Dana Mackenzie

Dana Mackenzie

Writing is my second career, but it was my first love. As a kid, all I wanted to be was a writer. Nevertheless, my academic career took a different direction. I loved mathematics too, and earned a doctorate from Princeton. I taught math for six years at Duke University and seven years at Kenyon College in Ohio. I enjoyed it, but I have to say I never felt that teaching was my true calling.

In 1996, using the newfangled invention called the World Wide Web, I found out about the Science Communication Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle clicked together. I could be a writer, as I had always wanted to be, and still make use of my knowledge of math and science.

At UCSC I learned about journalism and made the contacts I needed to hit the ground running. An internship at American Scientist in the summer of 1997 gave me some practical experience in writing and editing with a deadline. Since the fall of 1997, I have been a full-time freelance writer.

Some of the magazines I have written for are Discover, Smithsonian, Science, and New Scientist. "The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be" published by John Wiley & Sons, was my first book. Since then, I have written two booklets for the American Mathematical Society, called "What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences," volumes 6 and 7. I am working on another book about mathematics now, and I will post more information as it comes closer to fruition.

The Story of "The Big Splat"

The idea for my first book, "The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be," came out of a meeting that I covered in 1998 for Science magazine. It was a conference about the origin of Earth and the Moon, and I was the only reporter there. In three days of talks, I was astounded to hear over and over about the giant impact theory of the Moon's origin -- a theory that was completely unfamiliar to me, and yet was really the only one seriously discussed at this conference. I was amazed that the experts had more or less agreed on where the Moon came from, and yet no one outside the planetary science community knew about it! There was clearly a failure of communication between scientists and the public. It was up to me to bridge the gap.

Writing the book was a lot of fun. It was the perfect size for a first book. It came out to be twelve chapters long, and I had about twelve months to write it. That meant that I had to tell one in-depth story a month, which was just the right pace for me. I enjoyed the feel of working on a long-term project, as a change of pace from jumping around from one article to another.

A special treat, which I did not at all anticipate, was doing historical research with original documents. To research one chapter I traveled to Cambridge, England, to delve into the Charles Darwin papers. (What does Charles Darwin have to do with the Moon? Read my book to find out!) It's hard to express the thrill of holding in my hands a letter that Darwin sent to his son a century ago, realizing that I might be he first person to read it since then.

"The Big Splat" came out in the spring of 2003, and received excellent reviews. Booklist, a magazine published by the American Library Association, named it as one of their Editor's Choices for 2003 -- an honor accorded to only 63 books that year, and only four science books.

In June of 2007 I appeared the History Channel's new series, "The Universe," in an episode called "The Moon." In fact, if you watch carefully you will see that about half of the hour-long show is based on "The Big Splat." It was a dream come true to see what was essentially a "TV version" of my book. In August 2009 I appeared on "The Universe" again, this time in an episode about how Earth would be different if we had no moon.

Everything Else You Wanted to Know about Dana Mackenzie

In my free time, I am also an avid chess player. I was the state champion of North Carolina in 1985 and 1987, and earned the National Master title in 1988. In 2006, I joined the team of master teachers at www.chesslecture.com, where I record two video lectures a month. Ironically, I find teaching chess to be more satisfying than teaching math was, and my "students" seem to like me better. Why?!? Maybe because chess is, in the language of academia, an elective course, while math often is not.

My other hobbies include music and dancing. I started folk dancing in college, and years later I met my wife, Kay, in an international folk dance group. Four years ago I joined the Hula School of Santa Cruz, a warm, supportive, and family-oriented group. I strongly encourage any of you who have ever experienced the aloha spirit to find your local halau and give hula a try. The photo shows me before one of our performances.

Kay is also a writer -- we call ourselves the "Mackenzie Publishing Empire"! If you are into quilting, please check out her books, either here at Amazon.com or by visiting her webpage at quiltpuppy.com.

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