October 7th: Niels Bohr & Diane Ackerman

Today’s Google Doodle features the birthday of Nobel-prize winning physicist Niels Bohr, known for his model of atomic structure. In the U.S., he’s the 18th man honored with a Doodle this year (compared to 4 women), and worldwide, the 78th man honored in 2012 (compared to just 13 women).

Here on Speaking Up, we’ll look at a woman born on this day, October 7th, in 1948, who, like Bohr, tries to uncover nature, but via a very different approach: Diane Ackerman.

Ackerman’s work blends science, art, and communication together; she is an author and poet but also a naturalist. She has a background in English and writing as a fine art, but also completed her PhD at Cornell under the supervision of a doctoral committee that included Carl Sagan. At the time, Ackerman knew that she didn’t want to be a scientist, but felt that the arts and sciences reinforced one another and that the world could best be understood by combining the two perspectives.

Ackerman’s work ranges from poetry and non-fiction dealing with the natural world and our place as humans within it. Her best-known work is The Zookeeper’s Wife, a non-fiction account of the Warsaw Zoo’s role in saving hundreds of lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II. Ackerman’s popular science book examining each of the five human senses and its role in the human social and cultural experience, A Natural History of the Senses, formed the basis for a five-part PBS NOVA series (which Ackerman hosted).

Diane Ackerman, photographed in 2007 by Larry D. Moore (via Creative Commons licensing BY-SA 3.0).

Her work has been honored in both of the realms it covers. Ackerman is a past recipient of the John Burroughs Nature Award, the Lavan Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim fellowship, and the Orion Book Award. An active writer who continues to probe into the meshed perspectives of the human and natural worlds, Ackerman maintains a blog at her website.


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