This year, 104 stories from New York, Toronto, St. Louis, Atlanta, Boston, DC, Los Angeles, the UK, New Zealand, and more have appeared on our podcast! To celebrate another banner year of science stories, each member of our production staff has selected a story from 2017 that was especially meaningful to them.
From "Identification," part 2
I heard this story live in New York and it left me speechless. It conveyed to me so many things: how hard it is to live in a country like South Sudan, how tough it is to be a medic, and how little we know about the human body. As a scientist I always want to be in control of things, and the more I try to do that, the harder it feels when I fail. For medical doctors, wherever they are working, failure means even more. “Sometimes you do your best, and it’s not enough.” Veronica also conveys beautifully all the complexity that goes with putting your career before your own health. I love how she comes to realize, through her experience, how to express her own needs and desires even while she continues her amazing, important work. I want to be her when I grow up.
-Paula Croxson, New York producer
From "Pressure," part 2
"Science is 99% failure, which is slightly horrifying--especially if you're a scientist, which I am." I love a good failure story. And a good love story. And Megan Hatlen gives us the best of both in our recent "Pressure" episode. Our empathy muscles cramp as Megan describes failing and failing again in the lab. Our hearts flutter as her wife, Jess, reaches for her hand and says, "Do you know that there's no one else that I would rather go through this with than you?" We're #TeamMegan no matter what happens. But we get to jump up and down with her when her eureka moment finally arrives.
-Christine Gentry, Boston producer
From "Excited State," part 2
Storytelling, at its heart, invites your audience to understand, perhaps just for a moment, what it feels like to be you. When Jess Thom finds herself staring out into a windy night, a poetic phrase bursts out of her: "You are waving like the sea, tree! Are you a large tree or a sea anemone? Trees, the squirrels are so lucky you’ve given them whitewater rafting lessons. It’s an adventure!” I LOVE that image -- it feels like magical realism. I'd never understood before that Tourette's can have a generative beauty to it. Jess speaks in such a warm, witty way that I couldn't help but share in her raw delight in that particular tic. Jess's exploration of what her tics feel like is unforgettable. Her story felt like a personal gift, and in giving it, she reminded me that the tiniest moments in my life can become magic too.
-Liz Neeley, executive director
From "Oil," part 2
We were invited to host a Story Collider in New Orleans in early February that showcased stories related to oil spills. Finding scientists to fill the lineup was fairly simple. But our sponsors rightly encouraged us to reach out to at least one non-scientist — ideally a fisherman. I emailed and called a couple fishermen who didn’t respond. Fair enough: it’s a tall order to agree to share a personal story in front of an audience you don’t know for a show you may not have heard of. Another fisherman picked up the phone when I called but wasn’t available the night of the show. With the evening drawing closer, our options were running out. And then I got referred to Robert Campo. He’s a proud fourth-generation fisherman. The first time we spoke, Rob’s love of fishing oysters and running his 117-year-old business was evident. So was his pain when he told me about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted him and his community. I was honored when he said he’d share his story on our stage. When it came time for the show, we decided to have Rob close the evening out. We had a bunch of good stories that night, but Rob’s deep connection to the Gulf and his ability to weave together the science and the emotion were a powerful combination. At one point, Rob said, “Louisiana is near and dear to me. It’s in my heart. I was born and raised on these bayous all my life. I tell people all the time that I have saltwater in my veins. That’s what my blood type is, it’s saltwater.” People listening that night were touched. Including me. In our eyes, there was saltwater.
Special thanks to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems for supporting our show in New Orleans earlier this year.
