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Tag: Lauren Redniss

“After Chernobyl” at Ebling Library

“The closer you are to Chernobyl, the less dangerous it seems.”

This is the theme of Ebling Library‘s latest exhibit, “After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart.” Though the Chernobyl of popular mythology is a dead, barren wasteland (or, in some tellings, a radioactive breeding ground for monsters), Rothbart’s photographs tell a different story. The Chernobyl he shows us, nearly thirty years after the nuclear disaster, is filled with life in unexpected places. From the residents, many of them evacuees, of nearby “safe” towns and villages, to the workers and managers who maintain the inactive power plant as it is decommissioned, to the samosely—elderly evacuees who illegally returned to their homes inside the Exclusion Zone after the accident, and still live there now—the Chernobyl area is not quite as dead or barren as terrible horror movies would have you believe.

It would be interesting to ask Marie Curie if, had she known what her work would ultimately lead to—among other things, disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and, most recently, Fukushima (a link between our last Go Big Read book and our current one)—would she still have pursued her line of inquiry? Do the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the risks? In the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, is it worth it to try to build a new life in a radioactive home?

As the Ebling exhibit asks: after Chernobyl, would you stay?

“After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart” runs until August 31st in Ebling’s third-floor gallery space.

For more information on the Chernobyl disaster, you can check out these library resources. Lauren Redniss writes about Chernobyl in the 2012-13 Go Big Read pick, Radioactive. The once-flourishing, now-abandoned city of Pripyat, which was built to house plant employees and their families, has its own fascinating website, set up by an organization seeking to turn Pripyat into a “museum city.” In the meantime, as seen in the Chernobyl Diaries trailer, there are guided tours that will take you into Pripyat and to the Chernobyl plant. If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, you can take a look at these photos of Chernobyl and Pripyat at the Telegraph.

But your first stop, of course, should be the third floor of Ebling Library.

Science Expeditions

“‘Science Marches On’ in Chemistry Lab…”, UW Digital Collections

It’s been awhile, Go Big Readers! I hope everyone’s spring semester has been going well, and that you all got to take advantage of the nice weather over spring break.

For the past several weeks, the Go Big Read office has been kept very busy working on finding our Go Big Read book for 2013-14. The selection process is almost done: after receiving nearly 200 diverse and fascinating suggestions from all over the campus and Madison communities (thanks for those, by the way!), we’ve whittled our list down to our final choice, and we’re pretty excited about next year’s program! I can tell you that we’re doing something we’ve never done before. You’ll get to hear more about that later in the semester!

In the meantime, what are you up to this weekend? April 5, 6 and 7, UW-Madison and the Science Alliance present the 11th Annual Science Expeditions, a weekend of learning and exploration for all ages. On-campus events are free (!) and open to the public. You can even take a free Science Expeditions Trolley from place to place, while getting a free scientastic tour from a VIP tour guide. There are over 45 Exploration Stations, so it’s sure to be a busy weekend!

Included in the weekend’s events are free tours of Fallout, the Radioactive-inspired exhibit at Ebling Library. If you still haven’t seen it, first of all, what have you been doing with your life?! But also, this is a fantastic opportunity. Go get scienced this weekend!

You can find more information about Science Expeditions, including a list of Exploration Stations, info about the Expedition Trolley, and sneak peeks at Science Spectacular shows, at this link.

Dear Faculty,

Here on the west side of campus we have an engaging exhibition entitled: Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation & the Public Health. One visitor suggested, “…this is the coolest compilation of things I didn’t know about radiation.” The exhibition covers the time period of 1895 to the present and is culturally contextualized in terms of how x-rays, radiation and radioactivity have influenced diagnostics, treatment, occupational health protocols, politics, the teaching of radiology, the public’s engagement with fallout shelters, the aftermath of nuclear accidents and the like.

In addition to a narrative which weaves together the conflation of these three fascinating topics, x-rays, radiation and radiotherapy, there are artifacts, photos and provocative printed matter which illustrate this multi layered subject.
For example, one can learn the story of UW’s unfulfilled connection with Madame Curie or see the switch (usually held by the University Archives) that cut off the electricity before the first atomic bomb detonation.

I can give tours and explanations of the contents of the cases (there are 13). I can talk to students about how one designs such an exhibit. I can talk about what did not fit in the exhibit. I can discuss how one can start with this small bit of primary material and design an entire research project based on one resource.

