Interview with a STEM Author: Deborah Lee Rose
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Hi STEM Sparkers! I hope you are well this week. COVID19 case numbers keep going up, so please stay safe and healthy; I care for you all! This week we have a pretty cool STEM author on the blog, Deborah Lee Rose. I loved learning her background-- she was a senior science writer at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and has written quite a lot of STEM books for children! She shares some great advice about how you don't have to be a scientist to become a science writer, but curiosity and creativity are key (see below). She speaks our language, dear STEM Sparkers. Please help me in giving Deborah Lee Rose a huge welcome!
1) I'm excited about the space tie-ins to your upcoming book Astronauts Zoom! Can you please tell us more about your upcoming book Astronauts Zoom!?
I love creating books that let kids travel—in their imaginations—far beyond where they live or go to school. I’ve written about forests and the ocean, and I really wanted to write about space, but not just about planets and stars. I’m fascinated by what scientists do, and where and how they do it. So I decided to capture, with NASA photographs, how astronauts live and work every day on the International Space Station orbiting Earth. On November 2, NASA celebrated 20 years of astronauts on the ISS, and special learning about astronauts will go on this whole school year. The book will be published in 2021.
Doing STEM work in space is very different than on Earth, young readers and listeners will learn. On the space station, astronauts can do their work right side up, upside down or floating! They study how cells, substances, equipment and even their own bodies function differently in space. But they don’t just do work in space, they have plenty of fun too—playing sports (carefully), making floating pizzas (with tortillas), reading, taking tons of photos, and watching the spectacular, ever changing views of Earth out the station’s big domed windows, which together are called the cupola. I can almost imagine that I’m on the space station with the astronauts, and that’s what I want my readers to feel too.
2) I know you have a bunch of other STEM books; do you mind sharing a couple of titles and what they're about?
Scientists Get Dressed was inspired by a photograph of my niece, who is a water pollution chemist. In the photo, she is wearing chest waders in an icy stream to stay dry and warm. I had no idea what her work truly involved until I saw this photo. Seeing it made me want to find out what kinds of unusual clothing many different scientists wear so they can do their jobs safely. The book also includes a glaciologist wearing four pairs of mittens to keep his hands from freezing, a brain surgeon wearing special glasses so she can operate on tiny parts of the brain, a whale shark biologist (on a full detachable poster) wearing snorkel and flippers, astronauts in flight and spacewalking suits, and even panda scientists wearing full panda outfits!
Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle is the true story of the bald eagle who got a pioneering prosthetic beak, after a poacher’s bullet shattered her real beak. Telling the story of Beauty the eagle’s life not only after humans found and helped her, but in the wild before she was shot, let my coauthor and me teach kids about the lives of all bald eagles, our national symbol. Writing this book with raptor biologist Janie Veltkamp, who has lifetime care of Beauty, helped bring Beauty’s heart lifting story alive and showed how bioengineering is giving new chances to animals as well as humans.
3) You also had a career as a science writer for UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. What is this career like day to day? What are some of the best parts of this job and what is challenging?
Communicating STEM to public audiences of all ages is a lot of fun and challenging! For example, I helped create a groundbreaking exhibit called the NanoZone about the newest developments in nanotechnology, which is very complicated science and technology. One of the best parts of the job is making the learning especially kid friendly. We wanted to highlight how a gecko’s toes have extremely tiny hair split ends that let geckos cling to walls and ceilings. So we created an exhibit piece where visitors could almost feel like they were geckos climbing up a wall.
Being a science writer can change from day to day. Communicating about STEM at a science center or museum can range from brainstorming and creating exhibits, to working with scientists and engineers to write articles about people in STEM, to posting on social media to connect people all over the world with STEM learning. Being a science writer for me has meant working with scientists in all kinds of fields, and learning new things ALL the time.
4) What fun facts have you learned about STEM writing your books?
I learned a HUGE amount about bald eagles, like the fact that their wings are already six feet wide when they are just learning to fly. One of the most amazing fun facts about Beauty is that her natural beak is regenerating, or growing back, but no one knows if it will ever grow back to its full, original shape.
5) What advice do you have for anyone interested in pursuing science writing?
You don’t have to be a scientist to become a science writer, but you have to be very ready to learn about all kinds of science. I think you need to be curious, creative and love asking questions, so you can understand and translate scientists’ work for everyday people. For me, communicating science is endlessly fascinating because I am always hearing about something new. Science plays such a critical role in our lives, the job of communicating science is becoming more and more important all the time.
Thank you Deborah! If you're interesting in seeing more of Deborah's books, please check out her website: www.deborahleerose.com. I'm thinking Beauty and the Beak will make a great holiday gift for some of the STEM and animal obsessed kids I know. Happy STEM-ing!