March 05


One of my favorite things in the entire world—more than breathing fire (which I love), more than the UT-Austin Longhorns (which I also love)—is watching someone who doesn’t understand a particular concept in science all of a sudden realize that they do. My absolute joy in contributing to that lightbulb moment is a huge part of why I do what I do. It’s one of the main reasons why I became a professor, why I started bringing science into schools, and why I decided to write books for kids about science.


When I was a senior in high school, I walked down the stairs in my house to find my sister, who was a sophomore, in tears. She was upset because she didn’t understand one of those math problems where you have to determine how much fencing a farmer needs to keep his livestock contained. Never wanting to see my sister upset, I sat with her and explained the concept she was having trouble with. I used different examples. I tried to make it fun. And then in the end, she understood exactly how to approach these types of problems. I could see her relax, I could see her smile, and I could see her feel smart and empowered and confident. And I knew then that I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.


I wanted to teach, just like my high school chemistry teacher. I won’t say that I’m a chemist solely because of my teacher, Mrs. Kelli Palsrok, but if it weren’t for her, I think it’s quite likely that I might have pursued a different field or expressed my passion for teaching in a different way. Mrs. Palsrok made learning about chemistry fun—and, perhaps even more importantly, she showed me that women could be chemists. Sally Ride—a phenomenal scientist herself with a PhD in physics—has famously said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and I agree with that. It’s hard to imagine being a female chemist if you’ve never seen one, if that’s not in your frame of reference as to what a chemist looks like.


And that’s another reason that I do what I do. I want to show people all over the world that women can be chemists. I want to show them that female chemists, if they want to, can wear high heels and leather jackets and lip gloss and still earn PhDs and be respected in their fields. And I want to show kids of all backgrounds that they, too can be scientists.


In my non-fiction book for kids, The Big Book of Experiments, readers can see real kids of all genders and many different ethnicities doing experiments on the cover and at the beginning and end of the book. That was important to me to have there because it’s what I want the future of science to look like. People with different backgrounds come to science with different lived experiences, and those experiences shape the way they think and the ideas they have. We need people of all genders and all backgrounds to contribute to the field for it to be the best it can, the most creative it can, and make the most difference it can.


In my fiction series, which started with Dragons vs. Unicorns and now is continuing with The Great Escape, in which young Kate and her friends have to escape from a science-themed Escape Room in their elementary school, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve created a diverse cast of characters and shown how everything they think about shapes how they relate to science. One of the characters, Bridie, is an artist, and her art lets her see ways to use science to escape the room that other kids can’t. And the same is true of the other characters.


My hope is that both my non-fiction book and my fiction series inspire kids the way Mrs. Palsrok inspired me. And that the way I’ve explained the scientific concepts to them makes lightbulbs go on in their minds. Even if I’m not there to see it happen, knowing that these books have the potential to help kids understand and fall in love with science—and make them think that they can pursue it, too—means the world to me. It’s why I’m on a scientific mission. And I hope teachers, parents, and students alike will join my STEM army. Science is awesome, and I want the world to know.



Dr. Kate Biberdorf, also known as Kate the Chemist by her fans, is a science professor at UT-Austin by day and a science super hero by night (well, she does that by day, too). Kate travels the country building a STEM army of kids who love science as much as she does. You can often find her breathing fire or making slime–always in her lab coat and goggles.