Nerdette Podcast A safe space for nerding out about all the things you're watching, reading, listening to and encountering in real life. Hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen talk to people about their obsessions: from science to science fiction, great lady nerds of history to Beyoncé. Because what the world needs now is not another superhero, but for the glasses-clad alter ego to make you a podcast.
Nerdette Podcast

Nerdette Podcast

From WBEZ Chicago

A safe space for nerding out about all the things you're watching, reading, listening to and encountering in real life. Hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen talk to people about their obsessions: from science to science fiction, great lady nerds of history to Beyoncé. Because what the world needs now is not another superhero, but for the glasses-clad alter ego to make you a podcast.

Most Recent Episodes

Shrill AF With Lindy West

Oh hey it's Lindy West! Lindy's the the executive producer of Shrill, a new Hulu series starring SNL's Aidy Bryant that's based on Lindy's 2016 novel of the same name. And we talk with Lindy about a few of the delightful scenes from the series (including an epic pool party), why Lindy left Twitter, and her forthcoming new book called The Witches Are Coming. She also tells us about how her new Hulu series subverts a common TV trope. "Usually what we get are weight loss narratives and makeover narratives. And these sort of sad sack stories about either people trying to lose weight and succeeding or trying to lose weight and failing and being sad," Lindy says."The whole idea is that there are other ways to live and that you deserve a life that is bigger than that — and that has a scope beyond your body and what it weighs." Lindy West y'all!

Wash Your F-ing Hands

At WBEZ (and maybe at your office too?) it seems like a lot of folks get sick at almost exactly the same time. But why?! Simple: People in our office are sick because sick people are in our office. "I think that is probably the single biggest thing that we could do to reduce the incidence of a lot of diseases," says Sarah Cobey, an evolutionary microbiologist from the University of Chicago. "Just self-quarantine." On this episode of Nerdette, Sarah takes a walk through our open office and guesses why people might be ill — and what we can do to stop the colds from spreading. She also talks about sneezes, vaccines and all the real heroes out there: people with good hygiene. Wash your hands, people! Sheesh!

Podcats In Space

Yep. Podcats. Not a typo. This week we take a journey back to 1994, just before an astronomer named Heidi Hammel — as well as the entire scientific community at large — learned that a fragmented comet named Shoemaker-Levy 9 was going to crash into Jupiter at a speed of more than 130,000 miles per hour. "We have witnessed other impacts," Heidi tells us. "What was really special about the Jupiter one was we had warning that it was going to happen." This moment was huge for Heidi, who was just a young astronomer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the time. She was asked to lead the team that would analyze photos of the impacts taken by the still-relatively-new Hubble Space Telescope. Oh yeah, in this podcast episode Heidi also compares planets to cats and herself to a veterinarian so PODCATS!

Winter Watches!

Winter is still here! (At least in the nation's midsection.) And that means you're looking for stuff to do when you're stuck inside. And who better to recommend some good nerdy activities than Nerdette co-creator Tricia Bobeda?!? She did just that on WBEZ's Morning Shift last month and we're bringing it to you now because we love you. So please enjoy this binge-watchers guide to navigating the winter cold, featuring excellent TV, movie and book recommendations. Bonus: This interview was conducted by Morning Shift host (and former all-star Nerdette guest host) Jenn White. Need more Jenn White in your life? Subscribe to her daily local news podcast, Morning Shift Podcast. (And check out Making Oprah and Making Obama if you haven't already.) Extra Bonus: Use this as a reminder to re-subscribe to Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal which is returning to your ears in two short months.

Move Over Holden Caulfield

Dana Czapnik has always been drawn to wanderers and wonderers, the kind of fictional characters who are always contemplating who they are and the world around them. But aside from the work of Virginia Woolf, Czapnik said she hasn't come across many female characters who get those kind of opportunities. "That was one of the things that I was thinking of when I was working on this," Czapnik says of her new novel, The Falconer. "That I wanted to write a female character who has the space to just be and wonder." Salman Rushdie called The Falconer "a deeply affecting tale of a young woman coming of age in a man's world." The book has been favorably compared to The Catcher in the Rye. And the main character, 17-year-old Lucy Adler, is "a much better person than Holden Caulfield," according to Nerdette's own Greta Johnsen. Czapnik talks with Greta all about the book, the nuances of feminism, and nostalgia for the 1990s.

Dessa Changes Her Mind

The Nerdette team recently moved next to the crew at Sound Opinions, WBEZ's long-running rock n' roll talk show. We bring that up because last year that team reviewed Dessa's latest album, "Chime," and not only did they call it "brilliant," they called Dessa "a renaissance woman in the truest sense." That's because Dessa is a rapper, singer, author, poet, and whiskey co-creator. And she even participated in an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"-type procedure in an attempt to remove memories from a painful relationship. Greta talks to Dessa about all of that. And we listen to some of the amazing tracks on "Chime."

Get That Money.

How does one ask their employer for more money? The short answer, according to Refinery29's Lindsey Stanberry, is just do it. "It's hard. And it's not fun," Stanberry tells Greta this week. "I mean, you just have to ask." It's a new year. And now — RIGHT NOW — is the time to get your finances in order. So we're talking with a financial expert who's going to tell you to know your numbers, to know your worth, and — most importantly — to get out there and get that money. Stanberry is the author of "Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Your Finances... And Everyone Else's." She's also the work and money director at Refinery29, an online magazine. She's full of invaluable tips for taking charge of your money situation. So get excited: You're about to be the boss of your bank account.

