The Rightful Place of Science: Creative Nonfiction

RPS Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction—the fastest-growing writing genre in the publishing world—means true stories well told, communicating ideas and information in an accessible narrative form to enlighten and inform general readers. The stories in this collection present expert knowledge about science, technology, and innovation policy in an accessible, story-oriented way, without the use of buzzwords and jargon. Creative nonfiction as exemplified here is becoming increasingly important as scholars attempt to connect with and influence a wider, more inclusive audience.

Table of Contents

  • To Think, To Write, To Publish –  Lee Gutkind, David Guston, and Gwen Ottinger
  • Making Stories Visible –  Adam Briggle and Meera Lee Sethi
  • Paying for Perennialism – Sarah Whelchel and Elizabeth Popp Berman
  • The Little Reactor that Could? –  Ross Carper and Sonja Schmid
  • Living and Breathing Plants –  Angela Records with Roberta Chevrette
  • Drowning in Data –  Gwen Ottinger with Rachel Zurer

About the Authors

Elizabeth Popp Berman is an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany, SUNY, and the author of Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine .

Adam Briggle , an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas, is the author of A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking  among other books.

Ross Carper is a writer based in Washington State whose publications include fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction.

Roberta Chevrette is a Ph.D. candidate in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on rhetoric, cultural studies, gender and sexuality, and public memory.

David Guston is a professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University.

Lee Gutkind is the founder and editor of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction , the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University, and the author or editor of more than thirty books.

Gwen Ottinger is an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society and the Department of Politics at Drexel University. She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges .

Angela Records is a consultant with Eversole Associates, a global science and technology firm based in the United States.

Sonja Schmid is an assistant professor in Science and Technology studies at Virginia Tech.

Meera Lee Sethi is a Seattle-based writer who is currently pursuing graduate studies in ecology.

Sara Whelchel is a medical student at the GRU/UGA Medical Partnership in Athens, Georgia.

Michael L. Zirulnik is a research associate at the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes and a Ph.D. candidate in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. He is Chair of the Peace and Conflict Communication Division of the National Communication Association based in Washington, DC.

Rachel Zurer is senior content editor at Backpacker magazine in Boulder, Colorado.

February 2015

Center for Literary Publishing

Colorado review, a college of liberal arts center, the art of creative science writing: a conversation with gerald n. callahan.

by Samantha Tucker Iacovetto, Colorado Review Editorial Assistant

creative nonfiction science writing

Many writers are mining the seemingly contradictory through the innovative combination of science and CNF writing. Authors such as Mary Roach ( Stiff, Spook ) and Rebecca Skloot ( The Immortal Lif e of Henrietta Lacks ) have researched topics as varied as the use of human cadavers or the origins of the HeLa cell; both Roach and Skloot write about these topics in groundbreaking ways by using narrative and literary devices that expose readers to science in a truly accessible style.

For creative science writer Gerald N. Callahan, there is no opposition between the liberal arts and the sciences, no real gaps between his work in the lab, and the creative nonfiction he writes to explore it. Callahan, a professor who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology and the Department of English at Colorado State University, insists that “science, at heart, is storytelling.”

creative nonfiction science writing

Each of the tales that follows considers the art and science of what it means to be a human being in the same way a painter might explore how a weave of colors can change how we experience the sea or an old woman. Artists have changed forever the way I will think about the night sky. So have astronomers and physicists. But for me, the greatest insights about myself and my universe came when I stitched together Jocelyn Bell’s pulsars and Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night , or when I interwove Josiah Willard Gibbs’s free energy, chemical thermodynamics, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s panther. In these spaces are stories about where we came from and who we are, about why we care and where we will end.

In Callahan’s collection, each essay is also linked by a few underlying questions: What is human self? How is it created—and what is it made of? Thematically, this search for self is not a new topic for Callahan. His earlier books, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us about Self-Perception and Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of the Two Sexes, were also written from Callahan’s need to explore what it means to have a self. “Why are you—you?” he asks, and while easy answers may include our personalities, our thoughts, our basic genetics, Callahan proposes it’s much more complex—and biological—than that. Callahan believes “the essence of self…is an ability to determine what is me and what is not me.” In Lousy Sex, he examines that essence through narratives on Beethoven and syphilis, through stories on the sex lives of wood lice, through questions of immortality.

