Chemistry grad student spreads science across Internet airwaves

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During the 1960s Space Race, science bled into the news in a way that was fun and approachable for the American public. Now, UW-Madison chemistry graduate student Gregory Eyer hopes to help rekindle that spirit by bringing interesting science topics to a general audience. He co-hosts "Stop. Think. Science!," a weekly science and technology podcast.

Eyer launched the podcast in July along with Ian Armstrong, a graduate student at Ohio University. The two met at Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn., where they were among the eight chemistry majors in their graduating class.

Eyer (Photo by Wei Li, Andrew Lab) Eyer (Photo by Wei Li, Andrew Lab)

"We took some classes together and bonded during our senior capstone projects," Eyer says. "We had different advisers and different projects to work on, but in the same way that working on a Ph.D. brings students together through common struggle, that's what made us a little bit closer."

Eyer and Armstrong are interested in sharing the science behind everyday life with people who do not have scientific backgrounds. Each episode of the podcast focuses on a different scientific or technological subject. Past episodes have covered topics such as the maker movement, polymers and plastics, and the science of bourbon production.

To date, he is most proud of their episode about sharks. Prior to working on the episode, most of Eyer's exposure to sharks was from popular science and public opinion. The episode, which features an interview with University of Miami graduate student David Shiffman, provides a fascinating 36-minute deep dive into shark research and shark conservation.

Eyer says his daily graduate research can feel like a long march toward a far-off goal.

"In contrast to research in the lab, especially what I'm doing right now, where the end point is not very tangible and it feels like it's too far away to get to, being able to complete a short project is nice," he says.

Eyer came to UW-Madison as a materials chemistry student, hoping to pursue polymers research. However, he shifted gears during his first semester in the program. He landed in Assistant Professor Trisha Andrew's interdisciplinary nanostructured spintronics research group, where he was among her first few students. He helped set the lab up from scratch. His research now involves studying the fundamental science behind electron spin of organic radical molecules and their potential applications in various organic electronic devices.

A bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 set Eyer back a year in graduate school as he took time off for treatment and recovery. Now, a year in remission, his life goals and perspective have changed. Coming into the program, he anticipated pursuing a career in the chemical industry. Today, he is considering alternate career paths that would allow him to put his science background to use, but not as a bench chemist.

"Odds are, the research project I'm currently working on won't ever be used in my professional career," Eyer says. "What it's teaching me is how to analyze data, how to think about a problem as a whole, and how to translate my research for people with various backgrounds, which is where the podcast comes in."

Learn more or listen to the podcast at stopthinkscience.com.

Story by Libby Dowdall, Department of Chemistry