Introducing Ziya Tong: NOVA’s new science communicator!

From ScienceCheerleader.com reporter, Dr. John Ohab:

Citizen scientists, I’d like you to meet Ziya Tong, a new correspondent on the Emmy-nominated science video series, NOVA ScienceNOW. Ziya joins a NOVA program well-known for exploring important science and technology topics at the interface of politics, art, and society. So far, she’s covered areas like gene therapy, how walruses and sea lions have influenced human language, and the hunt for the earliest macromolecules. I recently had a chance to chat with Ziya about how her work in science broadcasting is creating common ground for scientists and the public.

For Ziya, it turns out that exploring far-out science topics is just another day at the office – literally! In addition to her work with NOVA, she also hosts Daily Planet, Discovery Channel Canada’s daily science show, and previously served as host and producer on PBS’ Wired Science. She even hosted a travel show, Island Escapes, during which she visited over 50 countries (approximately 45 more than me).

“I’m inspired in a new way every day,” Ziya said. “I’ve had the unique opportunity to meet, and most importantly, learn from very inspiring people.”

Ziya’s work in video production, writing, directing, and hosting has reinforced the importance of presenting science in a way that is meaningful and understandable to people. She operates from several guiding principles: keep things simple, live what you love, and get out in the field to experience real science.

Importantly, she has seen first-hand the impact of citizen participation in the scientific process. For example, in the Wired Science episode, Flotsam Found, Ziya worked with Curt Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who tracks data points of garbage floating in the ocean. By aggregating records of things people have found on the beach — rubber ducks, shoes, etc — Curt is able to track the flow of objects over ocean currents.

When it comes to getting people involved, Ziya has been a part of some pioneering efforts in the media space. One of her first hosting gigs came on ZeD TV, a Canadian variety show that included user-generated video content and interactive features through its website. This concept would later influence the development of Current TV, a network led by former Vice President Al Gore. Also, on Daily Planet, there is currently an interactive segment, Planet You, where viewers can record and contribute their science and technology ideas.

Ziya also discussed her place as a role model and the importance of mentoring students who are interested in careers in science and communications. She credited much of her own success to the “fantastic visionaries” Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, her mentors at McGill University, where she received a Masters degree in Communications. Ziya hopes to play a similar role for aspiring young science broadcasters, particularly women.

“It’s important to present to young people, especially young women, a new face in the science and technology realm,” she said. “I want to present a critical and thoughtful view that demonstrates the impact that scientists have on society.”

Ziya is not the only one trying to demystify science. On August 31, NOVA ScienceNOW launches The Secret Life of Scientists, a web video series that provides a personal and thought-provoking look at the lives of 16 scientists and engineers. Through a mixture of whimsical interview questions, each show will demonstrate how scientists and engineers can be athletes, musicians, artists, chefs, and, most importantly, incredibly human.

Ziya also offered advice to young students looking to pursue a career in science, whether at the bench or with a camera.

“Persistence and passion,” she said. “If you can demonstrate that you care more than anyone else, eventually people will see that.”

As for her future, Ziya has considered lecturing and even writing a book about her experiences covering science and technology across the globe. For now, you can find Ziya on her personal website and access every episode of NOVA ScienceNOW via streaming, download, and RSS or iTunes.