Author Mary Roach spoke Thursday night at the Milwaukee Public Museum’s feature presentation, Science on Tap. Roach was interviewed on stage in front of the audience by WUWM radio host Mitch Teich. Guests were able to enjoy a drink or two before the lecture and get their copies of Roach’s book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War signed following the discourse.
Roach discussed her life as a writer, the books she has published, along with her methods of research for her publications. She referred to herself as a translator for science, portraying what scientists yield, and introducing their thoughts and ideas in simpler, easier to understand terms.
In her younger years, Roach longed to be a traveling writer. During high school, she thought science was uninteresting and dismal, but now science teachers are using her books in their classrooms.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War came about in an unusual way. Roach was in India at a chili pepper event, where engineers were making chili peppers into bombs. Other engineers were creating leach repellent for their military, which sparked an idea to Roach. She began to wonder about military science and problems faced in that field.
She began her research for her book in Djibouti, a country situated in the Horn of Africa. There, she gathered information at a military base. Roach learned how maggots prevent infections, and that scientists are looking into maggot therapy for wounds, such as shrapnel and IED bomb injuries.
Roach also discussed how many seamen of our Navy are willing to put themselves in life-threatening positions, but are terrified of getting attacked by sharks. While a compound cannot be created to disperse in the water due to the fact that it would be diluted in the ocean immediately, scientists have created a dye “bomb” instead, to deter sharks from coming near soldiers.
Apart from sharks, flies also impact our military negatively in a way many people don’t think of. Flies land on feces near military camps and, due to lack of refrigeration of food, the flies then land on the food the soldiers eat, creating an outbreak of food poisoning. This isn’t ideal when soldiers are expected to be ready at any given moment for operations. To resolve this problem there are more methods of refrigeration in camps.
Mary Roach also discussed her writing techniques and how she transcribes her research into valuable information for people who aren’t necessarily big on science. She stated that she treats scientists like unpaid tutors. While writing her stories, she asks herself if her tones are too difficult for readers and worries if her topics are too weird, something she has to ask herself often as she tackles diverse ideas.
“99% of what I write [in my notepad] doesn’t make it to my books,” Roach stated. She believes that every sentence should earn its keep in her book and uses humor as a tool to keep readers interested. Roach suggests to writers to bring the material to life with topics that are exciting.
“Follow your own curiosity and passion. If you’re bored with what you’re writing, your reader will be bored. I leave out the parts people skip.”