In short, if you are looking for a field trip to take up your student’s class time when you have to go to a conference, if you’d like to bring your class, if you’d like to assign a visit to the class for extra credit…this is an open invitation to visit. Especially for those who may be reading Radioactive as part of UW’s Go Big Read program, Fallout was imagined in response to that initiative, so it would be particularly germane to your class.

Let me know if I can help with your Spring Semester…

Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, Ebling Library for the Health Sciences, 750 Highland Ave. Madison (608) 262-2402 or msullivan@library.wisc.edu

Here are a few links to add to the excitement.

Still time to sign up for spring semester!

Big thank yous to all of the instructors who have signed up to use Radioactive in their spring semester courses!  Instructors and faculty: if you haven’t yet signed up to use Radioactive next semester, you can do so with the form right here.

If you’re not sure yet whether the book will fit into your syllabus, that’s just fine!  Email us at gobigread @ library.wisc.edu with your campus mailing address to receive a review copy.  If you do decide to use the book, you can sign up to join our list of participating courses, using the form linked above.

We’re excited to work with you!

Go Big Read in the spring semester

It seems hard to believe that the fall semester is almost over, but there’s only a few weeks left until winter break.  And after winter break, of course, the rush and chaos of the semester starts right back up in the spring!

Faculty and instructors: if you’d like to use Radioactive in your spring semester course, let us know!  Fill out this form to be added to our list of participating courses.  If you would like to receive your own copy of the book, please check the box marked “I need a desk copy for myself.”  Desk copies will be distributed right away.

We will begin distributing student vouchers in early January.  Student vouchers can be redeemed at several campus libraries (Chemistry Library, College Library, Ebling Library, Memorial Library, Steenbock Library, and Wendt Commons) for free copies of the book.  Your students will not need to purchase the book.

If you have any questions, please email us at gobigread @ library.wisc.edu.  We look forward to working with you in the spring semester!

Brooke Williams, GBR Graduate student

Are you “prepped”?

It’s cold and flu season, and your friendly neighborhood Go Big Read blogger took a sick day earlier in the week and spent the afternoon on the couch.  Buried under blankets, I ended up catching a few episodes of the show Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel.

An underground fallout shelter.  Image source.

In Radioactive, Lauren Redniss recounts an interview with Vic Rantala, president of Safecastle, LLC.  Safecastle is a major seller of “prepping” materials, from meals-ready-to-eat to body armor to portable solar power generators to full-blown fallout shelters.  Vic Rantala describes how his personal experience, working as a “designated NBC – Nuclear, Biological, Chemical – specialist” in Germany during the Cold War, led to his personal belief in preparing for worst-case scenarios.  “You don’t have to be a wacko,” he says.  “You don’t have to be a gun nut.  You don’t even have to suspect the government of any conspiracies.  It’s logical to have a plan. […] What I’m selling is not necessarily protection.  What I’m selling is peace of mind. Whenever something big happens, it’s going to be something that no one expected.” (Redniss 149)

Doomsday Preppers explores the lives of people who have taken Rantala’s philosophy to heart, and are busily preparing for the end of the world, whatever form it happens to take.  Preppers stockpile food, water, and other resources; they build fallout shelters in their homes or maintain shelters elsewhere; they practice “bug out” drills (bugging out refers to quickly leaving home for a safer location in the event of an emergency) and outfit themselves with body armor, hazmat suits and, yes, weapons.  You can view clips of the show on the National Geographic Channel website, and you can even take a quiz to determine your own “prepper score.” (Your score is determined by the length of time you would likely survive in a worst-case scenario. If that’s not anxiety-inducing, I don’t know what is!)

As bizarre as this might seem to some of us, however, prepping is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Anyone who studied the Cold War in high school or college will probably remember the famous Duck and Cover video, put out by the Federal Administration for Civil Defense in 1952.  Below, a clip from the film.



 Federal Administration for Civil Defense, 1952.