While Callahan’s subject matter is conceptually complex, his style and approach are entirely approachable and inviting. Online reviewers refer to his work as “poetic science,” indicative of his start as a creative writer; he began when his wife secretly signed him up for a poetry course, which eventually led him to a writing group. After his first book—a collection of essays and poems titled River Odyssey— Callahan found a need to combine his love of creative writing with his expertise in the sciences. For him, it was a natural and necessary combination. “As all writers do,” he says, “you start thinking about what you want to write about, and suddenly I realized I had all this stuff that I had learned that had really changed the way I thought about me, how I thought about you, how I thought about what it meant to be human.”

His dedication to learning, as both teacher and student, makes Callahan diligent in keeping his work from being “about ivory tower stuff.” He says that accessibility in science writing is not about “dumbing it down,” but instead, about translation—and pointing out accessible connections that scientists already make for themselves. “We scientists notice things in the world around us, things like disease; we do some research and then we create stories to try to explain the world around us,” Callahan says. “Like all storytelling that requires a metaphor—the war between us and bacteria, bodies divided into systems like machines—the better our metaphors, the better our science.”

And so Callahan’s poetic search is far from over. Though Lousy Sex was only just released, he is already working on two more books: one on how bacteria make us human, and another exploring how stories are “as powerful as genes and as infectious as viruses.” He is a writer/scientist—in no particular order—but perhaps more so, a student who needs to share all he has learned. Callahan explains, “My work as a writer and a student of literature has considerably heightened my awareness of metaphors and the way they pulse beneath the surface of all stories. Science, especially microbiology, has considerably heightened my sense of the power and the infectivity of stories.”

creative nonfiction science writing

Online Course

Eureka! Science Writing for General Audiences

January 09 - February 12, 2022

Level Intermediate

Gain writing and research skills—everything from general literary techniques to interviewing and fact-checking—that will help you craft engaging nonfiction about scientific discovery, research, and policy.

Additional information.

In this class, you’ll take a close look at the writing and research skills needed to craft engaging nonfiction about scientific discovery, research, and policy, and practice them over the course of five weeks. You’ll discuss how literary elements such as scene, character development, and narrative can bring scientific topics alive for general readers, as well as how to document research and interviews to prepare for the fact-checking process. You will complete one essay, and will also be given optional short exercises that can later be incorporated into longer pieces. You will also discuss how to identify and query markets for science-based nonfiction and receive personal feedback on your work from the instructor and peers.

Course Schedule

Week 1: the hows and whys of great writing about science.

In this first week, you’ll look at the current landscape of science writing opportunities and discuss the need for exciting, accurate writing about scientific research and discovery. You’ll look at examples of writing that seeks to be (or has proven to be) policy-changing. You’ll also discuss some practicalities, such as ways of recording and note-keeping that can make the fact-checking process go more smoothly. You will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words. 


What if you weren’t there when the eureka moment happened? What if the eureka moment is months or years away? This week you will look at how to bring research alive on the page—even if it seems static in the lab—by learning note-taking and interviewing techniques that will help with writing three-dimensional actors and putting them into realistic spaces. You will write a draft of part of your essay (up to 750 words) and submit it to the instructor. Optionally, this exercise can also be shared with classmates for peer reviews. 


This week you will put yourself in the shoes of a brand new science writer (regardless of your scientific expertise) and hit the metaphorical pavement. You will talk about how to find newsworthy stories about research and track down experts who can help. You'll address questions such as how to ask for an interview if you haven’t sold the story yet, when to write the story first and when to pitch first, and how to be sure your sources are reliable. You will also look at how to find scenes within your work, to get those characters and settings to interact, while maintaining factual accuracy. You will also talk about the pitfalls (and occasional practicalities) of re-creating scenes, speculation, compression, conflation, and compositing. You will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words.


