Theme List for new NPR Science Desk Project

A new project from the NPR Science desk – headed by RadioLab's Lulu Miller and TAL's Alix Spiegel, so you KNOW this is going to be good. They say it takes them awhile to respond to pitches, so BE PATIENT. Send your fabulous ideas and give the ladies some space to work their magic. Details follow!

Alix Spiegel and I are working on a new project from the NPR science desk that’s about human behavior. We are looking for stories in which you make some real emotional contact with the main character(s) in your story. If you have stories that are in line with any of the themes below and are interested in doing something with us, write us a short paragraph about what the story is and send it over (please also include a sample of your work if possible). The stories can be long or short – we have a lot of room to play with. Also if you just have an epic story that you desperately want to tell, feel free to send it in because maybe we can build something with it. There are only two of us and we are often overwhelmed so please forgive us if we can't get back to you right away.

Anyway here are some of the themes we are thinking about – forgive the haste of the descriptions but we wanted to let y’all know what’s in the hopper as it’s hopping. Let us know if these themes jangle any of yo' bells.


This is a show that looks at the way that fear affects our lives. The big ways that it affects us, and the small ways that it affects us and shapes what happens in our lives. We are looking at all kinds of fear from all kinds of angles, so if you have a story which involves someone facing up to a major fear, or someone realizing something about their fear, or something who learns something from an experience they've had with fear – or something who just has a great story about something that was genuinely terrifying to them – write us about it. At the moment, this is what we have: a story about a man who is biologically incapable of fear and how that affects his life. A sprawling (slithering?) story about fear that looks at fear bunch of different angles – including fear on the molecular level and the pentagon researchers that are putting it in a bottle, and also snakes. Also a “mapping fear” story about criminologists who look at how long fear lingers in a place after a death. Send your fear stories.



This show is trying to look at struggle. The main story is about a man who was born blind into a borderline abusive family, and how he believes struggling through that situation actually enabled him to become the bike-riding, free-walking, running, hiking blind man that he is. In other words, according to him? Struggle = good. No struggle = bad. He’s at the point where he believes helping disabled people is essentially like enslaving them. We’ve got a story about cross cultural struggle – how when a kid struggles intellectually in the West, people think the kid is weak because the kid doesn't have talent – but in the East – if you struggle you are just seen as strong – the WORST soccer player gets the award! — because greatness is seen as coming less from talent than from how hard you work.  So we are looking for stories – which contradict the first story – maybe someone who was forced to struggle too much and gave up. Or a story where help… was really profoundly great and necessary for getting over a hump. Or maybe a story of how hard it is to watch your kid struggle and how you want to help them. Or any other story about struggling that you can think of – maybe you have a neighbor who went through unbelievable struggles (an immigrant) to come here, and now then set out to save their kids from struggle – and what they think of it now that their kids are grown up. If you can think of anything let us know.


100 Miles Apart:

There’s a strange thing in quantum physics where two particles, even if they are 100 miles apart, are still sort of… the same thing. Touch one, and the other one reacts in just the same way. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend… they are the same thing, the same particle, hopelessly and literally ENTANGLED… even though they are a hundred miles apart. Do you have anything that could fit thematically into this?


How Technology Changes Us

Alright.  Maybe you’ve heard this topic on every show, magazine, and news program already…  BUT! what story do you have about it? What’s the thing under your skin or that you’ve noticed or heard about as a result of the tide of computers, smartphones, internet, and apps taking over the way we communicate with each other. We’ve got a trilogy of cell phone deaths, how anonymity coaxes out our dark side, the weird things call centers are recording you do. What weird thing (good, bad, hopeful, unknown) have you been thinking about? 


Or maybe “Paint by Numbers.” Stories of people putting numbers to the living world. If it can be done, what they can find out, what they can’t. Why you can’t divide by zero, but how, if you could you may gain entry to a secret universe– but really, a real one. How algorithms are controlling your world. Math stories in non-living world is ok too. 

Storyhunters (When stories harm – medicine, reporting, therapy, trauma.  When stories help.)

Grief Show (5 stages: denial – anger – bargaining  depression – acceptance.  Which one you got a story about? Doesn’t necessarily have to be about death.)

Upside-Down Show (there are more bugs than humans, there's a disease where a symptom is happiness, there is a town where the weird-crazies aren't weird or crazy. they are the norm!) 

Alcohol Show 

We are also looking for any absolutely fantastic story you know. With the one condition that it is fabulous.

So if something here hits a chord with something in your head or something you encounter in the world seems relevant, let us know. We are still figuring out how we might work with independent radio producers (actually we are still figuring out everything about what we are doing) so please have patience.  I think that's all. Send ideas to and   

Thanks and be good! 


Lulu Miller

NPR Science Desk

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