Write Stuff: Joel Eissenberg, Ph.D.
Learn about the projects and passions of SLU faculty and staff members who have written books, in their own words.
Joel Eissenberg, Ph.D., has spent his life as part of a scientific community, from growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a research hotbed, to marrying a fellow scientist (and his high school sweetheart), to teaching for more than 30 years as a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the School of Medicine.
While science has loomed large in his own life, Eissenberg has now distilled his passion down, capturing the essence of each element of the Periodic Table in 17 syllables in his newly-published poetry collection, Elements in the uniVerse: Illustrated Haikus of the Periodic Table. The book, illustrated by Bobbie Kogok, is a whimsical look at the building blocks of the universe and how they inspire both the scientific and creative mind.
Poetry is a recent pursuit for Eissenberg, who has published extensively in scientific journals, including recently in the Missouri Medicine about direct-to-consumer genomics.
I’m a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the School of Medicine, where I’ve been on the faculty for over 32 years.
I grew up the oldest of five in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city with a high concentration of scientists and engineers. Both of my parents are Ph.D. scientists. I married my high school sweetheart; she’s a Ph.D. scientist and assistant professor of medicine in the oncology division at the Washington University School of Medicine. We have a daughter who is an immigration attorney for Catholic Charities in Fall River, Massachusetts.
It wasn’t originally targeted for kids. I posted the haiku on Facebook as I wrote them. A high school classmate and Facebook friend is a children’s book illustrator. It was her idea to style it as a children’s book, although adults seem to like it, too.
Another Facebook friend writes and posts haiku. He’s much more diligent about the proper haiku style (beyond the meter) and has published some in real poetry magazines. I was inspired by him.
For some kids, science can seem intimidating or irrelevant. The value of using familiar communication forms to illustrate science helps give concrete form to abstract ideas.
Also, images are easier to recall. Scientific journals use cartoons to illustrate complex pathways and mechanisms for much the same reason. Our medical students are using cartoon-based mnemonics to study.
Gold. The haiku is a cultural allegory, not science. I still smile when I see it.
When I was in college, I used to memorize poetry, including "Dover Beach," "Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "McCavity the Mystery Cat." I can still recite the first two by heart.
I also play folk and blues music and sing; the lyrics are a form of poetry.
Anyone young at heart with a sense of humor.
Write Stuff is an occasional series of interviews with SLU faculty and staff authors who have newly-published or forthcoming books. To submit your work for possible inclusion in the series, email Newslink.