Maddie Sofia is a queer scientist, journalist, and host of the NPR daily science podcast Short Wave.

(Links: Maddie Sofia on Twitter, and the Short Wave webpage.)


What is Short Wave?
Short Wave is NPR’s daily science podcast. In a single week, you could hear stories about the coronavirus, climate change, space, and the weird mites that live on your face. While we cover the news you need, our show is also a place for people to fall in love with little curiosities that make up our natural world. We recognize that science is a human endeavor shaped by human biases, which means we're here to challenge science as much as we celebrate it. Most importantly, we want Short Wave to be a science show for everyone. We want our audience to recognize themselves in the voices we bring on the show and the stories we tell.

What is the origin story of Short Wave, and why did you want to make it?
We made Short Wave because we wanted a place to tell science stories differently. Too often science reporting has a very narrow view of who scientists are and what science actually is. We know that science is not separate from the challenges that face our society. We also know that it has been an unbelievably depressing year—so we make sure to bring our audience some unbridled nerd-joy at least once a week.

When we launched, we weren’t really sure how people would respond to this kind of show. There aren’t a lot of daily shows that bring you rigorous scientific reporting paired with creative storytelling and occasional nerd-humor. But in our first year, we became Spotify’s most popular science podcast in the U.S. Our audience is amazing.  

What episode would you recommend a new listener start with?
What an impossible question! At this point, we have over 300 hundred episodes so it’s really hard to pick just one. But it feels queerly appropriate to suggest the episode "Why We See Rainbows." What’s more fun than having a queer scientist explain the physics behind rainbows to a queer producer and host? Nothing. Nothing is more fun than that. Shout out to producer Thomas Lu, who made that episode gayer than I could have ever imagined.

On a personal level, this episode was pretty special to me. Growing up, I couldn’t have imagined hosting a national radio program as an openly queer person. I certainly didn’t think I’d be making gay jokes in the name of science. I’m beyond grateful that we were able to create this space for ourselves and our audience.

What's been challenging or surprising about making Short Wave?
Whenever you report on science it’s a struggle to be accurate, engaging, and creative at the same time. It’s even more of a struggle to do that on a daily basis. Many of us are perfectionists, but there is no “perfect” when you’re making a daily show.  You have to become comfortable learning as you go while people listen and judge your work. It’s a bit like research in that way.

The pandemic is an obvious challenge for everyone. Reporting on the coronavirus has given us a real sense of purpose and responsibility—but it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. When we first got sent home, I wasn’t sure how we were going to be able to handle things isolated from each other. But the Short Wave team is made up of people who are even better humans than they are journalists. I'm really proud of how we've taken care of each other and the show. Overall, we’re all just so profoundly grateful for the opportunity to serve our audience and the trust they have placed in us.  

What would you like LGBTQ+ scientists to know about Short Wave?
We would like our LGBTQ+ audience to know that we see you and we value your stories. We have certainly featured queer scientists and queer issues on our show, but I think we can and should be doing even more. So please feel free to pitch us at shortwave@npr.org. One fun fact is that the team that makes Short Wave is extremely queer. It just happened like that! So, know that pretty much every episode has at least one pair of queer little paws all over it.