She’s studied physics at Caltech, launched two radio shows, published five books, written candidly about her affair and divorce in The Atlantic, excelled in music and performance art, and was booted off KCRW for accidentally dropping the F-bomb. Next month, the renaissance woman takes on a new challenge: teaching across two disciplines.
I’m going to be teaching an undergraduate course in visual arts on aesthetics, and a graduate class for science students that will focus on communication skills—how to explain their research to people and organizations that provide funding. One class is a left-brain approach to the arts, and the other is a right-brain approach to science.
I went to Caltech to study physics, and then to USC to get a master’s in writing. I’ve always thought the concept of a renaissance education was important. There’s a lot of specialization going on at universities. The molecular biology students don’t know what’s going on in chemistry, and the Russian studies kids don’t know what’s going on in comparative lit.
In 2011, I was to give a commencement speech at UC Irvine. I thought it was just for science graduates. Only a few minutes before did I realize it was for the physical sciences and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. I’d written this speech all about science so I had to improvise. I took it as an opportunity to tell them to look across the aisle at each other and make sure to communicate.
After the commencement, UC Irvine let me know that it was interested in what I was doing with “The Loh Down on Science” to make science available and interesting to the public. So we decided that I would teach here for a few years and the university would sponsor the radio show.
The visual arts course is going to be a big class, maybe 90 students.Some will be taking it just to fulfill a requirement and be part of the cattle. I want to entertain students while teaching them to think critically about the world around them.
I’m 51 now and I have these two young girls in school, so public education is my biggest passion right now. Part of this journey for me is making education freely available. I want kids, especially those in minority communities or underfunded districts, to be interested in learning and to know that they can go into STEM [science, tech, engineering, math] fields. This next section of my life is about deploying information in more and more ways.
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue.