Lindy Elkins-Tanton is the principal investigator for a NASA probe slotted to fly out to the asteroid belt to study a rare, metal-rich asteroid called Psyche. This body, 138 miles wide, is suspected to be the ancient core of a failed planet, one that didn’t fully form in that vast region between Mars and Jupiter. As Earth’s core is inaccessible, Psyche might serve as the means to unlock the secrets of our own planet’s mysterious center.
Given the title of her memoir — “A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman” — a reader might expect to be immersed solely in a scientific story: how a geologist progressed over the years from hammering terrestrial rocks as a student to leading a deep-space mission. But this riveting book, beautifully written, is far more. With a brave candor, Elkins-Tanton examines all aspects of her experiences — personal and professional, the good and the bad — to plumb the very meaning of her life. She also offers novel approaches to education, tactics for handling sexual harassment cases in academia and new methods for team-building in scientific research that go beyond the “hero model.” “No single person can alone build human knowledge anymore,” she notes. “We need the breadth of ideas that comes from a diversity of voices.”