top of page

Details and Transcript

Buzzsprout Affiliate Link:


  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 02:20 - Segment 1: Edison 2.0 (Short Story)

  • 12:28 - Segment 2: The Origin of "Mic Drop" (Metaphor History)

  • 23:47 - Segment 3: Public Speaking (Communication Topic)

  • 35:36 - Segment 4: Talk With Alex Cloherty (Guest Interview)


Theme Music​



To my striking family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome, to the Season 5 premier and 41st episode of the Metaphorgins podcast.


Yes, you are very much welcome indeed. I missed everything about this podcast, something I’ve remarked as that it’s so serious to me that it’s silly. It’s just something that I don’t see an equivalent to in the narrow niche of the podcast space, audio essays and discussions about language and science. I mean, there are podcasts about the origins of metaphors and the mysteries of research. But combining these two passions is certainly a concept I never thought I would enjoy so much.


We are now on Season 5! Starting as an independent project back in 2020, during a time of true confusion, the main highlight of the podcast investigates topics around figurative language and communicating in unique ways, where I feature early career researchers who not only spearhead or experience that concept in their own lives, but also contribute to enriching their workplace and personal communities. Over the previous four seasons, the podcast has reached over 2800 downloads, is streamed in over 50 countries, and in over 350 cities around the world. This cannot go without saying, but thank you for all the monumental support throughout these three years.


To show support if you find yourself enjoying this content, please do take a few seconds to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or whatever platform you are listening to this on, as it truly does help independent podcasts reach new people through essentially minimal effort. You can always leave a small review as well, and follow @metaphirigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting all updates, as well as on my personal website: Like every season, I will hold another draw on my 50th episode for… something big, truly big, for the grand 5-0. Check back on later episodes for more information about this, whatever it ends up being.


Let’s waste no more time. I’m going to investigate an expression whose description of an action has caused equipment damage in venues around the world.


Sound. Headphones. Action. Your alarm goes off and you jump out of your hotel bed in excitement. With the curtains thrown open, you take in the warm bask of sunlight shining through the window panes. On the street below, cars with attendees are already lining up, arriving at venue. The day has finally arrived.


It’s March 20th, the beginning of the largest annual Physics conference in the world, the American Physics Society’s March Meeting. Here, 12,000 physicists of all sorts of backgrounds come together and talk about the most fundamental science of them all. Groundbreaking research will be presented on particle physics, astrophysics, photonics, geophysics and quantum physics.


You quickly put on the attire you’ve been reserving for this exact circumstance. As a quantum physicist, you dawn fabric printed with cats and boxes, repeated across your torso in diagonal fashion, since it was Schrodinger’s metaphor of state duality that influenced you into learning more about the all encompassing field. Over top, you wear a sleek yet simple dark pinstripe blazer, similar to the one a wise Niels Bohr can be seen wearing in his iconic image gesturing towards a formula-filled chalkboard. You head down to the complimentary continental buffet offered by your Las Vegas accommodation, quickly stuffing your face with carbs and coffee, as if energy is equal to the mass of your food times the speed at which you consume it. 


The desert heat beads sweat on your head the moment you step foot outside. While walking to the convention centre at Caesars Palace, you look down the Las Vegas strip. People from every corner of the world could be seen, pointing at the various storefronts and casinos. Music could be heard blasting out of front doorways, inviting guests to peak in and have a gander. Almost swayed, you pick up the pace and zoom past, understanding that time experienced within those crowded venues is likely similar to a light-consuming black holes.


Upon arrival, you register your attendance and grab your name tag. As is customary to academic conferences, rows of company sponsors line the walls leading to the main stage, ready to talk to you about their latest equipment and services. Blending into the crowd, you hover over tables seemingly interested and subtly swipe some conference swag into the tote bag provided. Something akin to conference hoarding, it seems like no matter what kind of academic you are, an empty tote bag at a conference means a desire to accumulate stationary, like two entangled particles sharing information at unbelievable scales.


