Podcast of Interest: Lab Out Loud, Episode 36. “The scientific method starts with curiosity”

Podcast of Interest: Lab Out Loud, Episode 36. “The scientific method starts with curiosity”

June 4, 2010

What a great find! In this fourth post in my ‘Podcasts of Interest’ series, where I comment on podcasts with provocative or important science or mathematics content, I bring you another Lab Out Loud episode. Episode 36 features Dr. Bonnie Bassler, a microbiologist who studies quorum sensing in bacteria. Her science is world-class (she’s in the Lewis Thomas lab at Princeton, received a MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant, and has given a TED talk). She also has a passion for spreading her love for science, and that comes through loud and clear in this conversation. More about why I think you should listen after the jump.

The hosts ask her how she chooses the questions she pursues and how does she mentor her students to be successful scientists. She responds by rephrasing the question as, “How do you inspire students’ creativity without crushing it?” Then she answers the question about choosing pursuits by saying she asks herself a question: If I answered that question, would it contribute anything to a greater understanding of the Big Questions? She wants projects that will change the way we think about what we know. In this way, all the small experiments are framed by the big questions.


The discussion also touches on science literacy and the importance of non-scientists to engage in thinking about scientific topics (at time 10:28).

What’s beautiful about science is there’s what’s known and what’s not known, and there are right and wrong answers. When they [the humanity’s students] get that, and that a right answer can be wrong five years down the line, but it’s right in the context of what we know currently. I think that making them understand that that’s what scientists do, that what we do is incredibly mysterious and creative and artistic. Really, we’re always trying to look at things that have never been looked at before, we’re trying to think very creatively about things in a different way. It’s not just this nerdy, boring bean counting. What the scientist does is to try to [understand] Nature from scratch. And I think that they get that.

The energetic discussion continues through the whole session, and Dr. Bassler shines more warm light on the nature of science and what it means to be a scientist, the role of wonderment and curiosity in the scientific process.

This is a must-listen for anyone who is reading this

Find the Episode’s home here and take a listen. Length: 31:26.

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