We witnessed history a couple weeks ago, as the first ever photograph of a black hole was seen and shared and reported on countless times on Wednesday, April 10. This is a monumental achievement, as it took a team of over 100 scientists and engineers several years and a computing telescope the size of the Earth to capture the image.
The creator of the algorithm who made this image possible, Dr. Katie Bouman, has become a household name overnight, as well as an inspiration for countless women and girls in STEM fields. In her TEDx talk in 2016, Bouman explained how her team worked together to construct the algorithm, and gave encouragement to all her listeners to continue pushing the boundaries of scientific inquiry:
I’ve always been fascinated with science, especially astronomy and astrophysics, and at ten years old I dreamed of being part of the first human mission to Mars. I think I lacked the temperament, or maybe the patience, to pursue a career in science (plus, I loved literature even more). But I still love reading about these fields, especially the stories of people who dared to push the boundaries of the known world.
Here are just a few books that will inspire scientific wonder.
Cosmos, Carl Sagan
This classic is one of the bestselling science books of all time. First published in 1980 to accompany Sagan’s TV series, Cosmos brought advanced scientific concepts to the masses. Sagan’s writing is very readable, even for those with no background knowledge of science, and covers topics ranging from astrophysics to the history of science as a discipline, and even goes into the likelihood of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Sagan reminds the reader that “we are all star stuff.”
We are all star stuff.
Miss Leavitt’s Stars, George Johnson
From the cover:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists argued over the size of the universe: was it, as the astronomer Harlow Shapley argued, the size of the Milky Way, or was there more truth to Edwin Hubble’s claim that our own galaxy is just one among billions?
The answer to the controversy―a ‘yardstick’ suitable for measuring the cosmos―was discovered by Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who was employed by the Harvard Observatory as a number cruncher, at a wage not dissimilar from that of workers in the nearby textile mills. Miss Leavitt’s Stars uncovers her neglected history, and brings a fascinating and turbulent period of astronomical history to life.
A few years ago I got to see a stage play about Leavitt’s life called Silent Sky. It was a beautiful portrayal of a remarkable person and depiction of the wonder that just looking at the night sky can inspire.
Time Lord, Clark Blaise
No, this is not a Dr. Who reference. From the cover:
In Time Lord, Clark Blaise re-creates the life of Sanford Fleming, who struggled to convince the world to accept standard time. It’s a fascinating story of science, politics, nationalism, and the determined vision of one man who changed the world. Set in a time marked by substantial technological and cultural transformation, Time Lord is also an erudite exploration of art, literature, consciousness, and our changing relationship to time
Before Fleming’s standard time was adopted in 1884, there were 144 time zones in North America alone. I have to imagine that train schedules were a nightmare. It’s a concept that we don’t really think about now, but the world as we know it probably wouldn’t be able to function without it.
Galileo’s Daughter, Dava Sobel
Sobel’s book tells a story in letters exchanged between the famous Galileo and his daughter, Maria Celeste, who lived her adult life as a cloistered nun. It’s a story of both faith and science, and the relationship between the two, as “Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope.” Galileo’s Daughter uniquely documents the life of the man whose work defined the perceived schism between religion and science, but also offers hope for how the two can be reconciled.
Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope.
BONUS: My Women in STEM TBR
(I have not read these, but I want to.)
- Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
- Ada’s Algorithm, James Essinger
- The Glass Universe, Dava Sobel
Do you read science nonfiction? What are your favorites?