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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: physics, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 59
26. Hunting the Neutrino

By Frank Close

Ray Davis was the first person to look into the heart of a star. He did so by capturing neutrinos, ghostly particles that are produced in the centre of the Sun and stream out across space. As you read this, billions of them are hurtling through your eyeballs at almost the speed of light, unseen.

Neutrinos are as near to nothing as anything we know, and so elusive that they are almost invisible. When Davis began looking for solar neutrinos in 1960, many thought that he was attempting the impossible. It nearly turned out to be: 40 years would pass before he was proved right, leading to his Nobel Prize for physics in 2002, aged 87.

In June 2006, I was invited by The Guardian newspaper to write his obituary. An obituary necessarily focuses on the one person, but the saga of the solar neutrinos touched the lives of several others, scientists who devoted their entire careers chasing the elusive quarry, only to miss out on the Nobel Prize by virtue of irony, chance, or, tragically, by having already died.

Of them all, the most tragic perhaps is the genius Bruno Pontecorvo.

Pontecorvo was a remarkable scientist and a communist, working at Harwell after the war. When his Harwell colleague Klaus Fuchs was exposed as an atom spy in 1950, Pontecorvo immediately fled to the USSR. This single act probably killed his chances of Nobel Prizes.

In the following years, Pontecorvo developed a number of ideas that could have won him one or more Nobels. But his papers were published in Russian, and were unknown in the West until their English translations appeared up to two years later. By this time others in the USA had come up with the same ideas, later winning the Nobel Prize themselves.

Amongst his ideas, one involved an experiment which Soviet facilities could not perform. But most ironic were Pontecorvo’s insights about neutrinos.

Ray Davis had detected solar neutrinos – but not enough of them. For years, many of us involved in this area of research thought Davis’ experiment must have been at fault. But Pontecorvo had another theory which indicated that like chameleons, neutrinos changed their form en route across space from the Sun to Earth. And he was right. It took many years to prove it, but by 2000 the whole saga was completed. Davis duly won his Nobel Prize, but so many years had elapsed that Pontecorvo by then was dead.

So although my piece for The Guardian began as the life story of Ray Davis, Pontecorvo was there behind the scenes to such an extent that it became his story also. It is also the story of John Bahcall, Davis’ lifelong collaborator, who, to the surprise of many, was not included in the Nobel award.

The lives of these three great scientists were testimony to what science is all about: as Edison put it, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

A final sobering thought to put our human endeavors in context: those neutrinos that passed through you when you started reading this article are by now well on their way to Mars.

Frank Close OBE is Professor of Physics at Oxford Univeristy and a Fellow of Exeter College.  He is formerly Head of the Theoretical Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and Head of Communications and Public Education at CERN. He has written several books including The Void, Antimatter, 0 Comments on Hunting the Neutrino as of 1/1/1900

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27. What is Energy?

By Jennifer Coopersmith


Energy is the go of things, the driver of engines, devices and all physical processes. It can come in various forms (electrical, chemical, rest mass, curvature of spacetime, light, heat and so on) and change between these forms, but the total is always conserved. Newton missed energy and it was Leibniz who discovered kinetic energy (he called it vis viva). The idea was promoted on the continent, chiefly by one family, the Swiss family of feuding mathematicians, the Bernoullis, in the first half of the 18th century. The more subtle concept, potential energy, slipped in over a hundred years, uninvited, like the 13th fairy at the party.

In Feynman’s profound allegory (‘Dennis the Menace’ playing with blocks), energy is defined by its property of being conserved. But, this doesn’t answer to all our intuitions about energy. Why does it change smoothly between its various forms? For example, when a child swings on a swing, her kinetic energy decreases as the swing climbs (and gains gravitational potential energy) and then, as the swing descends, she goes faster and faster.

A different approach holds the answer. Consider the walk to the shops. You could take the shortest route or you could optimize other aspects, e.g. take a longer route but less hilly, or more shady or with the least number of road-crossings. Nature also works in this optimizing way: it tries to minimize the total ‘action’ between a starting place and a final destination. ‘Action’ is defined as ‘energy’ times ‘time’, and, in order to minimize action, the energy must be able to change in a prescribed way, smoothly and continuously, between its two forms, kinetic and potential energy, (The Principle of Least Action was discovered by an eccentric Frenchman, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, while head of the Berlin Academy of Science, in the mid 18th century.)

What are kinetic and potential energy? Kinetic energy is the energy of motion of an individual body whereas potential energy is the energy of interaction of parts within a system. Potential energy must be specified for each new scenario, but kinetic energy comes in one essential form and is more fundamental in this sense. However, as potential energy relates to internal aspects (of a system), it doesn’t usually change for differently moving ‘observers’. For example, the game of billiards in the lounge of the ocean liner continues unaffected, whether that liner is coasting smoothly at 30 kph or whether it’s moored to a buoy. The kinetic energy of the liner is vastly different in the two cases.

But sometimes potential energy and even mass do change from one ‘reference frame’ to another. The more fundamental quantity is the ‘least action’, as this stays the same, whatever the (valid) ‘observer’.

Heat energy is the sum of the individual microscopic kinetic energies. But the heat energy and the kinetic energy of an everyday object are very different (e.g. the kinetic energy of a kicked football and the heat energy of a football left to warm in the sun). In fact, for the early 19th century natural philosophers, considering heat as a form of energy was like committing a category error. The slow bridging of this error by people like Daniel Bernoulli, Count Rumford, Robert Julius Mayer and James Joule makes a very interesting tale.

With regards to the looming energy crisis and global warming, here are the things we must remember:

1. Nature always counts the true cost, even if we don’t
2. There is no such thing as safe energy – it is energetic, after all
3. As the sink of all our activities becomes warmer, so all our ‘engines’, cars and humans etc, will run less efficiently
4. We must consider not only energy but also ‘least action’ – and take action.

Jenn

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28. The Everafter

The Everafter by Amy Huntley. HarperCollins. 2009. Review copy supplied by publisher. High school.

The Plot: "I'm dead." There is much she doesn't remember, not even her name. But she knows that once she was alive, with a body, and now she is dead. Objects are floating....keys. Pine cone. Bracelet. Sweatshirt. Touch the sweatshirt, and suddenly she is a place, a time, a when, a where, and finally, a name. Maddy. Madison Stanton. 17. She's dead. But why?

The Good: Each object, bracelet, keys, sweatshirt, is something that, when alive, Maddy lost. Touching the object brings Maddy back to that time, that moment, and she can relive that memory again and again and again. If, in that captured moment, alive-Maddy finds the object, the door is shut and that memory cannot be revisited.

So a ghost story. A dead girl revisiting her life story.

With physics.

Maddy, revisiting a physics class: "something can be two things at once, and that observing them influences which of the two they are... Ms. Winters has moved to talking about how everything in the universe is connected in ways that can't always be seen or understood. ...at the subatomic level no time has to pass for one particle to know about and be affected by what's happening to another." Maddy's head is about to explode, and so is mine, but what Huntley has done is taken the fantastical (the afterlife, ghosts, Heaven) and wrapped it in science.

Touch an object, visit that time, and so alive-Maddy and dead-Maddy are there, both at the same time. At some point Maddy realizes she can influence the past, her life; an object may be found, a bit of reality shifted. But no matter what little difference she makes, which gives her a feeling of disquiet as she erases one memory and creates another, the end remains the same. She is Madison Stanton. She never visits a time later than age seventeen. And the way this works and intertwines, changes, being and observing -- is all explained by physics.

Madison's journey through her life is not offered in a linear fashion; she jumps in time, back and forth, and we get a scattered feel for her life and family. She is in love with Gabe, happy to be wearing his sweatshirt; then she is meeting him at her sister's wedding. Madison plays with her friend Sandra, then she is six and in Disney World, then she is eleven. She is enemies with Tammy, then friends, then the slumber party that ended their friendship. Slowly, for both Madison and the reader, the puzzle of her life, her death, her afterlife is revealed.

Huntley offers a few possibilities as to why, and how, Maddy died. While not a classic whodunit mystery, there is suspense, and Maddy is trying to find out why she lost that which is most important to us all. Life.

Inventive story telling, beautiful language, a book that gets better on rereading, a narrator whose death you mourn and dread even though you know its unavoidable; it's easy to see why this is on the Morris Award shortlist.

As an adult reading this: I

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29. Oops--Siphon Definition Defied Law of Gravity


This week Australian physicist Dr. Stephen Hughes of the Queensland University of Technology found an error in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and he is having it corrected. The definition in question is for the word “siphon.” The definition, which has been followed by most other dictionaries, has been in error for the last 99 years. The following is the OED definition:
A pipe or tube of glass, metal or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.
Margot Charlton of the OED’s staff explained, “The OED entry for siphon dates from 1911 and was written by editors who were not scientists.” She was surprised that nobody had queried the definition in those 99 years. The definition of siphon will be corrected in the next edition of the OED.

Atmospheric pressure is involved to start the process of moving the liquid up the shorter leg of the siphon. However, once the fluid is over the bend in the tube, it is gravity, the weight of the liquid, that pulls the it down the longer leg.

Dr. Hughes reported, “An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon.” I guess he did not check Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, which provides the following definition:
1 a : a tube bent to form two legs of unequal length by which a liquid can be transferred to a lower level over an intermediate elevation by the pressure of the atmosphere in forcing the liquid up the shorter branch of the tube immersed in it while the excess of weight of the liquid in the longer branch when once filled causes a continuous flow
Amsco has editors who are scientists, but we are human and sometimes make a mistake. Like the OED, once we become aware of it, we correct it in the next reprint.

I got the idea for this post from my son, Don, who sent me a link to an article in The Register, an Information Technology journal from the United Kingdom. I enjoyed the article so much that I subscribed. On Tuesday, I saw the following headline in the science section of The Register: “Siphon Wars: Pressurist Weighs into Gravitite Boffin. This could be trouble, I thought, and it was. Rather than try to paraphrase (see tomorrow’s post by Lauren), I decided to quote from The Register.
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30. How Good Are Your Sunglasses?

As I age, I am beginning to be more aware of the importance of protecting myself from the sun. I wear sunscreen, even in the winter. However I am not really good about putting on my sunglasses. I do have an anti-UV coating on my bifocals, which I hope is helpful, and when I remember them, I have stylish clip-on polarized sunglasses. I recently read an article that got me thinking more about sunglasses and ultraviolet radiation (UV).

As you can see from the top bar in the diagram above, there are different forms of light, ultraviolet and visible. Human eyes detect visible light, which divides into blue, green, and red, as shown on the bottom bar. (We detect infrared as heat.) Ultraviolet light is part of the spectrum of light; its wavelength is shorter than that of visible light. Some animals, such as bees and some birds can see in ultraviolet light, and many flowers and birds have patterns that are only visible in ultraviolet light. Humans cannot see ultraviolet light. However, parts of the eye such as the cornea, the lens, and the retina can be damaged when they absorb too much UV light. Some scientists think that exposure to UV light may cause cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye.

All UV light is more energetic than visible light, which is why it causes damage. The shorter the wavelength of light, the more energetic it is. The more energetic the light is, the more damage it can cause. As you can see from the bottom part of the diagram, there are several types of ultraviolet light. Because our atmosphere protects us from the most of the other forms of ultraviolet radiation, we should be most concerned with UVA and UVB. UVA has a longer wavelength than UVB. In addition to damaging our eyes, UVA and UVB cause sunburn and skin cancer.

With this in mind, I went to my ophthalmologist to have my eyes checked. He gave me a new prescription for lenses. I took my prescription to a local eyeglass shop (Wize Eyes), where the friendly saleswoman helped me pick out stylish new frames. Knowing that I tend to forget to put on my sunglasses, I chose lenses that darken in sunlight and protect my eyes from UV light. This picture was taken in a cloudy evening, so the lenses do not look very dark.

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31. On the Practitioners of Science

By Jennifer Coopersmith

There is a Jane Austen-esque phrase in my book: “it is a ceaseless wonder that our universal and objective science comes out of human – sometimes all too human – enquiry”. Physics is rather hard to blog, so I’ll write instead about the practitioners of science – what are they like? Are there certain personality types that do science? Does the science from different countries end up being different?

Without question there are fewer women physicists than men physicists and, also without question, this is a result of both nature and nurture. Does it really matter how much of the ‘blame’ should be apportioned to nature and how much to nurture? Societies have evolved the way they have for a reason, and they have evolved to have less women pursuing science than men (at present). Perhaps ‘intelligence’ has even been defined in terms of what men are good at?

Do a disproportionate number of physicists suffer from Asperger Syndrome (AS)? I deplore the fashion for retrospectively diagnosing the most famous physicists, such as Newton and Einstein, as suffering in this way. However, I’ll jump on the bandwagon and offer my own diagnosis: these two had a different ‘syndrome’ – they were geniuses, period. Contrary to common supposition, it would not be an asset for a scientist to have AS. Being single-minded and having an eye for detail – good, but having a narrow focus of interest and missing too much of the rich tapestry of social and worldly interactions – not good, and less likely to lead to great heights of creativity.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the science of energy was concentrated in two nations, England and France. The respective scientists had different characteristics. In England (strictly, Britain) the scientists were made up from an undue number of lone eccentrics, such as the rich Gentleman-scientists, carrying out researches in their own, privately–funded laboratories (e.g. Brook Taylor, Erasmus Darwin, Henry Cavendish and James Joule) and also religious non-conformists, of average or modest financial means (e.g. Newton, Dalton, Priestley and Faraday). This contrasts with France, where, post-revolution, the scientist was a salaried professional and worked on applied problems in the new state institutions (e.g. the French Institute and the École Polytechnique). The quality and number of names concentrated into one short period and one place (Paris), particularly in applied mathematics, has never been equalled: Lagrange, Laplace, Legendre, Lavoisier and Lamarck, – and these are only the L’s. As the historian of science, Henry Guerlac, remarked, science wasn’t merely a product of the French Revolution, it was the chief cultural expression of it.

There was another difference between the English and French scientists, as sloganized by the science historian Charles Gillispie: “the French…formulate things, and the English do them.” For example, Lavoisier developed a system of chemistry, including a new nomenclature, while James Watt designed and built the steam engine.

From the mid-19th century onwards German science took a more leading role and especially noteworthy was the rise of new universities and technical institutes. While many German scientists had religious affiliations (for example Clausius was a Lutheran), their science was neutral with regards to religion, and this was different to the trend in Britain. For example, Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) talked of the Earth “waxing old” and other quotes from the Bible, and, although he was not explicit, appears to have had religious objections to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (at any rate, he wanted his ‘age of the Earth calculations’ to contradict Darwin’s Theory).

Whereas personal, cultural, social, economic and political factors will undoubtedly influence the course of science, the ultimate laws must be free of all such associations. Presumably the laws of Thermodynamics would still

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32. Robert's Snow Poll Results



OK, 10 people voted yesterday (thank you, you 10, I know it was kinda slow with new pages opening), and here are the results.

Have you been reading the snowflake blog features?
Yes 6
Some of them 4

Did you bid on a snowflake last year?
No 7
Yes 1

Do you plan to bid on a snowflake this year?
Yes 9
No 0

What is the most you can spend on a snowflake?
$50-$75    3
$75-$100    2
$100-$150    4
$150-$200    2
Sky's the limit    0

Do you already have a snowflake picked out?
Yes 7
No 2

How did you learn about the snowflake?
A blog post about that snowflake 5
Other 2
Exploring the Robert's Snow website 1

Now I'm off to check on the flakes I bid on yesterday. I think I bid on 3 and was quickly outbid on all of them. Have to see if I can afford to raise my bid at all!

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33. Big Answers With A Big Bang

Frank Close, OBE, is Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. He was formerly vice president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Head of the Theoretical Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and Head of Communications and Public Education at CERN. He received the Institute of Physics’ Kelvin Medal in 1996, awarded for outstanding contributions to the public understanding of physics. He is the author of The Void, Very Short Introduction to Particle Physics, The Particle Odyssey and many more.  Also, look for Antimatter in January, Close’s newest book.

We asked Close to explain the importance of the Large Hadron Collider to us.  He kindly sent us the post below and the following analogy, comparing the journey for answers about the origin of the universe to sewing a tapestry:  “The quest is like sewing a tapestry, but one where the picture is only revealed as you do so. First you have to make a needle, then feed it with thread and then finally start sewing. It took 20 years to design and build the needle. Last Wednesday we started to put thread through the needle’s eye. It will take some time before we have enough thread, tightly enough wrapped and in sufficient colors to start sewing. That will be later this year or next spring. If we are lucky there may be some parts of the picture where the image quickly comes clear; other parts of the picture may take a lot of time and careful work before the images can be discerned.”

Keep reading to find out the answers this tapestry may hold.

Only nature knows what happened in the long-ago dawn of the Big Bang; but soon humans will too. The visions of the new world will hopefully be tomorrow’s stories. If you want a machine to show how the universe was in the moments of creation, you don’t find it in the scientific instrument catalogs: you have to build it yourself. And so scientists and engineers around the world pooled their knowledge to build the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Immediately there were problems. Beyond the ability of a single continent, this became a truly global endeavor; unparalleled in ambition, in political and financial challenges. At its conception, the state of the art in cryogenics, magnets, information technology, and a whole range of technologies was far short of what would be required for the LHC to work. The whole enterprise relied on the belief that bright ideas would emerge to solve problems, any one of which could have proved a show-stopper. There were many who feared that particle physics had bitten off more than it could chew; that the LHC was over-ambitious; that this would be the end of physics.

Now we are almost there. Wednesday, Sept 10 when the current was turned on, and for the first time a beam of protons circulated through the vacuum tubes colder than outer space, was just the start. The next step will be to send two beams, in opposite directions – well, that’s been done but not yet intensely enough to smash into one another and produce data. That is still for the future. At first, and for some months, they are likely to be too diffuse and low energy to produce anything of great use to science. Only later when high energy intense beams collide, and the debris from those mini-bangs pour through the gargantuan detectors, which in turn speed signals to the waiting computers, will the moment we’ve waited for have arrived. A year or two accumulating data and the first answers to the big questions will begin to emerge.

The seeds of matter were created in the aftermath of the Big Bang: quarks, which clustered together making protons and neutrons as the newborn universe cooled, and the electron, which today is found in the outer reaches of atoms. We and everything hereabouts are made of atoms. In the sun and stars intense heat rips atoms apart into their constituents, electrons, protons and neutrons.

By colliding beams of particles, such as electrons or protons, head-on, it is possible to simulate the high-energy hot conditions of the stars and the early universe. At CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) in the 1980s a machine called LEP (Large Electron Positron collider) collided electrons and their antimatter analogues, positrons, fast enough that they mutually annihilated and created for brief moments in a region smaller than an atom, the conditions that occurred within a billionth of a second of the Big Bang. Trying to reach time zero is like finding the end of the rainbow, and the LHC will take us ten to a hundred times further than ever before. At the LHC the beams of protons will pack a bigger punch and their collisions will show how the universe was at its infancy and perhaps give us some insight to how the universe evolved.

Within a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, the material particles from which we are made, and the disparate forces that act on them, had become encoded into the fabric of the universe. However, the events that led our universe to win the lottery of life were decided earlier than this. Some of them we believe occurred in the epoch that is now within our reach. That is what the LHC promises to reveal.

As the 21st century begins, physics can explain almost all of the fundamental phenomena revealed in the search for our origins, yet there are niggling loose ends. We see hints of a unified theory vaguely in the shadows, but what it is and how the structures that led to the particles and forces that molded us are still perceived only vaguely.

Why are there three spatial dimensions; could there be more? Cosmology suggests that “normal matter” is but one percent of the whole, and that we are but flotsam on a sea of “dark matter”. What that dark sea consists of, how it was formed, why there is any matter at all rather than a hellish ferment of radiation, are unknown.

Why is there structure and solidity to matter when our theories would be happier if everything flitted around at the speed of light? Theorists believe that all structure and ultimately the solidity of matter are the result of a field of force that today permeates the universe known as the Higgs field. This can be made to reveal itself if the conditions are right. For example, as an electromagnetic field can be stimulated to send out electromagnetic waves, so can the Higgs field create waves. However to create these waves requires huge energy. The LHC has been designed to achieve these conditions. As an electromagnetic wave comes in quantum bundles, particles known as photons, so the Higgs waves will come in the form of particles known as Higgs bosons.

There is also the question: why there is anything at all? In the beginning there was nothing: “there was darkness on the face of the void”. Then came a burst of energy: “let there be light and there was light”, though from where it came no-one knows. What we do know is what happened next: this energy coagulated into matter and its mysterious opposite, antimatter, in perfect balance. Anti-matter destroys anything it touches in a pyrotechnic flash. So how did the early universe manage to survive self-annihilation between the newly born matter and antimatter? Something as yet unknown must have occurred in those first moments to upset the balance. For several years we have glimpsed a subtle asymmetry between arcane forms of matter and antimatter made from “strange” and “bottom” quarks and antiquarks. One of the goals of the LHC will be to produce large numbers of particles of bottom matter and their antimatter counterparts in the hope of finding the source of the asymmetry between matter and antimatter.

Ultimately however, this is a voyage of discovery into a world that once existed but was lost in the sands of time, 13.6 billion years ago. Like some astonishing Jurassic Park, the LHC will show once more what that epoch was like. We have ideas of what is to be found, and there are certainly questions, such as those above, whose answers we crave. But in focusing on them like this we are getting ahead of ourselves. We are at the stage of witnessing remarkable engineering, and it is those we should be applauding; as for discoveries in fundamental science – watch this space.

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34. The Agenda of a Biographer Counts


The DK biography series “A Photographic Story of a Life” picks very well documented subjects. In doing the research for Marie Curie, published in August, I must have brought home at least twenty biographies on her for both children and adults. My problem: What on earth can I bring to the party that that will set my book apart from all the others (aside from the compact and jazzy format set by the publisher)? The answer: me as author.

You see, I have an agenda. I want to get kids interested in science. Marie Curie’s work is intimately connected with the work of other scientists during the twenty-or-so years when chemistry and physics came together and culminated in modern atomic theory—a model of the atom that explained the behavior of gases, chemical reactions, electricity, light, changes of state of matter, radioactivity, the periodic table—in short just about every bit of data that had been accumulating over the previous 200 years in the disciplines of chemistry and physics. A bio of Marie Curie gave me the opportunity to tell a part of that story through the life of an interesting female scientist. For me, it is one fascinating tale.