This notion is the reason why you are here to begin with. Of course, you are excited since last year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was given to scientists like yourself. Drs. Alan Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zelllinger pioneered what Albert Einstein himself labeled as “Spooky action at a distance”, also known as quantum entanglement. It can be described as the instantaneous influence of one particle over another despite the distance that separates them, defying our concept of time. It was these three scientists whose collective work, along with theories put forth by the great John Bell, that convinced us of the probabilistic nature of the particles governing our universe.


Throughout the first day, you listen to quantum physicists speak about the revolution of computing power, medical imaging, enhancing the optics of information sharing by broadening wavelengths, and even time crystals, lattice structures that do not follow temporal symmetry and challenges the second law of thermodynamics. Reactions of your fellow peers are a mix of awe and argumentation, exactly what you would expect in a large room full of people passionate about the basis of reality itself.


The day concludes with a keynote talk by an unknown CEO, claiming to have made a remarkable discovery. One of the main challenges within quantum mechanics is its reconciliation with gravity, in which quantizing gravity leads to mathematical anomalies like non-normalizability and infinities at the subatomic scale. In fact, it is because of general relativity’s connection of space and time that allows other forces of nature the foundation to emerge. However, as you look around the room, every possible seat has been filled in anticipation for this final talk. The room falls silent as the speaker appears.


You look at the speaker a bit perplexed. They walk onto the stage with their right arm bent, palm of the hand facing upwards, as if holding a food platter. In the middle of the stage rests a small table, which the speaker places the invisible object onto. Just beside, the speaker grabs a cordless microphone and begins the presentation.


“Ahem ahem, ladies and gentlemen. What a privilege it is to end such a fascinating day of science. This year really delivered on what is surely to spark even more breakthroughs in physics. I feel lucky to be here, and that’s not just because we are in the Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.” 


They pause for some scattered laughs. “I am here today to show you our group’s latest discovery. In fact, it is fitting that this is announced at the largest physics conference of the year, following the last Nobel Prize for experiments that provide evidence for quantum entanglement. You see, our group is the first to ever, provide evidence for quantization and control of gravity.”


A uniform gasp and whispers from audience members fill the room. The speaker continues. “It is no accident that I came onto this stage as if I was about to serve you all some delicious, invisible ore d’oerves! You see, on this table beside me is the most advanced piece of technology to manipulate the environment around you. I present to you the World’s First… Schrodinger’s Box!”


Everyone in the audience leans in their seats. You join in, and squint your eyes at the table on the stage. It did seem like there was nothing there at first, but the longer you looked at it, the more you could just make out the tall, rigid corners of a transparent box. Defined lines began to spring out of the air, giving the transparency a 3-dimensional effect.


The speaker moves closer to the table. “I feel like Faraday showing you all the magic of electromagnetism, or Oppenheimer during the end the Manhattan Project. The problem at the subatomic level is that reality is never certain, everything is probabilistic. When we measure particles, we get distinct values or observations, like its charge or spin. It is only when we measure these particles that they have a distinct value at all. It is our impact on them that results in a certain measurement. What we’ve done here is effectively preserve that probabilisitic nature of reality in this quantum box, with revolutionary technology that “tricks” objects into believing it is not releasing information to outside observers.”


The crowd stirs louder with doubt. “What is this nonesense?” You hear someone mumble under their breath. “Such heresay,” some else states, shaking their head. The speaker, seemingly upset by this reaction, looks around the stage, and ends with their gaze on the wireless microphone in their hands. “It’s much easier to demonstrate our technology as the finale of this presentation, and the first day of this wonderful conference.” They walk behind the table, and using their hands they open the transparent lid of the box. With a smile, they look up towards the crowd, straighten their arm in front of them and drop the microphone within. Immediately, the speaker closes the transparent lid, and the room falls to an ever present silence.


You watch the mic drop into the transparent box and gasp. Gasp so hard you choke on air, same as the person beside you, and everyone else in the room for that matter. As the microphone drops into the tall transparent void, it stops in mid-air. Not only that, but it begins to flash in incredible bright colours, distorting its visibility as it seems to bend into itself.


People start cheering. Those that had expressed doubt had completely reversed their demeanour. They roared with excitement. To your left, the person who spoke quietly under their breath stood up and shouted, “What is your company, and what is this reality defying machine?”


Still smiling, the speaker shouts back, “I am the new CEO of Theranos, and this is the Edison 2.0”.


