'Science Friction' Brings Scientific Debates to a Public Audience

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Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon in the studio. (Chris LaRosa/UConn Photo)

Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon in the studio. (Chris LaRosa/UConn Photo)

Jeffrey McCutcheon wants to bring science, engineering, and technology to a broad audience, where preconceptions can be openly discussed and overturned. So this past spring, he launched a weekly talk radio program on UConn’s noncommercial college and community radio station, WHUS (91.7 FM; www.whus.org/listen-live), called ‘Science Friction.’

McCutcheon, an assistant professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering, chose an edgy name to underline the show’s focus, which squarely targets scientific controversies. The program currently airs Mondays during the WHUS Public Affairs Block from 10 to 11 a.m. and reaches a listening audience well beyond the boundaries of the UConn campus. The geographic broadcast area of WHUS’s 4,400 watt signal reaches slightly past Hartford, into western Rhode Island, and into southern Massachusetts, according to Ryan Caron King, the station’s general manager.

I believe that by giving scientists a platform to discuss these controversies, we can allay some of the public’s fears surrounding technology and science.

McCutcheon says a gap exists between scientists and the general public: “Some view science and technology as the doom of humanity. For example, there are debates about certain scientific issues such as climate change, nuclear power, alternative energy, and water resources. I believe that by giving scientists a platform to discuss these controversies, we can allay some of the public’s fears surrounding technology and science.”

He says he regards the talk show as a platform much like NPR’s ‘Science Friday.’ Each week, he presents a different topic or series of topics covering all subjects STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). He interviews students, professors, entrepreneurs, and people from the business arena – not just from UConn but from around the country.

“It’s important to get a broad spectrum of individuals to talk about the challenges they face and see in certain areas,” he says, “and to allay fears that nonscientists may have about these technologies.”

His shows have generated eager calls from listeners on both sides of the various debates, and he notes that most callers have been respectful and complimentary.

To date, McCutcheon, who directs the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory (SWELL), has interviewed engineering professors Daniel Burkey, Mei Wei, Allison MacKay, Ranjan Srivastava, and Dr. Cato Laurencin; student leaders Kelsey Boch ’13 (ENG), Breanne Muratori ’13 (ENG), and Andrew Silva ’14 (ENG); Nerac Inc. president and CEO Kevin Bouley; interim dean of the School of Engineering Kazem Kazerounian; and student participants in McCutcheon’s NSF-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates.

McCutcheon says the radio show serves both the listening audience and the interviewees: “Very few people have the opportunity to be on the radio these days. Professors and scientists relish this opportunity to talk about what they do, and students value the opportunity as a singular life event.”
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Listen to some recent shows.

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