Meet Vertices’ science media picks for spring break

March 3, 2022
Science Magazine

It’s T-minus two days until Spring Break. I can finally count the remaining days on my right hand alone. But with a much-needed hiatus from English midterms, chemistry labs, and physics problem sets comes the unique opportunity to delve into a new book, movie, or podcast. To jumpstart your Spring Break binge, the Vertices Staff has compiled our top seven favorite science media recommendations. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari

Around two million years ago, the first known humans emerged on Earth. At one point, more than six unique species of humans inhabited the planet. Today, only we, homo sapiens, remain. How did we get here not only biologically, but socially and culturally? Dr. Harari’s knack for narrating science and history through storytelling propels readers through a nuanced discussion of human evolution. How can biology and history help us define humanity and inform our future?

Psst! Loved “Sapiens” and ready for more? Try Harari’s latest works: “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

“Chasing Life,” with Sanjay Gupta

Ready to trade text for headphones? Tune in to “Chasing Life,” a mini-series-turned-podcast by an esteemed neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In season one, Dr. Gupta searches the globe—Japan, India, Turkey, and more—for secrets and cultural practices that underlie ways to live a longer, more fulfilling life. Season two takes on the brain. How does a mysterious three-pound organ dictate our physical and mental health, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? This pick is the perfect soundtrack for any road trip or morning jog.

“Interstellar,” directed by Christopher Nolan

Itching for a sci-fi classic? Look no further than the 2014 film that Variety describes as a “science-geek fever dream.” Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” depicts a futuristic Earth, where a NASA physicist (Michael Caine) hatches a plan to save the population from a second Dust Bowl and crop disease, which have rendered the planet uninhabitable. In a moving story of exploration, love, time, sacrifice, join former pilot Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), and their team of researchers as they catapult through a wormhole to find humanity a new home. “Interstellar” delivers a thrilling plotline and dazzling visual effects that introduce us to worlds beyond our conception.

Curious to learn more about the science behind the film? Check out a previous Vertices article: “Our Future in the Stars: An Analysis of the Space Blockbuster ‘Interstellar’” by Sofia Guerrero '24.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot

HeLa cells are the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture. From genome mapping to in vitro fertilization to polio eradication and more, these cells have driven countless pivotal landmarks in the history of science over the past half-century. But the origin story of these cells and the woman they came from remains largely unknown. Removed from Henrietta Lacks, a Black tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer, the HeLa cell line was biopsied at John Hopkins Hospital in 1951 and later sold without her consent. While HeLa cells have become the most widely used human cell line in biological research, Lacks’ living relatives struggle to afford health insurance in the wake of their ancestor’s legacy. In this anthropological narration, Skloot skillfully weaves together an unforgettable, true tale of science, ethics, social justice, and legacies of harm in the history of medicine.

“Hail Mary,” by Andy Weir

Fans of “The Martian,” rejoice! Author Andy Weir has returned with another relentlessly creative tale beyond Earth. The novel revolves around Ryland Grace, a middle-school-teacher-turned-astronaut who wakes from a coma only to find himself aboard a starship in orbit around Tau Ceti with no memory of his own name. Grace’s mission: stop the extinction of the human race. Indeed, Weir delivers yet another riveting interstellar survival thriller. Reading “Hail Mary” is an adventure in itself.

“The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race,” by Walter Isaacson

For the first time in history, a species on Earth has developed the ability to alter its own genome—and that’s no science fiction. Walter Isaacson’s latest best-selling biography introduces readers to one of the scientists responsible: Jennifer Doudna. “The Code Breaker” highlights the contributions of this driven female biochemist––one whose work later earned her the 2020 Nobel Prize for the development of the CRISPR gene-editing technology that has since revolutionized science and medicine. In fact, it has even paved the way for messenger RNA-based COVID vaccines that have saved millions of lives today. In this must-read, Isaacson details a nail-biting race toward discovery and offers pressing questions into the ethics of unprecedented scientific capabilities of humankind.

Do you have science-related media recommendations to share with the Duke community? We’re all ears. Please tell us your all-time favorites in this Google Form.

Reed Lessing

Reed (Trinity ’25) is from New York and is majoring in Neuroscience with a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Outside of Vertices, she studies neuroimmunology in the Eroglu Lab and coordinates events for NeuroCare (Duke's mental health advocacy group). In her free time, she enjoys hiking at Eno, rating new restaurants on Beli, and serving as a crash cushion for airborne toddlers as a ski instructor.

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