Stereo Chemistry’s longtime host Kerri Jansen is stepping down from her role as executive producer of the podcast. Jansen has been with Stereo Chemistry since it began in 2018, and has played an integral role in the production of C&EN’s flagship podcast. In this bonus episode, Jansen talks with C&EN’s interim coeditors for audio & video, Ariana Remmel and Gina Vitale, about some of her favorite episodes from the Stereo Chemistry archives. Subscribe to Stereo Chemistry now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Listen to some of Kerri’s favorite Stereo Chemistry episodes:
The following is a transcript of the episode. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Ariana Remmel: You’re listening to Stereo Chemistry. I’m Ariana Remmel.
Gina Vitale: And I’m Gina Vitale.
Ariana: We’re the interim coeditors for audio and video at Chemical & Engineering News, the magazine that publishes this podcast, and we’re here today with a special bonus episode of the pod to share some bittersweet news.
Gina: Stereo Chemistry’s longtime host and executive producer Kerri Jansen has taken a new job as a science writer in the American Chemical Society’s video production team. We here at C&EN are so excited to follow Kerri’s work in this next chapter of her career, but we’re also sad to see her go. So Ari and I have asked Kerri to step up to the mic one last time to look back on some of her favorite projects from the Stereo Chemistry archive. Thanks for joining us, Kerri.
Kerri Jansen: Hi. Happy to be here.
Ariana: So Kerri, we have invited you on the pod, as we said to celebrate some of the work that you have done. And we want to start out with a bit of a game along the lines of “What’s that sound?” So we’ve taken clips from episodes of Stereo Chemistry that you have worked on. And we’re going to play that clip and what I would like for you to do is tell me where the sound is from and what you remember of that particular story. That sound okay?
Kerri: Okay, I will do my best.
Ariana: Okay, so cue first sound.
Kerri: I’ve got a balloon here, too. Let’s give this a try. So Craig, what can you tell us about helium shortages?
Kerri: Yep, yep. That one is very easy to guess. So this is an episode that Craig Bettenhausen, a C&EN reporter, and I did about helium shortages. And obviously, we both inhaled some helium for a part of the episode. We did so safely also, I should say. We made sure that we were doing so in a way that was safe for everyone involved.
Gina: Is it problematic that you used helium to do this when there’s a helium shortage?
Kerri: That was part of the discussion as well, we did determine that this was going to be an okay amount of helium to spend on this episode. I am fond of this episode, personally, because the origin of it was a little bit goofy. It was the first few months of the pandemic. So if you picture, I am sitting in my basement apartment in Arlington, Virginia, racking my brain trying to come up with “What is something interesting we can do with audio on a podcast when we’re all just stuck at home?” And it popped into my brain that, hey, helium is chemistry. And it makes your voice sound funny. That can be kind of fun. Could we find a story to do that has something to do with helium. And so I reached out to Craig Bettenhausen, C&EN’s reporter who covers industrial gases, and basically asked him, “Is there something we could do here with helium?” He said he’d look into it, got back to me a couple of weeks later, and it turns out, yes, there was actually a story here for us to tell. And so we made this episode about how helium shortages had impacted science.
Ariana: All right, so let’s cue up the next sound then.
Kerri (archival tape): Is this just a case where you’re like, [slurping sound] up the brine and then the lagoons drain a little bit?
Kerri: Yes, sometimes we don’t use our words on podcasts.
Gina: Could you reenact that sound?
Kerri: Oh. [Throat clearing sound, followed by slurping sound] How’s that?
Kerri: Classic Kerri move. So this was from an episode featuring C&EN reporter Matt Blois discussing how lithium extraction is affecting water resources in the Salar de Atacama in Chile, which is a major source of that material. This was part of Stereo Chemistry’s collection of episodes on the theme of water. And it was kind of a big deal for us, because it was the very first time that we had ever incorporated interviews in a language other than English in a significant way into the podcast. Matt had interviewed some folks in Spanish, and we wanted to be able to share some of that audio in its original form. And so that is what we did in the show and that’s what you’ll hear in that episode.
Ariana: Yeah. So that episode, as you said, the first of this series of an actual season of Stereo Chemistry on water—that was published in September of 2022. We are continuing that podcast series with me as the host of it, so listeners can expect in the coming weeks to get that next installment. And so we’ve got one more sound to play you.
