This project is designed to bridge the "public understanding of science" radio model with a "public engagement with science" approach using a new public media tool - the "Public Insight Network". Radiolab, an innovative hour-long radio program has developed a highly innovative and successful format over the past 5 years that fosters interest and understanding in STEM based on audiences' natural curiosity. It has exposed non-science attentive listeners to transformative STEM concepts such as Stochasticity (physics, statistics, neuroscience), Musical Language (behavioral science, neurology, acoustics) and Space (mathematics, astronomy, technology, engineering). This project will expand the model using innovative online strategies that will connect listeners with working scientists, with each other and with the Radiolab hosts. This new model is grounded in the direct interaction of audiences and scientists which positions listeners as active creators and curators of content rather than passive recipients. The target audience is young adults 18 years old and above. Key organizational partners are The Public Insight Network (and their affiliation with the National Academies of Science), American Public Media, the Borough of Manhattan Community College and Brooklyn College.

Project deliverables include 30 hour-long Radiolab programs for broadcast on public radio stations; interactive, user generated articles for the web site; live online chats, engagement "apps" for mobile smart phones; and live events at college campuses and science centers. In addition, the project will implement a mentorship program to train college-aged underrepresented students that have demonstrated an interest in science and/or science journalism. Formative evaluation will gather actionable information from audiences and scientists than can inform the design of the deliverables.The summative evaluation will assess the success of the strategy for engaging audiences in ongoing science learning.

Audiences are projected to increase from the current base of 1 million radio listeners per season and 2 million podcast downloads per month. The intended learning outcomes for the audience include their gaining greater knowledge and exposure to current scientific research, and increased engagement by becoming participatory learners through online interactions with science professionals and other listeners.

Project Report

The goal of Radiolab's "Discovery Dialogues" project was to make Radiolab a digital hub around which scientists and non-scientists alike would gather to deepen their understanding of STEM and how STEM concepts overlap with the philosophical, cultural, and social characteristics of every day life."Discovery Dialogues" enriched Radiolab's core broadcast and podcast content with digital activity to meet these goals producing 25 hour-long episodes, 55 podcast shorts and 243 web articles which served to foster greater public engagement with STEM. The audience growth within the grant period demonstrates the depth of engagement and expanded reach: at the beginning of the grant Radiolab was broadcast on 394 radio stations; now it is aired on over 500. The digital audience has also grown during the grant period from 2.2 million web and podcast downloads per month to over 5 million. In addition, Radiolab enhanced its broadcast and digital presence by presenting two live tours within the grant period, which allowed Radiolab to communicate with its audience via performance-based science explorations in real time. These two tours, "In the Dark" and "Apocalyptical," inspired our audience to become actively engaged in scientific explorations, covering topics from human anatomy and perception to earth science, and provided the opportunity for engagemnt and interaction with Radiolab hosts as well as deepening public understanding of science. An audience survey, supported by NSF, reported that 95% of the 6,000+ people who attended "Apocalyptical" agreed that it exposed them to new scientific concepts. The survey also suggested that its audiences were heavily skewed toward the 24-35 age bracket, with 48% of all respondents falling in this age range. Within the grant period Radiolab conducted another successful outreach effort. In spring 2013 Radiolab used its increased facility with social media and collaborated with the WNYC data news team in conducting the "Cicada Project," which engaged citizen scientists in using our "Cicada Tracker" to monitor soil temperature and report findings back to predict when that year's brood of 17-year cicadas would emerge along the Eastern Seaboard. Radiolab also invited audiences to gather online with "Live Chats" to engage with scientists during the annual World Science Festival, and other occasions, on a variety of STEM topics. These activities served to connect listeners with scientists and with each other and, perhaps most notably, provided our audience with opportunities to authentically and critically engage with the complexities and wonders of science. During the grant period, in addition to listening and commenting on the program, Radiolab listeners collected and contributed data for a scientific study, participated in a 3-D printing project of a skull, named the first mammal, put together DIY temperature sensors, and came together at a New York City park to contribute sound effects for the show. These efforts and more exemplify the myriad and creative ways the program sparks curiousity, engages, and nurtures lifelong appreciation and interest in science within its listeners. A related goal of "Discovery Dialogues" was to support ISE workforce development efforts through an intensive internship program by exciting young people about science just as they are preparing to make critical decisions about their academic and professional lives. Over the course of the grant period, Radiolab provided internships for 18 young people. Many interns come to Radiolab without a science foundation and during their internships gain valuable experience and exposure to STEM, science journalism and radio production. Interns were given significant responsibilties: they particpated in Radiolab's editorial meetings, provided research assistance for STEM-related stories, learned basic audio production skills, pitched their own story ideas based on STEM content, fact-checked stories, and received feedback on their work from Radiolab's hosts and producers. These internships do, in fact, lead to careers in STEM. In 2014, Radiolab hired two former interns who are now on staff. Radiolab is pleased to have met the goals we set for "Discovery Dialogues" and continues to build on the foundation NSF support helped to build in our work to engage the public in informal science explorations in innovative ways.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)
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Program Officer
Sandra H. Welch
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New York Public Radio - Wnyc
New York
United States
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