Book By Shipman Wins Phi Beta Kappa Award In Science

November 17, 1998

A book written by Pat Shipman, adjunct professor of anthropology at Penn State, has received the 1998 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. Her book, Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight, published by Simon and Schuster in 1998, was selected from twenty-two books nominated for the prize.

Written for a general audience, the book is a compelling account of the finding and interpretation of Archaeopteryx, the enigmatic fossil whose anatomy combines birdlike and reptilian features that have puzzled and intrigued scientists since the discovery of the first specimen in 1861. The seven known specimens of Archaeopteryx lie at the center of a heated debate about how birds evolved the ability to soar above the ground. Scientific interpretation is complicated by the almost iconic status of the beautiful fossil, which has come to represent the evolutionary process itself. Included in the story are some fundamental questions: How do birds fly? Did birds evolve flight "ground up" or "trees down?" Are birds really just evolved dinosaurs? And, how do scientists actually do science?

Reviewers have described Taking Wing: as "as well structured as any mystery novel" and "an absolutely fascinating . . . truly interesting, truly original book." According to one reviewer for the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, "Pat Shipman's book is a rare delight. She deals in detail with the dynamic problems involved in flying, the advantages and disadvantages of different styles of flight, the role of feathers in the design of airfoils, and the energetics of the various ways that vertebrates fly, all given in lively discursive writing that holds the reader's attention."

The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, which includes a $2,500 prize for the author, has been given annually since 1959. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest academic honor society in the United States. Shipman will receive the award during a ceremony next month in Washington, D.C..

Some previous winners of the prize include Stephen Jay Gould for "Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History," Linus Pauling for "Vitamin C and the Common Cold," Edward R. Tufte for "Envisioning Information," Ernst Mayr for "One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought," Kip S. Thorne, for "Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy," and Jared Diamond for "Guns, Germs, and Steel."

Shipman is a well-known science writer specializing in subjects related to human origins and evolution. In 1997, she won the Rhone-Poulenc General Prize of L10,000 for her book, The Wisdom of the Bones, published by Alfred A. Knopf and coauthored with her husband, Alan Walker, also of Penn State. The Rhone-Poulenc Award is given annually for the best book promoting the public understanding of science published in English.
Pat Shipman: phone 814-231-1549, e-mail
Linda Surles, Phi Beta Kappa: 202-745-3232
Barbara K. Kennedy, Penn State: phone 814-863-4682, e-mail

Penn State

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