These were the scariest years of the Cold War, the height of the McCarthy era, when every stranger was a potential communist and it was assumed that the Soviet Union could be deploying its nuclear weapons at any moment (weapons built, of course, on the foundation of the Curies’ research on radiation—though neither of them lived long enough to see where their research had led).  At this time, citizens were encouraged by civil defense organizations to build fallout shelters in their homes and to stockpile food, water, gas masks and other resources to help them survive in the event of a nuclear war. Today’s Doomsday Preppers are only following in a long tradition. Though the Communists with their atomic bombs may no longer be the “Big Bad” of our collective cultural imagination, there are other things to fear: global warming, government conspiracies, bioterrorism, a zombie apocalypse, the supposed “2012 prophecies,” and more.

Certainly, there are things in this world that are frightening, and preparation for certain disasters and emergencies is wise. As Vic Rantala points out, peace of mind is a valuable thing. However, sixty years from now, these prepping extremes might seem as silly and antiquated as Bert the Turtle and his “duck and cover” technique—or maybe the preppers will have the last laugh after all.

To learn more about modern-day prepping, head over to the American Preppers Network, and check out their guide to getting started in prepping.  Or visit either of these sites for more information. You can also check out Vic Rantala’s company, Safecastle, LLC.

Doomsday Preppers airs Tuesday nights at 8pm CT on the National Geographic Channel.

Brooke Williams, Go Big Read grad student

“Draw Your Love Story” at Chadbourne and Ogg

The “Draw Your Love Story” banner at Ogg.
Earlier in the semester, residents of Ogg Hall and Chadbourne Residential Learning Community (CRC) were invited to participate in a unique project: to create pieces of visual art that depicted their individual passions.  The Go-Big-Read-inspired project offered students a chance to show off their own “love story,” a part of themselves which they might not otherwise have shared, and explore the things that mattered to their fellow residents.  Students also had the opportunity to attend a small-group discussion with Lauren Redniss as part of Go Big Read and the “What Matters to Me and Why” lecture series.  Below, two students who helped CRC with the project share their views.

“The ‘Draw Your
Passions’ event that CRC did was a great success! It
was really exciting to see the wide variety of
passions and interests our residents have and the
diverse community that makes up CRC and all of our
residence halls. It provided a great backdrop to the What Matters to Me and Why with Lauren Redniss, as she
talked about all of the things that inspire her as a
writer and artist. Both the CRC’s Passions event and
the What Matters to Me and Why series allow us to
explore the unique experiences and interests we have
that impact where we go in life.” –Ashley Trewartha

“We were inspired
to have students draw their passion in anticipation of
Lauren Redniss’ visit to Chadbourne, because
Radioactive explores the ways in which Marie Curie’s
passions influenced her life and her work. Hers is a
story that reminds us all that if we persevere in our
passions, we will have a huge impact on our chosen
field. Having residents draw their passions not only
asked them to think about what had given them purpose
thus far, but also what was motivating them to get to
where they want to go.” –Elise Swanson

Lauren Redniss was thrilled to see the displays when she came to campus, and was presented with a gift bag from Chadbourne.
Marie Curie puts in an appearance!
The display of artwork at Chadbourne.

Lauren Redniss at Varsity Hall

Radioactive author Lauren Redniss with Chancellor Encore David Ward and a sign language interpreter.

When Lauren Redniss took the stage on Monday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not that my expectations were low; I just wasn’t sure how, exactly, an hour-long talk could incorporate all of the interesting things about Radioactive.  Unlike many other authors, Redniss was charged with the task of discussing not only the process of researching and writing, but also the process of creating the unique artwork and aesthetic that is as integral to the book as the narrative. Redniss explained that she wanted Radioactive to be a “complete object, with every aspect carefully considered.”  Nothing about the book, she said, is “set on a default setting.”  She even put in the work of designing her own typeface, in addition to experimenting with a new method of artistic printing, arranging the text to fit the moods and shapes of each individual page, and, of course, actually writing the whole thing.  Now she just had to tell us how she did all of it.

It’s not often that an author giving a lecture is faced with such a tall order, but Redniss carried it off with aplomb.  She began by giving a short summary of the book, and then took us back into the work’s very beginnings: her drawings for the New York Times and her first book, Century Girl.  From there, she moved into Radioactive itself, beginning with the research and writing and following it up with a discussion of the book’s visual elements: not only the cyanotype process itself, but the various sketches and inspirations that eventually found their way into the pages, as well as those that didn’t.

Redniss signs a book for a fan.

If you’ve been following us on Twitter, you’ll have seen that I live-tweeted a few of my favorite lines during the event itself (as often as I could without bugging the people around me!).  But there is one line that particularly stood out to me, which I live-tweeted in paraphrase but want to bring up here in its entirety.

