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Faces Of NPR: Adam Cole

Lauren Zillinger

Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week's post features Science Desk Reporter and Skunk Bear host, Adam Cole.

The Basics:

Name: Adam Cole

Twitter Handle: @cadamole

Job Title: Reporter

Where You're From: Corvallis, Oregon!

An Inside Look:

You're a reporter and producer for the Science Desk and host of Skunk Bear. What does that mean?

I make radio pieces, data visualizations, illustration, animations, animated GIFs and lots of weird videos. My goal is to connect people of all backgrounds with joys and challenges of science — both its products and its process.

How and why is science such an important, interesting topic to cover?

Carl Sagan said humans "are a way for the cosmos to know itself." And we get that knowledge through science. Science is a set of tools — available to anyone — that can be used to understand our world. There's a perception that these tools are locked away in an ivory tower, and I think that perception fuels public distrust of science and undermines the truths it reveals. It is incredibly important to cover science so people can become familiar with our best hope for making rational, informed decisions.

As for interesting — the world of science is full of new discoveries, and the diversity of issues it touches is breathtaking! I get to spend my life learning.

Adam out in the field finding Baltimore the owl.
/ Skunk Bear
Skunk Bear
Adam out in the field finding Baltimore the owl.

How did you get started here? Or what advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?

I came out of a master's program in biology and got a summer job as an intern at a small newspaper in rural California. That winter I got an internship at NPR's science desk, and I've been here ever since. My advice: First, don't be afraid to ask for help or advice or knowledge from the talented people around you. Worst case — they say no. Second, don't wait for someone to give you permission to attempt things that are outside of your comfort zone or your job description. If you want to grow, stay half an hour after work and try something you have no idea how to do.

What's your favorite #nprlife moment?

Interviewing a penguin.

What are some of the coolest things you've worked on?

That's so hard to answer! I once leaned over a vat of boiling lava...

Adam and the vat of boiling lava.
/ Skunk Bear
Skunk Bear
Adam and the vat of boiling lava.

What inspired you to create Skunk Bear?

Folks at the science desk suggested I get a sandbox of sorts where I could experiment with different storytelling techniques and develop my own voice. Not sure if they were trying to get rid of me, but I appreciate it nevertheless.

What is your favorite scientific discovery?

I get a kick out of the story of the discovery of the element phosphorus — which involved a down-on-his-luck alchemist and 1,500 gallons of urine. (You can hear my radio piece on the subject here.)

In general, I like the 18th century era of discovery — definitely one of the all-time best eras. One of my favorite sagas was the international effort to observe the Transit of Venus. Scientists from half a dozen European nations traveled for years to far-flung corners of the globe to watch the tiny dot of Venus shoot across the disc of the sun. So many great stories came out of this effort — shipwrecks and battles, a guy building a tower out of chairs in Finland, a guy who spent a decade building a beautiful observatory in India only to discover overcast skies on the day of the transit. They used their measurements to triangulate the distance between the earth and sun.

What's on your desk?

An old gelato tub filled with fancy pens, a shingle from an old house that is burned with the drawing of a banana slug, three external hard drives, a big mug from my middle school friends that says "Friends 4 Ever" and is currently filled with dead batteries, walkie talkies, owl pellets, a speaker made to look like a battery, a lollipop with a scorpion inside it (INGREDIENTS: malitol syrup, Scorpion, artificial flavoring, red 40), some Japanese astronaut ice cream, a bunch of books I haven't read, two books I have read about the Transit of Venus, a box of "long-reach" matches, a clock that is one hour and fifteen minutes fast, an SD card reader, a gourd, my reporter kit, three different kinds of glue, an unused comb, a referee's flag and five unidentified seeds.

Lauren Zillinger / NPR

Favorite podcast?


Favorite Tiny Desk?

Oh man — maybe St. Paul and the Broken Bones?

Favorite places in the city?

Crispus Attucks Park is a nice tucked-away oasis. Don't tell anyone.

First thing you do when you get to the office?

Say good morning to my little desk cluster (Ryan Kellman, Meredith Rizzo, Maddie Sofia) and on Mondays in certain months, discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

What are you inspired by right now?

I just saw children's author Jerry Spinelli at the public library! What a guy!

What do you love about public radio?

I love how it connects with people and connects people. For me personally, I love that it was a constant backdrop in my childhood, and now I get to be a part of it as it struggles to grow and change.

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Lauren Zillinger
Tat'yana Berdan