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'Lab Girl': An illuminating memoir of a woman in science

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'Lab Girl' by Hope Jahren
'Lab Girl' by Hope Jahren
Courtesy of Knopf

Hope Jahren's new book will change the way you think about plants — and the way you listen to them.

Yes: Listen. Not for leaves rustling in the wind, but for the actual sounds of the plants.

As a teenager in rural Austin, Minn., the cornfield was the only place to escape to, Jahren told MPR News host Kerri Miller.

"That was the place to get away — the middle of the cornfield," she said. And it's there, when the wind dies down, that you'll hear it.

"You will hear a slow rustle that's not the wind — it's the tissue growing, swelling and shifting just a little bit."

Jahren's come a long way from the Minnesota cornfields; she's now a professor of Geobiology at the University of Hawaii. Her memoir, "Lab Girl," is an illuminating account of her path through the world of scientific research. Her work has taken her all over the world, from the Midwest to the North Pole and now Hawaii.

What she's chasing is the feeling that comes with the moment of discovery.

"When that goes right, when you come up with something — what you get from that is so addictive," she said. "It just becomes your life's mission to feel it again and again and again. Science doesn't have a lot of moments like that — you work long hours in the hopes of a moment which is more likely not to come than to come."

For the full conversation with Hope Jahren on "Lab Girl" and her research, use the audio player above.