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Biography

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and health for the past two decades. Her work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddle of humanity's place in the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with imaginative vision.  She has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and fellowships at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. 

Ackerman is currently working on a book about the intelligent life of birds, to be published by Penguin Press in 2014.  Her previous books include Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold (Twelve, 2010), which was named a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award, and Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), which explores the biological events we experience over the course of a day.  The latter was selected as a New York Times "Editor's Choice" and was chosen as a main selection for the Scientific American Book Club.  It has been published in thirteen languages.  Ackerman’s book Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) was named a New York Times “New and Noteworthy” paperback and was selected as a Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 2002. Ackerman’s work on that book was supported by a year-long fellowship from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Ackerman is also the author of Notes from the Shore (1995), which describes the natural life of the mid-Atlantic region, and the editor of The Curious Naturalist (1991).

A writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, National Geographic, Natural History, Nature Conservancy, and many other publications, Ackerman has written essays and articles on subjects ranging from the microbiome of the human body to the sexual habits of dragonflies and the neural nature of dyslexia, from ocean circulation to the wildlife of Japan, parasites as agents of evolutionary change, the biology of cranes, the origin of birds, food safety, genetically modified foods, and the work of Nobel-prizewinning developmental biologist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard.

Ackerman's writing has been collected in several anthologies, among them The Penguin Book of the Ocean, ed. James Bradley (Penguin Australia, 2010), Best American Science Writing, ed. Alan Lightman (Perennial, 2005), The Nature Reader, ed. Daniel Halpern and Dan Frank (Ecco Press, 1996), Best Nature Writing (Sierra Club Books, 1996), Shorewords (University of Virginia Press, 2003), Stories from Where We Live—the North Atlantic Coast, ed. Sara St. Antoine (Milkweed, 2001), From the Field, ed. Charles McCarry (National Geographic Society, 1997), Seacoast Reader, ed. John A. Murray (Lyons Press, 1999) and The Beach Book, ed. Aleda Shirley (Sarabande Books, 2000). In 2005, her article on “The Great Marsh” in Delaware Beach Life won the International Regional Magazine Associations Silver Medal award for nature writing.

From 1998-2002, Ackerman served on the Editorial Board of the University of Virginia Press. From 1996-2001, she was a judge for the Phillip D. Reed Memorial Prize for Environmental Writing, sponsored by the Southern Environmental Law Center. She has also served as an editorial consultant for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on a series of magazines designed to introduce the general reader to new research in genetics, and for the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Nature Conservancy, and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

Ackerman has made appearances on many radio shows, including NPR programs, and has lectured at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia and its Medical Center, the American Association of University Women, and for numerous other groups and organizations. She also speaks and reads to audiences at schools, libraries, and nature and arts organizations around the country.

For seven years Ackerman was a staff writer and researcher for the book division of the National Geographic Society, where she contributed to The Incredible Machine, a book about the human body (1986, 1992) and served as editor-in-chief of The Curious Naturalist, a collection of essays about approaching and understanding North American ecosystems (1991).

Born in 1959, Ackerman was educated at Yale University, where she studied literature, graduating cum laude in 1980 with a B.A. in English. Ackerman is married to novelist Karl Ackerman and has two daughters.

 

 
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