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A Science Podcast for Everyone

Researched and referenced, this is scientific storytelling you can trust.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

Jane Goodall

Storytime Starts Now

Fun facts await! Choose your own adventure:

Host Kaelyn Warne exploring a field of flowers in Georgia.

Everyday Science

Uncover the science close to home. Why is the sky blue? Where does wind come from?

George Washington Carver studying plants and peanuts.
by Aedan Gardill (@aedangardillart)

Cauldron of Contribution

Recover the stories of crucial female & minority scientists. We have always belonged.

Carley Folluo working on a mass spectrometry ion gun for her Masters degree.

Steamy Interview

Discover your STEAMed [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math & Education] Seasoning blend.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”

Rachel Carson

Listen & Learn

Research-based and quirky, educational, and fun, this is an artsy science & history podcast for everyone!

Uncover the science of everyday life, recover the stories of female and minority scientists who made crucial contributions, and discover incredible people who combine STEM and Arts to stay steamy.

  • Nuclear fusion ignition begs the question: How can science communicate?
    Image from article by Ella Nilsen: “A color-enhanced image of the inside of a NIF preamplifier support structure. (Damien Jemison/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)”

    Nuzzling into the indent that had no doubt formed by now in the auburn leather seat on the couch in my parent’s basement, I prepared to watch history unfold before my eyes. Not another World Cup match on the pitch in Qatar, but something far more exciting to a millennial Ph.D. student in STEM: the announcement on Tuesday, December 13th, 2022 that the Department of Energy (DOE) had just successfully created a nuclear fusion ignition reaction.

    Alexander Graham Bell using the first iteration of the telephone.
    Image from “Image: Images Plus”
    Modern cellphone usage in 2022.
    Image from

    With my dad upstairs working furiously on a missile defense grant too busy to join, my mom sat adjacent to me while I declared that missing this announcement was like sitting out while Alexander Graham Bell unveiled the invention of the telephone. An elusive, mysterious technology that graced the national stage in 1876, and would have drastic implications for the state of the world as we know it in several decades’ time. The progression that telephone technology has seen in the last 15 decades is akin to the leaps and bounds that nuclear fusion ignition could travel in the sectors of clean energy, security & defense, and beyond…

    Image from, a schematic of the scientific process to produce nuclear fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Focused lasers hit the gold wall of the cylinder, releasing x-rays that compress the fuel pellet (filled with deuterium and tritium) and ignite fusion, releasing energy as heat.

    As one would expect of a nerdy graduate student, I was most excited for the panel session and question & answer (Q&A) discussion. When my dad first broke the news to me the day prior to the announcement, I was in disbelief. “I thought that wasn’t possible?” I questioned, “Somebody in that lab is going to get in trouble when we find out they’re exaggerating the facts.” As any trained scientist, my skepticism against grandeur was the first level of observational analysis, “What about the conservation of energy laws? How can the reaction produce more energy than it consumes? Where is this work being done? Has it been peer-reviewed?” A stream-of-conscious line of questions began firing against my will at the proposition that nuclear fusion ignition had truly been achieved. Needless to say, my curiosity and anticipation for the grand reveal had been solidly snagged.

    Image from “Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kim Budil speaks at a press conference to announce a major milestone in nuclear fusion research on December 13, 2022. Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images”

    During the livestream event, I got the answers I was looking for to my scientific questions: 1) Conservation of energy, a law of thermodynamics, remained intact. While the amazing nuclear fusion reaction did in fact produce more energy (approximately 1.5 MJ) than was introduced to the system by the lasers, the larger system that powers the lasers consumed about 300 MJ from the grid, 2) The work was being done at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California, and 3) Yes, it has been peer-reviewed by external scholars. One might think that the amazing scientific achievement and technical discussion would be the most fascinating aspects of the press conference to an onlooking scientist, however, something else caught my attention as the key takeaway: the public is woefully detached from the scientific process.

    Drawing depicting the comparison of apples and oranges when scientists communicate information to the public.
    Image from Arizona State University’s ASU News.

    My graduate student heart broke when a reporter from Bloomberg News asked the expert panel, “If this happened on last Monday, then why are we just hearing about it now?” It was clear to me that they didn’t understand the process of scientific advancement. Understandably, the media and private sectors wanted to know how long until commercialization is available. That being said, the constant questions regarding timeline seemed to undermine the importance of the theoretical leaps and bounds that had just been demonstrated. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a bunch of toddlers on Christmas morning ask for more presents after unwrapping the gifts given to them by Santa. Where is the gratitude, the thanks, the reverence? Finally, I observed some when Michael Greshko from National Geographic (Nat Geo) asked, “What time on December 5th did the shot occur, and for each of you, in the minutes and hours after that, how did you first learn that this shot was special?” This question revealed that the experiment was conducted at 1:03 am and touched on the initial giddy joy that graced Arati Prabhakar’s face when she described the elation of watching this success after being introduced to the laser project in the 1970s. It was clear, those with exposure to science, got it, while those who were reporting from the outside looking in were reporting in the dark. How has science failed them so much that such an incredible achievement passes by them without a firm grasp of the majesty they’re encountering? How can the scientific community better communicate with the public and media during the periods in-between incredible achievements?

    Image from Wikipedia’s article on Science Communication: “Schematic overview of the field and the actors of science communication according to Carsten Konneker.” Here, science is communicated by many actors to society, depicted by the light gray bubble encompassing the modes of communication.

