UMW Chemistry Professor to Discuss Mad Scientist Stereotypes on Public Radio Show

University of Mary Washington Associate Professor of Chemistry Leanna Giancarlo will discuss stereotypical portrayals of scientists during an interview on the “With Good Reason” public radio program beginning Saturday, July 23.

The interview can be heard on July 23 at 4:30 p.m. on WCVE 88.9 FM and on Monday, July 25 at 12:30 a.m. on WAMU 88.5 FM. The segment, “Selling the Silver Bullet,” is expected to be available online beginning the week of the show at http://withgoodreasonradio.org/2011/07/selling-the-silver-bullet.

Film and fiction have long depicted scientists as sinister, dangerous, arrogant, secretive, ruthless or possibly mad, says Giancarlo. By examining the role of language and myth-making, she explains why these negative views of scientists persist.

“While many scientists try to be straightforward, they compound the perception by using language and symbols confusing and upsetting to the average person,” says Giancarlo, chair of UMW’s chemistry department. “In addition, people still associate chemistry with medieval, mysterious alchemy that provides a powerful source of myth-making for critics of current science.”

When she began studying chemistry, Giancarlo first noticed stereotypical portrayals of scientists as geeks, outside society’s mainstream, with the rare woman scientist depicted as flighty.

“Despite the great strides that science has made for the betterment of mankind, these stereotypes persist,” she said.

Giancarlo received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Scranton. Her research involving scanning tunneling microscopy, surface chemistry and spectroscopic studies of molecular interactions has been widely published. A recipient of UMW’s Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Member Award, Giancarlo also received a School of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, the Virginia Academy of Science and the American Chemical Society.

“With Good Reason” is the only statewide public radio program in Virginia. It hosts scholars from Virginia’s public universities who discuss the latest in research, pressing social issues and the curious and whimsical. “With Good Reason” is produced for the Virginia Higher Education Broadcasting Consortium by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and is broadcast in partnership with public radio stations in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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