Look, up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually, it’s all elemental and Kate the Chemist is here to explain the science behind our everyday lives.
Perhaps you’ve seen Dr. Kate Biberdorf making elephant’s toothpaste with Lester Holt, breathing fire with Stephen Colbert, or answering questions for Wired. Maybe you took her general chemistry course while studying at UT Austin, or read her book “It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry in Everything.”
Whether or not you’ve seen her scientific take on performance art, class is in session. Dr. Kate sat down with ATXtoday to chat about her podcast, “Seeking a Scientist,” and the art of chemistry.
Kate has always been a curious person, saying her parents used to count the many questions she asked while on car rides. Shortly after graduating with her PhD in inorganic chemistry at UT, Dr. Kate stayed on board to teach in 2014.
“I love teaching, I love the students. And like, Austin itself, are you kidding? It’s the one of the best cities for anything you want to do,” Dr. Kate said. “I kind of leaned into the demos because I could show someone setting my hand on fire, and now they want to know how come my hand didn’t just fall off? Why am I smiling and not screaming in pain?”
A busybody by nature, Dr. Kate was quick to take on other projects, starting with colorful and dynamic experiments onstage for a scientific outreach program. Before long, her infectious stage presence had book deals — and a 2016 partnership with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls — flooding in.
In 2018, Dr. Kate got a call from a Los Angeles-based agency offering to make her “the next Bill Nye.” Kate the Chemist was made official, and her TV appearances fell in line.
“When you get on ‘The Today Show,’ you can show a lot of kids that science is cool, and when you get on ‘Colbert,’ you can show a lot of stoners that science is cool,” Dr. Kate said. “I’ve been given a much greater platform so I can have a much bigger impact.”
Before performing her scientific stunts, Kate had never been on TV before. Despite having no experience in the film industry, Dr. Kate said she feels right at home onstage. The bigger hurdle was making science approachable by applying artistry to her experiments.
“It’s fun and selfishly, I love the hair and makeup and I love the big explosions that I get to do,” Dr. Kate said. "(But) anytime we define a scientist or a job, it’s like, only one type of person can do that. We really limit it. I personally believe when you get different people of different backgrounds in the same room, you end up with a better product.”
Her new podcast posed a unique challenge: not having all the answers.
In the podcast, supported by Kansas City’s KCUR Studios (Hey, KCtoday 👋), Dr. Kate interviews scientists to answer questions like: Can humans reverse the aging process? Can we fix the Texas electric grid? Can we save the ocean from plastic?
“I’ve been on panels before, but never in a spot where I need answers from the interview,” Dr. Kate said. “I’ve loving that side of it.”
If you want to learn more, follow Dr. Kate on Instagram. And remember, if you’ve got a question, science likely has the answer.