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New podcast from Harvard, MGH and BU researchers 'rehashes' the latest in science

This article was featured in BostInno: your source for local innovation, start-ups, technology, and growth.

By Jordan Frias | 16 October 2020 | 1:27 pm EDT

Listening to podcasts is what inspired Mehdi Jorfi, a Harvard Medical School faculty member and investigator in the department of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), to create his own.

Jorfi, the co-founder of the podcast "Science Rehashed," wanted to get the latest scientific discoveries in life science and bioengineering out to the broader public, particularly in developing countries.

He and co-founder Shen Ning, a Boston University (BU) School of Medicine student, put together a team of 11 people. A year later, "Science Rehashed" has 20 episodes and has reached people in 75 different countries.

“Rehashing science is like uncovering new discoveries in science in one of the top-notch journals,” Jorfi said. “We have around 25 minutes an episode to cover the take-home message and dive deep into the details of the discovery.”

For Jorfi, a podcast is the perfect medium to communicate those discoveries to a broader audience, especially in a way that isn’t burdensome on people abroad. Academic papers, loaded with scientific jargon, were diluting researchers’ main message. He thought a podcast could take those papers and distill their biggest takeaways.

Jorfi gathered a few of his colleagues from the Tanzi Lab at MGH to put together the first three episodes. Those debuted in August 2019.

Six months later, "Science Rehashed" was accompanied by another podcast series, this on legends in life sciences. Another series on women in STEM followed, along with a third that’s completely devoted to the latest on coronavirus.

To create an episode prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ning and Jorfi would interview the corresponding author of a scientific paper in their office. An episode would be released on different platforms through the podcast hosting site Podbean.

Nowadays, the team of four writers, three sound editors and the co-hosts do most of their work via video conference, which has allowed them to interview scientists outside of Boston and garner a larger audience.

In order to figure out what topics to cover and what guests to invite per episode, the team discusses the latest scientific articles and tries to eliminate anything that’s too detail-oriented. Some of the latest research featured on the podcast covers Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and nanotechnology, superbugs, AI and sleep and heart disease.

“I think one exclusion criteria is that it has to be kind of within six months. Anything earlier than that we don’t really include,” Ning said. “And it has to be something that is, in a way, explainable.”

Ning added that having a team of scientists behind the podcast also helps them appeal to more scientists broadly. Some recent guests include bioengineer Bob Langer of MIT, Harvard neurologist Rudy Tanzi and renowned genetics professor George Church of Harvard and MIT.

"Science Rehashed" also strives to feature different voices, which Jorfi believes differentiates it from other podcasts.

“Some of these top-notch journals, like ‘Nature,’ ‘Science,’ ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ and other peer-reviewed journals, they have their own podcast,” Jorfi said. “But it's a very biased podcast because they only interview the corresponding author that they publish.”

With 4,000 downloads to date and several ambassadors from five different countries, the "Science Rehashed" team is exploring ways to reach more people, particularly outside the U.S. It is also looking for advertising partners to keep the free program funded.

Ning, an M.D. and Ph.D. student in her fourth year at BU, noted that she and Jorfi are both from countries that have limited access to the latest scientific reports and journals. Plus, unless journal access is paid for by an institution like a university or library, high fees often prevent people from reading them.

“If their institution doesn't have access to the top scientific papers, then they do not, unless they're willing to pay $15 per paper, and that’s just not financially feasible,” Ning said.

In addition to Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and Spotify, the team is looking to launch on other platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

“We are right now trying to connect all the dots to see what platform’s going to be used in each country to again show the same message that we can show here through Apple Podcast,” Jorfi said.

New episodes of "Science Rehashed" are released every three weeks on Wednesdays. The next episode is scheduled to appear online on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Jordan Frias is a contributing writer for BostInno.

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