9780553446791By Rachel Swaby, author of Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science—And the World (Broadway Books, April 2015)

A programmer examines a computer as massive as a room and finds the first computer bug—a moth stuck in the machine’s relays. A 10-year old is hunting for treasure and discovers a Dinosaur skeleton. Hidden in a pile of data, a woman finds the inner core of the earth, another reveals nuclear fission, and another spots evidence of continental drift in the ocean floor. Who are these incredible scientists? Most of us can’t even name one.

I wrote Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science—And the World to help reveal the hidden history of women in STEM fields. The desire to write these stories was three-pronged. First, I was dismayed at the way women in science were being covered. When the New York Times obituary for the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill started with, “She made a mean beef stroganoff,” I was as disappointed as the rest of the internet. I wanted to rewrite Yvonne Brill’s profile and find a way to more appropriately honor the exceptional work of other women in science. (more…)

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By Jared Diamond, author of The Third Chimpanzee for Young People: On the Evolution And Future of the Human Animal (Seven Stories, April 2014).The Third Chimpanzee For Young People

One day, when my twin sons were in middle school, they came home from school angry with me.  I wasn’t aware of having done anything particular that day to arouse their wrath, and so I asked them what was the matter.  They replied, “Our history teacher has assigned your book to our class to read.  We haven’t looked at it yet, but we already know that it’s a bad book.  Worst of all, our teacher is inviting you to come to school to talk to our class.  We are going to be so embarrassed in front of our friends!”

I duly arrived at my sons’ class, to find my sons sitting in the last row, with faces averted, huddled in uncomfortable postures, and obviously in agony from embarrassment.  As I began to talk about my book, their classmates started asking questions and expressing increasingly lively interest.  My sons gradually rotated to face forward, relaxed from their cramped posture, and began smiling.  They were delighted that their classmates liked my book, and that they didn’t have to be ashamed of me.  Since then, my sons have been among my strongest supporters, quick to denounce any criticism of my books.  (more…)

Students at Evans High School in Evans, Georgia celebrate their first Henrietta Lacks Day

On October 4, 2011, the Evans High School Multicultural Club and Evans High School Biology teachers invited the entire staff and student body of Evans High School to celebrate the life of Henrietta Lacks.  Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital on this day in 1951.  Henrietta Lacks may have died on this day, but her cells, called HeLa cells, are still living in laboratories all over the world.  “Henrietta’s cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture.  They were essential to developing the polio vaccine.  They went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.  Many scientific landmarks since then have used her cells, including cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization” (Zielinski, 2010).  This is an incredible story told by Rebecca Skloot in her award-winning book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  This book makes a wonderful springboard for discussions concerning civil rights and medical ethics as well as the science behind these miraculous cells.  Another interesting subject covered in the book involves the Lacks family.  The family receives no monetary compensation from laboratories and drug companies using HeLa cells and they cannot afford healthcare. (more…)

Read the important book that’s topping many school lists. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

In the following video clip, author Rebecca Skloot sits down to discuss the inspiration, impact, and process that went into The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The paperback edition of the book releases on March 8, 2011.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

by Amy Jurskis, Tri-cities High School, East Point, Georgia

Like many teachers, I grew up reading, and to this day I attribute most of my knowledge to stories I read in books. Perhaps more than any other pedagogical tool, narratives allow students to connect to, organize, and make sense of information—which is why I was thrilled to tune into Fresh Air on NPR one afternoon and discover Rebecca Skloot’s amazing book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Skloot’s book is essentially three narratives, each with unique applications to the disciplines of language arts, history, and science. First there is the story of the author’s own odyssey—sparked by a casual comment made by a biology instructor—to discover the woman behind the HeLa cells. Skloot’s story is both a riveting work of investigative journalism and a deeply moving memoir, as her search for answers ultimately results in the development of a life-changing friendship with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. (more…)