Francis Arnold: Hi, I’m Francis Arnold.
Jennifer Doudna: I’m Jennifer Doudna.
Kerri: And I’m your host, Kerri Jansen.
Kerri: Well, that’s just three equally accomplished people introducing themselves in a podcast, isn’t it? Yeah, I don’t know why that stood out to you. Yes, being the producer of a science podcast does not come with an overwhelming number of perks. But there’s one of them. Yeah, I was really excited to interview Jennifer Doudna [and] Francis Arnold for this episode also with C&EN reporter Lisa Jarvis. Got to interview actually quite a few Nobel Prize winners during my time at C&EN, which is always an honor and always really exciting to do.
Ariana: You want to name drop some of them for us?
Kerri: Sure, so there was Jennifer Doudna, Francis Arnold like we’ve just heard. Carolyn Bertozzi and Barry Sharpless, we got them together for a few moments for a little bonus episode of C&EN’s “Bonding Time.” So also I had the opportunity to talk with John Goodenough, along with C&EN reporter Mitch Jacoby moderating that interview. Actually, this was before John Goodenough won his Nobel Prize for the technology of lithium-ion batteries. So that worked out really, really great for us. Quite convenient that he happened to win a Nobel Prize just a couple of months after we published that episode. But that was certainly a highlight as well.
Gina: And you mentioned C&EN’s Bonding Time.
Kerri: I did.
Gina: Which is a project that you started. It started as part of Stereo Chemistry. Can you tell us more about the idea behind Bonding Time?
Kerri: Yeah, so it was actually after seeing the huge success and interest in our episode pairing together Jennifer Doudna and Francis Arnold that we thought maybe we could do more of this type of conversation, pairing together two sensational chemists for a wide-ranging conversation talking about all sorts of different things, including their science but also above and beyond their science. And so that is something that we launched on Stereo Chemistry as kind of a subseries of Stereo Chemistry.
Gina: And listeners who particularly enjoyed the Bonding Time episodes should look out in the Stereo Chemistry feed. We will have another one of those coming up in this summer.
Kerri: Oh, I’m excited.
Ariana: Yeah, so that was the end of our game. I know that we didn’t say that there were any prizes or winnings associated with this. But I think I’m just going to go ahead and say that you got a three out of three and the prize that you receive is the love and adoration of your teammates and Stereo Chemistry listeners.
Kerri: Oh, priceless.
Gina: Much love.
Ariana: And as a reminder, all of the episodes from our game are also linked in the show notes. Alright, so before we recorded this episode, you gave us a list of some of your favorite projects that you worked on in your time at C&EN. And so we’ve chosen a few of them to talk about a little bit more in depth with you here. One of the projects on that list was an episode called “A World Without Rosalind Franklin.” You celebrated the late crystallographer’s 100th birthday by exploring what the world might look like if she had never been a part of it. And actually, this is really fun for me, because Gina, you were the reporter on this episode.
Gina: I was.
Ariana: So can you two tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea for exploring Rosalind Franklin’s legacy via this kind of counterfactual imagining of how the world could be different without her.
Kerri: I’ll let Gina take that one. It was your idea.
Gina: Sure. I had really wanted to—this was my first Stereo Chemistry podcast or anything with Stereo Chemistry. And I was so nervous to work with Kerri, the legend.
Kerri: I have very intimidating persona, I guess.
Gina: I believe this was also the pandemic. And I really wanted to do something for Rosalind Franklin’s 100th birthday, because she’s, you know, one of these chemists that people are starting to know more about, but it’s still, you know, very overshadowed by Watson and Crick for the, for the discovery of the DNA double helix. And I vaguely remember saying to Kerri like, something about how one of my favorite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life. And what if we did an It’s a Wonderful Life-style podcast, where we look at what the world would be like without Rosalind Franklin, and it was really special. Kerri, I’m curious how you, how you remember it?
Kerri: Yeah, I remember having a lot of fun on this episode. Of course, working with you, Gina was incredible. And also just a really interesting story. You know, I was super glad when you came to me with this idea; I thought it would make a great episode. And it was super cool to talk with all of these incredible scientists about the impact of Rosalind Franklin and also hear from, you know, a historian of science about the impact of her work as well.
