The title “astrophysicist” calls to mind a number of stereotypes – thick glassed, IQ-at-the-expense-of-social-skills, pocket protectors – but 2017 TEDx Nashville speaker and genuine astrophysicist Natalie Hinkel’s not buying it, and she is none of those things.

“I’ve found that, too often, scientists are stereotyped as a one-dimensional character, like a Sheldon or a Leonard from Big Bang theory, which — when you think about it — are not a very nice stereotypes,” she says. “But I have other hobbies, I’m not socially awkward, and I like to think that I can make a good joke on occasion.”

Still, she’s got the impressive science credentials too! As a researcher at Vanderbilt University, she studies “the composition of nearby stars and how that may affect the make-up of planets orbiting those stars.” Additionally, she built a database of more than 6000 stars known as the Hypatia Catalog, which is “the largest catalog of element abundances measured in stars near to the Sun” (which she brilliantly explains in this video).

Asked what got her interested in speaking at TEDx, it’s mostly sharing her love of science:

For starters, who doesn’t want to give a TED talk? I think the TED-style presentation is a fairly well recognized platform, so I was really excited to be part of the group. Plus, my friend Kelly Holly-Bockelmann gave a TEDxNashville talk last year and said that the experience was really rewarding. I respect her work and opinions quite a lot, so if she said that something was both fun and interesting, I’m inclined to believe her.

More importantly, though, I was most excited to have a chance to talk about my research, my science, to an audience that was excited to hear about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given many conference talks and even a handful of more public talks, but this is really my first opportunity to not only talk about what I do, but why I love doing it. Because I do love my work and appreciate the fact that I get paid to study stars and planets. But it’s not often – especially as a scientist – that you are given a chance to explain your real motivations and feelings in a way that doesn’t come across as flat or cliché. 

She also shares this love as a co-host of The Science Bar, a podcast that’s tagline begins “a geologist, an astrophysicist, and two comedians walk into a bar…” The show is the four of them discussing the latest science news over a handful of drinks.

It’s a great listen for anyone who takes an interest in the ways science effects your day-to-day life; another thing she’s hoping to share with the TEDx audience.

Speaking at TEDxNashville is a great way for me to communicate to the audience, both locally and online, the ways in which science — even far-reaching astrophysics — impacts their lives and is important to humanity. I’m looking forward to being able to explain how the scientific method appears from the viewpoint of a scientist and describe the importance of new discoveries.