Bridging the Gap: Science in Español

To increase Hispanic communities' interest in science, Joaquin Ruiz of the University of Arizona (UA) and Radio Universidad's Ana Romo-Lucero have been nurturing a science radio show for youngsters in Spanish. They were unsure of how well it would be received, but after nearly a year on the air, the show has positively impacted many lives.

¡Hablemos Ciencia! (Let's Talk Science!)

On Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (U.S. PT), Spanish speakers in southern Arizona can listen to KUAZ 89.1 FM or 1550 AM (also available on the World Wide Web) to hear about the latest in Hispanic issues and culture. Radio Universidad, a Spanish-language radio program based in Tucson, has been catering to the listening pleasure of Hispanics for 25 years. In October 2003, the program included a 25-minute segment that for the first time talks about science. Radio Universidad coordinator and host Ana Romo-Lucero says she has been fascinated by science for years and believes that many people in the Hispanic community need to get "updated" on what exactly "science" means. "Some people don't realize that they're doing science as part of their jobs and everyday life," she says. For instance, she tells her 10-year-old daughter, "When you eat, it's science. When you go to the computer, you're seeing science."

Immediately after becoming Radio Universidad's coordinator, in April 2003, Romo-Lucero began developing a science show, which she called "Science and Our Society." (The program airs at 2:30 p.m. U.S. PT). Adding a science component, she says, was also part of the station's continuing effort to strengthen its interaction with its listeners.

To help her carry the show, Romo-Lucero searched nearby UA for a Hispanic scientist--preferably someone with whom listeners could easily connect. She found Ruiz, a Mexican geochemist and dean of the UA College of Science. Ruiz immediately recognized the value of the show. "I believe that it is important to talk to children about science continuously to help dispel the notion that science is too boring or complicated," he says.

Motivating Careers in Science

In addition to books, television shows, and other activities, Ruiz says that "Science and Our Society" can be another way to encourage Hispanics to enter science careers. At UA's College of Science, Hispanics currently make up about 11% of the student population, according to Ruiz.

Recognizing the importance of community in Hispanic cultures, Ruiz says he wants listeners to realize that becoming lawyers and doctors is not the only way to help each other. "There are few ways of actually making communities better and safer than through science," he says. "Scientists have the capacity of impacting our community just as much as other jobs."

With that goal in mind, Ruiz and Romo-Lucero collaborate on what topics to cover for each show. They highlight subjects that they believe will be of local or national interest to the community, from explaining the latest concerns about West Nile virus to why it's always dark in Tucson.

In some shows, Romo-Lucero interviews Ruiz. In others, Ruiz talks to guest commentators, including other UA scientists and students from various disciplines. Among other things, Ruiz asks them about their work and their goals, how they have enjoyed life as scientists, and what opportunities and obstacles they have had.

Ana Romo-Lucero (left) and Joaquin Ruiz in the KUAZ studio

Growing Attention

"Science and Our Society" had a slow start when it began last fall, getting two to three phone calls after each show. After only a few months, however, it became apparent that Spanish-speaking listeners were enjoying it. Now the station gets as many as a dozen calls during and after each show.

Jorge Vazquez was one of those callers on 15 August 2004. He discovered the science show while delivering goods between Arizona and New Mexico. The topic of the day was carbon dioxide buildup in the environment and what people can do to minimize it. He liked what he heard enough to call. Indeed, for Vazquez, the show was a rare and important find. Traveling most of the continental United States for various jobs during the past 5 years, he says he's come across no other Spanish-language program that has a science component.

Vazquez says that "Science and Our Society" also rekindled his own interest in science. He says he liked math and physics while growing up in Mexico, but he wound up studying international trade instead. (He did not have the resources to study science, he says.) Now "Science and Our Society" fills a void in his life. "I hope they send me to this area next week to recreate myself," he says.

Other phone calls have been as touching as Vazquez's. For example, Romo-Lucero mentions a Tucson man named Damian Cohen, who called in May to say that he values the show because he has problems with his vision that limit his opportunities to learn about science.

For some listeners, the show is a resource of another kind. For instance, in April, Mercedes Mendoza of Tucson, called to ask how she can best prepare her daughter for a career as a veterinarian. In the past year, Romo-Lucero estimates that Radio Universidad has given away as many as 120 CDs containing installments of "Science and Our Society."

Romo-Lucero attributes the show's growing popularity in part to Ruiz's talent in explaining science. "He has a very special way of translating scientist's language into our life," she says. For example, she says, he compares the scientist to a child, "because a child is always looking for or discovering new things."

Making Something Good Even Better

Even with "Science and Our Society" off to a good start, Romo-Lucero and Ruiz are always looking for ways to make the show better, including seeking potential collaborators. For example, they are currently talking with Igor Suarez-Sola, a computer programmer at the National Solar Observatory, and his wife, Irene Gonzalez, an astrophysicist, about a future show on solar research. Ruiz has also been talking with teachers from high schools in South Tucson, which has a large Hispanic community. One idea, he says, is to get students involved by having them e-mail science questions to the show. They can then hear the answers broadcast on Sunday afternoons, perhaps with their parents.

The show's listeners are not the only ones benefiting from it. Romo-Lucero says she takes pleasure in making people feel good about themselves simply through the acquisition of knowledge.

For his part, Ruiz, who is also a member of the American Geological Institute's Human Resources Committee, which deals with minority issues, cherishes his role as radio host "When I sit there and talk to scientists, regardless of their age or anything, it's fun because I learn," he says. "The best moments are always when I'm interviewing students at the radio station. I get to learn and remind myself what their life is like."

Edna Francisco is a contributing writer for MiSciNet. She can be reached at

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