Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Interesting profile of Kate the Chemist

Via the New York Times: 
The dream is Vegas.

“Don’t make fun of me,” said Kate Biberdorf, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “but it would be a live show in Vegas where it’s a science show.”

That is not a typical aspiration of someone who teaches chemistry to undergraduates. For Dr. Biberdorf — better known as Kate the Chemist — that dream is part of her goal to capture the fun of scientific exploration and to entice children, especially girls, to consider science as their life’s calling.

“When I’m happiest is when I’m onstage sharing what I love,” she said.

She’s thinking of a big spectacle, like the long-running magic shows of David Copperfield at MGM Grand or Penn & Teller at Rio Las Vegas. “If we can convince people to go to science shows when on vacation,” she added, not entirely convinced herself.

That's a pretty cool idea. I've no idea of the economics behind shows in Vegas, i.e. I believe that you have to have quite a following (from Sinatra forward) in order to get a big booking, but gee, she is quite popular. 

(this is my general complaint about science communication as an employment field - it's basically an adjunct of the entertainment industry (an important one), but that means that it's subject to labor tournament economics, where there are 5 people who make a really good living (Bill Nye, etc), 3-10% people who make a middle-income living (your authors and folks who show up on the Tonight Show, etc), and then 90% of entrants who struggle/have science communication as a side gig. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the way I feel.) 


  1. Seems like a garbage gig. Do you want to be a teacher or an entertainer? I don't doubt you'll make more money but just seems like Bill Nye 2.0 who ultimately is a know-nothing entertainer as well.

  2. Yeah not a fan of Kate's. I am also aim to encourage more young women to explore STEM, but I met her once and she explained that her look and messaging is focused on "you don't have to be drab to be a female scientist". As if folks in science aren't held to the same (flawed) beauty standards as everyone else. It's also misdirected effort, as thin, white pretty girls who want to dress up aren't really the underrepresented demographic we should be worried about. Maybe that makes her a more effective, albeit in an outdated way, entertainer?

  3. I think she's getting ahead of herself. It would take a person as famous as Bill Nye or Mr. Wizard to pull off a Vegas show. I've never heard of her until now. That said, I don't understand all the hate directed at her. I loved watching semi-dangerous demos as a student, like my undergrad professor who used to fill balloons with hydrogen and light them with a match taped to the end of a yardstick.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20