Tech Scientist Co-hosts New PBS Science Show

It's said that getting a degree from Georgia Tech can prepare you to do just about anything - and that includes starring in your own TV show. Georgia Tech scientist Bahareh Azizi will make her debut on PBS this week co-hosting, 'Science Investigators,' a program in which young, energetic scientists, not actors, lead viewers on an hour-long expedition to uncover a series of scientific mysteries.

The program is one of three that PBS is broadcasting this month in their quest to find their next hit science show. 'Science Investigators' will premiere nationally on Wednesday, January 10 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. 'Wired Science,' a program that translates Wired magazine's journalism into a television show aired January 3 while '22nd Century,' a program that uses scientists and futurists to imagine what the world will look like 100 years from now, airs January 17.

PBS is asking viewers to weigh-in on which show they'd like to see turned into a 10-episode series this fall. The network will use that information, combined with Nielsen ratings and other tools of the broadcast trade, to decide which series makes it and which doesn't. Beginning January 1, PBS put pilot episodes for all three shows, plus extra footage, on their Web site (www.pbs.org/science). Viewers can either watch the show on TV and then go to the Web site to comment, or do it all on the Web.

Azizi said that it's the hosts' science backgrounds and the investigative nature of 'Science Investigators' that she thinks sets the program apart from the competition.

"We actually put our own insights into the show and the investigations. As a scientist you're curious about how things work; you don't have to pretend that you're interested because you really are," said Azizi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She earned her doctorate in biochemistry at Tech.

The pilot undertakes two main stories and several smaller ones. The first segment, hosted by British physicist Basil Singer and best-selling science writer and filmmaker Victoria Bruce, investigates Neanderthal DNA and answers whether it can be used someday to bring them back to life. The segment was spurred by questions that a Connecticut middle school teacher submitted on behalf of her class.

In her first segment, Azizi and co-host astrophysicist Kevin Hand examine why a certain species of frogs has disappeared from Long Island, NY and how it may be an early warning for humans.

"That's a very serious issue because any changes in the environment, even small changes, they can detect," said Azizi. "And if we have a die-off of certain types of species, that means there's something in our environment that's affecting us, but we may not be able to feel it, yet."

During the segment, Azizi enlists the help of the amphibian conservation program at the Atlanta Botanical Garden to help them understand what may be responsible for the disappearing frog species on Long Island.

In Azizi's other segment she takes a spin in an electric race car that accelerates from 0 mph to 60 mph in three seconds.

"We were going, I think, 120 mph, but when Kenny Shepherd, the NASCAR driver, got in there he actually took the car even faster," she said.

Azizi said she was looking for faculty jobs on a science career Web site when she saw the posting looking for a host of the show.

"I thought, oh yeah, I'll apply, whatever," she said, not really expecting much. "But then I got a callback to send in my picture and then to send in my tape."

After not hearing from the producers for a while, and just as she had given up hope, she got a call asking her to fly to Oregon to interview a professor for the frog segment.

All in all, filming the pilot took about six days. Azizi said she flew to San Francisco to film at the Altamont race track, filmed lab segments in New York, and interviewed people at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

"It's been much fun. Those days went by so fast, it's incredible," she said.

Using real scientists to host the show, instead of actors, gives the show an interesting dynamic, she said.

"There were a lot of times where my experience as a scientist really came into play because we actually do experiments on the show," said Azizi. "At the same time, TV is all about the image, so when we were filming the DNA experiments, we used our expertise to use the brightest DNA marker we could find, so it would look good on camera."

Azizi said her experience in the Ph.D. program at Tech and teaching a freshman chemistry course helped her immensely in hosting the show.

"Tech prepares you so much for the real world. It taught me discipline and to work as hard as I can," she said. "The toughness of the program gives you endurance. When you're filming 14 hours a day - if I didn't have experience putting in 14 hour days in the lab, I would have had a harder time at the shoots."

Azizi also noted that teaching an 8 a.m. class of freshman chemistry gave her the ability to communicate complicated topics in everyday language.

"I used a lot of analogies with real life for my students, because I think what captures their curiosity the most is how they can relate it back to their lives," said Azizi. "That's the cool thing about science. People actually take what they learn in the lab and apply it to life."

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