Wow, okay even I had to question myself a bit there about where I was going with that. Definitely outside my field of expertise but I do love how physicists conjure such adrenaline in people’s veins when speaking about the fundamental nature of reality. Anyway, roping us back into the physical, present reality, the expression, if noticed, is one that has almost every performer hoping to accomplish at the end of their show, whether it be music, comedy, or a presidential speech. So why does the significance of falling sound equipment instil such heaviness in the statements said prior?


What is the origin to the expression, “mic drop”?


*Theme Music*



Most of this information was obtained from many articles discussing the origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.


Ding ding ding. Excuse me everyone. I would like to make a toast. To all the beautiful people out there journeying through life in all its marvel and struggle. To the lovers of reading and writing, who reflect on the quintessential meanings behind these works of art. To the enthusiasts of science in whatever field brings them passion, who strive to understand fundamental knowledge and incorporate novelty into their way of being. To the listeners of the Metaphorigins podcast here and now, I thank you for your invaluable love and attention.


There is such power in the ability to vocalize to a group of listeners. When the room falls silent and it’s just one person there, speaking planned or unplanned diction, with a message or in search of one. In fact, think about any type of social gathering; birthdays, weddings, musical performances, town halls, plays, standup shows, press conferences, graduations, funerals; all of which likely possess moments in which an individual is given a chance to speak in front of large audiences. Individuals within these scenarios are celebrated, or mourned, and are often the topic of interest for those gathered in the location. Whether you paid money for a ticket to be present there or not, it is quite likely you desire to hear what certain people also present want to say.


This is why these moments often fall under the category of exceptionality, of someone who is thought about during these exact circumstances. An obvious example would be your birthday, where although many other people are born on the same day as you, your family and friends have gathered around you in order to celebrate you specifically, and desire to know your thoughts at that time. Birthday speeches, best-man toasts at a wedding, valedictorian addresses at a graduation, all fit within my category of exceptionality. 


But what about speeches with purpose, outside of the one the speaker embodies? A sort of message driven into the minds of listeners typically by the end of their talk? These often arise from speeches emotionally driven, via a sort of conquest or mission statement, like within a performance. The arts has countless examples of these: an actress’ monologue within a play, a singer’s vocal performance during a song, a participant’s argument during a debate. Even politics knows this, as speeches through answering questions and general discussion about societal topics within the public are a performance for attention and respect. All of these examples tend to conclude with the goal of leaving you with something that resonates down to your very core.


And it’s the conclusion of good agenda-laced speeches that today’s expression, “mic drop” focuses on. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes it as “an emphatic and declarative gesture signifying the conclusion of a performance of note, often literally (or as if) dropping a microphone.” The mic drop has become such a memetic gesture that a microphone doesn’t even need to be dropped in the literal sense. To theatre production managers and sound engineers, at the cost of some mics, mainstream transcendence possibly saved the lives of many more microphones around the world.


Despite it being quite easily associated to the arts, it is the latter politics that dropping the mic has become closely tied to. Arguably one of the slickest American presidents who has ever held office, Barack Obama and his iconic “Bama out” moment during the 2016 White House Correspondence Dinner, a speech that completely overshadowed the usually more memorable comedian’s roast, that year by previous Daily Show Correspondent Larry Wilmore. Funnily enough, that wasn’t even the first time Obama mic dropped. In 2012, during one of the Slow Jam the News segments on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Obama subtly let go of the mic at the end with Fallon following suit, mentioning “Mic Drop!” before the show breaks for commercials.


It is the power of the statement, or statements, that preceed it, that dictates whether something is worthy of a literal or metaphorical mic drop, good or bad. Who could forget the 2015 Nerd HQ Convention moment when actor Bryan Cranston dropped the mic after answering the mundane audience question “Did you have fun in my home town of Albequerque?” with “Yeah I would go and visit your mother once and a while”. Or the moment in Eddie Murphy’s Delirium show when he dropped the mic in laughter after an audience member heckles “Do Mr. Rob!” and another attendee shouts back “Shut up, bitch!”. Comedy is where you see mic drop variations the most, from Dave Chappelle slapping the mic on his knee during certain laugh out loud moments, to Chris Rock slamming the mic at the end of his most recent Netflix Special: Selective Outrage. It is a way of signifying that not much else needs to be said by not just the speaker, but anyone else who could possibly follow.


