Looking back, the only field trip that stands out from my grade school days was our trip to the San Francisco Exploratorium. What I remember best is the tactile dome. I entered into total darkness and spent the next hour feeling, crawling and sliding my way through a 3-D maze.
That excursion was fairly tame compared to the exploits Kara Platoni, Eric Simons, and Casey Miner take on for their podcast series, The Field Trip, which broadcasts their science adventures out in the real world. For their first series that debuted last year, they explored fermentation by visiting the Cultured Pickle Shop, climbed into the Oakland Fire Department’s burn trailer for a kitchen fire simulation, interviewed a commercial salmon fisherman on his boat in the Berkeley Marina and followed a NASA crew at the bottom of a lakebed in Canada for their research study on Mars. To add a little more intellectual rigor to their adventures, they also interviewed an expert guest in their radio studio for each episode.
“We think our strong suit is going places, learning new things and being a proxy for the listener,” explained Kara Platoni. “We didn’t know of any other show where it was about going out and having a science adventure.”
As friends and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism colleagues, the genuine personal chemistry of this trio is evident in their podcasts and blogs. They’re definitely having fun on their adventures while taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and opportunities offered by scientists in the Bay Area — and the listener is invited to tag along.
The studio interview segments are loosely scripted, but the field trips are taped live. The key to making this work is the trio’s insatiable curiosity for science. After lots of preparation, they just go out and ask the questions that interest them in a humorous and spontaneous way that engages their listeners.
When selecting topics for their episodes, they focus on stories that take science out of the laboratory. “Our ideal narrator for the field trip is someone whose life just embodies science everyday. It is part of their job, hobby and home,” explained Platoni, “so we can show people how science is something that happens in your everyday life, not just something that happens in school.” Casey Miner added, “And it should be fun, interesting, weird or gross.”
Their field trips will continue with a second series this spring and cover the diverse topics of coffee, taxidermy, telescopes and local inventors. One upcoming episode on telescopes will visit the Chabot Space & Science Center Observatory and feature a studio interview with UC Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy. Beginning today, a new episode will air weekly each Monday through June 4. You can listen to a preview of their new season here.