Ariana: What has been your approach over the course of your time at Stereo Chemistry in kind of crafting these stories for C&EN’s audience, for listeners interested in the chemistry enterprise? And how do you feel that that kind of comes through in this particular project?
Kerri: Wow, that’s a big question. Something that was really always very important to us on Stereo Chemistry was providing stories from the world of chemistry that were technically satisfying for specialists in chemistry, while at the same time being accessible to folks who maybe were not specialists, who were, we generally expected would be interested in chemistry if they were tuning into our show. I also myself am always drawn to stories where we can look at something that you’ve kind of maybe always heard about, but never had the opportunity to really dive into and understand. And the Rosalind Franklin episode was a great example of that, because never had I actually been walked through the process of what it was that Rosalind Franklin was doing to produce Photograph 51 and this incredible, you know, discovery of the structure of DNA. And so this episode was a really great opportunity to do that and explain that in a way that I hope folks found enjoyable.
Gina: Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to say thank you, Kerri, for letting me do such an incredible episode. It is one of the things I’m proudest of.
Kerri: That’s great. Thank you.
Gina: Okay, so the next thing we wanted to talk to you about was a newer project called “C&EN Uncovered,” and specifically an episode that you did with our very own Ari, about why chemists are excited about exascale computing. And I think we can start that off with a little reminder of our very cool C&EN Uncovered theme music for our listeners.
Craig Bettenhausen: Welcome to C&EN Uncovered, I’m Craig Bettenhausen.
Kerri: Yeah, it’s a whole vibe. Thank you, C&EN podcast producer Mark Feuer DiTusa for finding that one. I love it.
Gina: Kerri, can you give us just a brief overview of C&EN Uncovered? And then we can talk about Ari’s episode?
Kerri: Yeah, so C&EN Uncovered, another little subseries of Stereo Chemistry. The idea there being that we have these amazing cover stories that come out almost every week in Chemical and Engineering News. And inevitably, when the reporters are writing these stories, there’s so much more that they cannot fit into print. So C&EN Uncovered is a way to get a behind-the-scenes look at kind of the reporting process, the main takeaways from these stories, and also some interesting little tidbits that ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Gina: So the episode that we’re talking about today is on Ari’s September 5 cover story on exascale computing. And that was the first-ever C&EN Uncovered episode. Is that right?
Kerri: That is correct. This was our big debut.
Gina: So Ari, can you maybe give us an overview or remind us of what the story was about?
Ariana: The cover story that I wrote was about a new supercomputer, which by just about any metric is the most powerful supercomputer ever measured, ever made. And this computer is called Frontier. It’s part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. And I got to go visit the site to learn a little bit more about how chemists are using this new technology. It was really cool when Kerri and Craig came to me with this idea of like, “Hey, do you want to be the debut episode slash test subject for this new podcast project.
Kerri: No pressure!
Ari: And, you know, I feel like it was, it was definitely a lot of fun to be able to have an actual conversation about the reporting that I did, because I think that as print reporters, we are hoping to relate to our readers in a way that feels accessible and engaging. But having the opportunity to, in real time, hear Craig’s questions to me about the technology and be able to try to use my actual human voice to explain the science was actually really fun. And I think that what we were able to produce was a really nice companion piece that worked alongside the print piece.
Gina: Kerri, in your in your role as Stereo Chemistry’s executive producer, how did you handle having casual conversations about stuff like this that was very technical and involved? How did you always bring that down to an audience level, as you said, that was, you know, accessible enough for people without an expert knowledge to enjoy but also satisfying for people who wanted a little bit more in-depth?
Kerri: You know, C&EN has an incredible group of reporters and a long history of doing exactly this: balancing that rich technical detail with an accessible and engaging tone. Something that I really love about C&EN Uncovered is you do get a closer experience with the actual reporters who are writing these stories. You may not be aware of this, there are actual humans writing C&EN’s cover stories. We’ve not switched all over to AI yet. But it’s something that really comes through with C&EN Uncovered and especially in this episode too, you can really hear the joy that Ari has in talking about these subjects.
Gina: We do actually have a May episode of C&EN Uncovered out right now on Rick Mullin’s story about the battle for Lake Maurepas. Definitely check that out if you’re interested. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes.
