Nuclear science first entered American consciousness with the construction of the atomic bomb. It has become both a beneficial and a destructive force that affects many aspects of human life, from energy to the environment to medicine. But this subject – that looks into the atomic nucleus – is something that people generally don’t teach or talk about too much about. Shelly Lesher, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL), is working to change that. Lesher launched a new podcast in December called “My Nuclear Life,” which explores the interface between nuclear science and society through interviews with historians, policy makers and other experts.
“I wanted to share my love for physics and the excitement of the field with the public, and I hope they’ll get excited about physics, too,” she says. The episodes of the podcast series cover topics such as: nuclear sanctions, the start of radium therapy to treat cancer, and the start of the environmental movement in the US. They do not need a nuclear science background and can be accessed free of charge at mynuclearlife .com.
Lesher, who was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society 2020, is an expert in nuclear sciences and has taught the course “Navigating Global Nuclear Issues” at the UWL since 2015. In 2019-20, she brought her unique UWL class on the history of the atomic bomb and its impact on society to Yale University through a prestigious scholarship. While colleagues encouraged Lesher to write a book on nuclear science, she opted for a podcast instead. The format allows her to bring different voices to the table in the field, she says. And the pandemic has made these experts more readily available for interviews now that they are at home instead of traveling around the world to chat.
Her first six episodes include an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes, who wrote “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” She interviews Dr. Leslie Dewan, co-founder of Transatomic Power, one of the first startups to try to bring a Generation IV reactor to market. In another episode, she connects with Richard Nephew, former Deputy Chief Sanctions Policy Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State and senior sanctions expert on the U.S. negotiating team with Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iranian Nuclear Deal. “It’s really a dream to ask people I admire to come on the show, discuss topics we love, and then share them with others,” says Lesher.
The podcasts have received positive reviews, and the early programs have become a good basis for attracting potential guests. “When I contact new guests, they can listen to the show and see what it’s about and decide if they want to attend,” she says. “If a potential guest listens and thinks it’s good, then I know I did something right.” Lesher’s fascination with nuclear physics began in college. As a student at Indiana University South Bend, she was involved in a nuclear physics research laboratory at the nearby University of Notre Dame. While studying nuclear physics, she and other students were asked to reflect on the implications of the subject and whether or not they would at some point pursue a career in developing nuclear weapons. Lesher spent some time at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, but later chose to teach nuclear physics. It’s a way in which she was able to convey her own curiosity and knowledge of the field.
Lesher encourages her students to reflect on the history of nuclear science and the ethics of scientific decision-making. Her podcast complements her hands-on experience in the field. Lexie Weghorn, an undergraduate physics student, was instrumental in producing the series. Taking an interest in physics and society, Weghorn is now researching topics, finding guests for the show, and adding a unique perspective. She will soon also be participating in conversations on the podcast. Lesher hopes that the students can continue to participate in the program through the podcast in the future. Listen now!
UW-La Crosse Physics Professor Shelly Lesher’s new podcast series “My Nuclear Life” explores the interface between nuclear science and society through interviews with historians, policy makers and others. Access the first season of six episodes at mynuclearlife.com. The release of the second season is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2nd. A snapshot of several episodes: • Saving the World with Nuclear Power: Is there any other way in nuclear science to reduce our carbon footprint at a time when the world is desperately trying? prevent a climate catastrophe? The answer maybe with the Generation IV reactor. The co-founder of a startup trying to get one on the market shares what’s on the way. • How It All Began: The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Making of the Atomic Bomb shares the beginning of nuclear science as a field until the Manhattan Project was approved. • Thwart nuclear ambitions with sanctions: The senior sanctions expert on the US negotiating team for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – also known as the Iranian nuclear deal – discusses the JCPOA, the sanctions and what to expect from President-elect Biden’s administration.
UW-La Crosse Physics: The UWL physics department has a history of being a nationally recognized leader in physics education and is consistently ranked among the top physics departments in the country for the highest number of physics majors with a bachelor’s degree in institution.
APS Shelly Lesher, who is making waves in nuclear physics, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $ 396,747 to develop a detector array at the University of Notre Dame with the help of several UWL students. Lesher is also director of the Conference Experience for Undergraduate (CEU) program for the Nuclear Physics (DNP) division of the American Physical Society (APS).