The concept for this project grew out of the internship of John Jefferson, Ph.D., as a part of his sabbatical from teaching chemistry at Luther College. Dr. Jefferson was developing his skills as a science writer by writing short news briefs on the work in research labs at Mayo.
One day, just to give him something different, I asked him to write about Hooke’s coining of the word cell. Not given any other guidelines, John used the same format he had been practicing and wrote a news release as it would have been written at the time of the discovery.
We quickly realized that there was an opportunity for the fictitious historical reporter. Science has always been intriguing to the people caught up in the moment and we wanted to try and capture the excitement of the time. And from time to time we sought to inject a bit of subtle humor into the story knowing modern day readers would be able to catch the hidden pieces of wit. It didn’t take much persuasion from John for me to let him put in a little sarcasm, such as when the reporter suggests the controversy about evolution would easily be settled once and for all after the term for gene was introduced. A careful reader may be able to find many such levels of innocent humor.
There were added bonuses along the way, such as the discovery that we were missing a primary reference for Hook’s often repeated statement comparing plant cells to monk’s living quarters. This myth-busting endeavor turned into a sidebar with a request for readers’ comments.
But, in my opinion, what is most important about these whimsical reflections on the past is the way they capture the newness and enthusiasm of the science by imagining what it must have been like to be the news reported who got to tell the world about a newly coined word.
-- Bob Nellis, executive editor of Discovery’s Edge