Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re interviewing Elizabeth Rusch! She’s the author of this month’s featured technology/engineering book, The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Ocean. This fascinating installment in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series tackles the engineering challenge of turning ocean waves into useable electricity. As Horn Book‘s glowing review explains, “Rusch fully explores the engineering process, capturing the determined, entrepreneurial spirit of the profiled engineers as well as the need for creative problem-solving and ingenuity, a test-and-retest mentality, a high tolerance for failure, and perseverance through the quest for research funding.” The Next Wave received starred reviews from both Kirkus and School Library Journal.
Mary Kay Carson: Why did you decide to write The Next Wave?
Elizabeth Rusch: I keep a folder of clippings of newspaper and magazine articles that interest me. Once in a while, I read through them to see if there are any topic hiding in there that I might want to cover. About ten years ago I found that I had clipped a bunch of articles on scientists developing these cool devices to harness the movement of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. One Oregon scientist Annette von Jouanne was not only inventing clever devices but also finding ways to support other engineers and inventors in their work. I thought she would be a perfect place to start. I interviewed her and accompanied her as she tested a new device that bobbed up and down in the water and wrote an article about her work for Smithsonian magazine. As I was reporting and writing that piece, a little voice kept saying: Kids would find this fascinating – they love the beach, the ocean, invention, and environment. So I expanded my research to include the stories of other ocean energy inventors, such as “The Mikes” —Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes—childhood friends who were developing and refining a device that sits on the ocean floor that they first designed in college.
MKC: What was writing about engineering like?
Elizabeth: I loved covering a new, evolving renewable energy field. Engineers have already pretty much figured out great ways to harness solar and wind energy but ocean energy was and is still wide open. We don’t yet know the best way to take the up and down motion of waves and turn it into electricity. That means that all devices being invented and tested are wildly different. So I got to witness history in the making. Mike Morrow invited me to his lab, which was big cluttered shed in his backyard. It was like being in the garage with Steve Jobs as he invented his computer. I also observed tests in these huge wave flumes and basins and out the open ocean. Each test was really suspenseful because no one knew how the devices would perform. So I was crossing my fingers and cheering right along with the engineers.
MKC: Are STEM topics especially interesting to you?
Elizabeth: I don’t actively set out to write STEM books. I am drawn to important, compelling stories that have been overlooked – and it just so happens that many of those stories are in STEM fields. I love stories of invention because they are at their core stories of the human spirit and our quest to understand the world and solve problems we face. To me, inventing something is essentially an adventure requiring creativity and heroic effort in the face of daunting obstacles. A fun example is my recent book The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano. While it is a picture book biography about music and history, I was delighted to see it was named a Best STEM Trade Book by NSTA-CBC. So I guess what I’m saying is that to me STEM is just in integral part of the human story – and I love telling human stories.
Win a FREE copy of The Next Wave!
Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.
Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow science nerd and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson