Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lecture at Columbia

On Wednesday, October 26, I’ll be previewing one of the chapters of my current book project at the New York History of Science Lecture Series. The talk will look at the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s initiatives in science, spearheaded by Hungarian-British polymath Michael Polanyi.  Science never took on the central role in the CCF’s operations that Michael Polanyi or the CIA agents who oversaw it originally envisioned, but it did play a role, and there is evidence to suggest that U.S. policymakers wanted it to play a larger one. This talk uses the story of the CCF’s failed science programming to explore broader U.S. visions of science as a tool for cultural diplomacy—covert, overt, or something in between.

The talk is titled “The Fight for Science and Freedom: Recovering the Role of Science in Cold War–era Cultural Diplomacy.” The event is free and open to the public, and starts promptly at 6 p.m. at Columbia University’s Fayerweather Hall. For full details, a map, etc., please see the official announcement.

LIVE at Kelly Writers House

If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like, here’s your chance to find out! On Monday, September 26, I’ll be reading an essay as part of the LIVE at the Writers House series on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. WXPN will be recording the event and broadcasting it at a later date (TBD).

I’ll be joined by several Philadelphia science writers, including Matt Soniak, Aatish Bhatia, and Maddie Stone, with a musical performance by Grammy-nominated songwriter Shelly Peiken. The event is open to the public and starts promptly at 7.

The Power of Synthetic Fibers

I recently spoke with Todd Bookman of WHYY’s The Pulse about nylon’s unlikely history and the lasting legacy of synthetic fibers. If you’d like to know more about the history of nylon, check out this piece I wrote for Chemical Heritage magazine back in my Chemical Heritage Foundation days.

The entire piece, on the scientific breakthrough behind modern fabrics, is worth a listen. Now go put on some Lycra and head out for a run!

Recommended Readings for the Cultural Cold War

Backlist is a super-cool new website in which historians recommend books—new or classic—for general readers looking to expand their horizons.

This week I offered my own suggestions: An introductory reading list for the cultural Cold War. You know: hearts and minds, CIA-funded art exhibits, and the like. It’s got old favorites, some hidden gems, and exciting new books. If you like what you see, considering making your purchase through the links on the Backlist website.

Age of Aerospace Airing Soon

Two years ago, while recovering from a terrible E. coli-like illness, I took the train to Washington, D.C., where the lovely people from The Documentary Group were waiting for me. We spent the entire morning talking space: Space technology, space politics, and space disasters. After so much time, I’m delighted to announce that the six-part documentary series is airing on The Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and the American Heroes Channel.

I’m on Episode 4, “The Vastness of Space.” Catch it:

  • Monday, February 22, at 8 and 11 p.m. EST, on the Science Channel
  • Saturday, March 12, at noon EST, on the Discovery Channel
  • Saturday, April 23, at 10 a.m. EST, on the American Heroes Channel

Or you can stream it all, anytime you’d like.

Talking Science Diplomacy with Marty Moss-Coane

With a push from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, science diplomacy is back, in a big way. This week I spoke with Radio Times‘ Marty Moss-Coane on the history, challenges, and potential of science diplomacy. We were joined by Rush Holt, a former Congressman who is now the CEO of AAAS, and Vaughan Turkeian, who heads the AAAS’s Center for Science Diplomacy.

The show was live (live!), but the audio is available on the Radio Times archive.

Melba Phillips, Morels, and Me

I was working on a couple of encyclopedia entries involving J. Robert Oppenheimer this winter when I stumbled upon the most remarkable coincidence: Melba Phillips, one of Oppenheimer’s students, was from my small town. This itself isn’t so strange, I guess, but it turned out that my high school social studies teacher, Billie Longabaugh, was Phillips’s niece. Now add to this the fact that Phillips, like me, was raised on a farm by nominal Methodists, and that our shared small town has well under 1,000 residents.

Oh, and I had never heard of her, nor had anyone I asked back home.

I desperately wanted to explore this story, but I had a hard time, at first, identifying the hook. Beyond “OMG THAT’S SO COOL,” what part of this would be interesting to other people? Eventually, I realized that, more than anything else, I wanted to know about the cycle of forgetting. Who was this woman? Why hadn’t I heard of her? And how many other forgotten people, like her, come from places that most Americans have mostly forgotten about?

The result is a somewhat out-of-character personal essay, “Physics from the Farm,” that appeared in Belt today. I’m so grateful to the editors at Belt for giving me a chance to explore my obsession with this remarkable woman. Let’s not forget her again.

Publishing Workshops

Book publishing doesn’t have to be awful. My company, The Outside Reader, helps scholarly authors have better publishing experience and write better books. But aside from working with clients one-on-one, I also offer publishing workshops to university departments and programs. The format varies, but one of the more popular versions includes a 90-minute combo presentation Q&A, followed by lightning-round 15-minute meetings with individuals. The format can be customized for graduate students nearing completion of their Ph.D.s, postdocs and assistant professors, or more senior scholars hoping to break out of the monograph.

Why am I telling you this now? Two recent workshops in New York reminded how much I love doing these. I also have just a few slots remaining in an online course I’m teaching in May. Just drop me a line at my editorial address, audra at theoutsidereader dot com, if you’re interested in finding out more.

Competing with the Soviets: In Korean!

Some very exciting news today from the good folks in the rights department at Johns Hopkins University Press: Korean rights to Competing with the Soviets have been sold to Kungree Press Co. If all goes well, the book should appear sometime in the winter of 2016/2017.

In other words: The number of language in which my work appears has just doubled.