Sam Kean - Eccles Visiting Scholar - Spoons & Thumbs: Funny, Spooky, and Completely True Science Stories

Sam Kean

February 20, 2020
The Great Hall

Reflection | VideoPhotos

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of Caesar’s Last Breath, The Disappearing Spoon, The Dueling Neurosurgeons, and The Violinist’s Thumb, all Amazon top science books of the year. 

Caesar’s Last Breath was the Guardian science book of the year in 2017 and a runner-up for book of the year from the National Academies of Science, while The Disappearing Spoon was a runner-up for the Royal Society of London's book of the year for 2010, and The Violinist’s Thumb and The Dueling Neurosurgeons were nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson award for literary science writing in 2013 and 2015, as well as the AAAS/Subaru prize. 

He is editing the 2018 edition of Best American Nature and Science Writing, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, and Slate, among other publications. He has been featured on NPR’s “Radiolab,” “Science Friday,” “All Things Considered,” and “Fresh Air.” His books have been translated into twenty-four languages around the world. One of his books even appeared in an iPhone commercial.



On Thursday, February 20th, 2020, bestselling author Sam Kean was the latest A.P.E.X. Events guest speaker and Eccles Visiting Scholar. Kean’s newest book, “The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb” was a Science Friday book of the year, while “Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us” was the Guardian science book of the year. “The Disappearing Spoon” was a runner-up for the Royal Society book of the year. Both “The Violinist’s Thumb” and “The Dueling Neurosurgeons” were nominated for PEN’s literary science writing award. Kean is also the editor for the 18th edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing and has been featured on multiple NPR shows, such as “Radiolab”, “Science Friday”, “All Things Considered”, and “Fresh Air.” He was introduced to the stage by SUU’s Dean of the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering, Dr. Frank Hall.

Kean began his presentation talking about his lifelong fascination with science, and how he initially attended college to study science. Three years into his degree, Kean had been participating in science labs with researchers; he quickly realized that he wasn’t enjoying working in the labs, and began working on an English major. He still wanted to be involved with the field of science, yet still feed his love for writing and literature, so he combined his two interests and became the science writer he is today. He then shared with the audience select stories from his books, including The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons and The Violinist's Thumb. He shared with the audience spooky and humorous stories regarding every element of the periodic table from The Disappearing Spoon, genetics from The Violinist’s Thumb, and the functions of the human brain from The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.

Kean ended his presentation by telling the audience he had been “tricking” them into learning about science through the amusing and quirky stories from his books. “The human brain really remembers information best when it’s presented in a story make you have a little fun while learning.”

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- By Emily Sexton