But okay, enough dancing around it: who or what brought this equipment damaging expression into existence? In a 2021 Essence article, already talked about Eddie Murphy is remembered as the one who brought “mic drop” to comedy. In addition to the previous example, it was Eddie Murphy’s portrayal of Randy Watson in his 1988 movie Coming to America, where he drops the mic after playing as a lead singer in a slow jazz band named “Sexual Chocolate”. Although it has likely catalyzed the existence of the mic drop after comedic performances, there are instances of the mic drop well before that. notes that the first ever verifiable mic drop was done by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, where he “announced on stage that he felt cheated out of their performance and purposely dropped the mic before turning and walking off stage. This was the last time the group would perform together until a reunion tour in 1996.” This may be the earliest recording of an actual mic drop taking place. Its purpose, however, was not of declaration, but defiance against the opportunity he worked so hard to get.


But for its true origin, one 2013 Slate article by writer Forest Wichman titled “The History of the Mic Drop” referenced by Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, and KnowYourMeme agree that it likely occurred as a practice done among hip-hop artists at the end of rap battles in the 1980s. These battles often pit lyricists against one another in a melodic roast of their opponent, in which certain insults hailed in the final round were followed with literal mic drops to lament that the competition was over. Knowing this, MC Rakim, in his 1987 song I Ain’t No Joke with Eric B. raps the bar, “I used to let the mic smoke, now I slam it when I’m done and make sure it’s broke”.


It is within the final words of this segment that I want to emphasize the cathartic power of thinking before you speak. To no one’s surprise, the expression of the mic drop embodies a kind of momentous force in diction to remember the meaning behind what has just been said. What is particularly amazing is that despite its kind of angry intent, I find that its the attempt always puts a smile on my face. Perhaps that’s comedy in its truest form, as like the end of a rap battle, the literal tragedy is that no one can follow a broken mic, not even your mother. *Mic Drop*


*Theme Music*

For the first communications segment of this season, I want to talk a bit about a related topic that, if you asked any of my teachers throughout my adolescence what was the number one skill I need to improve on, would be, among many of our youth today, public speaking.


The number one fear, on average, by people around the world, is public speaking. According to a 2021 Forbes article by Julia Korn titled How To Improve Your Fear Of Public Speaking, “Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a common social phobia that affects approximately 25% of the population.” That means that close to 2 billion people experience mild to debilitating anxiety when speaking in front of small or large groups. Reiterated in a 2019 LinkedIn article by Business Consultant Bogdan Manta, this coincides with other fears public speakers often feel in the moment, such as the fear of failing (or Atychiphobia), the fear of hearing other’s opinions (allodoxaphobia), and the fear of the unknown (or xenophobia, not to be confused with its more modern usage around prejudice).


It is surprising, when I reflect on the education I received throughout my life, both how many little things contributed, but also how many lost opportunities there were to the development of my public speaking skills. For example, often your final grade of the year in my elementary schooling possessed some impact on how much I participated in class. Additionally, in both my final years of primary and secondary schooling, there was a public speaking competition in which you were able to talk about a topic of your choice to your class (I cheekily performed the same presentation about My First Ski Trip, involving a silly dance singing I made it du du du, I made it du du du). However, these benefits seem to come on a class-by-class basis. My English classes often only tested written communication skills, and in almost all my science courses, communication through class participation or oral presentations was barely encouraged. It’s perhaps why my shy, reserved demeanour gravitated towards the scientific pathway to begin with, despite my actual curiosity on many scientific topics.


Yet, that doesn’t explain how, if given the opportunity now, that I could go up on any stage and talk about something I enjoy; cell biology, poetry, the wonders of my cat Mila. What changed? Are we just given more and more chances to experience the terror of standing in front of an audience, making audibly, comprehensive sounds called words? Do expectations from these fearful experiences change with time? Do our attitudes before and after public speaking lean more towards positivity, encouraging us to try again? These will be the questions I hope to frame this segment around.


