I am fascinated by the ways science and technology change our lives. When I find something interesting, I write about it, mostly books. Right now I’m focused on climate change, clean energy, and the future of food — basically all the big topics related to the coming population surge– as well as the art of science communication. I really don’t get why people find it so easy to ignore/deny/dismiss simple facts, and I’m trying to figure that out. We’re at a weird point in history, with Americans doing some of the stupidest things they’ve ever done as a nation, while at the same time making discoveries that can make it possible for us to not only survive, but thrive in the near future, and leave our kids a better world better than the one we were born into. But we can only do that if we face facts.
My writing career got started after I figured out that I wasn’t cut out for laboratory research (it’s too repetitive for me, too confined, too much focused on getting the next big grant). So, after earning a master’s degree in medical microbiology and immunology from the Oregon Health Sciences University I went back to school and got a second master’s in journalism at the University of Oregon. I served as a communications intern at the National Cancer Institute, worked as a freelance medical writer, was a regular contributor to American Health and was a West Coast news correspondent for the Journal of the American Medical Association. After serving in several editorial positions I was named the University of Oregon’s Director of Communications and Marketing, and Director of the University of Oregon Press. I am currently a Courtesy Associate Professor of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.
My works include either seven or eleven books (depending on how you count them, the bigger number includes co-written, edited, and small volumes), mostly on science and medical history, and more than 100 feature and news articles in a variety of popular and professional periodicals. Recent national recognition includes the American Chemical Society’s highest public communications prize, the 2017 Grady-Stack award.
One of my books, The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, was a finalist for the National Academies Communication Award; listed among the “Best Books of The Year” by Kirkus Reviews; and named a Borders “Original Voices” Selection. My 2006 book The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug was called “fascinating” by the Los Angeles Times and “a grand story” by the Wall St. Journal.
For more on my approach to writing, see this interview in Nature Chemistry.
I’ve been an invited lecturer and guest scholar at a number of universities, and have spoken widely to groups ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the Goddard Space Center, Fortune 500 corporate boards, medical gatherings, and school and civic organizations. My media appearances include two talks on C-Span’s “BookTV;” interviews on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” “Science Friday,” “Diane Rehm Show” and “Tech Nation;” and an expert role in the OPB documentary “Linus Pauling.”
I live in Eugene, Oregon, with my wife, writer Lauren Kessler. We have three children: Jackson, Zane, and Elizabeth.