February 22nd, 2008


Introducing Dr. Fred Bortz!

Since I'm on a science bender this week, I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce one of the Western PA SCBWI's brightest lights-- Dr. Fred Bortz.

I became acquainted with Dr. Fred's work when our conference chair celebrated his winning the 2002 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award for young readers (for his work, "Techno-Matter: The Materials Behind the Marvels"). Techno-Matter was also named to the LA 100 and the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age, and was designated best grade 7-12 science book of the year by the Society of School Librarians International.

I went on to read some of his books, and was impressed by his enthusiasm and diverse knowledge, and especially, for his ability to relate complex ideas in simple terms. His books make the fascinating worlds of physics, astronomy and engineering accessible to everyone. If I'd had his books as a kid, I might have gone into the sciences myself. But I'm happy to have them now(and so are my kids)!

Fred addresses universally popular topics, like the existence of life on other worlds, great catastrophes, and how things work.

( Dr. Fred's latest book in Lerner's Cool Science Series#3
Note the hardcover version is discounted 25% for schools and libraries)

His latest book explores the emerging field of Astrobiology (the study of possible life on other worlds) from its diverse roots in mythology and astrology, modern astronomical observations of other planets within our solar system, the SETI program, and observation of the flexibility of living organisms (resistance to freezing injury in hibernating creatures and frozen transplant organs, bacteria that live in extreme environments, etc). His user-friendly descriptions keep readers intrigued with the topic, and hint at the fascinating landscape of ideas that a little more reading on each subject could provide.

Dr Fred discusses these issues in school visits, as well-- his current presentations are:

Our Next Planet: Why, When, and How People Will Settle Another World

and (coming soon!)
The Truth About Space Aliens

(I think my kids would love that one!)

I asked Dr. Fred a few questions about his work.

So, I'm curious-- what's with the bowtie?

I didn't wear bowties until my friend designed the logo and then the person who drew my caricature in Dr. Fred's Weather Watch decided I needed one. I decided at that point that I would learn to tie a bowtie--it's more scientific to tie it yourself.

Great Logo--love the question marks and exclamation points!

It illustrates that questions are central to science, though the "wow!" factor is always important.

What was it like to win the AIP award for Techno Matter?

The prize was very nice ($3000, an inscribed Windsor Chair, and a trip to Boise to accept the certificate--coincidentally at a time I was already planning to visit Idaho Falls for a major talk).

What was your favorite experience researching your books?

What could be better than an expense paid research trip to Hawaii's Big Island and a world-class astronomical observatory on Mauna Kea?"

Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel.

Readers can discover a lot about Heidi and my research in writing the book (a Hawaiian travelogue that includes a drive around the coast of the "Big Island" to Volcanoes National Park and then up Mauna Kea to live with the scientists and spend three nights working in a magnificent observatory at the peak. ) at my website.

Heidi's life story is as remarkable as her scientific one. She met and overcame numerous personal and professional challenges, and is flourishing in mid-career at age 48 (next month). Her biography is one of ten in the "Womens Adventures in Science" series, discussed in detail at http://www.iwaswondering.org ("was" = women's adventures in science)

That sounds like a fascinating story. I loved the photoessay of this trip on your site-- it really makes me feel like I'm there with you observing the research (and the youtube song about Mauna Kea scientists was great!)

I understand you also do reviews of science books for adults?
Yes--I review popular science books for adults for a number of major newspapers, and I have an archive of my reviews (plus a few guest reviews) at The Science Shelf (http://www.scienceshelf.com).
My latest was "What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous" by George Poinar Jr. and Roberta Poinar, featured on the Health and Science page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I will definitely be checking that out-- I'm always looking for good science books.
Is there any kind of a mailing list I could use so I don't miss anything?
I send updates to Science Shelf subscribers every 4-6 weeks.
You can find an e-mail link to subscribe on most pages of the site.

Want to learn more about Dr. Fred's work? Visit his website!
There's a lot to learn-- more than I can squeeze into a single blog entry.
You can find a complete list of his books here.

Happy Exploring!

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