During her long career as a reporter, science historian and best-selling author, Dava Sobel has ignited the love of the sciences in the minds and hearts of her myriad devotees worldwide. Enticing the reader to experience the human drama behind the world’s greatest discoveries, Sobel’s oeuvre elucidates the complexities of mathematics, astronomy, physics, horology—the science of time—and other disciplines. Her subject matter—the intellectual advancement of civilization—is informed by a spiritual sentience, inherent both in the depiction of her lonely and courageous protagonists, who often suffered in the cause of their beliefs, and in her lyrical descriptions of natural phenomena.
As the book and recent hit film “Hidden Figures” pays homage to the contributions of pioneering African American women scientists and mathematicians in America’s space program, Sobel’s ‘The Glass Universe,’ published in December, chronicles the history of the Harvard Observatory, where the tireless work of dozens of women “computers” in the 19th and 20th centuries greatly impacted the study of astronomy. Collecting data from images of the night sky photographed on glass plates, they made important discoveries about the stars, their composition and their distances from the earth.
Among numerous others, the award that Sobel received from Germany’s Rhein Foundation in 2014 was given to honor her “scientific knowledge and literary talent” and “for giving the history of science a human face”. A sense of wonder continues to characterize both her books and her own sensibility. Frequently travelling long distances to experience solar eclipses, she has noted:
... at the moment of totality the sky darkens because the moon is in front of the sun, so it blocks [its} brightest light. And the corona flares out around the moon, and it's like platinum streamers, iridescent. And ropes of burning hydrogen can come up into that silver part from the black moon in bright red, and the colour of the sky goes twilight, and you can see the planets come out. Whichever planets are near the sun will suddenly appear in the daytime. And the temperature drops. it's the closest thing to witnessing a miracle.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, Click Here