Arts & Life

Q&A: Francesca Fernandes ’25 breaks down physics in ‘Nothin’ But Space’ podcast

Jan. 3, 2022, 8:20 p.m.

Francesca Fernandes ’25 strikes me as an enthusiastic academic who is passionate about learning and her bookshelves, full of all kinds of books. Although the guitar and MIDI keyboard in her dorm room may not immediately suggest she’s a prospective physics major, Fernandes’s podcast “Nothin’ But Space” proves her aptitude for the subject. In her podcast, Fernandes highlights her unique ability to simplify and recount difficult concepts in astrophysics in a comfortable, sisterly tone.

The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

The Stanford Daily [TSD]: How would you describe the podcast series to someone who’s never listened to “Nothin’ But Space” before?

Francesca Fernandes [FF]: I think what makes my podcast different from other podcasts about astrophysics and quantum physics is that I really try to be very friendly. I’ve listened to a lot of other space podcasts, and they’re always very educational and very informative, which is great. I really try to have a lot of energy and make myself seem more accessible — not only in the sense that I’m educating you and telling you about things that I’m really passionate about, but also that I’m a nerdy friend of yours who’s telling you about things that I really enjoy. I like to tell people about how I got interested in space, what I’m doing in this field right now and why I like it. I think that really kind of opens me up as a person, and as a narrator, I think that creates a sort of connection that kind of keeps people listening and engaged.

TSD: Yeah, I gotta say, I listened to your episode on lithium seven, and it felt as though I was listening to an older sister who’s really passionate, telling me about how incredible space is. I think that works like magic. What inspired you to start the podcast?

FF: I actually started my podcast because I was very much starting to get into the topics of physics and astrophysics in my senior year of high school. I know a lot of people who have been in the community, and it’s something that they’ve loved their entire lives, like they grew up knowing, “Okay, I want to be an astronaut,” or, “I love exploring space” — and I think that experience is very different for me, because I didn’t grow up way. I actually discovered I love this kind of stuff late, relative to other people.

My experience kind of started with my friends asking me, “Why did you suddenly start getting interested in astrophysics, and what got you interested?” Eventually it got to the point where I felt that I was repeating my answers; I thought I would create one place where all the central information could be located. Because most of my friends were not astrophysics people, if they could find it accessible, I was thinking maybe other people who are also interested in the same information could, too. That’s when it became more of a formal podcast, and it’s where my friendly vibe comes from.

TSD: How long does an episode take to make, and what are the steps?

FF: As someone who’s trying to provide people with the most up-to-date information, usually the topics I choose are already things that I know quite a bit about. I do quite a bit of research. I think a big thing for me is reading journal articles, which is also something I just love to do in my free time — it’s not really work for me. Everything I’m talking about is stuff that I’m still in the process of being like, “Holy, this is so cool.”

In terms of how long every episode takes me, I would say a couple of hours for research — maybe around three. It takes me around an hour to record. And then it takes me around two to three hours to edit the episode and make sure everything is ready to be posted online.

TSD: Which episode would you recommend first-time listeners to start with?

FF: I think for me, episode five. I was talking about what shape our universe is like, what geometry it is, the different theories that we have for what shapes it could be and how that aligns with what we’ve observed. It’s my favorite episode I’ve ever recorded because I think the subject matter is very interesting; and while some of the theories I discussed in that episode are a little bit more concrete, a lot of them are very controversial.

I remember right before recording that I had read online that we would never, ever, ever be able to observe all of our universes because of the constraint of the speed of light. There’s this idea of the future horizon, which is that because of the constraint of the speed of light, not only will we never be able to observe the complete universe (because it’s expanding outward), but we also will not be able to influence the complete universe, because no matter how we try to interfere using light signals, you know, the speed of light is a constraint for us.

I remember I read that fact right before I was about to record, and I was just sitting there, mind-blown. Just the way that I was recording it, I was having my moment of passion, really having my moment of excitement. So, definitely one I would recommend.

TSD: You told me earlier that you have another episode coming out soon. Can you give us a taster in terms of what it’s about?

FF: At the very, very, very beginning of our universe, it started as a singularity, which is when matter and time really didn’t exist; they were not definite. And then, in less than a trillionth of a second, the universe expanded outward from smaller than the size of an electron to almost the size that it is today, and ever since then, it’s been expanding. This very violent moment was known as the Big Bang.

A lot of ideas that are very central today to how we perceive the universe really came down to this one theory, the Big Bang. I could talk about it forever, but I guess that’s my little rundown of the new episode.

You can find “Ep.13: The Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation and the Creation of Our Universe” here

TSD: Since you’ve been at Stanford, you have more technical resources at your disposal. How do you want to shift your podcast in the future?

FF:  I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I went to visit Texas over the summer, which is where I’m from, and on the ride there I was reading a book by Brian Greene. It made me think a lot about where I want to take the podcast because I had a lot of time to just reflect on this plane ride.

Now that I’m really with people who are at the center of physics and who are going to be the next big thinkers in this field, I really want to invite Stanford physics students to do a fishbowl episode, where we just kind of talk about the controversies and why we believe the ideas that we do and just explore the nuances in physics theories.

I also want to do an episode with one of my professors, and I’m actually kind of rooting for that, because I’m going to be working with a few people next quarter, taking a few physics classes with people who are monumental in the field. I’m hoping that maybe if I do some networking, I can get them to be on my podcast. So those are a couple of the ideas I have, just really branching out, making it more collaborative and hearing voices besides my own.

TSD: How can people listen to your podcasts?

FF: The podcast is basically on all platforms. We’re on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and many other free platforms. So there’s no barrier to listening to it, which is something I’m trying to do to make it very accessible for everyone.

Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert '25 is the culture desk editor for the Arts & Life section and the Energy and Environment Beat Reporter for the News section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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