Science Stories: The Art of Scientific Storytelling
(3.4 ± 0.7) × 1026
Maybe that’s the number of pineapples it would take to form a continuous curve Starting from the pitcher’s mound of Yankee Stadium And passing across the pitcher’s mound of every other Major League Baseball stadium In reverse alphabetical order.
I’ve always wondered. But then again,
It could just be the combined number of bobby pins and cans of hairspray it would take To keep Earth’s grasses and corn, Wheats, ferns, carnations, and lilies in place While she holds herself on a point Though her endless pirouettes about the sun.
Or maybe it’s the number of union truckers who, If finding themselves together in a blackened Hell, Would decide that it would really be okay to screw in a lightbulb. “Y’know, it’s damn dark down here, Jimmy.” “Well, I did notice, Bill. But we ain’t no contract to fix it, do we?”
Yet something tells me that I’m thinking too modestly— It is some three hundred and forty million, million, million, million We are talking about, after all.
Might this be the number of lizards who could simultaneously sunbathe If they covered Earth’s land with their beach blankets? Maybe if they took the surface of the oceans too, Basking on inflatable couches?
Or is it the number of twig-skewered marshmallows that we could toast At one time if the sun cooled off enough for us all to sit around it, Our good old nuclear campfire, Swapping ghost stories?
Could it be the number of kazoo-playing mice that could just barely Cram themselves into a grid of New York City taxis Forming a six-lane traffic jam from the intersection of MLK and 4th— Yes, the one with taquería and psychic mall— To Saturn?
I don’t know. It’s a quantity that has no meaning to my eyes.
Or wouldn’t, except that I suppose It’s the approximate number of protons and neutrons In the small pot on my front burner.
Text: “Hi Mom, do you know what a saucepan weighs?” Wait. “Mine is between a pound and a pound and a half. Why?” “I want to calculate how many baryons are in it.” “Ok. Have fun.”
I stare at the pot.
But then slowly, very slowly, I begin to understand
What must be done. I open a can of Rosarita’s Vegetarian-Style Refried Beans, Let them ooze into the pan, Light a burner, And sit down to contemplate the relative merits of Adding Colby versus Pepper Jack.
Series Introduction by Alison Hawthorne Deming
Science Stories showcases the impressive literary work done by graduate students who participated in the first run of “The Art of Scientific Storytelling,” a new course I taught in Spring 2020 at the University of Arizona. The course, developed in collaboration with my Creative Writing program colleague Christopher Cokinos, was eligible for credit in the new Graduate Certificate in Science Communications offered by the College of Science. Its aim was to inspire creative works that were science-smart, works that might enhance science literacy among readers. The class read contemporary writers who covet the perspectives of science and the personal stories of scientists who write for non-technical audiences. We read memoirs, essays, op-eds, and poetry. We read works inspired by chemistry, astronomy, paleobiology, traditional indigenous knowledge: Primo Levi, Hope Jahren, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Kathleen Jamie, Alan Lightman, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Maggie Nelson, among others. The students came from a range of disciplines including optical science, astronomy, geography, climate adaptation, hydrology, mathematics, speech pathology, and creative writing. The conversations were rich and the talent abundant. They surprised me each week with their inventive and insightful takes on writing assignments. We offer this showcase of our experiment in the meeting of art and science.
Robert Banks is a graduate student at the University of Arizona where he is working towards a Ph.D. in mathematics.
Header photo by senjakelabu29, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Robert Banks by Anna Banks.