Archive for February, 2020

Ainissa Ramirez, author of THE ALCHEMY OF US — a closer look

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re taking a closer look at Dr. Ainissa Ramirez!


I have wanted to be a scientist ever since I was a little girl. I got the idea from a television program called 3-2-1 Contact, where I watched a young African-American girl solve problems. I saw my reflection in her and was transfixed. As time passed and my science career progressed, I saw that reflection less often.” – Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, in a recent article in SCIENCE.


Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D. is a science evangelist who is passionate about getting the general public excited about science.  She co-authored Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game (Random House); and, authored Save Our Science: How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists (TED Books). Her next book, due out in April 2020, is The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed Each Other.  



In The Alchemy of Us, Dr. Ramirez examines eight inventions―clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips―and reveals how they shaped the human experience. She shows not only how materials were shaped by inventors but also how those materials shaped culture, chronicling each invention and its consequences―intended and unintended.


Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors―particularly people of color and women―who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal―whether it’s splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.

Before taking on the call to improve the public’s understanding of science, she was an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science at Yale University.  Technology Review, the magazine of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), named her as one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators for her contributions to transforming technology.  She has been profiled in The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, CBS News, Inside Edition, Fox News, CNN, NPR, ESPN, Time Magazine as well as scientific magazines (Scientific American and Discover Magazine).


She now focuses her energies on making science fun, and gave an impassioned called to action at TED on the importance of understanding science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which generated widespread enthusiasm. At Yale, she was the director of the award-winning science lecture series for children called Science Saturdays and hosted two popular-science video series called Material Marvels and Science Xplained.  


She speaks internationally on the importance of making science fun and has served as a science advisor to the American Film Institute, WGBH/NOVA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and several science museums. Currently, she co-hosts a science podcast called Science Underground, and is preparing for the release of The Alchemy of Us, which will include stories about the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer.


“Children need to explore and to discover,” she said in the talk. “This is how you innovate; you fail your way to your answer. Scientists fail all the time; we just brand it differently. We call it ‘data.’”   — Dr. Ainissa Ramirez


Let us know if you’d like to bring Dr. Ainissa Ramirez to speak to your organization, campus, or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!




Documentary Filmmaker Shola Lynch – a closer look

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Happy Wednesday! This week we’re talking a closer look at documentary filmmaker Shola Lynch.



Shola was quite accomplished in a number of areas before becoming a filmmaker. For instance, she was a member of the Sesame Street cast as a child! As she got older, she also became a nationally-ranked track star in high school, which led to the track team at University of Texas.


She has produced and scripted stories that have aired on BET, CNN, ESPN, HBO Sports, TV One, and PBS.   The Sundance Institute selected Shola as one of five women  who show great promise to be mentored in their prestigious Women’s Filmmaker Initiative. Shola was also recently awarded a prestigious Creative Capital Award for her next film, a narrative on the great liberator Harriet Tubman.  She has been a member of the Documentary Jury of the Sundance Film Festival.



Her feature documentary FREE ANGELA & All Political Prisoners is a first hand account of the events that thrust Angela Davis into the national spotlight from a young college professor to a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The film received critical acclaim and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the NAACP Image Award for Excellence for Best Documentary.


In recent years, She was named the Curator for Film, Moving Image and Recorded Sound at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Shola holds a Master’s in American History and Public History Management from the University of California, Riverside as well as a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University. She is also working on a book based on her film Free Angela.



Her first independent documentary, CHISHOLM ’72 – Unbought & Unbossed, follows Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for president in 1972 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and aired on PBS’s POV series.  The film won two Independent Spirit Award nominations and a prestigious Peabody for excellence.


Be sure to contact us for more information about hosting Shola at your event! Write to us at


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!



David Quammen and emerging diseases – a closer look!

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Happy Thursday! This week, we have a special bonus speaker feature,  we’ll take a closer look at science writer David Quammen!

David’s been featured in the news, and interviewed internationally, about the emerging coronavirus from China. David’s book Spillover took an in-depth look at emerging pandemics caused by animal-to-human transmission, including Ebola and coronavirus.


David has written many books, including several that many consider to be the definitive book on that subject such as  The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, about the father of evolutionary thought Charles Darwin, and has also written hundreds of pieces for publications like Outside, Esquire, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and National Geographic; he is a three-time recipient of the National Magazine Award. He is a Contributing Writer for National Geographic Magazine. 


