The Best Australian Science Writing 2017
This anthology contains 32 essays from Australia’s best science writers. OK, so science writing might not be the first thing you reach for on a lazy summer afternoon. Perhaps the words dry and impenetrable spring to mind? Well this book is anything but. The writing is clear and engaging, and the authors’ enthusiasm for their subjects is infectious.
Take a front row seat at the Big Bang as the armies of matter and antimatter battle it out. Pull on your flippers and goggles and come eyeball to eyeball with an Australian giant cuttlefish. Travel back 635 million years to witness the birth of the first multicellular organisms. Marvel at the mind that looked at geckos’ feet and saw surgical tape; that looked at porcupine quills and saw surgical staples.
Scientific endeavour has always reflected and responded to the issues of its time. Essays on the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and the burning of ancient World Heritage Tasmanian forests highlight the ever-increasing threat of climate change. A tour of “The pyramid at the end of the world” – an abandoned Cold War nuclear missile silo in the depths of North Dakota – feels disturbingly relevant today.
The Best Australian Science Writing 2017 opens the door to the latest scientific discoveries and draws you inside.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
This is the true story of a woman whose cancer cells are cultured in labs around the world and are responsible for many important medical breakthroughs, such as the polio vaccine. In 1951, cancer cells were taken from Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman from a poor background, and grown without her consent, and, until 20 years later, without her family’s knowledge. These cells became known as HeLa.
The author, Rebecca Skloot, tells the Lacks’ stories in a journalistic style which at times seems quite intrusive. A science writer, Skloot clearly explains the science and applications of cell culturing, which stand in stark contrast to the world of Henrietta’s relatives, her town and her history. Along the way Skloot reflects on issues of ethics, race and medicine. This New York Times bestselling book was very thoroughly researched and became a 10-year labour of love. It reminds us that the human cell lines used every day in laboratories originally came from a living, breathing person. You can learn more about the book on the author’s website.
This story will resonate particularly with medical researchers (like myself) who have worked with HeLa cells. It’s a real eye-opener.
If these two books leave you wanting more science, you’ll find plenty of suggestions at Science Book a Day. Such as The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This sweeping account of the history of cancer and cancer research won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 2011. Read Carrie Bengston’s review on Science Book a Day.
Or, closer to home, there are always our blog posts from 2017. Perhaps you missed the one about how our scientists identified a new leukaemia subtype using a DNA test. Did you meet PhD student Ashleigh Fordham, who even as a little girl knew, “When I grow up, I want to cure cancer”?
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