Episode 50: Let's Learn about Chemistry with Dr. Stephanie Ryan

Welcome to this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm! You may remember my sister, Rachel, who was our guest on Episodes 8 and 9. Rachel is currently in graduate school at Notre Dame pursuing her doctorate in analytical chemistry. She’s the perfect co-host today for this great interview with Dr. Stephanie Ryan. Dr. Ryan the author of “Let’s Learn About Chemistry” which is a board book designed to help parents introduce basic chemistry concepts to their children through the “one of these things is not like the other” game. She is on Instagram @letslearnaboutscience. Stephanie has a strong background in chemistry and biology and enjoys applying her background to develop superior educational products. She is also interested in how mathematics and science intertwine. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences with a focus on Chemistry Education.

Dr. Stephanie's websiteInstagram, and board book or ebook

Books mentioned on today's episode (affiliate link)

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Author and Science Educator Dr. Stephanie Ryan with her first book for children, Let's Learn About Chemistry

Laura reading Let's Learn About Chemistry aloud over Zoom to her sister Rachel, who is currently studying Analytical Chemistry in a doctoral program at Notre Dame. Rachel co-hosted this episode of The Library Laura Podcast. 

Stephanie, her son, and his friends who feature as the main characters in the book. 

Books recommended to Stephanie 

Rachel mentioned two well-loved comic series for "nerds" including xkcd by Randall Munroe and Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle. 

Randall Munroe (of xkcd) also wrote two books, What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions and Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

 The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean - according to the Bookshop.org book description: "The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery." 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - in which 11-year-old Flavia DeLuce considers herself a chemist, rides a bicycle, and solves a mystery. Laura and Rachel have both read and enjoyed this book. 

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller - Laura hasn't read this one, but it looks like a lot of fun, and is written surrounding an egg-drop contest at school. Tae Keller won the 2021 Newbery Award for When You Trap A Tiger.

Laura recommended the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn (starts with A Curious Beginning) as a nice mix for Stephanie between women scientists doing cool things with a bit of racy-ness and scandal. Butterfly hunting, natural history museums, taxidermy and poison gardens, with a few shirtless men, illegitimate royal children, scandal, and murder. You get the idea! 

Based on Stephanie's enjoyment of Before We Were Yours, Laura also mentioned recently reading I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day which addresses a time in history where Native American children were removed from their families and placed for adoption for flimsy reasons. It's a beautifully told middle grade story in which that happened to the main character's grandmother. 

Stephanie Recently Read and Recommends

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah - Stephanie read this one and then listened to it on audio (narrated by the author!) and felt like she learned a lot about the history of South Africa and is glad she read it. 

Educated by Tara Westover - Stephanie really enjoyed this book and it really made her appreciate how fortunate it is to be able to pursue education. The author's dad keeping her home from school was in stark contrast to Stephanie's father who took her to Purdue to do extracurricular science activities on the weekends during her childhood.  Please look up trigger warnings before reading this book if it sounds interesting to you! 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate - a historical fiction novel based on true events that Stephanie found so interesting she did online research on the story after she finished the book. According to the Bookshop.org book description: "Based on one of America's most notorious real-life scandals--in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country--Lisa Wingate's riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong." 

Other books mentioned on the show

I came home with more books from the library than I was planning to, one of which was the Graphic Novel adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time. 

Rachel also mentioned G.K. Chesterton's book, Orthodoxy, and how he says you don't really understand a concept until you can explain it to someone else in one-syllable words. 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore - a book about women in science that's already on Stephanie's TBR. 

Rachel's was kind enough to share the full text of the sonnet she mentions it during the episode when talking about how poetry reunites words and numbers and encourages pattern recognition: 

Sonnet IV: The Peacemaker

I labor in a world of numbers stark

Equations, graphs, statistics, ciphers, lines

Where ones and zeroes sum up every quark

And data to a point the world confines

But at day’s end the word calls to my heart

Weaving sweet tales of wonder and delight

And witty puns with meaning to impart

Like golden apples set in silver bright

So Digitopolis tallies its score

While Dictionopolis boasts of its might

How long will word and number be at war?

How long till Rhyme and Reason set things right?

 poems the sundered word and number meet

In metered dance rejoined, reborn, complete

Thanks for joining us for this episode with Dr. Ryan and the future doctor Roller :) Be sure to find and follow Stephanie on social media @letslearnaboutscience, and pick up a copy of her book, Let's Learn about Chemistry, for yourself or an inquisitive child in your life.  

With lots of literary love from my library to yours! 



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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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