Big Brains’ 100th episode: Podcast reflects on world-changing ideas

Award-winning podcast highlights impact of research at UChicago, beyond

Big Brains, which features the people behind the pioneering research and pivotal breakthroughs at the University of Chicago and beyond, is celebrating its 100th episode by taking listeners behind the scenes to discuss how the award-winning podcast has created a powerful platform for highlighting academic research.

“When we created Big Brains, we saw podcasts as a unique opportunity to highlight the world-changing research of UChicago scholars in an engaging way,” said Paul M. Rand, UChicago’s vice president for communications and host of Big Brains. “We hope each episode feels like a dinner party conversation, in which people of all ages can learn about the impact of this important work.”

Since launching in 2018, Big Brains has highlighted a range of important topics and field-defining research from across the University—including prison reform, the mysteries of our universe, the importance of talking to strangers, and more.

“In an age when public discourse is distilled to tweets without nuance or context, Big Brains is the complete opposite,” said Prof. Dana Suskind, a pediatric surgeon and director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program at UChicago, and a former Big Brains guest. “As a guest on Big Brains, I felt like I was at a conversation around the dinner table; our only goal was to understand, communicate and enjoy complicated ideas.”

Big Brains brought the constantly curious crowd to notice my work. The crowd that is open to any intellectual challenge and will call out nonsense from wisdom,” said John List, the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and a former Big Brains guest. “These are just the readers I want. People who will change the world.”

Over the years, the podcast has expanded to showcase compelling research from scholars from outside UChicago, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists Andrea Ghez and Jack Szostak; writer and podcast host Kara Swisher; and special episodes highlighting events with Dr. Anthony Fauci and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In the special edition episode, released Sept. 29, Rand and senior producer Matt Hodapp reflect upon the impact and growth of Big Brains.

“We have had 100 episodes and 100 world-changing ideas,” said Hodapp, who produces Big Brains along with several other shows on the University of Chicago Podcast Network. “You have this incredibly well-done research project that gives us an answer to one of society’s most controversial questions, but it also digs into how research is designed, what clean data looks like, what experiments are required to be valid, and why sometimes answering questions that seem so obvious are actually really difficult from a scientific perspective.”

In celebration of the 100th episode milestone, Big Brains is inviting listeners to take a personality quiz, in which they answer six questions to find out which Big Brains episodes and topics match their interests.

Big Brains has received numerous prestigious honors across higher education and the communications industry. In 2022, the podcast earned the top honor from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)—a prestigious Grand Gold award, recognizing it as the best-in-class podcast in higher education. Other recognitions include CASE’s Circle of Excellence gold award (2021) and Adweek’s “best branded podcast” (2020).

Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Google Play by visiting the Big Brains website. New episodes are released every other Thursday.