What motivates their fishy hearts? What about mutant zebrafish? Exploring questions like these and more is the essence of Sarah McPeek’s ’19 project — “Kenyon Kernel,” a podcast about the sciences and the students right here at Kenyon. McPeek, a biology major, had the idea for the podcast while on campus over the summer doing research.
To prepare, McPeek listened to science-related podcasts like “RadioLab” and “Ologies.” She also interacted with other students doing research on campus. “I realized that I still know so little about what other students devote so much of their time and energy to on this campus,” she said. “And I wanted to change that.”
Thus, “Kenyon Kernel” was born out of a desire to bring research projects conducted on Kenyon’s campus to the wider Kenyon community. At the same time, McPeek got the chance to educate herself on students’ personal projects.
Additionally, McPeek said that working on the podcast has kept her “grounded and appreciative for all the professors and opportunities at Kenyon.”
She also wants to bring her perspective to others. Attending a small liberal arts school with professors who are committed to the undergraduates in their fields, Kenyon students receive opportunities for research and relationships with professors that are seldom available elsewhere. A podcast that explores students’ experiences with these opportunities available only at Kenyon is certainly one way to spread that information.
Since starting this project in the summer, McPeek has interviewed nine students, covering topics from storm kestrels to the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca to the “evolutionary genetics of moss sex.” Each episode ranges from 40 to 50 minutes and consists of an easygoing conversation about the topic at hand, peppered with jokes, fun tidbits and interesting anecdotes.
The light tone is intentional: McPeek’s podcast is aimed at the wider goal of expanding science communication, bridging the apparent gulf in understanding between scientists and the general public. “The best way to get past people’s selectivity [of learning] is by being light and humorous,” McPeek said.
McPeek explained that the gap between the academic researcher and the general public has long existed, and the gap is only getting bigger with the recent surge of anti-intellectualism.
“Science has questions. The public wants answers,” McPeek said. She hopes that her podcast will ultimately expand peoples’ worldviews by exposing them to research from different disciplines, and elevate discussion of Kenyon’s research beyond the Science Quad.
McPeek’s goal is to start conversations that continue after the hour-long interview. She hopes that Kenyon students will listen to the students featured on her podcast and will be interested enough that they seek out that student in person—fostering a community built on a love of knowledge.
For those interested in McPeek’s podcast, it releases new episodes are published weekly on Mondays and can be found under the name “Kernel: A Pop Science Podcast for Kenyon College” on Spotify and Stitcher, as well as its own website http://kenyonkernel.