymous group of working cosmetic chemists. Their book, "The Beauty Brains: Real Scientists Answer Your Beauty Questions," is an offshoot of their beauty science blog, thebeautybrains.com.
The authors prefer to remain anonymous but have inventive noms de plume: Left Brain, "the most hard-core skeptical scientist"; Right Brain, "still scientific, but a bit less militant"; Sarah Bellum, "the more sensitive Beauty Brain"; and the Other Lobes, who "work behind the scenes researching questions, reviewing the latest beauty technology," and more. Their goal, they say, is "to help you cut through the confusing, misleading and sometimes false information that the beauty companies bombard you with."
The book is a collection of more than 100 of the best questions and answers from the blog. For example, part of an answer to "Do curling shampoos really work?" is, "Remember, just because a product contains an ingredient that does something, it doesn't mean that it does something in that product!"
This week's column was written by
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