    As scientists and educators, it’s our responsibility to keep the public in tune with our frequencies regularly, so that we don’t fall out of tune and out of touch during moments like these. There is no such thing as a dumb question; the inquisitions by the media revolved around a miscommunication of scientific timelines. How did it take so long to get here? Why did it take so long to communicate? When will we see this applied in our everyday lives? Valid, valid, valid. Touching on my own experiences in laboratories, a one-week turn-around for data processing, analysis, and peer-review is lightning fast. For projects less theoretically complex than nuclear fusion ignition, this process can take months on average; to accomplish this in one week deserves a round of applause on its own. It’s not the media’s fault that the process of scientific advancement is so elusive to them. Even on stage, no one could give a clear answer as to the number of decades that applications could become available, and the truth is, we simply don’t know.

    The steps of the Scientific Method detailed as a flow chart. Image from

    That is the plight of science as a whole, we simply don’t know when we’re going to achieve “good” results. All data is important for the progression of research, as the “bad” data often tells us more about the direction the truth points toward than the data we yearn to see. This nuclear fusion project has been operational for at least five decades. That’s the double-edged sword of science, it’s an unpredictable search for the truth. In the age of fake news and half-truths, I cling tighter to the scientific method because, at its core, science is the practice and process of using observations and experiments to uncover the truths of the universe. We knew fusion ignition was possible because it is the process that powers the sun, but we didn’t know if it was ever possible in a controlled laboratory setting on Earth. In principle, the scientists and engineers at LLNL temporarily created a little sun in a lab. That’s magnificent!

    A solar flare on the surface of the sun created by nuclear fusion ignition reactions in the core. Image from Western Washington University’s Spanel Planetarium.

    As the excitement of this announcement dies down, how much of the anticipation will wear off for scientific professionals and non-professionals alike? How can scientists better communicate with the public during the downtime? Simply, I don’t know, but I reckon it starts with bringing the scientific method to the lives of the people in applications they can tangibly see on a shorter timeline. That is, scientists can do a better job at communicating the process to the public even when there aren’t impressive results. The scientific method applies in small, everyday occurrences just as it applies when studying nuclear fusion ignition, it’s versatile! The fashion in which the scientific method is carried out in laboratories is essentially the same as starting your car to go to work in the morning

    1. Ask a Question (Get curious!)
    2. Do Background Research (Scientists might read through peer-reviewed literature and government databases, but background research can include prior experiences.)
    3. Construct a Hypothesis (A great hypothesis is testable and disprovable. True or false?)
    4. Test with an Experiment (The steps of the experiment should be structured, replicated, and repeatable.)
    5. Procedure Working? (If not, troubleshoot and fix the procedure.)
    6. Analyze Data and Draw Conclusions (Do results align with hypothesis? If not, form a new hypothesis)
    7. Communicate Results (While scientists typically use direct written and oral communication, indirect communicant still serves a purpose.)
    1. Can I drive my car to work?
    2. Since I’ve driven my car to work every day in the last 4 months, it’s likely that I can drive my car to work, unless I left the lights on overnight like last time.
    3. If the lights in the car are off in the morning, the car will start and I can drive to work.
    4. In the morning the lights in the car are off, so I stick the key in the ignition and turn it to start.
    5. The key fits and rotates. The engine turns over and the car starts.
    6. Since the lights were off and the car started, these results align with the hypothesis that I can drive to work.
    7. Arrive at work on time in your car and tell people that you drove in. In fact, even just showing up could be a form of communication.

    This is just one example of the scientific method in action that applies to our everyday lives. In what other ways can scientific communication be helpful to those who don’t regularly practice science? How might understanding and appreciation of the process create a culture where science literacy is the norm, not the anomaly? When we’re all engaged in digesting, conceptualizing, and solving the problems presented to us, with proper funding, what might be achievable in our lifetimes and beyond? In the effort to extend science communication, here are some questions I had and/or received about the recent announcement of achieving nuclear fusion ignition:

    How can we use nuclear fusion ignition energy as a source of clean energy if the reaction had a net gain of ~1.5 MJ but still used over 300 MJ of energy from the grid? This question lends itself to the questions revolving around the timeline of commercialization. During the expert panel and Q&A session, the team mentioned some key points that highlight how inefficient the current system is. Experts revealed that the fuel pellets could be more efficient, old technology from the ’80s and ’90s could be upgraded, and laser efficiency could be upgraded. All of these options make it possible to produce a higher net energy while using less energy from the grid. However, there is that pesky little thing called Conservation of Energy, an energetic law of thermodynamics that energy can neither nor destroyed. This means that no matter what there has to be an initial sum of energy consumed to start up the machine and power the lasers, referred to as the “wall plug energy.” With that in mind, who’s to say that wall plug energy can’t come directly from the sun itself via solar panels? Considering that the laboratory is essentially creating a tiny sun, it seems serendipitous to consider the possibility of fueling controlled nuclear fusion ignition, with the heat emitted from solar nuclear fusion emission. Nobody knows what a potential power plant might look like, but I hope solar fuel is considered to propel our own energetic gain.

    Should we be scared of the nuclear defense applications? In short, there’s no need. Now that we have harnessed nuclear fusion ignition, we can study nuclear fusion, the process that powers nuclear bombs, without the dangerous nuclear testing that began in the 1940s just south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Now, we can scientifically investigate the reactions without the harmful side effects.

    Can we capture the Helium (He) released from the reaction? This is a personal question I don’t know the answer to. Since He is necessary under supercooled conditions to chill large magnetic reactors such as with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, can we harness the Helium emissions from the fusion reaction and apply it towards this goal? I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out…

Steamy Interview ft. YOU!

Do you combine STEM, Arts, and/or Education in your life? Share your story!

“The fundamental truth is art and science belong together.”

Kaelyn Warne, Seasoned & STEAMed, Episode 0