-Ari Daniel, Boston producer
From "In the Field," part 2
When Heith Copes embarks on a study of meth users in rural Alabama, he expects it to be like any of the other work he's done as a criminologist. The sign outside the trailer that says, "Don't get caught being stupid" is the first indicator that he's wrong. And pretty soon, he finds himself connecting with his subjects on a much deeper level than he'd ever expected. I love so many things about this story -- the way he shows us the humanity and the struggle of his research subjects, the honest emotion with which he tells it, and especially the powerful conclusion he comes to about what love and sincerity have to offer both him and his science. (Since I hosted this show down in New Orleans, in conjunction with the American Society of Criminology's meeting, I can vouch for the fact that after this story, many hugs were had by all.) What makes this story even more incredible is that Heith's subjects are captured in a series of photos by Heith's collaborator in this project, Jared Ragland. You can view those here: https://jaredragland.com/good-bad-people
-Erin Barker, artistic director
From "Symbiosis," part 1
Full disclosure -- Yael is a good friend, so when she told me she was going to pitch us a story, I vowed to be hard on her as to not show favoritism. Turns out that was unnecessary as she told told a beautiful story about friendship, wildlife, and the power of good lighting. Sitting on the edge of the stage, listening to her story, I was taken to that beach, felt the wind and spray of the water, and was actually jealous of not being there in that time of acid-washed jeans, big hair, and flashlights that aren't on your phone. I get chills to this day when I hear those final words: "...it's definitely the most meaningful lighting work that I've ever done..."
-Shane Hanlon, DC producer
From "Idenfication," part 1
I’ve often heard the refrain: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Still, there’s this really pernicious idea in science that once you don your lab coat, you must shed your race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and accumulated lived experiences. That’s the price you pay to preserve your objectivity. As a scientist, I’ve rejected that idea with my whole heart. When I think about why, I turn to Devon’s story, to something his mother told him: “Sometimes what you imagine for yourself is not what the world imagines for you. And sometimes what the world imagines for you is a lot less than what you deserve. But you have to keep imagining because the world is wrong.” Devon’s story beautifully weaves the crushing blows of racism with the importance of role models, winding its way to why the work he does today, teaching and mentoring students who look and think like him, is so important. “As a teacher, I get to be the flesh in front of somebody actually living out their dreams, living out the best things that they could imagine for themselves.” I became a producer for The Story Collider this summer, and Devon’s story has become a touchstone for me when I think about the power of scientists telling stories. The stories we tell are windows into our humanity. And at their best, they offer hundreds of mirrors through which we might find ourselves reflected.
-Maryam Zaringhalam, DC producer
Skylar and Thom Young-Bayer
From "Chemistry," part 2
I have to admit, part of the reason I chose Skylar and Thom's piece is because I enjoy a good love story where things work out for the both of them (contrary to the piece that I performed earlier this year at the "Eclipse" show). What really got me hooked onto this story from the start was Skylar's frankness and self-deprecating admissions. For example, I laughed when I heard her talk about shaving her legs and reflecting on her exes and going, "Well, I'm really good at showing guys what they don't want," because I've been there, pretty hard. Skylar and Thom did such great job with building tension by describing the thoughts going through their heads and how that played into the way they acted with each other. The Story Collider pieces that I think do really well are ones like this where the storytellers' personalities are just so captivating that you forget you're listening to a science story.
-Eli Chen, St. Louis producer
From "Syzygy," part 2
This summer I was listening to NPR and stumbled upon an interview with a solar eclipse chaser. My ears perked up. A total solar eclipse was to pass a couple hours north of Atlanta in a few weeks, and I’d been debating about pulling my small children out of school and going. My husband was going to be out of town and until that moment, I was on the fence thinking that without him, it would be too much of a pain. But hearing this man’s interview convinced me that there was no way I could pass up the opportunity. And he was right. Seeing the eclipse was the most mind-blowing, beautiful thing I’d ever witnessed. For those two minutes, I felt completely in touch with the universe, but also so very small.
Fast forward to later in the summer. I was working on the official launch of the regular series of The Story Collider in Atlanta. It was my first show as a producer, so I asked our artistic director Erin Barker for a story she’d suggest as “a good one” to help in trying to recruit tellers. And when I hit play on her suggested story, there was his voice again, the eclipse chaser I’d heard earlier on the radio. But this time as I listened to him, I’d actually witnessed the celestial phenomenon. Hearing him tell his story with such heart made all those emotions of feeling tiny, awestruck, tearful and connected with the universe come flooding back. Except this time, I felt a new connection. Not just to the universe, but to this man I’d never met.
