Bradley Observatory Open House Lecture

The Writing of Science and the Science of Writing
by Sarah Scoles '07

November 13
8 p.m.

telescopesBehind every scientific discovery lurks a good story. While academic papers give the methods and facts of a result, the aim of "science writing," meant for people in general and not scientists in particular, is to show how that result came to be and to make it understandable and compelling to everyone. But given how complicated topics like physics and astronomy can be, how does a writer do that? And why is it important?

Our brains are programmed to pay attention to narratives--storylines with beginnings, middles, ends, conflicts, settings, and characters. When writing puts science into that context, people are not only interested in it--they also remember it. In a time when scientific issues like climate change, GMO safety, and vaccination scares are in the spotlight and affect people's lives, understanding the science behind them is more important than ever. The duty of bringing that science into the world, making it feel real and relevant, and helping people sift the real-deal from rumor falls to science writing. The "how" and "why" of all that is the subject of this lecture.

Sarah ScolesAfter spending her childhood immersed in scientific and fictional books, Sarah Scoles graduated from Agnes Scott College with a degree in Astrophysics in 2007. While her passion for astronomy never waned, Scoles took a creative writing course during her junior year At Agnes that caused her to fall in love with writing. After earning an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Cornell University, Scoles became a public education specialist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and eventually became the associate editor of Astronomy Magazine. To exercise her passion for writing, Scoles is currently writing a book about Jill Tarter, the scientist on whom the main character in the movie/book Contact is based, and the science of searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). She also writes articles for publications such as The Atlantic, Popular Science, Slate, and Discover.