End Of The Year Homework!

The year is at its end. And in 2018's honor, Greta talked to four people who've made some amazing things about their favorite thing of the year. Make sense? It's kind of like a miniature phone tree but for books, music, and TV. Or like a binder's worth of homework dumped on you hours before the end of the semester. (You're welcome!) Here are our guest professors: Celeste Ng, author of the 2017 novel Little Fires Everywhere Curtis Sittenfeld, author of a 2018 collection of short stories titled You Think It, I'll Say It Dessa, a singer, rapper, and writer responsible for both an album called Chime and a memoir called My Own Devices in 2018 Jenny Han, author of To All The Boys I've Loved Before, which became a smash-hit Netflix movie To make things as easy for you over-achievers as possible, you can find a list of all their recommendations here.


Nerdette host Greta Johnsen has a rare genetic disease that CRISPR might be able to fix. As a four-year old in Juneau, Alaska, Greta was diagnosed with an eye condition known as "Best disease." That name is somewhat of a misnomer in that "Best disease" causes premature macular degeneration — but curiously it happens to be among the best diseases for experimenting with CRISPR, a genetic engineering tool that can be used to edit DNA. CRISPR has been in the news a lot lately (Google it) so we're rebroadcasting this very special episode, one that follows the story of Greta, her father, and Dr. Bruce Conklin, a scientist who's currently developing a CRISPR system to inject into some Johnsen family eyeballs. Plus, you can't have a conversation about experimental gene editing without discussing the ethical implications of making irreversible changes to human evolution. "We'd be permanently altering the course of evolution if we decide that we think it's OK to edit human embryos," says Megan Hochstrasser, a science communications manager and CRISPR expert. "Is that something we want to be able to do as a society?" That's a great question. Let's talk about it.

How Killer Snails Could Save Your Life

In a curious twist, snails — venomous, killer sea snails — are helping scientists make some incredible biomedical advances. Dr. Mandë Holford is the head of the Holford Lab in New York City, but her line of research often means she's taking nighttime scuba dives in seas and oceans across the globe. "The whole point of our lab is to try to change these snails from agents of fear into agents of hope," Holford said on this week's Nerdette podcast. "Yes, a snail can kill you," she added. "But a snail can also help you! In various, various ways. And that's what our lab is investigating: The power of these snails and the venom that they have to transform organisms and to transform lives." Holford is also an associate professor in chemistry at Hunter College and the Graduate Center at City University of New York, with scientific appointments at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medical College. She told Nerdette host Greta Johnsen how snail venom can help relieve pain and treat cancer, how she's giving back with a line of science-based board games, and how it feels to be on a "Top 100" list that includes Beyoncé. Below are highlights. How a snail might help save your life Mandë Holford: The way that snails can save your life is through the compounds that are found in their venom. ... We're extracting individual components that are found in the venom, and these things are very good at manipulating signals related to diseases and disorders that humans have. Two areas that we concentrate on is pain and cancer. So we've found novel peptides in our snails — peptides are the components in the venom — we found novel ones that seem to be treating pain in ways that are not addictive, which is important. And we've also found our first peptide that we've actually patented in the lab that seems to be having an effect on stopping liver tumors from proliferating. Greta Johnsen: That's insane! Holford: Yeah, I know. It's crazy. Who would think a snail could have so many outputs? [Laughs.] Another reason why you should love nature and save our planet. On promoting science through a series of games Holford: Knowledge is power, and science is the way to unleash that power. And so it shouldn't be something that we shy away from. It should be something that we try to champion kids into wanting to use and to play with. As you've heard before, children are naturally inquisitive. All you need to be a scientist is to be inquisitive, and you're born with the tool that makes you so. ... We have to let kids know that science is fun. We need female champions, too, to demonstrate that you don't have to be a specific gender to be a scientist, you don't have to be of a specific race, or a specific culture. We're all born with the tool that a scientist needs, and that's a brain. And we're all born with a functioning brain. So it's like the cheapest entry-level career that you can have, because it costs zero. [Laughs.] On being #84 on a list of the 100 most influential African-Americans aged 25 to 45 Johnsen: What is it like to be on a list of people that includes Beyoncé? Holford: I know! I was so surprised when I saw it. And actually, I didn't know about it until I was in a meeting and I came out of the meeting, and I checked my phone and my Twitter thing had all of these notifications, and I was like, "What's going on?" And then I saw the picture and I was like, "My God! There's Serena and Beyoncé and all of these great people that are doing amazing things, and then there's Mandë!" [Laughs.] It's amazing but you never think — I don't think of myself on their scale. Serena's a powerhouse. I think she is phenomenal for what she's doing for women and athletes, and what she's doing now for working moms and illustrating all of the pitfalls and joys that happen. And Beyoncé similarly, another powerhouse for setting the stage of what can be done if you focus and you work hard and you put your head to the grindstone and just keep grinding. "Stop interrupting my grinding" is one of my go-tos that I tell people who are bugging me. [Laughs.] I'm like, "You're interrupting my grinding and Beyoncé said not to." [Laughs.] This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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