I also have a bit of biography myself. I know from having been around for a while that there are themes and threads in the life of any multi-faceted human being. Telling a life story by sticking to chronology can make a reader’s eyes glaze over. But telling how a thread develops can be an interesting narrative in itself. Marie was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a patriot of Poland, an expatriot living in France, and the other woman in a sex scandal in addition to be a driven scientist. It was fun to weave in all these threads to the big ideas of the scientific revolution she was a part of. She was a woman in a man’s world and I know what that feels like from some of my experiences, such as being the only female in a pre-med Columbia College organic chemistry course or speaking at the Fermi Lab.

As a children’s book author yet another discipline is imposed on the telling of a story. I am terrified of boring the reader. Most people’s lives don’t unfold like a well-crafted drama. Yet, the demands of today’s entertainment-saturated readers means that I could lose my reader after any sentence. That awareness has been conditioned in me for many years. Above all, it is imperative for those of us who write nonfiction to write a good read.

I think it is the job of a biographer to find points of connectedness with the subject. I found many with Marie Curie as I did with my first DK bio on Harry Houdini. These people were successful and worthy of our admiration because they, too, had agendas that gave their lives purpose and meaning. My life and my biographies have both been enhanced by finding ways for their agendas to fit in with mine.

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35. Top Ten Reasons Physics is Like Sex

  1. What goes up, must come down.
  2. You never want to start anything with a headache.
  3. New discoveries are always being made.
  4. Vectors, vectors, vectors.
  5. It doesn’t hurt once you get used to it. Some people even enjoy it.
  6. One word: Friction.
  7. Size isn’t everything. Sometimes the smaller ones take longer to do.
  8. For every push there’s an equal and opposite shove.
  9. Simple harmonic motion.
  10. It’s always fun to experiment.

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36. Top Ten Reasons to Study Physics

  1. Getting grant money to play.
  2. It has its quarks.
  3. You can finally find something colder than your ex.
  4. It makes you look intelligent.
  5. The more you learn, the less you know, and the more you know, the less you learn. Thanks Heisenberg.
  6. Rocks are too dirty.
  7. If you’re lucky you can glow in the dark after your experiments.
  8. You used to smash cars as a child. Now you smash atoms.
  9. “But officer, if I drive really fast I won’t age as quickly.”
  10. Schrödinger’s Cat was never meant ot be dissected.

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37. Top Ten Reasons to Study Physics

  1. Getting grant money to play.
  2. It has its quarks.
  3. You can finally find something colder than your ex.
  4. It makes you look intelligent.
  5. The more you learn, the less you know, and the more you know, the less you learn. Thanks Heisenberg.
  6. Rocks are too dirty.
  7. If you’re lucky you can glow in the dark after your experiments.
  8. You used to smash cars as a child. Now you smash atoms.
  9. “But officer, if I drive really fast I won’t age as quickly.”
  10. Schrödinger’s Cat was never meant ot be dissected.

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38. Playing God - Man vs. Fly

Last night, I was feeling philosophical, but had nothing to ponder on. I looked at my PC and was struck with the sheer lack of technical expertise I had in electronics, rendering any opinion I had on the intricacies of the device around 10 years out of date. I started looking on Wikipedia, before feeling pretty belittled by my lack of knowledge of space physics. Then, inspiration hit me. Actually, it hit the window.

“Bzzzz. Whack. Bzzzzzz. Whack. Bzzzzz. Whack”. I looked around to try and locate the origin of such debacle, then I saw it. A fly was buzzing around, hitting off the window repeatedly.

I found myself at a fork in the path of destiny in my life. It would have been easy to ignore the offending beast and go back to my scholarship on the theorised negative pressures exhibited by dark matter. But no, unfortunately I chose the other path open to me: I concentrated on the fly.

Bzzzzzz. Whack. Bzzzzzz. Whack.

On watching the poor creature, I couldn’t help but admire its boundless stoicism and determination. However, the net feeling in my mind was not one of reckless pity. It was more a feeling of disappointment. I wasn’t disappointed in the fly: how could a creature that is probably less than a day old really understand the enormity of its stupidity? Rather, I was disappointed with evolution. I had really hoped that over two billion years of cumulative learning and development, the animal kingdom would have overcome such a barrier.

Image via Wikipedia

Evolution is always cited as such a wonderfully intelligent thing. Even as I write this, I can hear Richard Attenborough saying, “Look how the tree has learned to lean towards the sunlight.”. Of course there is far more to be said for evolution and its wonderful creations. But 2 billion years? I had really hoped for more.

Bzzzzzzz. Whack.

I was starting to get quite upset. If I was locked in a room the size of earth for 2 billion years, I would have expected to design a fly that could learn from its mistakes.

Bzzzzzzz. Whack.

The window was dirty, I noticed with increasing desperation. Surely the resultant deviation from transparency would register with the fly?

Bzzzzzzzz. Whack.

This was the last straw. I had to do it, I had to be the vector for natural selection. From that moment on, any offspring of the fly would spend their entire adult lives whacking into inanimate objects without the brainpower to overcome such a simple problem.

Bzzzzzz. Whack. I knew then, if I didn’t do it, the animal kingdom would be doomed. I reached for a newspaper. I rolled it up in my hands. The future of the world was in my hands.

 

Image via Wikipedia

Bzzzzzz. Whack. This only steeled my resolve. I made my move. The fly, with almost pre-cognitive reflexes, dodged to the side and flew away. Knowing that my newspaper probably created a pressure wave that aided the fly in its escape, I poked holes in my holy smiting tool, ready to continue in my role as God of evolution.

Bzzzzzzz. Whack. The fly was back. I leapt at it.

The ensuing struggle was too horrible to even describe. The bloodshed? Non-existent. The perspiration on my brow? Fairly prominent. The fly? Still alive. My curtains? In a heap on the floor. My desktop belongings? Scattered. My glass of coke? Spilt.

The fly had won. I slumped in a heap of desolation on the floor. I couldn’t help but wonder if the attempts to get through the window were simply an ingenious experiment to prove quantum theory (if you hit an object enough times you will go through it) or if the fly’s erogenous zones were on its forehead. Either way, the little bugger had won.

Bzzzzzzz. Whack. Back to trying to decipher space physics, I suppose.

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39. Real space battles


Okay, I know nobody is even reading blogs this week, but I didn’t want this to pass by unnoted: an awesome post on Gizmodo about the realities of battles in space. Love it.

– Joni, a former physics major who is driven crazy when books have plot elements that break the laws of the universe as we know it

Posted in Joni Sensel Tagged: battles, physics, space

2 Comments on Real space battles, last added: 12/21/2009
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40. Robert's Snow...Meet Illustrator Shawna Tenney!


Today's illustrator feature for the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure Fundraiser is Shawna Tenney, an artist with a gift for whimsy and, as you'll see in her snowflake, a child's playfulness.

Blogger's Note:  I'm a children's author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles. Today's feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class.



Shawna Tenney has illustrated many books, such as Allie's Bike, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, A Very Strange Place, and In the Sun.

   

She first wanted to be a ballerina, but finding out it wasn't made for her, she discovered writing and illustrating.  She now lives in Utah with her husband, Warren, and two daughters, Cassidy and Madeline, and don't forget Bongo the Cat!

  


We interviewed Shawna Tenney.  Here are our questions and her answers:




First of all, please tell us about your snowflake. Where did the idea for the frog fairy come from?

Well, sometimes I don't really know where my ideas come from.  I was looking at my snowflake, and all I could see was a big beehive hairdo and wings.  A fat frog lady hopped in there randomly.

