Associate chemistry professor Kate Biberdorf and over 60 students set off a chemical explosion on the UT Tower steps for the taping of the CBS morning TV show “Mission Unstoppable” on Saturday.
The students were all women studying STEM fields and helped generate a thundercloud explosion by dumping hot water into buckets filled with liquid nitrogen, which enveloped the students in a cloud of gas. Biberdorf said she hoped the taping of the TV show would empower women watching and diminish the stigma around women in STEM.
“I did not have a female science mentor growing up,” Biberdorf said. “What is really important is I want to show everybody that you don’t have to be a dork or a nerd to be a scientist, you can just be a girl who likes explosions and fire and high heels, and that’s totally fine. But if they see it, then hopefully they can be it.”
CBS executive producer Anna Wenger found Biberdof, popularly known as Kate the Chemist, on YouTube, from appearances on the “Today” show and through her online content where Biberdorf conducts education demonstrations featuring chemical reactions. Wenger said she has wanted Biberdof on the show since its inception.
“Kate the Chemist was actually one of the first people (I noticed) because you’re looking for people who grab the attention of the youth and grab the attention of the masses,” Wenger said. “Something like the thundercloud demonstration, that has such an exciting appeal to it, but also is deeply rooted in science, is just like the perfect thing for us to show to demonstrate a thermodynamic reaction.”
Miranda Cosgrove hosts “Mission Unstoppable,” which spotlights women from around the country working in STEM fields and works to promote women in science, Wenger said. She said this episode will likely air sometime in September.
“Mission Unstoppable” recruited students for the taping through student organizations, such as Women in Natural Sciences, Bold Women in Chemistry and from Biberdorf’s classes. They arrived at 6:30 a.m. and stayed until noon, helping set up equipment and practicing the technique for conducting the experiment with buckets of water to safely use the liquid nitrogen, physics junior Danielle Maldonado said.
“This was incredibly nerve-wracking for me because I have a little bit of mama bear feeling toward my students that were here,” Biberdorf said. “They were playing with hot water and liquid nitrogen, two things I tell them never to do, but now I’m saying do it and throw it near me, and they killed it.”
Maldonado said the experience showed there is diversity in STEM jobs, so people interested in STEM-related careers can have representation.
“It’s really great to be able to be here and know that maybe there’s a little girl out there who wants to be a scientist one day, and she sees all of these other groups of girls doing things like this,” Maldonado said. “If she says, I’m comfortable wanting to do science, because there are people who look like me, that’s what makes it the most rewarding.”