Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2021

Acclaimed author gives lecture on science writing

By SAMHITA ILANGO | March 5, 2015

“Where does one begin to tell a story?” Dava Sobel asked attendees in Hodson Hall this past Friday as the best-selling author gave a short talk and reading from her latest work. “They have something to say and don’t know where to start,” Sobel said.

Sobel is an acclaimed science writer and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. The talk was co-hosted by the Johns Hopkins University Science Writing Program, the Masters in Writing program and the Writing Seminars department.

The Hodson auditorium was filled with a variety of people ranging from undergraduates taking An Introduction to Fiction and Non-Fiction class to tenured professors of the Science Writing Program. Melissa Hendrix, program coordinator of the Science Writing program explained why the department had chosen Sobel to speak.

“Our science writing students loved reading and discussing her books, especially Longitude, and hearing her speak first-hand about her craft is very exciting,” Hendrix said.

Sobel opened her talk with a few questions and remarks about the writing process.

“I can remember how every lead happened,” Sobel said.

Her latest work in progress is about the women who worked in the Harvard College Observatory at the turn of the century. She describes how, although receiving lower pay than men in the same field, the work of these women helped determine the substance of the stars and size of the cosmos.

Sobel graduated from The Bronx High School of Science and Binghamton University and began as a writer for several online and print publications including Harvard Magazine, Audubon, Discover, Life, Omni and The New Yorker.

Aside from her current work in progress, she has written four books and has co-authored six. Her strides in increasing science and technology awareness among the general public has earned her notable awards. In 2001, she received the Individual Public Service Award from the National Science Board as well as the Bradford Washburn Award from the Boston Museum of Science.

She ventured into teaching in 2006 as the Robert Vare Non-fiction Writer in Residence at the University of Chicago. During this time, she taught a seminar in science writing while pursuing research for her stage play And the Sun Stood Still. She also taught at Mary Baldwin College as a visiting artist/scholar, teaching a course called Writing Creatively about Science.

Among Sobel’s many works is her Pulitzer Prize finalist book Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. The book centers on the surviving letters from Galileo’s daughter Suor Maria Celeste. Sobel writes about the father-daughter relationship and the scientific works of Galileo through a new lens.

In the last decade Sobel has taken many lecture engagements including talks for The Smithsonian Institution, The Explorers’ Club, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, The Folger Shakespeare Library and the New York Public Library ,and she is a frequent guest on multiple National Public Radio Programs.

When speaking with Hendrix about more guest lectures for the department, she admitted that due to lack of funding it’s difficult.

“However, we hope to have more talks in the future,” Hendrix said.

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