Home Biologist Plant biologist turns to TikTok to show kids science in action

Plant biologist turns to TikTok to show kids science in action

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Lela Nargi

THE WASHINGTON POST – Katie Murphy is a plant biologist. She is researching corn and tobacco plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. She is also the host of Real Time Science, a series of videos that she uploads to TikTok and Instagram. She shows children examples of her field and laboratory experiments, as well as other information about her life as a scientist, such as how to make a tie from a disposable glove when you forget your tie at home. We interviewed Murphy about her job, what she loves about science, and other fun things she loves to do.

Q: How did you get interested in science?

A: In high school, I fell in love with chemistry. … But I didn’t think chemistry research was exciting. It’s a lot to mix clear liquids together. Then at university, I applied for a summer internship in a laboratory in a biology department (where they were doing research on corn). This is how I discovered that I could marry my love of (chemistry) with plants.

Q: What do you like about plant biology?

A: I can do so much with plants (work in the fields). Plants are living things and I love using them to help people feed the world in a sustainable way.

Katie Murphy is a plant biologist who creates videos for Instagram and TikTok to show what it’s like to be a scientist. PHOTOS: WASHINGTON POST
Katie Murphy Hosts ‘Real Time Science’ Videos on TikTok

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: My main project is on tobacco, to produce huge amounts of oil in tobacco leaves to grow new biofuel crops (biofuels are plant-based alternatives to fossil fuels such as crude oil). This is one way we can use plants to help us become carbon neutral (to help us
climate change).

I’m also trying to understand plants better to see how they could cope with less water in drought and grow them efficiently to have less impact on the environment while feeding hungry populations.

Q: Why is TikTok a good way to get kids interested in science?

A: I don’t want to show children the results of science. I think they should see the process. As we’ve seen with covid, it’s not enough to give people facts. We have to show them how science works because if they don’t understand the process, they won’t trust the product. The most exciting part of TikTok is that people take a journey of discovery with me. I don’t know what’s going to happen (with my experiences) and I have to figure it out. And along the way, I can show when something is difficult, give explanations, results and conclusions. A lot of people think of a scientist as a person in a white coat, but it’s important to show people who we really are. I want to be a model of being human in science.

Q: Who are you besides a scientist?

A: I am also a dancer. I grew up in tap dancing and made a video during (the pandemic) for the Dance Your PhD competition organized by Science magazine where you tell the story of your (graduate degree) through dance. I also enjoy making quilts and gardening, just to grow things.

Q: Do we need more women in science?

A: The problem is not to get young women interested in science. They are already interested in science! It’s keeping them there with policies like paid (time off for new parents) to make sure there’s a place for them later.


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