Saturday, January 3, 2009

Isaac Asimov and The Year of Science 2009

Yesterday would have been Isaac Asimov's 89th birthday (1920-1992). Asimov was a proliferate author who wrote over 500 books in his lifetime, many for children, that enlightened and entertained.

Asimov was born in Russia and emigrated to the US (Brooklyn, NY) with his family when he was three years old. His family owned a candy store in which Asimov and his brother and sister worked. He taught himself to read at the age of five and began reading pulp magazines, which were sold in the store. Around the age of eleven, he began to write his own stories, and by age nineteen he was selling them to the science fiction magazines. He attended NYC Public Schools and in 1939 he graduated with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University. After completing his doctorate, Asimov joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine. In 1958, he turned to writing full-time. At this time, he greatly increased his non-fiction production, writing mostly on science topics; the launch of Sputnik in 1957 engendered public concern over a "science gap", which Asimov's publishers were eager to fill with as much material as he could write.

Interesting, if little known, facts (from Wikipedia):

  • Asimov was a claustrophile; he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces;
  • He was afraid of flying, only doing so twice in his entire life;
  • Asimov was a frequent fixture at science fiction conventions, where he remained friendly and approachable;
  • He was also a close friend of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and earned a screen credit on Star Trek: The Motion Picture for advice he gave during production (generally, confirming to Paramount Pictures that Roddenberry's ideas were legitimate science-fictional extrapolation).
Asimov died on April 6, 1992 of heart and renal failure as complications of an HIV infection he contracted from a blood transfusion he received during a heart bypass operation.

One of many things I didn't know before writing this post was that in the early sixties, Asimov regularly contributed book reviews to The Horn Book. At their virtual history exhibit is a letter from Asimov to an editor at Horn Book, after he received an unexpectedly large payment, asking to make sure that he wasn't overpaid.

Asimov's birthday on January 2nd is an apt beginning for 2009 since it has been declared the Year of Science! Several organizations have joined together under the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) to engage sectors of the public in science to increase their understanding of the nature of science and its value to society. A key objective of COPUS is to create new forums for communication and to develop new opportunities for engaging the public with science.

The Year of Science 2009 official launch event will take place in Boston on January 3. Check the website for many other events throughout the months.

Each of the 12 months has been given a theme:
January: Process & Nature of Science
February: Evolution
March: Physics & Technology
April: Energy Resources
May: Sustainability and the Environment
June: Oceans & Water
July: Astronomy
August: Weather and Climate
September: Biodiversity and Conservation
October: Geosciences & Planet Earth
November: Chemistry
December: Science and Healthy

Each month, an invited expert will blog about their areas of expertise. Also, check out how Flat Stanley will be joining the project!

Of course, as soon as I learned about The Year of Science, I thought about all of the wonderful children's books available to assist with learning about each of the themes. So, at the beginning of each month, I'm going to post a list of books appropriate for each monthly theme. I'll be posting about the January theme-process and nature of science-in a few days, so stay tuned!

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