Jacqueline Howard makes science simple with her web series “Talk Nerdy to Me”.
Jacqueline Howard is the first to admit that she’s a bona fide science geek: Her eyes light up at the mere mention of a new study, and she’s well-versed in everything from the largest structure in the universe (the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, a large wall of galaxies) to the smallest subatomic particles. That passion is part of the reason the Chicago-based Howard landed her gig as host of “Talk Nerdy to Me,” the monthly web series from AOL and The Huffington Post that aims to make science less daunting by breaking down concepts ranging from evolution to infidelity. “I really like the idea of making science accessible to everyone, but especially young people,” she says. “While a study may sound boring on paper, when you watch it on video or see pictures — that really makes science come alive.”
Though she’s a science superfan now, Howard didn’t stumble upon her calling until recently. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications studies and English and then getting her master’s in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, the Ohio native found herself in Hermosa Beach, working for AOL. One day in 2010, she noticed that the tides changed colors — later, she learned it was caused by an algae-related phenomenon known as red tides. “It sparked my interest [and I asked], ‘Okay, is there anything deeper here?’ ” she remembers. Howard began focusing on scientific stories, eventually working her way to The Huffington Post’s science section in 2012, where she joined “Talk Nerdy.” But it wasn’t until 2013, when the series moved to HuffPost’s Chicago HQ in River North, that Howard stepped into her role as host and producer.
Now Howard, 27, is out to make sure that young girls discover science much sooner than she did. “According to the National Science Foundation statistics, 66 percent of young girls in the fourth grade say they like science and math, but then only 18 percent of all college engineering majors and [science] jobs are female,” says Howard. “So something happens.” In hopes of encouraging women to stay engaged, Huffington Post Science has created the Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Project, connecting high school and college girls to female mentors in their fields of interest.
Howard is also working to make science less intimidating through her series, cutting out much of the jargon and speaking about high-level topics in plain English. It’s important, she explains, that our generation understands what’s going on around them. “You may think that we’ve come so far as a society, and we know so much about our planet, but really we don’t,” she says. “Having an interest in science really opens your eyes and makes you say, ‘Wow, our world is really fascinating.’ There’s so much going on that we’ve just touched the surface of.” For example, she cites a recent study that confirmed the moon originated when, early in our planet’s history, Earth was struck by a large foreign object. “It seems like we should have known that!” laughs Howard.
While you might imagine that these breakthroughs come from scientists in secret bunkers, Howard claims that some of the magic happens right here in our fair city. Since “Talk Nerdy’s” move to Chicago, Howard has eagerly taken advantage of the city’s resources. “A lot of the tourist attractions, like the Field Museum — you go there and have fun and see the exhibits, but behind the doors there’s major work being done,” she says, pointing to a recent segment she did exploring the museum’s research in evolution. “It’s amazing to see how much scientific work is being done [here]. That’s what I really hope we can shed light on in Chicago.”
“I like to go out to Siena Tavern. I love the coccoli — even Michael Jordan said it’s his favorite thing to eat there. I’m like, ‘If Michael Jordan likes it, I do too.’ ” $14, 51 W. Kinzie; Sienatavern.com
“This is honestly what I’m reading right now — not to plug my boss, but Arianna [Huffington’s] new book, Thrive — that’s what I’m really inspired by.” $15.90, Barnes & Noble locations citywide; Bn.com