Episode 32 – “Fermi Paradox” by Lukas Berglund

Created for CSET 2100: Science Communication Tools and Techniques

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if there is another life in the universe? Lukas Berglund has and in his episode on the Fermi Paradox, he takes the audience on an engaging audio journey that tactfully discusses the existence of extraterrestrial life. He weaves a UN speech, audio from the Voyager probes, and electronic music to set the mood and immerse the audience in a succinct story.

“Overall with academic-type communications, I feel like the key is always to anecdotal; to talk about moments, to talk about cases, to tell stories that you can build your academic ideas around”

– Jad Abumrad on podcasts about abstract academic concepts

What was your process for structuring this episode? Did you plan out the entire episode first or did you just experiment with audio until you found something that you liked?

“I started with the plan to make an episode about the Fermi Paradox. I was thinking about a hook and I remembered this disk that Carl Sagan sent out to space at some point so I took a look at that. It starts with this recording from the UN representative that I put at the start of my podcast. It really blew me away the first time I listened to it. It had this old-school, peace-and-love, the-world-is-holding-hands energy that I found to be an illuminating look into the way people thought back then. Once I knew how to start it I structured the rest of the podcast around best explaining the Fermi Paradox. I was particularly interested in proposed solutions to the Fermi Paradox so I read through a lot of them on the Wikipedia page. I also think the great filter is a pretty important idea so I decided to include that too. In the end, I think I packed a lot of stuff into the episode, maybe a bit too much, which made it feel kind of hectic, but it is what it is.”

How long did it take for you to produce this episode?

“I’m guessing I put about 7 hours of work into this episode including edits I made after the first draft.”

Could you explain your thought process behind designing the door knocking and “hello” in different languages?

“To be honest, this is the weirdest part of the episode. These recordings are also part of the voyager record that I featured in the beginning of the episode, so I thought it would be a nice touch to include them in that part of the episode. But that part ended up sounding kind of awkward and obviously people didn’t know that it’s from the voyager record, so that fun detail is lost on the listener. It also didn’t help that the recordings were pretty low-quality.”

What advice would you have for students that are interested in producing something similar?

“I have a couple of miscellaneous pieces of advice:

  1. Think about what you are trying to explain and try to do it in the most natural way possible. Also, when you are writing the script, say it out loud to see what does and doesn’t sound natural. The number one thing here is that the things that read nicely do not always sound nice.
  2. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The best way to tell if something works is by making it and listening to how it sounds. Producing a podcast is usually a loop of making a change, listening to it, readjusting, listening again, etc until I find something that sounds nice.
  3. Steal stuff from people you admire. Especially at the start, I think you can learn a lot by just taking things that you like from other podcasts and trying to do the same.”