Alberta-born author and scientist Dr. Lindsey Carmichael has penned another science book for young readers.
The Edmonton native’s upcoming book on the domestication of foxes, Fox Talk: How Some Very Special Animals Helped Scientists Understand Communication, publishes in August with Ashby-BP Publishing. The book draws a bit on her PhD thesis, Ecological Genetics of Northern Wolves and Arctic Foxes, for which she received the Governor General’s Medal. Fox Talk explores the links between these fascinating animals and the humans who have domesticated them.
“In terms of their behaviour towards people, these foxes are as tame as dogs – they love to be petted, they ask for love. But they’re still foxes, and they have unique behaviours,” Carmichael said.
“They’re a lot like Border collies. They need a job – they’re busy, energetic and curious, but they can be destructive if they’re bored,” she said.
Carmichael’s books have covered everything from animal migration to hybrid cars.
Publishing as L.E. Carmichael, she writes to fire the young imagination and to share the sense of wonder she gained in her career as a scientist.
“I love going down little rabbit trails hunting for information I think people will love. Writing for kids reopens my eyes to how fascinating the world is – it’s an amazing, incredible place, and there’s no excuse for boredom. There are so many things to get kids excited about,” Carmichael said.
Her Hybrid & Electric Vehicles (ABDO, 2013) debunks myths about the “new-fangled” nature of the electric-assisted vehicles and their popularity.
“What I found the most astonishing was that the technology has been around since before the 20th century. Electric vehicles were the most popular kind until gasoline became cheaper and more easily available,” Carmichael said.
Electric vehicles were favoured as easier to drive than crank-start gas-powered cars, and their popularity boomed again in the gas-shortage era of the 1970s and also during World War II, when petroleum was needed for the war effort.
“We talk about it as if it’s brand new exciting technology, but it’s been around 100 years – in an age of rising environmental awareness, scientists are focusing on how to make it competitive again,” she said.
ABDO also released Carmichael’s The Scientific Method in the Real World earlier in 2013.
“This book anchors scientific philosophy with cool, fun examples of the scientific method in action – which is what I think kids will find exciting,” Carmichael said, citing the example of a brand-new battery – powered by a cockroach – which doesn’t kill the bug.
Early use of the scientific method helped Italian scientist Francesco Redi prove maggots came from fly eggs, debunking the long-held theory that maggots spontaneously erupted from raw meat.
The goal of The Scientific Method is to show the processes of reasoning, observing, asking questions, and testing, Carmichael said.
“The process is used by regular people all the time, from detectives to auto mechanics to chefs changing recipes. I want to make science relevant to things kids see around them every day,” she said.
Carmichael’s magazine articles and short stories have been published in Dig, Highlights for Children, Kiki, and Canadian Tales of the Fantastic.
“I never outgrew that stage of childhood when nothing’s more fun than amazing your friends (and correcting your teachers) with your stockpile of weird and wonderful facts,” Carmichael said.
With a doctoral degree from the University of Alberta in population genetics, Carmichael sees genetics at work at home in her own pets – two Pixie-bob cats. A newer breed thought to be descended from a cross between barn cats and bobcats, the pair have tufted ears, massive paws and bobtails. “They’re basically dogs in cat form – so sweet and affectionate. It’s the best of both worlds – like having a dog with none of the responsibility,” Carmichael said.
Lindsey Carmichael lives with her husband Brian in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she is a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University.