The Antarctic Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided a grant to author Kathleen Keeley to visit the Antarctic and write a novel that helps improve the scientific literacy of young adults. Ms. Keeley writes fiction for a target audience aged 10-13, more specifically for girls in this age group, and has a series of books about the fictional character Molly Finn. Three Molly Finn novels have been published so far, and NSF is funding Keeley’s work on the fourth novel, “Molly Finn and the Southern Ocean”.

Quoting from the NSF site that describes Keeley’s grant,

Through Molly’s imaginary adventures, readers come to understand the delicate balance of life under the sea, the challenges sea creatures face as they struggle to survive in the ocean, the impacts of man on the environment, and the importance of scientific discovery to conservation and the responsible use of our planet’s resources.

In case you are unfamiliar with the NSF grant process, it is highly competitive, and the grants are awarded only to a fairly small percentage of applicants. Furthermore, even “pure science” awards typically have a significant outreach component to them, requiring cutting-edge research scientists to work with local schools and to provide a serious, well-conceived description of their plans to do so. This is very consistent with NSF’s mission to support science education, to contribute to science literacy of the country, and to train scientists for future teaching and research positions. It is now generally required that grantees also provide for some form of assessment, so the impact of their outreach can be determined. The impact of the scientific research itself is also assessed, of course, as part of the process that is required for final reports and new grant applications.

With Ms. Keeley, we find an author who traveled to the Antarctic to view the ecosystem first-hand, so that she could weave observations and important science into her fictional account. The real life adventures Ms. Keeley is experiencing are documented on her blog. In addition to a great photo-diary of her trip to the Antarctic, you’ll find tips on picking fiction for young adults and teens, and many other useful links.

Ms. Keeley has a publisher lined up for the fourth volume of the Molly Finn series, and before long, the new volume will be on the shelves and in classrooms, inspiring children and specifically young girls to explore the world around them, be aware of the environment, and open their eyes to the possibilities that scientific work can provide.

I’m sure that school children around the world will be also be inspired by the author’s real-life adventures as well as the fiction that Ms. Keeley writes, and I certainly hope that Ms. Keeley will be able to visit schools and interact with children personally, because both the books and the author will provide a thrill for pre-teens and more.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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