“As a geobiologist, Jahren spends her days with dirt on her hands, leaves in her hair and plants on her mind.” – Renee Montagne introducing Hope Jahren in a 2016 Interview on NPR’s Morning Edition.
A friend gave me her copy of Hope Jahren’s book, Lab Girl, when it came out in 2016. A fascinating and enjoyable read, Jahren intertwines her personal story with the story of her work as a geobiologist. She tells of being a young girl with keys to her father’s lab (he taught science at a local community college), a young woman coming up in male-dominated academic environments, and her long struggle with mental illness. At the same time, Jahren gives us new insights into the secret lives of plants in a way that will change how you think about them forever.
Hope Jahren was born in Austin, Minnesota on September 27, 1969. She earned her Ph. D in soil science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996, where she focused her work on the formation of biominerals in plants.
She worked as an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University and went on to full professorship at the University of Hawaii. Today, Jahren is a Wilson Professor at the University of Oslo’s Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, studying the chemical linkage between living and fossil organisms and their environment.
Jahren is best known for her work in the fossil forests of Canada’s Axel Heiberg Island (near the North Pole), where she was able to study the chemical makeup of petrified trees to determine the island’s environmental conditions 45 million years ago. By analyzing the depletion of oxygen isotopes in the forest’s remains, she and her team shed light on the mystery of how this now-barren environment could have once hosted lush, redwood-like forests.
Jahren’s interdisciplinary approach, using chemical, biological, geologic, and soil science is her signature. She describes herself as curiosity-driven or “blue sky” scientist, going where the research leads rather than setting out with a destination in mind: “We study and research and investigate because it gives us joy and it makes us grow as people.” This approach has led Jahren to a a career of pioneering research and discovery and a place among today’s most promising earth scientists.
Named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” in 2006 and one of Time Magazine’s “Top 100 Influential People” in 2016, Jahren has gotten a lot of attention for her scientific and literary achievements. This notoriety has given her a platform to encourage women and girls to enter the sciences. She’s spoken out on harassment and gender equity issues in academia, sparked controversy on Twitter for hijacking Seventeen Magazine’s #ManicureMonday with #Science, encouraging women to share photos of their manicured (or unmanicured) hands doing science.
Hope Jahren is a scientist, writer, advocate, and activist and there is no doubt we’ll be hearing more from her in the years to come.
Fulbright Award, 1992: Geology, Norway
Fulbright Award, 2003: Environmental Science, Denmark
Fulbright Award, 2010: Arctic Science, Norway
Donath Medal, Geological Society of America, 2001
Macelwane Medal, American Geophysical Union, 2005
“Brilliant 10” Scientist, Popular Science, 2006
Leopold Fellow, Stanford University, 2013
“100 Most Influential People,” Time Magazine, 2016
by Hope Jahren
Lab Girl, 2016
Best American Science and Nature Writing, Editor, 2016
The Humble Seed, Waiting to Grow, 2016
My Family, My Science: One Girl’s Scientific Coming of Age, Nautilus
Hope Jahren on Plants, Mud Manicures and Science’s Woman Problem, Time Magazine, March 2016
‘Lab Girl’: An Homage To The Wonders Of All Things Green, NPR, April 22, 2016
In Conversation with Hope Jahren, ARBlog, by Meghana Srinivasan, November 8, 2017
Image Credit: Hope Jahren Twitter Page