Why did you join the Robert's Snow fundraiser?

I found out about it on a friend's blog, and really wanted to participate, mostly because my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I was very excited to participate in a fund raiser for cancer research in which I could use my talents.   I dedicated my snowflake to my mom and my good friend Amber, an 11 year old who has leukemia.

Why do you like being an illustrator?

Wow, what is there not to like.  I can stay at home with my kids while I work and make my own schedule (although at times this can be a challenge).  I get paid for doing something I love to do.

How much practice does it take to be an illustrator? 

Well, I have a bachelor's degree, so I have had as much schooling as most other professionals.  I have always loved drawing and have been doing it since I was very little.  It takes many hours to complete a painting.  First I have to get the sketch just right with a composition I am happy with.  Then I have to transfer that sketch onto a board.  Sometimes I do a color study on the computer to decide what colors I am going to use.  Then the painting itself takes many many hours.

How many paintings have you done?  Do you have a favorite?

Oh goodness, I have done countless paintings.  I have big bins full of old paintings.  I kind of stick to one style now, but I've gone through many different styles and mediums.  I think one of my favorite paintings right now is "The Queen of Sheep-baa." 



I really like making animal characters and want to do many more, maybe even someday a book with some fun animal characters.

Where do you get your inspirations for paintings? Do you ever get ideas from your family?

I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators.  As for my ideas, I get those from many things including things I used to imagine as a child, and things that are going on with my family.  Sometimes my imagination comes up with things out of nowhere.  A lot of the time I am doing jobs for a client and they tell me what to draw (which is certainly not as fun).  I really like fairy tales.  I like to modernize them and make them silly.  In fact, I'm working on a whole new website based on silly fairy tales.  Come back and visit my website in a couple months to see what I mean.  My little three year old, Cassidy, is really into fairy tales, so some of the things she enjoys inspire me.  Some of the things she says and does give me ideas for stories that I would like to write and illustrate.  My husband also helps me think of ideas.  He is a graphic designer, so he helps critique my work and helps me improve things.
 
Do you feel like you have a particular style of illustrating, and if so, how would you describe it?

I feel like I have my own children's storybook style.  I guess if I were to describe it, I would say, clean, detailed,colorful and whimsical with interesting angles and compositions (at least that's what I'm shooting for. . .).

Which do you prefer to draw - fantasy pictures or realistic ones?

Definitely fantasy.  I love making up my own worlds where anything can happen.
 
What medium do you usually paint in?

Acrylic Paints.  I do some black and white work with charcoal pencils and micron pens.

Have you ever thought about writing your own book? What would it be about?

Yes, I've actually written a few of my own, but have never gotten a story good enough to send out.  I think I would enjoy writing a picture book about a crazy fairy tale or about animal characters.

Now the rapid-fire questions...things that kids (and adults who think like them) need to know!

What is your favorite painter or painting of all time, and why?

How can I pick one?  Well, one of my favorites would be John William Waterhouse.  His skin tones are beautiful and I love his style and the way he applied his paint.  His subject matter was usually fairy-talesque.   There are countless other painters and illustrators I greatly admire.  A current artist I love is James Christensen.  If you saw his work, you would probably know why.

Favorite book ever?

Oh goodness, I can't just choose one.  I of course love the Harry Potter series.  One book I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  As for illustrated children's books, there are too many to count, but my favorite author/illustrators are Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg.

Your favorite kind of pie?

Banana Cream Pie.   Mmmmmmmmm!

Favorite sport?

Well, sorry folks, I'm not much of a sports fan.  I do enjoy watching some sports.  Actually, I'm more into dance, if you can count that as a sport.  I was actually thinking of being a ballet teacher in my earlier years before I decided to become an illustrator.

Your website gives your name as Shawna J.C. Tenney. What does the JC stand for?

Shawna Jean Calder Tenney
 
Favorite animal?

Sea Lions

Favorite color?

I don't think it is legal for an illustrator to choose just one favorite color.

We read about your cat on your website. How come you chose Bongo as his name?

We found Bongo in my parent in law's window well.  He was a sweet little orange kitten.  My husband chose Bongo as his name and  it stuck.

Has your cat Bongo ever helped with a painting?  Or ruined a painting?

Bongo posed for the cat talking on the phone on my website, although he was very embarrassed to have to dress up like a girl.  Sometimes Bongo tries to bite my feet while I'm painting.  Sometimes he tries to jump up on my lap or drink my painting water.  One time he stepped in my pallet and walked over my painting.  That wasn't the worst I've had though.  Cassidy who is now three has painted on several of my paintings that I had to get to clients.  Fortunately acrylics are forgiving and I was able to fix them.  Madeline, my one year old, hasn't ruined any paintings. . .yet.


 Thanks, Shawna, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving your time and talents for the Robert's Snow project!

Thank you!  It was really fun.  What a fun project for your classes to do!  Hope you're all having a great year



Please be sure to check out Shawna's snowflake and all of the amazing work at the Robert's Snow Auction Site.

And...to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Allie's Bike and a print signed by Shawna Tenney, please post a comment below, mentioning one of your favorite snowflakes in the Robert's Snow fundraiser.  You don't have to have a blog to win, but be sure we have a way to get in touch with you.  A winner will be drawn in early December, after the auction.


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41. Robert's Snow: Interview with Sylvia Long

I'm excited to have author/illustrator Sylvia Long here today for a blog interview. Sylvia Long is one of the many wonderful illustrators who has generously donated an original snowflake for the Robert's Snow auction to raise money for cancer research. Keep reading for a sneak peak at the snowflake!



1. How did you get involved in writing and illustrating?

It was an off-shoot of my 'regular art', but once I got the kid's book bug, I couldn't shake it. It's what I was meant to do all along.

2. What advice do you have for those of us who are trying to break into the world of writing for children?

1. Hone your skills. There's no shortcut.
2. Do your homework when ready to submit to publishers. Get Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Market.
3. Don't get discouraged. It can take awhile.

3. What artists/writers have influenced your work?

Ernest Shepard, Beatrix Potter, Jane Dyer, Lisbeth Zwerger

4. What are some of your favorite picture books now and from your childhood?

All the A.A. Milne books (Christopher Robin, Pooh, et.al.), Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit. Current favs: All of David Wiesner's books.

5. Do you have a favorite book among the ones you have worked on?

hmm... A favorite is hard. Hush Little Baby and Sylvia Long's Mother Goose.

6. Was there a particular book that was difficult for you to make work? How did you overcome the difficulties?

My first two non-fiction books were a challenge. [An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy] I worked with an excellent editor and book designer to solve the difficulties. 



7. Do you have any personal experiences with cancer?

Everyone does, I'm guessing. Three of my four grandparents died of cancer and 4 friends. My dad currently has cancer. On the more optimistic side, I also have 3 girl friends who are breast cancer survivors!



8. Please tell us a little bit about your snowflake.

I re-painted an image similar to one in Deck the Hall, publ. in 2000, but now out-of-print. Growing up in Iowa, I loved coming home from ice-skating on the flooded tennis courts, to hot cocoa and cookies. It's a fond memory and I like bringing those into my books when I can.

9. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Just that you folks organizing and accomplishing this huge effort in fund-raising are amazing, generous people. My hat is off to you all. Everyone could take a lesson from "Robert's Snow" in how to make a difference in the world.

Thanks, Sylvia! And let me just say, I am a HUGE fan of An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy. What beautiful, educational books they are!

Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.