As with most of these segments, we will start at the origin. But the origin to public speaking? What could that possibly mean? Surely it was inherent within the leadership roles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors within their smaller tribes. Its inception logically can be attributed to the moment we became capable of communicating to one another, sharing ideas. This direct attribute of public speaking, the sharing of ideas, is so paramount to the human experience that it is how we rose up above the rest. As a collective, we are so good at sharing ideas that we can take over an entire planet and thrive on these accepted norms (and crumble when ideas differ or are misunderstood).


But where was public speaking first analyzed? Like many topics on this podcast, this analysis started in Ancient Greece. It was Aristotle who was one of the first recorded to define the art of oration (or speech giving). On the Wikipedia page for public speaking history, Aristotle’s key insights of good speakers were that they “always combine, to varying degrees, three things: reasoning, which he called Logos; credentials, which he called Ethos; and emotion, which he called Pathos”. By ensuring a credible speaker’s emotions towards a subject were explained with proper reasoning, any given speech could be delivered to the right audience. During this same period, Greek orators would practice this and other skills to improve their public speaking. One famous speaker named Demosthenes, “stuck pebbles in his mouth in order to help his pronunciation, talk while running so he wouldn’t lose his breath, [and] practice in front of a mirror to improve delivery”.


Most of Western culture’s consensus on public speaking can be derived from the lessons learned of the Greeks. But this is not the only civilization that public speaking has been analyzed throughly. Similarly, in Ancient Chinese Doctrine, its states that speakers combine the following three things: tracing (how well the speaker is doing compared to traditional speaking practices), examination (how the speaker considers the audience’s daily lives); and practice (how relevant the topic or argument is to the "state, society, and people.” Through this thinking, you can see that Chinese rhetoric requires more content persuasion than oratory persuasion.


When you think of good public speakers, what pops into your mental space? For me, I often think of the infamous red circular carpet of the TED talk stage. Referenced in this podcast already, it was Tim Urban of the Wait But Why Blog who proclaimed in this own Ted talk that “It has always been a dream of mine to have done a Ted Talk in the past”. These are speakers who have not only trained for this moment, but also have the passion behind the subject matter they intend to speak about. One of my own favourite Ted talks is one by SNL writer Will Stephen. Titled “How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk”, Stephen delivers a talk with absolutely zero content, but demonstrates through actions during his 5 minutes how to deliver a Ted Talk if you did have content. It’s unpredictable, it’s courageous, it’s engaging (at least to those who absorb Ted Talks like peanut M&Ms). It’s no question that TED speakers are renowned for their ability to connect with listeners. Curator of TED Chris Anderson states in his own TED video that the best speakers combine four common goals in one talk, 1) - Limit to just one major idea - simplify content, 2) Give people a reason to care - ground them in a common goal, 3) Build your idea with familiar concepts - use their own ideas to link them to yours, 4) Make your idea worth sharing - who does this idea benefit?.


These tips do not just benefit conference speakers. Many of these tips also expand over into personal and professional lives. From finding connections to your family and friends, to leading a team in your workplace. In an article written on Science For people, writer Vanessa Van Edwards highlights key researchers with insights into public speaking. CEO and author of the book “Resonate” Nancy Duarte ”spent years studying rhetorical strategies to uncover what makes some speeches powerful while other fail to captivate audiences. What she discovered is that all great speakers, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs, all follow the same structure. Start by explaining “what is.” This is the problem, the process, the level of achievement, etc. that you want to change. Then explain “what could be.” This is your goal for a better future. The best speakers paint the picture of the best possible future that their message can provide. In other words, if every audience member uses your tips and solutions, what will their life look like? What will their day look like? What will change for them?” 


Explained in the 10th episode of this podcast on scientific presentations, it is the essence of every talk that one can explain how your ideas will directly impact a listener’s daily life. And of course, there is unanimous agreement that scientists today lack the general skills in public speaking. How is that possible? A 1990 article written in the Scientist Magazine proclaimed in their title that, “For Today's Scientist, Skill In Public Speaking Is Essential”. Yet, scientists often forget the reasoning and emotion stemming from their credentials. There’s no doubt that scientists love the work they do (perhaps excluding 4th year PhD students writing their theses). But if you’ve had the opportunity to attend a conference talk, or even a public lecture, you would notice that, 1) engagement is often lost in the first few minutes, and 2) not everyone is an expert in the topic. These two fundamental problems in scientific oration is the crux of why I decided to research this topic.


