Hope Jahren is an intrepid researcher who embodies our meeting theme of Dream. Dare. Do. As a child and a young woman, she played and then worked in her father’s lab and dreamed of herself as a scientist. As a student and a young woman, she dared to explore her chosen research areas and to trust her laboratory partner. As she learned to do her science, she overcame the obstacles that all young scientists face (particularly young women) and developed her reputation as an excellent scientist. She has taken that work a step further and created a bestselling book, Lab Girl, which describes her journey from that childhood to her current areas of interest and expertise.
When I saw Hope Jahren interviewed on PBS last year, when her book was first released, I had to read it. Since then, Lab Girl, has appeared on several lists of the best books for 2016, including National Public Radio and the New York Times. She is also listed in the top ten books for 2016 in Entertainment Weekly. Jahren has studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. She is an award-winning scientist who focuses on paleobiology.
Jahren completed her doctorate at the University of California–Berkeley and has taught at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Hawaii–Manoa. She is currently a geochemist and geobiologist at the University of Oslo. She has won many prestigious awards in the field, including the James B. Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union. She has built three laboratories. Her research has been awarded three Fulbright Awards, and she is one of four scientists to have been awarded two Young Investigator Medals in the earth sciences. At the University of Hawaii, she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health.
Lab Girl tells us about Jahren’s story: her childhood in rural Minnesota, her early studies in science, her successes, and her discoveries as well as her disappointments. She shares her life with readers in an engaging, thoughtful, and thought provoking way.
Jahren’s research focuses on living and fossil organisms, and how they are chemically linked to the global environment. Using measurements of the stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, her group is working to learn about metabolism and environment, both in the human environment and through geologic time. The New York Times suggests that Lab Girl will do for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology. Her book has been applauded as both “a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world” and a literary fusion of memoir and science writing.
After Jahren’s presentation, she will be available to sign copies of Lab Girl.