If you’ve seen an eclipse, have a listen and find yourself reliving the wonder all over again. If you haven’t seen one, still listen. It’ll convince you to hop on a plane and head for Argentina on July 2, 2019. I’ll see you there.
-Meisa Salaita, Atlanta producer
From "Adaptation," part 1
Tales of survival can provide some of the most poignant reflections on life and the human experience, but Benjamin’s story is different and so much more. Picking up where many such stories end, he takes us along on his post-survival journey, handling the reverberations of his illness with a sense of humor and practicality that gives me such hope. We all experience surprise detours along our road; Benjamin’s story shows it’s possible to re-invent ourselves and persist with style.
-Emma Yarbrough, Atlanta producer
From "The Science of Growing Up," part 1
When Jean took the mic at our LA show in September, I had read and heard her story a handful of times. It’s this beautiful interconnecting storyline of her relationship with her mother and her coming-of-age realization that Keanu Reeves no longer can keep her identifying as heterosexual. This is illustrated by a beautiful metaphor of a science project that her mother orchestrated for Jean that featured an open lamb heart: splayed open, strong, impossibly complex, and intricate. This is all of us! Our identities are influenced by loved ones, our likes, our dislikes, our environment, etc, and I know what it feels like to not be able to be who you really are in the world. While I already loved Jean’s story, hearing it along with an audience confirmed that this was my favorite story of 2017.
-Cassie Soliday, Los Angeles producer
From "Life and Death," part 2
I had the privilege of working on Renee's story with her personally, and from the first draft to the telling on stage it struck a chord and hit a nerve. My own father passed away when I was 20 years old, and I can understand completely feeling like the world expects something from you that you might not be keen to give. Grieving is an intensely personal process, and Renee found a beautiful way of both coping and making sense of something that doesn't through her own work on the cosmos. The death of a person and the death of the universe may seem unrelated, but both have the power to change the way you look at the world and your place in it, and Renee captured that beautifully. The story was particularly gripping for me at the time with my best friend's father dealing with what proved to be a terminal illness too. In an odd way, helping him deal with his situation was more troubling for me than my own experience years before, and this story helped me be more compassionate towards him when he needed it most.
-Jesse Hildebrand, Toronto producer
From "The Bats and the Bees," part 1
While I’m definitely not a scientist who will ever have to do field work that involves tagging bats in the middle of the night in High Park, the main theme of Cylita’s story really resonated with me. Cylita’s hilarious tale of misadventure was a great reminder that stepping outside your comfort zone and embracing whatever happens can be amazing. In my line of work I often find myself in situations that make me exceptionally uneasy, such as when I did yoga with goats. But no matter how reluctant I am at the start, the adventure is always worth it. Cylita proves that if you have a sense of humor, you can turn even the most ridiculous mishaps and challenges into fond memories and the greatest stories. Plus Cylita’s story serves as an important lesson that you never know when you could find your true calling.
-Misha Gajewski, Toronto producer
From "Friction," part 1
I’ve always been envious of people who seem to float through the world knowing exactly what to do at every turn. For some of us, that sense of security in our abilities and confidence in our worth is hard-earned, especially within the throes of academia. I saw Margot tell her story live at SciComm Camp in 2016, and was struck by how much it resonated with me. Like Margot, I’d entered the land of science without knowing what to expect, and thought I was navigating things fairly well. Like Margot, I encountered inappropriate behavior and abuse of power during the early years of my PhD. These stories are difficult, both to process and to tell, and are often not told at all for fear of repercussion. I’m moved by Margot’s ability to articulate the struggle of finding inner strength and cultivating a sense of worth within a culture that isn’t always supportive. I applaud her honesty and celebrate her journey. I think it’s important to tell these stories (and to share the pain of learning these things the hard way) in order to to foster a culture of support and empathy within science and beyond.
-Kellie Vinal, Atlanta producer