Episode 26 – “How Real is Silicon-based Life?” by Natalie Wallace and Nicole Kendrick

Winner; Graduate & Professional: “Excellence in Podcasting” Competition

Sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and the Office of Immersion Resources.

When the line between science and fiction becomes blurred, how can know what’s rooted in reality or simply pseudoscience? This is precisely the question that Natalie Wallace and Nicole Kendrick, graduate students in biological science and biochemistry respectively, aim to answer. In this episode of VandyVox, the dynamic duo debunks famed sci-fi TV-series The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 9 “Firewalker.” The pair earned first place in the graduate and professional students category for the Excellence in Podcasting competition.

Strong components of Nicole’s and Natalie’s style are their ability to swiftly separate conglomerates into components, then scaffold discussions surrounding each subsection. Beginning with the basics, they compared and contrasted carbon- vs. silica-based structures, then built into the underlying mechanisms to lead listeners to the conclusion that silica-based life is unlikely on Earth. In addition to their robust analysis, the women keep the spirit of science fiction alive by referencing progress made in the field of synthetic chemistry for silica-carbon molecules, acknowledging the role imagination plays in the limit of possibilities.

Following the trend to reveal that some science fiction may not be so farfetched, Natalie and Nicole reference tangible examples where science mimics the science fiction found in the show. As examples, they unearthed various and vicious parasites that are capable of modifying host behavior and referenced NASA operations that sent robots to extreme environments, like volcanoes, in preparation for Mars explorations. Their ability to relate fantastical fiction to evidence-based science creates an enticing piece of audio that keeps the listener enthralled.

This STEM squad uses a cold open tactic, jumping directly into the audio in a discussion of the cuteness of robots on screen, followed by pensive music foreshadowing the dark drama ahead. Using supplementary sounds in this fashion catches the listener off-guard then draws them in, creating a subtle ploy to garner their attention.

Natalie and Nicole acknowledged their personal relationship to the show, revealing how they were inspired by the character Dana Scully, a strong female scientist, who may have convinced them to pursue scientific tracks themselves. Driving the conversation further, the podcasters investigated the impact of quality representation of women in STEM throughout media, highlighting both the progress made and the disparities left to address.

Their award-winning audio is a part of their larger podcast, “How Real is that Science?” where the team tackles more myths in a self-proclaimed “effort to improve science communication and watch movies.”

Find more episodes of “How Real is that Science?” by Nicole and Natalie at:

Apple Podcasts: 

    • https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-real-is-that-science/id1504271187


    • https://open.spotify.com/show/4sMAb6cpwEzIl8X5esP24g?si=e1f9a8907e9c44f7


Educational podcasts shine when evidence-based teaching methods are employed, the way Nicole and Natalie implemented informational scaffolding. Convey your content with precision:

The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College offers free, online resources related to implementing instructional scaffolding:

    • https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/sca/cresource/q1/p01/


Natalie’s and Nicole’s intro hooks the audience. Want to try your hand at a cold open?

Scroll through Tallie Gabriel’s “Show Bites: Hook Your Audience With a Cold Open,” on Marketing Showrunners:

    • https://www.marketingshowrunners.com/blog/show-bites-hook-your-audience-with-a-cold-open/


You don’t need a team to create an amazing podcast. Add sounds and edit audio for free using Audacity, then publish for free on Anchor:

Audacity, a “free, open source, cross-platform audio software”

    • https://www.audacityteam.org/

Anchor, a “free, beginner-friendly platform for podcast creation,”

    • https://anchor.fm/


Written by Kaelyn Warne, Teaching Affiliate at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching