Kristin Swanson, Ph.D., is used to presenting her work in front of an audience. Though not usually a live studio audience. But this summer, Dr. Swanson, a math oncologist at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, did just that, talking about new approaches to treating brain tumors with the science guy himself, Bill Nye.
"It was a great experience," Dr. Swanson tells us of her time on the set of "Bill Nye Saves the World," which began, as such things sometimes do these days, with a tweet. It seems the program nabs some of its guests through the hashtag #BillMeetScienceTwitter. Dr. Swanson decided to take a shot at getting on the show, tweeting: "Hi @BillNye. I am a math oncologist building opt patient specific-Rx for #GBM #EveryPatientDeservesTheirOwnEquation #BillMeetScienceTwitter." A few weeks later, she received an email from a producer asking her to get in touch. "At first I thought it was a joke," Dr. Swanson tells us. But another email followed, and she was soon making plans to travel to Culver City, California, and getting ready for her close-up.
Since we'll likely never find ourselves in that position, we asked Dr. Swanson to take us behind the scenes. After arriving on set for an 11 a.m. "call time," she met with hair and makeup people and did a single "run through" of her spot with Nye, who she confirms is as "fun, sweet and kind" as his public persona would suggest. (Whew.) Throughout the afternoon, other guests — including actor Zach Braff, astronaut Scott Kelly, theoretical physicist Lisa Randall, and writers Carlton Cuse ("Lost") and Brannon Braga ("StarTrek") — arrived to run through their own spots. In between, they all hobnobbed in the "green room." The audience — including Dr. Swanson's 7-year-old daughter, Kayla — arrived around 6 p.m., and filming was soon underway.
Over the next five hours, guests came out and filmed their bits, all related to the episode's theme of time travel. Dr. Swanson came onto stage last, sharing her work as a way to tease the next episode's theme of cheating death. "I bring mathematics to cancer and by doing so can generate optimized patient-specific therapies, matching the right patient with the right treatment at the right time," she explained to Nye, who seemed (perhaps we're biased) even more enthusiastic than usual. She then used a telegenic, color-printed 3-D model of a brain to illustrate her work.
Dr. Swanson tells us she's grateful to Nye for his efforts to promote science and show how "cool and interesting" it can be. "Science isn't in a box that people can't understand," she says. "We should be integrating science into our conversations, talking about it at the dinner table."
Sounds like food for thought to us.
You can learn more about Dr. Swanson's work as a math oncologist — including the personal experience that inspired it — here. Then kick-start your dinner conversation by watching Dr. Swanson's appearance on "Bill Nye Saves the World." She can be seen on Season 2, Episode 6. And don't forget to hobnob on over and leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.