Ariana: So Kerri, we’re coming to the end here. We have one last episode that you put at the top of your list as your absolute favorite. It was called, “There’s More to James Harris’s Story.” A Smithsonian curator expands the record on this “wicked amazing” Black nuclear chemist in a bonus episode of Stereo Chemistry. So we’re gonna play a clip from that now.
Albert Ghiorso (abridged archival footage): But with the modern day techniques, and the very sophisticated methods of looking at the fingerprints of these atoms, one can identify, without question, just a few atoms at a time. And it takes quite a few people. I’d like to introduce to you my colleagues in this experiment. Jim Harris has been responsible for making mostly the chemical phases. The target is extremely radioactive. And it’s important that it be put in a very tiny area and suitable for the, for this experiment.
Glenn Seaborg (archival footage): Very special kind of chemistry.
Ariana: So Kerri, can you tell me a little bit more about what we’re hearing in that clip?
Kerri: Yeah, so that is archival footage from the US National Archives, is where that lives now. And it is video showing the team who in the late 1960s was discovering making superheavy elements, specifically elements 104 and 105. This video was unearthed by a curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Kristen Frederick-Frost. We had mentioned James Harris in a previous podcast episode about the making of superheavy elements. And so Kristen had reached out to me to ask if I had any additional materials that I could share about James Harris, because it turns out if you’re, if you’re trying to find information about James Harris, there’s not that much out there that’s easy to find. So this was a project that this Smithsonian curator embarked on to try to learn more about this incredible chemist who had this historic role in the discovery of superheavy elements. And eventually, I got to go with Dr. Darrell Boyd to visit Kristen at the Smithsonian and talk about what she learned about James Harris. And so in the episode, we talked through some of the things that she learned about: how he developed the incredible skills that he had, where his career went after, you know, the discovery of these elements. And as part of this, we actually got to view this clip filmed in this lab, around the time that these elements were being announced, that, you know, probably has not been viewed in decades. And the archives were able to digitize this and actually make it available and we were able to actually share it in the podcast show notes as well.
Gina: Kerri, this episode, I think is reflective of a broader passion that you have for science history and museums. And I’m just wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about why science history is such a meaningful part of the work that you do.
Kerri: Yeah, I’m surprised you picked up on that, Gina, because I’m very subtle about it. And I play it very close to the chest. That is, of course, not true at all. Yes, I love museums of all stripes. I really enjoy learning about science history. I think it’s because, well, first of all, I really love getting to understand why things are now the way that they are. And I think history is a great lens through which to learn that. With museums in particular, I really love how an object can tell a story. And in fact, as part of this James Harris episode, we got to hear from Kristin that she was actually able to acquire an item for the Smithsonian’s physical collection tied in with the story of James Harris, which I think is just it’s just the coolest. There’s now this little plastic champagne cup that this team used to celebrate their incredible discoveries that is part of the Smithsonian’s collection and can be used to educate and share this story about James Harris. And I can only hope that someday, someone might hear this or might, you know, come across Kristen’s paper that we highlighted. And maybe we’ll be able to fill in some more of those details. So that is something that, you know, I’ve really developed a love for—any opportunity I have to visit a museum or learn more about, you know, science history, I take that opportunity. And it’s something that I’m really excited to be doing in my new role as well—diving into some stories from science history, and then being able to share those with a broader audience.
Ariana: So as we said at the top of the episode, all of the links to these stories that Kerri has mentioned that we’ve talked about in this bonus episode are available in our show notes, and I guess I just want to wrap things up by saying, Kerri, do you have any final words for Stereo Chemistry listeners?
Kerri: Thank you, first of all. It’s been an absolute joy and an honor to be the producer of this awesome chemistry podcast. So I am ready to pass the mic and I am excited to get to experience Stereo Chemistry now as a listener, and as a fan.
Gina: Yeah, Kerri, I think I speak for all of us when I say you made Stereo Chemistry something incredible that we’re all so proud of, and we’re so grateful to you. Thank you, Kerri.
Ariana: This episode of Stereo Chemistry was produced by Gina Vitale, Mark Feuer DiTusa, and me, Ariana Remmel. Full credits for this episode are in the show notes. Stereo Chemistry is the official podcast of Chemical and Engineering News. C&EN is an independent news outlet published by the American Chemical Society.
Kerri: Thanks for listening.