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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 15, 2008

Foerstner will read from Van Allen biography for 'Live from Prairie Lights'

Northwestern University faculty member Abigail Foerstner will read from her new biography, "James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles," at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, in Buchanan Auditorium of the University of Iowa Pappajohn Business Building.

Listen live via the Writing University Web site at The free event will also be recorded for broadcast on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series, originating on UI radio station WSUI-AM 910.

Hour-long Iowa Public Radio "Live from Prairie Lights" productions, hosted by Julie Englander, air at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays on WSUI-AM 910 in Iowa City, WOI-AM 640 in Ames and KRNI-AM 1010 in Cedar Falls.

A Publishers Weekly feature explained, "The name Van Allen (1914-2006) is known primarily today through the eponymous belt of radiation discovered in 1958 by equipment he placed on America's first satellite. But science writer Foerstner ('Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers') says, Van Allen's career crystallizes the entire history of space exploration.

"She tells the story of the Iowa boy who became a major scientific figure but spent his entire professional career working out of the backyard workshop environs of the physics building at the University of Iowa.

"Van Allen went on to design experiments for early missions to Venus and Mars that determined these planets do not have magnetic fields. Late in his career, the famous Pioneer X and XI voyages to the far reaches of the solar system carried his instruments.

"Foerstner portrays Van Allen as a wheeler-dealer, knowledgeable in the political workings of NASA but also, in the best Midwestern tradition, a staunch advocate of his students and colleagues. The author had access to all of Van Allen's papers and diaries, and space buffs interested in an important figure of the space era will find this bio worthwhile."

Nobel physics laureate Leon M. Lederman wrote, "Abigail Foerstner's life of James Van Allen reads like an exciting novel as we participate in Van Allen's growth in the field of space science, using rocketry to explore the rich structure of our planet in and above the layer of our atmosphere. It is crammed with very literate expositions of the dramatic years following World War II, years of epochal events: scientific, technological, political, and academic. James Van Allen was a superb figure upon which to trace this important era in the history of the nation."

Foerstner teaches science writing and news writing in the graduate program at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. As a staff reporter for the suburban sections of the Chicago Tribune, she covered science and the environment for nearly 10 years.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights, 319-337-2681,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),