There is a kind of cliche about writing, a kind of mantra that’s repeated to aspiring writers: write what you know.  I’m sure you’ve heard this. I think about that. I think it could be fine advice, as long as it’s not interpreted as, “Don’t bother writing anything new, just write about whatever you happen to know already.”  So I think maybe another way that that advice could be interpreted is, “Go out, pursue what interests you, learn about it, be absorbed in it and immersed in it, and then come back and then write about what you now know.”

This, I think, is such a refreshing and useful way to look at writing.  Certainly, as Redniss herself pointed out, a great deal of the work that went into Radioactive was learning: being no scientist herself, Redniss had a lot of reading and exploring and thinking to do as she chronicled the life of one of the world’s greatest scientists.  And I also think that this quote speaks particularly well to the University’s Year of Innovation.  That’s what we’re all here for, isn’t it?–to innovate, to go out and learn things and immerse ourselves in learning.  That was what the Curies did, and it was what Lauren Redniss did, as well.  And we should all follow in those footsteps.

Redniss signs books and meets with members of the community.

The wonderful photos above were taken by Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, one of our campus librarians.  If you would like to view her full gallery of photos from the event, click here.

If you weren’t able to make it to the talk, you can watch a video on our homepage
(the link is under “Features”).  Unfortunately, the video is not yet
captioned, but a captioned version should be available soon.  A
transcript of the event is also on its way, so please let us know if you
are interested in receiving a copy.

For those of you who did come: we hope you enjoyed it, and we’d love to hear your reactions to Redniss’s discussion!  Let us know what you thought on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below.

Brooke, Go Big Read grad student

Lauren Redniss takes the stage on Monday!

With this year’s Go Big Read author event coming up fast, now is a great time to take a look at some recent Radioactive news items that have come across my desk.

Lauren Redniss seems to have been pretty active around Madison over the past week or so (especially for someone who’s not even in town yet!): she’s spoken with the Badger Herald and 77 Square, and even the university’s news page is talking about her.  If you’re looking for a sneak preview of her Monday lecture, look no further

And, of course, I’m going to set out the details of Monday night for you right now.  If you follow us on Twitter (@GoBigRead) or have liked us on Facebook, you’re probably going to be bombarded with this info over the next few days–and it’s in the campus calendar and a few local calendars, as well.  But isn’t it nice to have it all laid out in one place?  So here you go:

Date: Monday, October 17
Time: 7pm
Place: Varsity Hall, on the second floor of Union South (1308 W. Dayton Street)
Who: Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive, the Go Big Read book selected for the 2012-2013 academic year
Why should I go?: Because it will be amazing! Radioactive is a fascinating book: a blend of art, science, biography, history and romance, with an incredibly unique and very beautiful aesthetic. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out how all those things came together?
Other things to know: The event is free and open to the public; you don’t need to get a ticket or reserve a seat.

If you can’t make it to the event in person, well, we’ll miss you!  But you don’t have to miss a minute: we’re live streaming the whole thing, starting about 15 minutes before the talk actually begins.  To get in on that, just go to our home page and look for the link that says “Live stream of the event” (it’s under “Features” on the right side of the page).

If you have any further questions about the event, feel free to email us: gobigread@library.wisc.edu.  You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook with the links above.  Otherwise, we’ll see you on Monday!

Brooke, GBR graduate student

Suggest a Question for Lauren Redniss’s October 15th Lecture at Union South

Would you like to ask this year’s Go Big Read author a question about her book, her writing process, etc.?

Lauren Redniss’s October 15th lecture at Varsity Hall, Union South, is
free and open to the public. The event will begin at 7 pm (doors open at
6 pm) and no tickets are required. We hope you’ll attend and invite
anyone you know who might be interested.

Due to the large scale of the Varsity Hall event, the question and answer period will be moderated. Questions should be suggested in writing by October 10th. The moderator will select a representative set of questions and ask them of Lauren Redniss at the event.

If you would like to suggest a question, please post it as a comment to
this blog post. Please also consider including your name and some very
brief information about yourself (e.g., your major, unit, etc.).

Please note that blog comments are moderated so there may be a delay of
up to 24 hours between submitting your question and seeing it appear on
the blog.