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How 'A Wrinkle in Time' changed the universe for one Seattle scientist

The Crab Nebula was one of the first objects that NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory examined with its sharp X-ray vision.
Flickr Photo/ NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (CC BY NC 2.0)/
The Crab Nebula was one of the first objects that NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory examined with its sharp X-ray vision.";

As an undergrad at MIT, Emily Levesque discovered the three largest stars in the known universe. She was drawn to the project because of a long-seeded fascination with black holes.

That inspiration came from a book she read when she was eight — “A Wrinkle in Time,” which has now been released as a grand production for the big screen.

“I actually think that I would not have been involved in that project and would not have discovered those stars if it hadn’t been for ‘A Wrinkle in Time’” she told Bill Radke, speaking on KUOW’s The Record.

“I loved that it was a book about science and it was a book that was using physics as a tool for exploring the universe.”

The story (quickly told by Levesque) is about Meg, whose father is a scientist that disappeared. Her younger brother introduces three mystical beings into the family’s lives. They take the children on a journey through the universe to find and rescue their father.

Levesque said she really connected with Meg, who is seen as a glasses-wearing oddball in the book.

“As somebody that got teased in school for being the kid interested in science, it was so awesome to see a character like that as the hero” she said.

Levesque said that growing up, she was lucky her family never made an issue of her gender. She was just a kid who liked science and digging for dinosaur bones in the backyard.

“That lack of emphasis helped me just be a kid and just be a scientist. And I like seeing that reflected now when I go back and reread the book,” Levesque said.

Having a mother who was a children’s librarian helped feed an early and enthusiastic reader. Levesque emphasizes how important it is to bring science, literature and the arts together.

“I hate the idea that there are creative and artsy people and there are science and math people, and they’re very separate things. Because in my experience, there is so much overlap there,” she said.

She said part of the problem is the two subjects are taught separately in school, but creative thinking and communicating scientific concepts are key elements for pushing science forward.

She gave KUOW a wish list for the culture of science. It includes getting people excited about science and understanding why people research what they do.

“Science is done by people, by humans, and this passion and curiosity is really what’s driving scientists. So much of that directly creates the types of discoveries that we make," she said.

"Having more understanding of that, and as a result, more financial support for science, is only going to help how science is done and really help humanity."

Levesque speaks about “A Wrinkle in Time” in greater detail on the pilot episode of “The Deep,” a podcast about the childhood books where we found inspiration.

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012