Story Preservation Initiative®

Preserving the Stories of Our Lives by capturing the voices, words, and meanderings of artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, and eyewitnesses to history. Listen, learn, and be amazed! WEB:

Posts from the ‘Scientists’ category

Make Way for Sy!

AUDIO UP! on this fabulous recording.   It’s impossible to not love and be inspired by Sy!  

Photo by Paula Gordon

Photo by Paula Gordon.  Used with permission.

To research books, films and articles, Sy Montgomery has been chased by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica, worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba and handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana.

She has been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, hunted by a tiger in India, and swum with piranhas, electric eels and dolphins in the Amazon. She has searched the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi for snow leopards, hiked into the trackless cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to radiocollar tree kangaroos, and learned to SCUBA dive in order to commune with octopuses.

smontgomery_soulofanoctopusSy’s 20 books for both adults and children have garnered many honors. The Soul of an Octopus was a 2015 Finalist for the National Book Awards. The Good Good Pig, her memoir of life with her pig, Christopher Hogwood, is an international bestseller. She is the winner of the 2009 New England Independent Booksellers Association Nonfiction Award, the 2010 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award, the Henry Bergh Award for Nonfiction (given by the ASPCA for Humane Education) and dozens of other honors. Her work with the man-eating tigers, the subject of her book Spell Of The Tiger, was made into in a National Geographic television documentary she scripted and narrated. Also for National Geographic TV she developed and scripted Mother Bear Man, about her friend, Ben Kilham, who raises and releases orphaned bear cubs, which won a Chris award.

Sy writes for adults and children, for print and broadcast, in America and overseas in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible at what she considers a critical turning point in human history.

“We are on the cusp of either destroying this sweet, green Earth—or revolutionizing the way we understand the rest of animate creation,” she says. “It’s an important time to be writing about the connections we share with our fellow creatures. It’s a great time to be alive.”

She speaks frequently at schools and museums, libraries and universities.

She is a 1979 graduate of Syracuse University, a triple major with dual degrees in Magazine Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and in French Language and Literature and in Psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Keene State College in 2004, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Franklin Pierce University and also from Southern New Hampshire University in 2011.

Copy taken from Sy’s website:



Deepika Kurup


IMG_0117 (1)

With Deepika Kurup one of Forbes 2015 30 Under 30,  2014 Stockholm Junior Water Prize Winner, and a Google Science Fair award winner (along with much else), Deepika is working on a prototype to quickly, easily, and safely purify drinking water for use in developing countries.



From an earlier post:

First up in the New Year!

Here’s 17-year old Deepika’s story (so far)  ~

On family trips to India as a child, Deepika Kurup often saw kids like herself forced to drink dirty water — as a result, at age 14, she became determined to find to a way to ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water. For an 8th grade project, the Nashua, New Hampshire teen invented a water purification system that uses a photocatalytic composite and sunlight to clean water — an invention which earned her recognition as America’s Top Young Scientist in 2012.  And that’s just the beginning.


Deepika at the 2013 White House Science Fair

Access to clean water is a global crisis. “One-ninth of the global population lacks access to clean water,” she explains “and 500,000 children die every year because of water related diseases.” On the trips to India, her immigrant parents’ native land, Deepika saw the struggle for clean water first hand: “[My parents] would have to boil the water before we drank it. I also saw children on the streets of India… take these little plastic bottles and they’re forced to fill it up with the dirty water they see on the street. And they’re forced to drink that water, because they don’t have another choice. And then I go back to America and I can instantly get tap water.”

Her early investigations into water purification methods found that many of them were expensive and potentially hazardous. “Traditionally, to purify waste water, they use chlorine, and chlorine can create harmful byproducts,” she points out. “Also, you have to keep replenishing the chlorine, you have to keep putting chlorine into the waste water to purify it.” She wanted to invent a new way to clean water that would be both cheap and sustainable.

Deepika came up with the idea of using a photocatalyst — a substance that reacts with water’s impurities when energized by the sun — that also filters the water. The combination of the reaction and the filtration can remove most contaminants for a fraction of the cost of chlorine purification. She determined that her system reduces the presence of coliform bacteria by 98% immediately after filtration and by 100% within 15 minutes. Another advantage is that her catalyst is reusable: “a catalyst doesn’t get used up in the reaction,” she says. “Theoretically you can keep using my composite forever.”

Deepika’s efforts have already by widely recognized — in addition to being named America’s Top Young Scientist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, she was also the recipient of the 2013 President’s Environmental Youth Award and the 2014 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize.  In 2015, she was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 2015 “30 Under 30 in Energy” and received the National Geographic Explorer Award.

Deepika is looking forward to taking her research from the lab to real life: “It’s one thing to be working in a lab, doing this, and another thing to actually deploy it and see it working in the real world. So that’s one of my steps in the future.” ~ excerpted from A Mighty Girl

To listen to Deepika’s story, click on links below:

Stories Matter

What a Plant Knows


Audio is up on this fascinating look into the inner life of plants.  On the last track, Danny makes an impassioned and educated argument for genetically modified food.  You may agree / you may disagree, but worth listening to!


This recording, like so many, has been a long time in coming – and worth the wait!

I first became aware of the work of plant biologist (and so much more, read on for his complete bio) Daniel Chamovitz in 2012 and contacted him then to try to arrange a meeting. Unfortunately, my timing was off as he was just leaving the States and returning to his home in Tel Aviv.

Fast-forward three years and – finally –  I will have the pleasure of meeting and recording Danny this summer.

And here is what we’ll be talking about:

Danny will share with us an intriguing and scrupulous look at how plants themselves experience the world–from the colors they see to the schedules they keep. Highlighting the latest research in genetics and more, he takes us into the inner lives of plants and draws parallels with the human senses to reveal that we have much more in common with sunflowers and oak trees than we may realize.

Chamovitz shows how plants know up from down, how they know when a neighbor has been infested by a group of hungry beetles, and whether they appreciate the Led Zeppelin you’ve been playing for them or if they’re more partial to the melodic riffs of Bach.

Covering touch, sound, smell, sight, and even memory, Chamovitz encourages us all to consider whether plants might even be aware of their surroundings.


He studied at both Columbia University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received his Ph.D. in Genetics. From 1993 to 1996 he carried out postdoctoral research at Yale University before accepting a faculty position at Tel Aviv University where he recently served as Chair of the Department of Plant Sciences. In 2002, Prof. Chamovitz was a visiting scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He is currently the Dean of the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

Audio is a production of Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved. 

Stories Matter

The Snow Leopard


Photo courtesy of George Schaller. Used with permission.

Wildlife preservationist George Schaller shared over 100 of his personal photographs with Story Preservation for our Learning Lab project. All I can say is they’re lucky students to have these available as learning tools!

Here is a RARE photograph of a snow leopard, taken by George. Be sure to CLICK!!

For those of you who have read THE SNOW LEOPARD by Peter Matthiessen, you’ll know that it is an account of Matthiessen and Schaller’s two-month search for the elusive animal on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas.

To listen to George’s audio, go to:

Meet the Harvard Computers

1466268_1428800040666481_1159123551_nWhen I met with Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, one thing that we talked about was the history of the Harvard observatory.  Jonathan explained to me that there was a lot of work involved in mapping the night sky.  I guess!  So, Edward Charles Pickering, the director of the observatory (1877 – 1919) decided to use “computers” for analysis.  Meet the Harvard Computers, pictured above, circa 1913.

To listen to Jonathan talk about the Women Computers, click on the link below.  I’ve also included an edited transcription.

Click here:


To listen to Jonathan’s full recording, go to:


The [Harvard] Observatory was founded in the 1840s. There had been astronomy at Harvard since very early times – maybe the 1700s – but they just had a few small telescopes on the roof. … There was a big comet in the early 1840s that got a lot of the public interested in astronomy. Astronomers in Cincinnati, which at that time was pretty much Wild West, had a big observatory. The upshot was that the New England elite were a little embarrassed that they didn’t have anything to match. And so one of these guys decided that they really needed to have something to be a premiere astronomical institution and he should raise some money. His name was John Quincy Adams. So he was able to raise the money in [something] like two weeks, or something ridiculous. So the great refractor was born on Observatory Hill – or what became Observatory Hill. … It was one of the biggest refractors in the world. … On this great refractor telescope the Harvard astronomers did the first experiments with photography. They took some of the first daguerreotype of the moon and other objects. … An important development was the systematic photography of the sky where [they] took lots of photographic plates of parts of the sky and stored them – and we still have them. And so we have 100 years – or more than 100 years – of archive photographic plates. …

This was a lot of work though and more than the astronomy professor at Harvard could do. So, he did the observations for the most part – but he hired computers to do the analysis. And these were not digital computers, they were human beings and, for the most part, they were women. And the tradition at that time in observatories and other laboratories was that for mathematical calculation and for data reduction kind of work, it was a good opportunity to hire women who didn’t require the same pay scale as men at the time and were thought to be reliable and good at detailed work. So they were just meant to catalogue these stars … but just do rote work, not really think about it too much, not make discoveries. But, of course, that kind of job attracted women who were smart and wanted an intellectual challenge – and they did make discoveries. Instead of taking the discovery credit for himself, the observatory director actually recorded who made the discoveries and gave them credit. And so we know the names of these women. So we know that Annie Cannon is the person who catalogued a quarter-of-a-million stars and made the distinctions we still use today between an O-star, which is a blue star and an M-star, which is a red dwarf star. …

Copyright 2013 Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.

The Singing Life of Birds  A Conversation with Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma has studied birdsong for 45 years.

Audio UP!  


He has listened to and recorded bird songs from the East Coast to the West, and constantly adds to his birdsong library back home in Massachusetts, where he’s professor emeritus of biology at the University of Massachusetts.

His book The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong won the 2006 John Burroughs Medal “for outstanding natural history writing” and the American Birding Association’s Robert Ridgeway Award “for excellence in publications in field ornithology.”

Kroodsma explores the mysteries of birdsong — how birds learn to sing, why some sing and some don’t, and why songs vary from bird to bird and even from place to place. “Birds have song dialects just like we humans have dialects,” he says.

On his travels, Kroodsma enjoys listening, knowing that where a bird learned a song is just as important as a bird’s genealogy. He noticed in his travels that birds of the same species but in different states sang the same song, but with their own unique “accents.”

His field of study may be unique, but the way he goes about his research is equally unique — Kroodsma tours the continent on his bicycle, collecting bird songs along the way. He biked completely across the nation once in 2003, and in 2004 biked from the Atlantic shore to the Mississippi, lugging his recording equipment with him.

“There is no better way to hear a continent sing than by bicycle,” Kroodsma says. “You can read the minds of these birds if you simply listen… Riding a bike is just a great way to hear birds.”


“There’s this wonderful Zen parable,” he says. “If you listen to the thrush and hear a thrush, you’ve not really heard the thrush. But if you listen to a thrush and hear a miracle, then you’ve heard the thrush.”

Don’s new book tentatively titled “Listening to a Continent Sing.  Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” is soon to be released from Princeton University Press.

A fun site:

Check out Don’s website at

To Listen to Don’s recording, click on links below.



Audio copyright Story Preservation Initiative 2014.  All rights reserved.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.52.42 PM




Stories Matter

Audio Up! on our Conversation with Space Shuttle Neurolab Researcher⎥ Jay Buckey

Dr. Jay Buckey was a crew member and Bio-lab researcher on the Space Shuttle Columbia’s …

16-day Neurolab mission from April 17 to May 3, 1998. The 7-member crew served as both experiment subjects and operators for 26 individual life science experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous system. The STS-90 flight orbited the Earth 256 times, covered 6.3 million miles, and logged over 381 hours in space.

Neurolab, a NASA research mission dedicated to the study of the neurosciences, focused on the most complex and least understood part of the human body – the nervous system. This joint NASA-NIH sponsored mission explored five key areas affected by weightlessness: blood pressure control, balance, sleep, nervous system development and the blending of vision with balance and position sense.

Jay is the author of Space Physiology (Oxford Press: 2006), that tells about the effects of weightlessness on the body.

He holds a B.A. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University (1977) and an M.D. from Cornell in 1981, interning at New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center and completing his residence at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Currently, Jay is a Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.  He was also a flight surgeon with the US Air Force Reserve for 8 years.

To hear Jay’s story, click on the links below:

Jay Buckey_Track 01_Intro

Jay Buckey_Track 02

Jay Buckey_Track 03

Jay Buckey_Track 04

Jay Buckey_Track 05

Jay Buckey_Track 06

Copyright Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.


A Rare and Magnificent Breed ⎢ Wildlife Conservationist ⎢ George Schaller

George Schaller


George Schaller is known as one of the founding fathers of wildlife conservation.

He is best known for his work saving gorillas, tigers, pandas, and snow leopards. His 50-year career has been dedicated to species conservation.

Discover magazine says Schaller, “is considered the finest field biologist of our time and the most powerful voice for conservation in more than 100 years.”

He has studied and helped protect species as diverse as mountain gorillas, lions, giant pandas and Tibetan antelopes, as well as trained nationals in their own country to carry on the work. These studies have been the basis for his scientific and popular writings including 16 books, among them, The Deer and the Tiger, The Year of the Gorilla, The Serengeti Lion, The Last Panda, and, most recently, Tibet Wild,  a review of which can be found at:

In 1956, Dr. Schaller joined other conservationists on the Murie expedition to Northeastern Alaska, which resulted in the establishment of the world’s largest wildlife preserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In 1959, when Schaller was only 26, he traveled to Central Africa to study and live with the mountain gorillas. Little was known about the life of gorillas in the wild until the publication of The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior in 1963, that first conveyed to the general public just how profoundly intelligent and gentle gorillas really are, contrary to then-common beliefs. Schaller recently recounted his epic two-year study in The Year of the Gorilla, which also provides a broader historical perspective on the efforts to save one of humankind’s nearest relatives from the brink of extinction.

The American zoologist Dian Fossey, with assistance from the National Geographic Society and Louis Leakey, followed Schaller’s groundbreaking field research on mountain gorillas. Schaller and Fossey were instrumental in dispelling the public perception of gorillas as brutes, by demonstrably establishing the deep compassion and social intelligence evident among gorillas, and how very closely their behavior parallels that of humans.

Spending most of his time in the field in Asia, Africa, and South America, Schaller has led seminal studies on, and helped protect, some of the planet’s most endangered and iconic animals ranging schaller2-e81491c33ae216b394c8ac11f28c96cf0c757318-s6-c30from the mountain gorilla in present Democratic Republic of the Congo, snow leopards in Mongolia, jaguars in Brazil, giant pandas in China, tigers in India, lions in Tanzania, wild sheep and goats of the Himalaya.

He currently serves as Vice President of Panthera, a foundation dedicated to wild cat conservation. In addition to this position, which he assumed in 2008, Dr. Schaller continues to serve as a Senior Conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Dr. Schaller has also worked as a Research Associate for the American Museum of Natural History and taught as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Rockefeller University, Shanghai’s East China Normal University and Beijing’s Peking University.

In collaboration with Chinese and Tibetan scientists, Dr. Schaller has worked for nearly two decades studying and developing conservation initiatives for the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, and wild yak, among other species. His most recent conservation projects have been based in Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Iran and Tajikistan.

Stories Matter


A Conversation With Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell

Jonathan McDowell

What follows is taken from Jonathan’s self-described “Stuffy Biographical Summary.”

Dr. Jonathan McDowell is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. A staff member of the Chandra X-ray Center, he studies black holes, quasars and X-ray sources in galaxies, as well as developing data analysis software for the X-ray astronomy community. Dr. McDowell has a B.A in Mathematics (1981) and a Ph.D in Astrophysics (1986) from the University of Cambridge, England, and has previously worked at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the Jodrell Bank radio observatory and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The asteroid (4589) McDowell was named after him in 1993.

In our upcoming conversation, Jonathan will guide me (with a great deal of patience, I might add) and, ultimately you, through subjects that skirt the outer boundaries of human understanding.  Such things as what we have recently come to know about the universe, what these findings mean, and what we are seeking to discover.

We will touch on various subjects ranging from the history – and future – of the space program, to the search for black holes and understanding why we all are, in fact, made of stardust.

Jonathan will kindly walk me through the paces at the Harvard Observatory and I will have the distinct pleasure of viewing an exhibit of Jonathan’s photos of deep space.

Take a look “Behind the Science”

To listen to Jonathan, click on links below:

Copyright Story Preservation Initiative 2012.  All rights reserved.


To inquire about Story Preservation Initiative Oral Histories in the Classroom, email us at:

Orion – A Star is Born, photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Observable Universe

The Observable Universe – photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Helix Nebula, Star Death - photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
The Helix Nebula, Star Death – photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Layout of the Galaxy - photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
The Layout of the Galaxy – photo courtesy The Evolving Universe / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory