Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and health for three decades. Her work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddle of humanity’s place in the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with imaginative vision. She has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a Silver Medal Award for Nature Writing from the International Regional Magazine Association, and fellowships at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College (now the Radcliffe Institute), Brown College at the University of Virginia, and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.
Ackerman's most recent book, the New York Times bestseller The Genius of Birds, was published in April 2016 by Penguin Press and issued in paperback in 2017. It has been published in 20 languages. Her previous books include Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold (Twelve, 2010), which was named a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award, and Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body (Houghton Mifflin, 2007; Mariner Paperbacks, 2008), which explores the biological events we experience over the course of a day. The latter was selected as a New York Times “Editor’s Choice” and was chosen as a main selection for the Scientific American Book Club. It has been published in 13 languages. Ackerman’s book Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity (Houghton Mifflin 2001; Mariner Paperbacks 2002) was named a New York Times “New and Noteworthy” paperback and was selected as a Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 2002. Ackerman’s work on that book was supported by a year-long fellowship from the Bunting Institute and a grant from the Sloan Foundation. Ackerman is also the author of Notes from the Shore (Viking Penguin, 1995), which describes the natural life of the mid-Atlantic region. Penguin Press will reissue this book in June 2019 as Birds by the Shore. An Established Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Arts Council supported work on that book. She is the editor of The Curious Naturalist and the co-author with Dr. Miriam Nelson of The Social Network Diet and The Strong Women’s Guide to Total Health.
Ackerman’s essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, National Geographic, Natural History, Parade, and many other publications. She has written on subjects ranging from the work of Chuck Close to the microbiome of the human body, the evolutionary origin of birds, the sexual habits of dragonflies, the neural nature of dyslexia, the biology of cranes, parasites as agents of evolutionary change, ocean circulation, the wildlife of Japan, genetically modified foods, and the work of Nobel laureate and developmental biologist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard. In 2005, her article on “The Great Marsh” in Delaware Beach Life won the International Regional Magazine Association’s Silver Medal award for nature writing. Her writing has been collected in several anthologies, among them, Flights of Imagination: Extraordinary Writings About Birds, ed. Richard Canning (Greystone, 2010), The Penguin Book of the Ocean, ed. James Bradley (Penguin Australia, 2010), Best American Science Writing, ed. Alan Lightman (Perennial, 2005), Shorewords (University of Virginia Press, 2003), Stories from Where We Live—the North Atlantic Coast, ed. Sara St. Antoine (Milkweed, 2001), The Beach Book, ed. Aleda Shirley (Sarabande Books, 2000), The Seacoast Reader, ed. John A. Murray (Lyons Press, 1999), From the Field, ed Charles McCarry (National Geographic, 1997), The Nature Reader, ed. Daniel Halpern and Dan Frank (Ecco Press, 1996), and Best Nature Writing (Sierra Club books, 1996).
From 1998-2002, Ackerman served on the Editorial Board of the University of Virginia Press. From 1996-2001, she was a judge for the Phillip D. Reed Memorial Prize for Environmental Writing, sponsored by the Southern Environmental Law Center. She has also worked as an editorial consultant for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on a series of magazines designed to introduce the lay reader to new research in genetics, and for the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, The Nature Conservancy, and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.
Ackerman has made appearances on many radio shows, including NPR programs, and has lectured and presented at venues around the world, including the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival, the American Philosophical Society, the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, the Delta Birding Festival in Spain, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia and its Medical Center, and for numerous other institutions and organizations.
For seven years, Ackerman was a staff writer and researcher for the Book Division of the National Geographic Society, where she contributed to The Incredible Machine, a book about the human body (1986, 1992) and served as Editor-in-Chief of The Curious Naturalist (1991), a collection of essays about approaching and understanding North American ecosystems.
Ackerman was educated at Yale University, where she studied literature, graduation cum laude in 1980, with a B.A. in English. Ackerman was married to the late novelist Karl Ackerman and has two daughters.
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