“Dream Big, Little Scientists: A Bedtime Book”

coming 2/18/20, illustrated by Alice Potter

Each of the kids in this book loves a different branch of science, and their rooms are decorated to show it, complete with posters of their science heroes. Here are the biographies of the big scientists these little scientists admire.


Carl Sagan (1934–1996)


As a child, Carl Sagan loved learning about the stars. He was fascinated by science fiction and the possibility of life on other planets. Sagan grew up to be a famous astronomer and science writer. Early in his career, he studied the atmosphere of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. Later, he worked with NASA to prepare astronauts to journey into space, including Apollo flights to the moon. He researched and wrote about life beyond Earth. Sagan was part of a team that created a “golden record” of sounds from Earth. These recordings, which included everything from popular music to ocean waves, were launched out of our solar system on space probes called Voyager 1 and 2. He hoped they would be a friendly message from Earth to any existing extraterrestrial life. Sagan co-created a television series Cosmos: A Personal Journey (which you can watch!) to help people understand the wonders of astronomy. He is often called “the astronomer of the people.”

Jessica Phoenix (1982– )



Jessica Phoenix was a curious child and avid reader. She devoured books on a wide range of topics. In college, Phoenix discovered her love for geology. In graduate school, she focused her research on volcanos, because she was captivated by these formations that show a changing, evolving Earth. She has traveled around the world to study volcanos, including Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on the planet. Phoenix is dedicated to spreading her passion for geology to future generations. She co-founded Blueprint Earth, a nonprofit organization that brings together scientists and student researchers. Together, they work to map out a “blueprint” of all the physical and biological traits of a specific ecosystem. In 2018 Phoenix ran for Congress, speaking up about climate change. Although she lost the election, she still dedicates herself to helping the Earth through her scientific pursuits.


Jacques Cousteau (1910–1997)


Jacques Cousteau learned to swim when he was four years old, beginning his lifelong captivation with the underwater world. As a young adult, Cousteau entered the French Naval Academy. After graduating, he trained to be a pilot, but a serious automobile accident set his life on a different course. To regain his strength after the accident, Cousteau started swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. He had never worn goggles underwater before, and the breathtaking view sparked his desire to learn all he could about the mysteries of the ocean. Cousteau wanted to find a way to stay underwater longer and explore farther. With engineer Émile Gagnan, he developed the Aqua Lung, a breathing device for underwater diving. After founding the French Navy’s undersea research group, Cousteau transformed Calypso, a small navy warship, into a research vessel. He explored seas and rivers around the world and recorded his adventures. Through the TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, this passionate oceanographer shared the mysteries of the sea with the world.  


Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736)


Gabriel Fahrenheit became an orphan when he was only five years old. He was sent from his home in Poland to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, to live with a shopkeeper and study business. But Fahrenheit was more interested in science. When he got a little older, he traveled around Europe to learn about making scientific instruments, which was an expanding field. As scientists asked more and more questions, they needed well-made instruments to help them perform experiments. Thermometers were in particular demand. Fahrenheit was not satisfied with the thermometers of his day, so he designed a new one that was more accurate. He also created a new way to record temperature, called the Fahrenheit scale, which is still used in the United States.


Anders Celsius (1701–1744)


Anders Celsius was born into a family of scientists. His father was an astronomer and his grandfather was a mathematician. Following in his father’s footsteps, Celsius became an astronomer as well. He focused his early research on the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Celsuis is considered the first astronomer to notice a connection between the aurora borealis and changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. Celsius is also thought to be the first to try to measure the brightness of the stars. But Celsius is best known for creating the temperature scale that bears his name. The Celsius scale is the most widely used temperature scale in the world.

George Washington Carver (1864–1943)



Born on a farm in Missouri during the Civil War, George Washington Carver began life as a slave. After the Civil War, Carver gained his freedom. He and his brother were raised by former slave owners Moses and Susan Carver, who had no children of their own. They taught him to read and write and encouraged his natural curiosity. At a young age, Carver showed a keen interest in plants and experimented with ways to nurture their growth. Neighbors called him “the plant doctor” because he helped cure their sick plants. Carver was the first African American student to attend Iowa State University, where he studied botany. As an expert in agriculture, he helped many farmers by teaching them crop rotation. Carver was also an inventor. He is probably best known for developing hundreds of uses for the peanut, from shampoo to shoe polish.


Thomas Meehan (1826–1901)


Born in England, Thomas Meehan inherited his love of plants from his father, a skillful gardener. Meehan spent much of his childhood outdoors, keenly observing nature. As a teenager, he published his first botanical article. Around the same time, he bred different types of fuchsia flowers to create a brand new hybrid. Meehan was born deaf. Opportunities for deaf people were limited in Meehan’s time, yet that did not stop him from traveling across the ocean to put his botanical skills to use in America. Meehan worked as a gardener in several different places including Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia, the first botanical garden in the United States. Eventually Meehan started his own nursery, which was the first to specialize in raising North American trees and plants. Meehan published hundreds of botanical articles in his lifetime and was elected as the State Botanist of Pennsylvania.


Wangari Maathai (1940–2011)


Wangari Maathai grew up in Kenya in Africa, where she learned from a young age to cherish the trees and fertile land of her home. Maathai excelled in school and earned a scholarship to attend college in the United States, where she studied biology. Maathai received her doctorate degree from the University of Nairobi, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to receive a PhD. As the population of Kenya grew, more and more trees were cut down to make room for crops and buildings. Birds and other animals lost their habitat. The soil, once anchored by the tree roots, washed into streams and dried them up. So Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement to help heal the land. A big supporter of women’s rights, Maathai worked with Kenyan women to improve the environment by planting trees. Maathai’s message spread, and to date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over a million trees across Africa. In 2004 Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her social and ecological work.


Stephen Hawking (1942–2018)


Young Stephen Hawking was more interested in fiddling with mechanical objects than focusing on his schoolwork. Still, his skill with mathematics led him to the best universities in England: first Oxford to study physics and then Cambridge for a PhD in cosmology. At the age of twenty-one, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a motor disease that slowly paralyzes the body. Doctors told Hawking that he only had a few years to live. Although the disease slowly weakened his body, he focused his brilliant mind on studying the laws of the universe. One of Hawking’s most important discoveries was that black holes are not entirely black, but instead emit light in the form of radiation. ALS eventually robbed Hawking of his ability to speak, but that didn’t stop him from dictating best-selling books, including A Brief History of Time, using a talking machine. Defying the odds, Hawking enlightened the world about the mysteries of the universe until his death at age 76.


Donna Strickland (1959– )


When Donna Strickland was a child, her father took her to the Ontario Science Centre and pointed out a laser display. She was transfixed. Her fascination with lasers continued throughout her childhood and led her to study physics in college. In graduate school she focused more closely on lasers. At the time, laser physicists were wresting with a problem: How could they make a laser stronger and more precise without destroying the material inside it? Working with Gérard Mourou, an engineering professor, Strickland figured out a way to do just that. Their method, called chirped pulse amplification, led to the creation of much smaller, more precise lasers. They have been used for everything from eye surgeries to cell phones. In 2018 Strickland and Mourou received the Nobel Prize for their invention. She is only the third woman to receive a Nobel Prize for physics (after Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Marie Curie in 1903).


Mary Anning (1799–1847)


Mary Anning grew up in an area of England known as the Jurassic Coast because of the bounty of fossils in its seaside cliffs. Anning’s family was poor. To make extra money, she hunted fossils to sell. Like many girls of her day, Anning did not have much formal schooling, but she taught herself geology and anatomy. When she was twelve, her brother found a strange-looking skull poking out of a cliff. Determined to uncover the entire skeleton, Anning worked for months, carefully chipping away dirt and stone. Finally, she revealed a seventeen-foot fossil. At first, scientists thought Anning’s discovery was a huge crocodile. In fact, it was an ichthyosaur, a creature that lived in the sea millions of years ago. Anning went on to discover many other fossils, including the first plesiosaur. The male scientists who purchased Anning’s fossils rarely gave her credit for her discoveries. Fortunately, today she is recognized as one of the early pioneers in the field of paleontology. It is also believed that the tongue twister that goes, “she sells seashells down by the seashore” is about Anning.


Mizuko Ito (1968– )


Born in Kyoto, Japan, Mituko Ito grew up in both Japan and the United States. She attended Harvard University and focused on East Asian studies. Ito went on to receive PhDs in both anthropology and education from Stanford University. As a cultural anthropologist, Ito’s main area of interest is studying teenagers’ use of the internet, video games, and social media. She is currently the director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine. This research hub brings together educators, technology experts, and researchers to study ways that technology can better meet the learning needs of young people.


 Takie Lebra (1930–2017)


Takie Lebra was born in a rural village of Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, in the shadow of Mount Fuji. She studied political science at Gakushuin University in Tokyo and went on to receive her PhD in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. Lebra spent twenty-five years teaching anthropology at the University of Hawaii. She made many trips back to Japan over the course of her career to observe and interview Japanese people. She wrote several books based on her findings. For one of her best-known books, Above the Clouds, Lebra conducted more than one hundred interviews with members of the kazoku, or Japanese noble class. Her research has helped people around the world gain a better appreciation for Japanese culture.


Joseph Lister (1827–1912)


Joseph Lister’s father taught him how to use a microscope as a boy. Lister’s appetite for science, particularly anatomy, increased during his school days. By the time he was sixteen, he knew he wanted to be a surgeon. He studied medicine at the University College in London and became a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, Scotland. As a doctor, Lister observed that almost half of patients who underwent surgery for amputation died from infection. At the time, doctors weren’t required to wash their hands before surgery. Then Lister read about Louis Pasteur’s germ research. As a result, Lister change his pre-operation routine. He scrubbed his hands, the patients’ wounds, and his medical instruments with a germ-killing chemical. Lister encouraged other surgeons to do the same. These procedures dramatically reduced the number of deaths. Lister was hailed as a medical hero during his day, and today he is known as the father of antiseptic medicine.

Marie Curie (1867–1934)


The child of two teachers, Marie Curie learned to read and write at a young age. Curie graduated at the top of her high-school class. She wanted to go to college, but at the time in her homeland of Poland, only men attended university. Marie saved money working as a teacher and governess so she and her sister could attend the Sorbonne, a college in France that accepted women. There Marie received degrees in physics and mathematics. She married another scientist, Pierre Curie, and together they studied elements that gave off a special energy. The Curies came up with a term for these energy-emitting elements: radioactive. Together, they discovered two new radioactive elements, polonium, named after Marie’s homeland, and radium.  During World War I, Curie treated soldiers with a portable X-ray machine she invented. She founded the Radium Institute, dedicated to researching ways to use radiation to treat illnesses. Curie became the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize, and received the award twice, first in physics (1903) and then in chemistry (1911).

Alice Ball (1892–1916)



Alice Ball grew up in a family of photographers. In fact, her grandfather was one of the first African Americans in the United States to make daguerreotypes, or photographs printed on metal plates. It’s possible that Ball’s interest in chemistry was sparked by watching her grandfather mix chemicals for his photographs. In high school, Ball excelled in science. She became the first African American and first woman to receive a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. Ball was also the first female chemistry instructor there (when she was only twenty-three years old). She worked to find a successful treatment for leprosy, a contagious disease that damages the skin and nervous system. One common treatment was to for leprosy sufferers to drink chaulmoogra oil, made from seeds. But the oil was sticky and bitter. Ball discovered a way to separate the key ingredient in the seed and inject it into patients. Ball died before she could see the amazing results of her discovery, and Arthur Dean, the university’s president, claimed her work as his own. Several years later, Ball was given the credit she deserved by another colleague. Her treatment, the Ball Method, helped improve the lives of thousands of leprosy sufferers. Hawaii designated February 29, 2000, as Alice Ball Day to celebrate the life of this innovative chemist.