For me, it’s communication of complexity that keeps me curious about science as a whole. In a 2018 Nature article titled “How to give a great scientific talk” neurobiologist Susan McConnell states, “the whole point of doing science is to be able to communicate it to others […] Whether it is to our close colleagues, other scientists with a general interest in our area or to non-scientists, clarity of communication is essential.” Nobody wants to feel dumb or lost, and that includes any audience, whether they are a part of the scientific community or not. That’s why it’s important to know your audience. If they consist of people from all professional backgrounds, perhaps you may want to lay down the foundation knowledge which your ideas build upon. If they consist of people from your field, you can skip this step but ensure that you’re engaging enough that their attention is kept long enough to walk them towards your novel point. 


Remember that public speaking without purpose, without some intent to teach something, is waste of time and energy. It is an art form that we need to appreciate and value when done right. It’s only then we can also notice when public speaking is used for nefarious purposes. Think of dictators, cult leaders, the snake oil salesperson, people who have yielded these skills in public speaking to inflate their power and ego. Science can be one of the realms in which public speaking can be used to spread useful ideas while also identifying those who spread malicious ones. 


What I value the most in scientists that inspire me is that engagement with the public, science communicators dedicating their own personal time to showcasing how beautifully simple their complex niche within science can be. It is people within the scientific community who look for these opportunities that really stand out. In my on experience, through participating in fantastic initiatives like Science Slam Canada, FameLab, Pint of Science, and even the Metaphorigins podcast, the amount of incredible public communicators I’ve come across is truly staggering. They did not acquire this skill from birth, but through countless trial and error moments where they felt scared, nervous, anxious, terrified of the failure and judgement of others. I know that because I’ve been through it myself, that feeling that you are masquerading as someone you are not. Whether now or in the future, you are the expert we will look towards when needed, when you’ve walked us through your scientific topic, helped us succeed in understanding the core of your research, as come up with the same conclusion in our heads “I get it, du du du, I get it, du du du”.


*Theme Music*

For my first guest of the season, I’ll be interviewing someone who, in addition to finishing up her PhD, has established a wide presence in the SciComm space, and has several *mic dropping* performances communicating science in fun and unique ways.


She is an award-winning science communicator, speaker and event moderator, and a current PhD candidate in immunology. Her missions are to improve public understanding of science and to support women in science. As the writer and creator of "Microbial Mondays", a blog that focuses on improving public understanding of microbiology, she has published over one hundred articles and short videos that explain biological concepts with jargon-free language. She is also a junior ambassador for the TOPX network, a training platform for ambitious women in Life Sciences, through which she speaks and moderates at live and online events, and writes career-focused articles relevant for the community of women in science.


Please welcome the communicating phenom, Alex Cloherty.


*Theme Music*




I realized afterwards that she never plugged her winning FameLab International heat video, which you should definitely check out in the episode’s description! I hope you enjoyed learning about Microphones and Public Speaking. If you’re considering doing a mic drop after one of your conference presentations, be sure that you aren’t dropping it on the conference’s main hardware system. Anyway, just some updates on my end. By the time this goes out, we will have had our Pint of Science 2023 festival rollout across Ireland. Such fantastic topics for discussion from any field which you can conduct research on. A big thank you to all our volunteers, speakers and sponsors, and look forward to seeing you again next year. Also, can we all take a moment to recognize that we are heading into summer season? C’mon Ireland, bring on the sun! But that’s it for the Season 5 premier, thank you so much for listening. I do intend to have more consistent episodes this year, so let’s hope this can be done! Do remember to follow the podcast Instagram page for all updates in cool visual format, and as always, anyone following will be placed into the draw to win some Metaphorigins swag, whatever that ends up being, on my 50th and Season 5 Finale. Rate, subscribe, share, message, megaphone this episode to your family and friends. Tune in for the next episode, but until then, stay skeptical but curious.


*Theme Music*

bottom of page