His book The Tangled Tree follows the groundbreaking work of microbiologist Carl Woese, who merely re-wrote our complete understanding of the so-called “Tree of Life” which is a way of charting and understanding evolutionary development from the first one-celled organisms to the billions of life forms now on the planet. Scientists have given this phenomenon Woese discovered some fancy names. One is horizontal gene transfer. Another, slightly more suggestive, is infective heredity. In some cases, these genes travel sideways—from creature to creature, even from species to species—by viral infection. That’s supposed to be impossible. Woese’s successors have shown that it’s not just possible—it’s widespread and vastly consequential.


The Wall Street Journal declared “David Quammen proves to be an immensely well-informed guide to a complex story. . . . Indeed he is, in my opinion, the best natural history writer currently working. Mr. Quammen’s books . . . consistently impress with their accuracy, energy and superb, evocative writing.”


He’s been a popular college speaker for many years. Comments about his visits include “He gave a wonderful lecture, full of compelling images, to complement the substance of his talk” (Claremont McKenna); “…the event was a huge success. David packed the auditorium and we had community come to our lecture who had never been on campus before! … he’s charming, witty and very interesting” (University of Nevada Reno); and “David is a wonderful guy, and everyone enjoyed his lecture and his other interactions with people during his visit.  Another winner – thank you!” (University of Wisconsin).


Let us know if you’d like to bring David to your organization, campus, or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!



Civil/Human Right champion Lateefah Simon – a closer look

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Happy Wednesday! Today, we’re taking a closer look at civil rights/human rights champion Lateefah Simon!

(Lateefah, second from left, at recent dedication of the Oscar Grant mural at Fruitvale Station in San Francisco)


A nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice, Lateefah has over 20 years of executive experience advancing opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities. Raised in San Francisco, Lateefah began organizing at age 15 for the Center for Young Women’s Development. At 19-years-old she was appointed Executive Director of CYWD, where she served 11 years and brought the organization to national acclaim. At 26, her work earned her the distinction of the youngest woman ever to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. She went on to lead the creation of San Francisco’s first reentry services division under the leadership of then District Attorney Kamala D. Harris. Lateefah later served as Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Program Director at the Rosenberg Foundation.


Currently, Lateefah is President of the Akonadi Foundation, an organization that funds and nurtures racial justice movement building to eliminate structural racism and expand opportunity for youth of color. She is also a California State University Trustee, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016 to serve the largest public university system in the world.


She was elected to represent the seventh district on the Bay Area Rapid Transit District board of directors in 2016. Her motivations for running included her reliance on BART, as someone legally blind and unable to drive. Her priorities for BART are affordability, accessibility, and accountability for transit-dependent people and working families.


Please contact us for more information about having Lateefah Simon speak at your institution or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!


National Book Award winning author Charles Johnson: a closer look

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re going to take a longer look at author/scholar Charles Johnson.

Actually, the full ‘slash line’ would be author/Buddhist scholar/cartoonist/philosopher/photojournalist/television producer…


When asked about the difference between visual art and writing, Johnson said “…when you’re talking about language, you have the possibility of multiple levels of meaning. If I shifted at all from the image to the word it’s because the word is polymorphous and you can create a work of fiction that has more dimensions than a drawing or even a film.”


Johnson’s first published work (in fact, perhaps his first thousand published works!) were cartoons! His first was published when he was 17; when he graduated from college, he produced a PBS children’s show called “Charlie’s Pad” which featured his visual art as well.

When he won the National Book Award (for MIDDLE PASSAGE) in 1990, he was only the second African-American to win this honor (Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN, picture on the right of Dr. Johnson, being the first).


His newest work is NIGHT HAWKS, a collection of his short fiction


Asked about his study of Buddhism, Johnson said “I still have my roots in Christianity, but have a deep involvement in all forms of Asian thought and meditation. I meditate and I read the literature, and I do other related disciplines because it feels right for me…”


After five decades of writing, Johnson is not done: “I love the process of writing. I am at my fullest when I’m writing. I can think of no activity that brings so much of everything that I am—everything I’ve learned, everything I feel, all the techniques at my disposal—into one suspended moment that is the work of art. So it’s very exhausting when it’s working exactly right.”

(All quotes from the December 31st, 2016 edition of The Writer’s Workshop Review)


Please contact us for more information about hosting Charles Johnson at your conference or institution!


And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!