Creator Download: Roma Agrawal

How the Create the Future podcast made audiences appreciate engineering

Engineering is a science that affects everyone's lives, from the machines designed to make people's day-to-day easier to the buildings that people work and sleep in. Create The Future is a podcast that is trying to make audiences appreciate the significance of engineering now and the potential it can have in the future.

The podcast is a project under the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, an award that celebrates innovation in that field, and is hosted by structural engineer, author and broadcaster Roma Agrawal and 2022 Young Engineer of the Year George Imafidon.

Agrawal, who recently published her latest engineering book Nuts & Bolts: Seven Small Inventions that Changed the World (in a Big Way), spoke to PodPod about what she learned from her experience as a podcaster.

Can you describe the podcast for me?

The podcast is a deep dive, it's an exciting look at engineering, how we can use engineering and technology and science to basically create a better world for the future, and also have a bit of fun.

We want to talk about things like knitting and baking alongside things like net zero and solar cells and renewable energy. So hopefully quite a very versatile podcast.

Why did you start the podcast?

The podcast is like the baby of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering; the prize is equivalent to the Nobel Prize for science, but this is obviously for engineering, and it's the 10th anniversary this year. We've basically relaunched a revamped podcast.

The podcast has been around for a while in a slightly different format and we just wanted to broaden the conversation and the audience – bring that kind of sense of fun and creativity to it. I'm just getting more people interested and engaged with what engineers do.

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started the podcast?

I wish I had been given advice on how to design a good sound space for my flat because obviously with the world we now live in, we do a lot of recording from home or remotely. I don't have the luxury of a beautiful studio and so I surround myself with cushions and blankets. I think advice on how to acoustically create a nice environment at home would have been a great tip for me.

How many people does it take to create an episode of the show?

We work with one executive producer, Jack Howson, and we have two producers in addition to that, and myself and George Imafidon are the two hosts. Then we tend to have either one or two guests on the podcast. So, quite a tight team.

Do you monetize the podcast at all?

No, we don't. We want to get stuff out there and reach as broad an audience as possible.

How do you promote it?

So, this kind of thing – interviews with the press. All of us are on social media as well. I have a fairly good following on Twitter and Instagram, a little bit on LinkedIn as well, because I have a lot of connections with my industry. And then of course the producers and the Queen Elizabeth Prize themselves are also involved in promoting it. So it's quite a varied range of platforms that we work with.

Who listens to the podcast?

I would hope that it's anybody who has a little bit of curiosity about the world around us. Every single human-made object and thing around us is made by engineers. I genuinely believe that engineering and science really hold the key for the future and how we can live more sustainably, how we can get food to everyone, clean water and medicine, and deal with pandemics and all of that. Anybody that's got even the slightest interest in any of these things would really enjoy the podcast.

We're also trying to bring more connections with people and things that they might be a bit more familiar with. We spoke to Andrew Smith who was one of the finalists on The Great British Bake Off, and he's an engineer. He talks about how a baked Alaska is a representation of insulation on spacecraft. So we're trying to bring that fun to it. I'm an obsessive knitter and crocheter and I think that string is one of the most incredible inventions that we've come up with; which is engineering.

What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?

I have learned that I get uncomfortable after being sat down in front of the mic for about an hour. I love talking to people, and this has definitely reinforced that for me. I really love hearing from other people. I love hearing their passion and their excitement about what they do. Particularly after the pandemic and the fact that I'm a full-time author, which is quite an isolated, solitary experience – having those connections and talking to people with all this passion and excitement is really, really important. I really love that.

What was the last podcast that you listened to?

The Scummy Mummies Podcast, I absolutely adore that. I have a three-year-old; parenting is so challenging, and to bring a little bit of filth and comedy into that situation is fabulous. 

I would also recommend 99% Invisible. I've been listening to that podcast for years and years. I'm slightly obsessed with Roman Mars – don't tell him that. I love how they delve into the creativity, the design, the ideas, the people that basically are responsible for making stuff around that. I love the range of stuff they cover. Whether that's from a chair to the way people deal with black hair, to buildings, to clothes, and so much. The range of stuff they cover is absolutely fascinating.