Go Big Read Goes “Radioactive”

April 23rd, 2012

University of Wisconsin-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward has selected Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Pulitzer Prize-nominated New York Times illustrator Lauren Redniss as the book for the fourth year of Go Big Read, the university’s common reading program.

Ward chose the critically acclaimed illustrated biography of the groundbreaking scientists from a short list compiled by a review committee. He previously charged the committee to focus on innovation in narrowing down the list of 219 nominated titles, making this the first year Go Big Read has been connected to a particular theme.

Radioactive embodies innovation and the wonder of discovery,” Ward says. “This book will inspire dynamic discussions across the campus community about the power people have to change the world.”

The highly visual book depicting the discovery of radioactive power defies simple categorization. It is a mash-up of a love story, graphic novel and science textbook that captures the complexity of the intersections of science, history and biography. Redniss, a professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, says she wanted to tell a story about invisible forces: radioactivity and love.

“There’s passion, discovery, tragedy and scandal,” Redniss says in an interview. “But I also thought the Curies’ story was an interesting way to look at questions that affect our world right now.”

Cyanotype is a camera-less photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. When the chemically-treated paper is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it turns a deep blue color. Redniss decided to use photographic imaging to create the images in “Radioactive,” since it was critical to both the discovery of X-rays and of radioactivity.

“The imagery Redniss uses to tell the story of Madame Curie and those affected by her research evokes an emotional tie to a story that most people know something about,” says Sheila Stoeckel, chair of the selection committee for this year’s program. “But Redniss is able to make a newly-founded connection with the reader that is remarkable.”

Go Big Read engages students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members in a shared, academically focused reading experience. The program’s most recent selection was “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.

Planning is under way for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events associated with “Radioactive.” Redniss is scheduled to visit campus in October, when she will give a talk at Varsity Hall in Union South. Copies of “Radioactive” will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students and to students using the books in their classes.

To learn more about the ongoing Go Big Read program, plans for this fall and to sign up for email updates, visit their Web site.

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