 

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42. laurasalas @ 2007-11-04T08:13:00

 

 Lauren Stringer  


 

Lauren is a Minnesota author/illustrator who’s participating in Robert’s Snow this year! Two of my favorite books that she illustrated are Our Family Tree (by Lisa Westberg Peters) and Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs (by Linda Ashman). The beautiful Winter Is the Warmest Season, which came out in 2006, was her first book that she’s both wrote and illustrated.



Q&A about Lauren’s snowflake:

How did you (honestly) feel when you were approached to participate in Robert’s Snow?

This was my second time to paint a snowflake, so I was surprised and honored to be asked again. I was just finishing the illustrations for Snow, so it felt very natural to be painting another snowflake. I have never met Grace and Robert in person, but Grace Lin’s correspondence with me has been so warm and full of a vision and hope. I was so sad to read of Robert’s death. More than ever, I am honored to be a part of this project.

Which of your books is your snowflake most “like”?

Winter is the Warmest Season is the theme of the snowflake. I even wrote it on the snowflake because it is such a wonderful sentiment and a little joke too. We all know winter is the coldest season (at least in Minnesota!), so when you look at the cold outside of the snowflake you wonder, what could possibly be warm about winter? And then you turn it over and there is a huge cup of hot cocoa!

How did you come up with the idea for your snowflake?

I wanted to paint a snowflake with two opposing sides that were equally strong—using images from Winter is the Warmest Season was a natural choice.

Here’s Lauren's (maybe yours?) gorgeous snowflake!

 

What did you think about while you were working on it?

I was thinking It is so hot and dry this August, I wonder if this is due to global warming? I sure hope winter doesn’t really become the warmest season!

What medium is your snowflake?

Acrylic and gesso

Can you share a little about your artistic process on your snowflake?

It was interesting composing on a six-pointed shape. I loved painting the warm-side. I loved painting the color yellow. Lots of yellow.

Anything you’d like to say directly to the people who might be inspired to bid on your snowflake?

Hang this snowflake somewhere to remind you of the warmth of winter for whenever the cold winter blues hit. It works. Really.

 


Growing up in Florida made me someone who really appreciates all of the seasons, including winter! Lauren’s lovely snowflake got me thinking about all of the wondrous warm moments of January. I got so carried away, I wrote three different poems. But here’s my favorite:



More about Lauren:

Ever since she could hold a crayon, Lauren Stringer wanted to be an artist. (Although when she was in the second grade she wanted to be a deep-sea diver.) She received her BA in Art and Art History from the University of California, Santa Cruz and continued her art education with the Whitney Museum of American Art, Independent Study Program in NYC. She exhibited her paintings and sculptures in museums and galleries until 1994 when she painted her first children’s book, Mud, written by Mary Lyn Ray, which won the Minnesota Book Award, the IRA Children’s Choice Award, and Crayola Kids Best Book of the Year Award. Since Mud, she has painted many award-winning picture books including Our Family Tree, written by Lisa Westberg Peters and Fold Me A Poem, written by Kristine O’Connell George. Winter is the Warmest Season, the first book both authored and illustrated by Stringer was a Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2006. Snow, written by Cynthia Rylant, will be published fall 2008. She is currently illustrating One Night, written by Wendy Orr. Lauren Stringer lives and paints in a huge old Victorian house in Minneapolis, Minnesota,  with her husband, their two children, and three cats.

6 highlights in my illustration and writing journey (to echo the 6 points of the snowflake):

1. When I was an au pair in Paris at the age of 20, I went to the Centre Pompidou to see “real art”. In the lower level there was a magical exhibition of children’s book illustration with lots of originals and books in cases that in a jungle environment like Where the Wild Things Are.  I was enchanted.

2. Years ago, I was driving with Debra Frasier to work in a school together and she let me read her yet to be published manuscript, On the Day You Were Born. After reading it I cried, it was so beautiful. I had been a grown up for so long that I had forgotten how beautiful children’s books could be. 

3. Receiving the manuscript for Mud, by Mary Lyn Ray, in the mail. I had never seen a children’s book manuscript before and I thought it would be big and thick —but it was merely 2 pages long and this made me laugh. The day it arrived in May when I was digging in the garden with my daughter—we were covered in mud. It was a story with a destiny for me.

4. When Mud was published, I was going to return to my life as a “real artist” (painting and sculpture.), when my editor called and read the entire manuscript of Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant on the phone. Once again I cried. I remembered how beautiful a children’s book could be. 

5. Doing the research for Our Family Tree by Lisa Westberg Peters, was life-changing for me. Reading about and understanding 4.5 billion years of the history of life on earth and then trying to illustrate it (and Lisa’s beautiful text) became a spiritual journey I still have not recovered from, thankfully.

6. Several years ago, I met for coffee with two writer friends. We decided to start a writer’s group. It would be my first. We would call ourselves the “Inkslingers.” I was so excited to have my first writer’s group that I went home and wrote for three days. I loved what I wrote so much that I sent it to my editor and she loved it enough to say right away, let’s publish it. At the second meeting of Inkslingers, we had champagne to celebrate the publishing of Winter is the Warmest Season!

6 words that describe my art and/or artistic process?

6 things you don’t know about me and can’t learn from my site:

1. I love doing yoga.

2. I wish my studio were in a big old barn in the country.

3. I have lived in many places, but I still feel like a California-girl, even though I was born in Montana.

4. Honeycrisp apples are my favorite kind of apples.

5. My favorite color is green. My favorite color to paint is yellow. My least favorite color to paint is blue.

6. My favorite poet is Gerard Manley Hopkins.
 

I hope you’ve liked learning about Lauren and her passion for art and children’s literature. If you have any questions or comments for her, you can email her here.

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43. Robert's Snow Illustrator Spotlights Week 4

This week's schedule and commentary come courtesy of The Miss Rumphius Effect. Many THANKS to Tricia!

"As you know if you've been visiting any children's book blogs for the past few weeks, Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The snowflakes will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to cancer research. You can view all of the 2007 snowflakes here. Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have found a way for bloggers to help with this effort, by blogging about individual illustrators and their snowflakes. The idea is to drive traffic to the Robert's Snow site so that many snowflakes will be sold, and much money raised to fight cancer. The illustrator profiles have been wonderful so far - diverse and creative and colorful. And there are lots more to go.

Here's the schedule for Week 4, which starts Monday. As previously, this early schedule links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.

Monday, November 5

Tuesday, November 6

Wednesday, November 7

Thursday, November 8

Genevieve Cote
at a wrung sponge

Friday, November 9

Saturday, November 10

Sunday, November 11



Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

See also the following note from Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader:

Note to Blog Readers about Blogging for a Cure: When Jules of 7-Imp put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature artists who had created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007 at their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. As time was of the essence to get Blogging for a Cure underway, we worked with the list of artists whose snowflakes were already in possession of Dana-Farber. Therefore, not all the participating artists will be featured. This in no way diminishes our appreciation for their contributions to this worthy cause. We hope everyone will understand that once the list of artists was emailed to bloggers and it was determined which bloggers would feature which artists at their blogs, a schedule was organized and sent out so we could get to work on Blogging for a Cure ASAP. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness about Robert’s Snow and to promote the three auctions. We hope our efforts will help to make Robert’s Snow 2007 a resounding success. "

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44. Robert's Snow: Spotlight on Melanie Watt


Melanie Watt is one of the 200 wonderful picture book illustrators who has taken the time to create a unique snowflake for the Robert's Snow project. Robert's Snow is a group of auctions to raise money for cancer research. Please check out all the gorgeous snowflakes by visiting the Robert's Snow site. Not all snowflakes are being spotlighted on blogs.

Melanie Watt's snowflake will be available in the third (and final) auction, which runs from Dec 3-7. Here is a sneak peek. 

Who recognizes that cute little guy? Melanie Watt describes her snowflake like this:

"My snowflake is based on one of my book characters Scaredy Squirrel. This neurotic little worrywart is pretty much afraid of everything. Along with the snowflake there is a WARNING: Beware of frostbite.

P.S. I love the Mo Willems books !"

Here are some of the fabulous books she has worked on.



An all time favorite of mine. A riot, really. Winner of the Cybils 2006 in the fiction picture book category!







This sequel will not disappoint.






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45. Robert's Snow...Meet Illustrator Amy Young!

Today, as part of Blogging for a Cure,  we're featuring illustrator Amy Young and the snowflake she created for Robert's Snow -- a fantastic fund-raiser for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Blogger's Note:  I'm a children's author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles! Today's feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class!

Amy L. Young grew up in Watertown, MA. She started drawing at the age of three, and as she grew up, she dreamed of being an artist.  By going to the Cleveland Institute of Art for two years and then Yale, she accomplished this goal. Later on, her first book, Belinda the Ballerina, was published in 2003.  Like Belinda, Amy Young took dance lessons at the age of seven. She also wrote and illustrated two other books -- Belinda in Paris and Belinda and the Glass Slipper.  Her three books do not just attract young, enthusiastic dancers. They also attract adults and other children because of her wit and comedy.  Amy L. Young is a very talented writer and illustrator.

We had a chance to interview Amy about her snowflake and her work.

Globals:  First of all, we were enchanted by your snowflake. What was the inspiration for that design?  What made you think of Emmalina the Mud Fairy and the sunflower that you chose?

Amy: I'm glad you like my snowflake! Emmalina is a character from THE MUD FAIRY, a book I have written which will be published by BloomsburyUSA at some point (no publication date yet).  Emmalina is sort of a tom-boy fairy, who would rather stomp in mud puddles and play with frogs than be all delicate and dainty. But she does still take an occasional nap on a flower, as you see on the snowflake. The idea of  the sunflower just came to me as I was thinking about it. That's often how I get my best ideas; it's kind of like magic.



Globals: Why are you participating in Robert's Snow?   Do you have family/friends who have been affected by cancer?

Amy:  It is a great opportunity to do what I do best, and have it benefit a good cause. I really like that the entire illustration community has risen to the occasion to contribute. It feels good to be a part of a such a  large, generous community. And yes, I have lost loved ones to cancer: two aunts, and, most recently, a very dear friend. It is a cruel disease, and I like to think I might have some small part in fighting it.

Globals: Why do you like illustrating so much, and what inspired you to become an illustrator and writer?

Amy: I remember being in nursery school when I was three years old, gluing one piece of paper to another, and saying, "I am going to be an artist when I grow up." I have no idea why I have always felt such a strong connection to making images, but it seems to satisfy a need. I have always liked writing, and making picture books seemed the 
perfect way to combine those two things.

Globals: When you were young, what else did you want to be when you grew up?

Amy: Actually, nothing!

Globals: We're looking forward to reading about Belinda. What made you want to write about a ballerina?

Amy: The first Belinda story came to me in a flash -- it was as though I didn't make it up myself. It was just there. Looking back, I think I liked the idea of a ballerina with big feet. It was a funny image. But I also liked that she was incredibly graceful in spite of, or perhaps because of, her feet. It was a change to gently poke fun at 
people's prejudices and assumptions.

Globals: Are the ballerina books autobiographical at all? Did you write about Belinda having big feet because you do?

Amy: In most ways I am not like Belinda: I have small, wide feet, like a duck; I am not as shy as Belinda is, and I probably have a bit more of a temper;  I had never taken a ballet class before doing the first book. In spite of those differences, there is one major trait that Belinda and I have in common: I love doing art as much as she loves dancing. Interestingly, Belinda's love of dancing has rubbed off on me -- I now take ballet.

Globals: What's your favorite book that you wrote or illustrated?


Amy: I don't have a favorite, but right now I am very excited about the next Belinda book, which will come out on Valentine's Day. It is called Belinda Begins Ballet, and tells the story of how Belinda started dancing when she was a girl.

Globals: We read on your website that you've had a wide variety of jobs and even went to law school before your became an illustrator. Why did you decide to study law, and what made you leave it?

Amy: Well, I panicked. I didn't think that I would be able to make a living doing art, so I looked for something else. My father is a lawyer, and he loves his job, so I thought "I'll try that!" I was a lawyer for seven years. There was a lot that I liked about being a lawyer, but I really missed doing art -- just the way Belinda missed dancing. (Ah, there's the autobiographical part!)

Globals: We also noted that you didn't care for waitressing. How come?

Amy: I waitressed in a pizza place in a big city. When things got busy we were frantic trying to get everyone served, and some of the customers treated us as if we were barely human. Just not my cup of tea.

Globals: Now the rapid-fire questions...things that kids (and grownups who are just big kids) need to know!  What's your favorite book ever?

Amy: I really don't have one favorite book. I like so many books, and different books suit different moods.

Globals: What was your greatest accomplishment in life?

Amy: Wow. That's a toughie. I think it is sort of amazing that I managed to get through Harvard Law School (I worked very hard!), but in a way I would say getting my first book published was a bigger accomplishment, because it was closer to my heart.

Globals: Do you like sushi?

Amy: Yes!

Globals: What's your most embarrassing moment (that you're willing to share)?

Amy: That would be eleventh grade math class. I was the only one who got the answer to one of the homework problems, and I was asked to go up in front of the whole class and explain how I did it. So I did, but it turns out my method was all wrong and really pretty stupid. There was this terrible awkward silence, and a few people tittered, and I really did wish I could sink into the floor and just disappear. The funny thing is that now it would take a whole lot more than that to embarrass me. I like to laugh at myself, and it makes life a lot more fun.

Globals: Have you ever ridden a horse?

Amy: Yes, but I would rather pat one and feed it and brush it and tell it how lovely it is, instead of riding it. 

Globals: What's your biggest fear?

Amy: That I will be in the middle of a big presentation and my slides or PowerPoint will fail me. It's not that I'd be embarrassed so much as I wouldn't know what to do, because showing people images of what I do is so much a part of how I present material. I guess I would manage, but it would not be good.

Globals: Your favorite dessert?

Amy: Anything with chocolate!

Globals: Thanks, Amy, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving of your time and talents for the Robert's Snow project!

Amy: Thank YOU! One of the things I love about what I do is making contact with people like you!

Here is your chance to win a signed copy of one of Amy's books from the Belinda series.  All you have to do is leave a comment on one of the snowflakes from Auction #3, and we'll enter you in a drawing for that signed book. You can also visit Amy Young's website to learn more about her work.

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46. Robert's Snow: Mike Wohnoutka



I had heard of Mike Wohnoutka and seen several of his enticing, saturated-with-color books. 



But I don't know if I had ever officially met him before a Children's Literature Network event last year. Arthur Levine came to Minneapolis and sat down for a conversation with 30 or so local published authors and illustrators. Then most of us headed across the street for dinner. I sat at an empty end of the horseshoe-shaped dinner table and won the dinner-seat lottery. I spent the next couple of hours chatting with Arthur Levine, his cousin (a teacher, I believe, in Wisconsin), and Mike Wohnoutka. Mike was funny, soft-spoken, and gracious, and we all had great conversation about children's books (not to mention a tasty cheese plate).

So I was happy to pick him as one of the local illustrators I wanted to feature here on Blogging for a Cure, an orchestrated bloggers' effort to help raise funds for cancer research by spreading the word about Robert's Snow.

