Skip to main content

Biology podcast popular with kids, adults


August 08, 2008

Like an elite Olympian, Arizona State University’s podcast “Ask a Biologist,” vaulted into the number one spot on the world stage. It was the most downloaded podcast on iTunes U for several days in a row in July, ahead of 49,999 hosted educational audio and video files compiled from museums, universities and other public media resources worldwide.

The subjects of this top-ranked podcast are tiger beetles, biodiversity, ecotourism and travel – passions of Dave Pearson, a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and author of “Traveller’s Wildlife Guides,” the most recent of which outlines the animal and plant life of Thailand.

Is it that beetles are all the rage? Certainly the quirky fact that they run so fast they go blind is fascinating. But it’s more likely that the podcast, hosted and produced by Charles Kazilek, also known as Dr. Biology, has plugged into a growing audience eager for fun, engaging science content and a fine listening adventure.

Kazilek’s podcasts take students, teachers, parents and lifelong learners on an aural journey: sprinting alongside a tiger beetle, hearing a shuttle launch with microbiologist Cheryl Nickerson and dropping into the front row of a concert hall to hear music composed by butterfly researcher Ron Rutowski. And, while listeners are virtually tramping in Mongolia with ecologist Andrew Smith to study the furry pika, or through the city of Washington, D.C. to talk with a film producer or a science journalist, they get a sense of who the people are behind the stereotypes.

“To borrow from one of my guests, there is a thrill, a rush that you get in the laboratory when you discover things for the first time, that is not unlike what you get surfing a 10-foot wave,” Kazilek says. “This is the part of science that Ask a Biologist tries to capture, literally, in the words of the scientists themselves.”

“Ask a Biologist” podcasts are crafted to give voice to how creative people approach their lives, their sciences, and the wonders inherent in nature, art, medicine, and the process of discovery. Kazilek’s podcast persona, Dr. Biology, makes it all accessible to youth in grades K-12, as well as just-plain-curious adults.

The podcast is the newest of a host of engaging offerings associated with the “Ask a Biologist” Web site, http://askabiologist.asu.edu. Created 11 years ago by Kazilek, the Web site now boasts an audience of more than 700,000 unique daily visitors each year. While the focus is on providing fun, the Web site contains a wide range of content and activities encompassing key concepts in botany, biology, conservation, ecology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, oceanography, species and discovery; as well as science communication, technology, mathematics, and concepts like scale. The recordings, which are accompanied by online transcripts and are geared to meet Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education standards, are popular with teachers and home schoolers.

Recorded by ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, “Ask a Biologist” is one of two audio shows produced in its “Grass Roots Studio.” The other is “Science Studio,” also hosted on iTunesU, http://www.sols.asu.edu/podcasts/index.php. In addition to iTunesU, “Ask a Biologist” is featured by LearnOutLoud.com, Plugged, IDEAL (Arizona’s K-12 Education Portal), and edZone (California’s Hi Speed K-12 Web Portal).