Scientific research is often a very long-term, on-going process. Discoveries and findings are announced intermittently and often with inconclusive or anti-climactic results. How can you find an engaging story within such an unpredictable process? How can you craft relatable stories about inanimate objects, non-human organisms, complex policies, or scientific theory? You will discuss techniques for making large stories small enough to reach a non-expert reader and connecting those small stories back to your larger concepts. You will write an essay of up to 3,500 words that incorporates exercises from the first two weeks (or new writing based on skills practiced during the exercises) and submit it to the instructor.You may also submit work to your classmates for peer review.


During this final week, you’ll discuss how to find markets for science-based nonfiction. Which literary publications foster science and nature writing? Which popular markets publish literary coverage from the science frontiers? You will discuss how to query editors and how the revision and fact-checking process works once your piece or project is accepted for publication. You will have an optional writing exercise.

Course Instructor

creative nonfiction science writing

Chelsea Biondolillo

Course registration.

$ 310.00

Out of stock

Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected] .

Hear from our Students

Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.


I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines. Catherine O’Neill

You might also enjoy

When is it okay to laugh how to use humor in creative nonfiction (replay).

Replays include ongoing access to the recording and downloadable supplemental materials.

Embrace the Unknown: Speculation and Invention in Creative Nonfiction

Every true story contains gaps. By imagining our way into these gaps, we can transform our material and our writing experience.    

CNF Learning Corner

What is creative nonfiction.

Dive in with CNF Founder Lee Gutkind

Recommended Reading

Get started with the best CNF has to offer

Explore Creative Nonfiction

Search 25+ years of essays

Email Newsletter

The best of Creative Nonfiction in your inbox. Sign up to stay up-to-date on genre-related news and updates from the Creative Nonfiction Foundation.


  1. Writing Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard

    creative nonfiction science writing

  2. 22 Creative Nonfiction Books That Will Make You Feel All the Feels

    creative nonfiction science writing

  3. Writing Science

    creative nonfiction science writing

  4. PPT

    creative nonfiction science writing

  5. Browse Resources

    creative nonfiction science writing

  6. 5 Ways to Practice Nonfiction Text Features

    creative nonfiction science writing


  1. Science fiction nonfiction mysteries romance #shortsfeed #religion

  2. CNF:Creative Nonfiction Elements

  3. Scientific Writing introduction

  4. science fiction and nonfiction #shorts e #reels #reaction #video #subscribe #trending #youtubers

  5. Exploring Creative Writing: Dive Into Diverse Forms!

  6. Side A Poetry: "As Long as I'm Patient I'm Waiting for You" by Peter Leight


  1. The Line Between Science and Writing

    CNF: What are the dividing lines between the two fields? How do the worlds of science and writing come together for you? BITTEL: This is an important question right now. Our country is increasingly skeptical of science and scientists, even though we rely on scientific advances for literally every aspect of our lives.

  2. Advanced Science Writing

    Writing about science invariably means searching for and talking to scientists. This week we will talk about the tools and craft of interviewing subjects and will look at different options for finding information about current or historic research. Week 3: The longform essay

  3. The Rightful Place of Science: Creative Nonfiction

    Creative nonfiction—the fastest-growing writing genre in the publishing world—means true stories well told, communicating ideas and information in an accessible narrative form to enlighten and inform general readers.

  4. The Art of Creative Science Writing: A Conversation with

    For creative science writer Gerald N. Callahan, there is no opposition between the liberal arts and the sciences, no real gaps between his work in the lab, and the creative nonfiction he writes to explore it.

  5. MA in Science Writing

    In workshops such as Science Narrative and Science Personal Essay & Memoir, students develop tools of creative nonfiction while receiving extensive feedback on their writing. Summer residency courses immerse students in the field – from tromping through fields and coasts with field biologists to joining astronomers as they observe other galaxies.

  6. Eureka! Science Writing for General Audiences

    Science Writing for General Audiences - Creative Nonfiction Online Course Eureka! Science Writing for General Audiences January 09 - February 12, 2022 Level Intermediate