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There’s Comedians in Cars, and Then There’s Fellows in Planes

Ali Nouri, 2008-09 AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, is doing the “comedians in cars” concept one better. He takes scientists and policy experts up 4,000 feet in a Cessna 172 to talk “big ideas in small planes,” as his YouTube channel puts it.


Ali Nouri flies and talks science policy in a Cessna 172.

“I figured people would be more likely to tune into a conversation between policymakers flying around versus sitting across the desk from one another,” said Nouri.

With the idea in hand, Nouri took a few steps to make it a reality. He outfitted a plane with GoPro cameras on the inside and outside, and learned how to capture usable audio – sound is an issue in a very noisy small plane. He learned interview skills during an on the fly lesson with his mother-in-law, a radio talk show host. A science policy vodcast was born.

Nouri interviews current and former U.S. Congressional staffers, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows (STPF), other scientists and medical doctors, and additional science policy types. He and his guest often weave into their discussions what they are flying over: “passing over farms to talk about the farm bill with the agriculture committee staff director; flying over Appalachia with an M.D. to discuss the opioid crisis; traversing through disappearing Chesapeake Bay islands to talk about climate change impacts,” said Nouri.



The latest vodcast features STPF fellow Shuchi Talati, 2017-18 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the Acoustical Society of America and the American Institute of Physics. Her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon focused on the climate-energy-water nexus and the impacts of domestic climate regulations and carbon capture and storage technology. She spoke to Nouri about counteracting climate change impacts through geoengineering strategies such as solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.  



In another episode, Nouri takes Anish Goel, 2002-03 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and 2003-05 Executive Branch Fellow at Department of State, up in the air. Having served on the White House National Security Counsel and the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Goel is a senior fellow in the International Security Program at New America. He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In recounting an instance in which he was briefing President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One about a time-sensitive matter, there was a bit of unplanned free time. "So the President starts chitchatting with us. My colleague and I were not prepared for this, right?," chuckled Goel. 

Nouri says his vodcasts are “a unique way of communicating science policy to the public.” A couple of the currently 10 episodes have been distributed to larger audiences by other organizations. And “since a number of my guests are [Capitol] Hill staffers, many other staffers watch, and I hope they inform debate,” he said.

Nouri also enjoys a good laugh while flying. “I did tell one of my passengers it was my first time flying without an instructor. We were already up in the air so he was more than a little concerned. On another flight, I asked my passenger if he had checked the fuel tanks before take-off. He was more than a little surprised!”

Recently appointed president of the Federation of American Scientists, Nouri hopes to continue interviewing scientists and policy experts, midflight.