About Mike

Mike is the illustrator of many children's books, including the award-winning Davey's Blue-Eyed
Frog
, by Patricia Harrison Easton and his most recent, When the Wizzy Foot Goes Walking, by Roni Schotter. He is also a regular contributor to the Cricket Magazine Group.  Mike has been busy in his studio and will have two new books coming out in 2008.

Even though Mike was a trouble maker [Laura: no, it can't be!] when he was in grade school, and thus gets a little nervous around principals, he still enjoys visiting schools and talking to students about illustrating children's books. 

He grew up in Spicer, Minnesota, and now has made his home in Minneapolis with his wife, son and brand new daughter.

About the Snowflake 

 

Isn't it gorgeous? I love these snowflakes that really celebrate the joy of winter. I think the rest of the country thinks we in Minnesota hunker down and feel miserable for six months of the year. That is just not true! Here's what Mike had to say about his snowflake.

How did you (honestly) feel when you were approached to participate in Robert’s Snow?

I was honored to be asked again, but at the same time I felt overwhelmed with work and didn’t feel I was going to have the time this year.  Then I realized this was a perfect opportunity to make a little difference by being a published children’s book illustrator, so I was happy to make it  a priority.


Which of your books is your snowflake most “like”?

When I painted the snowflake I had just finished a new picture book that comes out in February called Mama’s Little Duckling.  It has a softer, more atmospheric quality than my other books.


How did you come up with the idea for your snowflake?

The snowflakes are small,  so I wanted to do something fairly simple and graphic.  I decided a snowman would be fun.


What did you think about while you were working on it?

I kept thinking that I want to keep this simple and not worry about the details.  The mood was most
important.



What medium is your snowflake?

Acrylics


More About Mike

6 Words to Describe His Art and Style




6 Highlights of His Career


1. My senior year in high school won a statewide art contest with a drawing I did of my dad. This led to a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design.

2. Meeting David Shannon my freshman year in college. After seeing his presentation I knew I wanted to be an illustrator.

3. Doing a cover illustration for Spider magazine. 

4. When Random House called me to illustrate my first book,
Counting Sheep.

5. Meeting editor Michelle Copella at a  SCBWI conference. I illustrated three books with her.

6. Visiting New York last fall and meeting with 12 publishers.

 
Mike has a truly excellent website, and I hope you'll visit it and browse through all the great art and info. But here are 6 facts about Mike that you won't learn from that site:

1. We just had a baby girl, Olivia, at the end of October.

2. I share a studio with 8 other artists in Northeast Minneapolis in the
Northrup King Building.

3. I enjoy running, reading, doing crossword puzzles and playing softball.

4. My favorite TV show is
The Office

5. I come from a large family. I have three brothers and three sisters.

6. I love being a dad.
 

I love the joy in Mike's snowman, the feeling that he's about to dance right off the page. In that spirit, I wrote a silly snowman poem (all three of the illustrators I've featured have used snowmen on their flakes, and I'm starting to feel quite a camaraderie with them, especially since I sat here this morning watching the first snow fly).

  

Feel free to email Mike to let him know what you think of his snowflake. Like many of us, he's juggling work and (new) parenthood, and you know how nice a few pats on the back are!

And the Robert's Snow auctions start on Monday, November 19. Have you picked the flake(s) you want to bid on yet? There are so many cool ones. This year I'm determined to snag one. Outta my way!

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47. Robert's Snow: Final Week

As you know if you've been visiting any children's book blogs for the past few weeks, Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The snowflakes will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to cancer research. You can view all of the 2007 snowflakes here. Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have found a way for bloggers to help with this effort, by blogging about individual illustrators and their snowflakes. The idea is to drive traffic to the Robert's Snow site so that many snowflakes will be sold, and much money raised to fight cancer. The illustrator profiles have been wonderful so far - diverse and creative and colorful. And there are lots more to go.



Here's the schedule for Week 5, which starts Monday. As previously, this early schedule links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.



Monday, November 12





Tuesday, November 13





Wednesday, November 14





Thursday, November 15





Friday, November 16





Saturday, November 17





Sunday, November 18





Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.



See also the following note from Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader:

Note to Blog Readers about Blogging for a Cure: When Jules of 7-Imp put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature artists who had created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007 at their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. As time was of the essence to get Blogging for a Cure underway, we worked with the list of artists whose snowflakes were already in possession of Dana-Farber. Therefore, not all the participating artists will be featured. This in no way diminishes our appreciation for their contributions to this worthy cause. We hope everyone will understand that once the list of artists was emailed to bloggers and it was determined which bloggers would feature which artists at their blogs, a schedule was organized and sent out so we could get to work on Blogging for a Cure ASAP. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness about Robert’s Snow and to promote the three auctions. We hope our efforts will help to make Robert’s Snow 2007 a resounding success.

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48. Robert's Snow: Spotlighting Jane Dyer



Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make contact with Jane Dyer, but I still have the opportunity to spotlight the truly wonderful snowflake she created for Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure entitled "Baby Snowflake". I wish I knew how to make the background of the post dark, so you could get a better view of this unique beauty. Jane Dyer's snowflake will be up for auction Nov 26th-30th.


According to Little, Brown and Company, "Jane Dyer always wanted to be a teacher...She wrote and illustrated lesson activities for teachers to accompany a new reading program being developed for Addison-Wesley. But it was Jane’s special gift for illustration that soon led to trade book work with numerous publishers."

Here are some of my favorite books she has made beautiful through her art.







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49. Let it Snow... Again!

In eight hours, I need to be on a train to New York for the NYS English Council Conference.  Am I packed?  Not quite.  But I really, really wanted to share what my students finished today.  When I signed up to participate in Blogging for a Cure to promote the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure fund-raiser for the  Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I enlisted my 7th graders' help interviewing illustrators and writing features about them.  We interviewed:

I also wrote a grant so we could purchase wooden snowflakes and supplies to make our own ornaments to sell to raise money for the effort.  Look what my students did!



This is our snowflake board, where the ornaments are on sale for $5 each.  In a few weeks, we'll be sending our check to Dana Farber for cancer research, to go along with the thousands raised in the Robert's Snow Auction.




One of my students brought in origami paper and made tiny butterflies and cranes to decorate her snowflake.





I love the creative ideas they came up with.  Just like real snowflakes, no two were alike...



I'm convinced that the artist of the snowflake below is going to publish a graphic novel some day...



Another work in progress...











The kids worked hard today and were SO excited to join the ranks of artists working for a cure for cancer.  We'll post an update when we have a final amount for our donation!

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50. Robert's Snow Auction Starts Today!

After weeks of reading about the Robert's Snow auction, your chance to own original art by children's book illustrators and help raise funds for cancer research at the same time, today's the day to take action!



I have a list of about 10 snowflakes in this week's auction that I'd be pleased to buy. Can I afford to buy even one? I have no idea! It depends how high the bidding goes. What about you? Do you have any favorites? In an effort to test the waters and learn how to just this nifty poll tool, will you answer the following questions?




Have you been reading the snowflake blog features?
Yes
No
Some of them










Did you bid on a snowflake last year?
Yes
No









Do you plan to bid on a snowflake this year?
Yes
No









What is the most you can spend on a snowflake?
$50-$75
$75-$100
$100-$150
$150-$200
Sky's the limit (don't we all wish!)









Do you already have a snowflake (or more than one) picked out?
Yes
No









How did you learn about the snowflake?
A feature on someone's blog about that specific snowflake
Exploring the Robert's Snow website
Other (please leave a comment giving more detail)








Thanks for participating! Good luck on winning the snowflake of your dreams!

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