3D Printing author Melissa Koch on writing nonfiction for teens, finding trustworthy sources, and why she’s always loved STEM topics.
Q&A with Melissa Koch
First, tell us a little about yourself!
I love learning how things work and then creating something new based on what I’ve learned. Patterns fascinate me: patterns made by nature and by humans. For most of my career, I developed new technologies and educational experiences for kids, parents, and teachers to learn science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).
I also enjoy being outdoors hiking, biking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing with friends and family.
How did you start writing?
I have always loved writing and reading. When my son was born in 2012, my parents brought all my childhood books to our house—boxes and boxes of familiar books. My journals filled one of the large boxes. Forgotten pages of observations of the natural and human-made world mixed with my personal hopes, explorations, disappointments, and dreams. How are bridges built and why are some people afraid of bridges? What causes earthquakes and why do people build homes where they know earthquakes occur? The connections we have to scientific and engineered worlds has always fascinated and frustrated me.
I enjoy helping people—myself included—understand and make personal connections to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I’ve written books for businesses, curricula for youth, and nonfiction books for teens focused on computer science, technology, engineering, Earth system science, and mathematics.
I enjoy researching and writing books that make science personal and valuable to kids, ages 5 to 15.
Why do you write nonfiction for teens? What considerations do you take when writing for that age group?
I love writing and reading nonfiction. I like reading fiction too, but I’ve never felt compelled to write it. For me, writing begins with reading something interesting that I just have to learn more about. I get excited about researching a topic, learning lots about it, finding some interesting patterns that no one else seems to be writing about, and then writing about what I’ve learned and my new incites on the topic in a form I think readers will enjoy.
When I write nonfiction for teens, I think about what made me excited about the topic. I then channel my 15-year-old self and see if she would have found it exciting too. It often needs a bit of a tweak to appeal to my 15-year-old self.
Then, I add the people. For my teenage self and me today, I need to know who is behind the science and technology to really understand it. As a teenager, I read a lot of biographies. I still like looking at the world through other people’s eyes to understand them and our world.
I think it’s especially important to include a diverse group of people in my books, and by that I mean diversity in terms of physical characteristics (race, gender, ethnicity, age) and perspectives. It’s important for all teens to see people who look like them doing STEM and to encounter unusual perspectives on STEM topics.
Did you learn anything particularly surprising while researching 3D Printing?
A lot of misinformation gets published about 3D printing. Even published in sources, such as newspapers, that we trust. 3D printing is an amazing technology that gets a lot of people excited. When that happens (amazing technology + passionate people), as a reader you need to think super critically about what you are reading. You always need to be a critical reader, but in this case even more so.
This means reading about a specific innovation from multiple reliable sources and, if possible, seeing the technology in action with your own eyes. Reliable sources are technology experts who have no financial or professional gain from providing the information about the technology.
What are some of the ways that 3D printers will be used in the future?
Chapter 6 shares a lot of the possibilities for 3D printing in the future. Medicine is fascinating with many scientists around the world discovering how to bioprint organs to implant into human bodies. It’s also amazing that today objects that are difficult to manufacture due to an intricate internal structure for example, can be 3D printed easily. I think we’ll see more of these type of printed objects in the future.
I’m most intrigued by programmable matter. With programmable matter, 3D printing provides the initial state of the object but because that object started in a digital form, its design can continue to evolve, to customize to the situation after it is printed. Basically, smart objects.
If you could print anything you wanted from a 3D printer, what would it be?
A part that I needed to fix my house, my furniture, or my bicycle. I hate to throw away things that are broken. I prefer to repair them. It would be so cool if I could just print the bicycle part I needed, or a new glass coffee pot rather than having to buy a new one.
What are you working on now?
For a teen audience, I’m working on a book about how trees communicate with each other and with us. The book will reveal how scientists discover the unseen world of trees and invites readers to look at trees and forests as living beings with knowledge and abilities we need to protect and foster for the benefit of trees, humans, and our planet.
Resources on 3D printing and STEM nonfiction for teens
For more STEM nonfiction for teens from Twenty-First Century Books, read Editorial Director Domenica Di Piazza’s post on recently released titles.