Melissa Collini, a PhD student in the UNT Department of Chemistry, has channeled her love of science into a new podcast called Chemistry for Your Life, where she shares her specific knowledge with a wide audience. The goal of each episode is to demystify an aspect of chemistry that people interact with every day, answering questions like, "What the heck is going on inside microwaves?" Her co-host for the project, Jam Robinson, a UNT alum who graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television, and Film, helps record and produce the podcast. Unlike Melissa, Jam does not have a background in chemistry, but that makes him the ideal co-host, asking curious questions that are most likely on the average listener's mind.
"The typical life of an episode begins with me choosing a topic, doing a little research or fact checking, writing up an outline of what I want to share with Jam, and then we record," Melissa said of their process. "He goes into the episodes pretty blind about what he will learn, so the questions you hear him ask and his learning processes are totally genuine." Each episode is about 15-25 minutes long.
While Melissa has always been passionate about communicating science in a way people would understand and enjoy, it wasn't always easy for her to decide what she wanted to do with her interests. "When I realized that my program for my master's degree wasn't taking me exactly where I wanted to go, my advisors and professors worked hard to help me develop a path that would allow me to pursue my goals," she said. "The whole Chemistry Department is really welcoming and supportive in a way that has helped me achieve so much academically."
The first episode of Chemistry for Your Life launched on August 1, 2019, begging the question, "How does soap get things clean?" Since then, the podcast has topped the science podcast charts at #78 and reached listeners all over the world, with downloads in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, United Kingdom, and Japan. Though it has only been available since mid-summer, Chemistry for your Life already boasts over 500 downloads a week and even has an active Twitter account where they encourage listeners to submit their own chemistry questions.
The success of the podcast is undoubtedly Melissa and Jam's shared commitment to keep it consistently interesting, accurate, and understandable to non-scientists, covering a wide range of surprisingly fascinating things people encounter in their everyday life. For instance, "What IS margarine anyway?"
Melissa's PhD focus is now on Chemistry Education Research. "It allows me to do research on struggles in learning chemistry, misconceptions people have, and what we can do in the classroom to meet students where they're at," she said. "It is really enjoyable to design studies to answer those questions I'm wondering about." Her advice for new students at UNT is to make friends and get involved in campus activities, but also to not be afraid to change course and consider options.
"If you decide to pursue something and then realize that it isn't what you love or it isn't what you thought it would be, it is okay to change the direction you're going. Changing course isn't a failure. It is a success any time we move closer to doing work that brings us satisfaction and joy."
Chemistry for Your Life is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and most other major podcast streams.