K. C. Cole

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K.C. Cole
Born (1946-08-22) August 22, 1946 (age 72)
OccupationWriter, author, radio commentator, and professor
EducationBarnard College
Notable worksThe Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up
Notable awardsAmerican Institute of Physics Science Writing Award

K.C. Cole (born August 22, 1946) is an American science writer, author, radio commentator, and professor. She has authored 8 nonfiction books, notably the bestseller The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, which has been translated into a dozen languages, and her memoir about her late mentor, Frank Oppenheimer, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up. In 1995, she was awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award and has covered science for The Los Angeles Times since 1994. She is a retired professor from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.[1] Cole is a resident of Santa Monica, California, United States.

Personal life[edit]

Cole grew up in multiple locations including Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Port Washington, New York. She studied political science at Barnard College, where she received her B.A. In 1968, she traveled to Eastern Europe, living in Czechoslovakia just one year after the Warsaw Pact invasion. She went to work for Radio Free Europe, beginning her career in journalism, and published her first article in the New York Times Magazine in 1970 titled, "Prague, Two Years After." The article covered life after the invasion.

After living for several years in Eastern Europe, Cole moved back to the United States to San Francisco, where she took a position at the Saturday Review as an editor and writer. In the late 1970s, she also worked as an editor and writer for Newsday, where she wrote on subjects from politics to travel, women's issues, and education.[2] Her articles also appeared in such publications as Omni, People, Glamour, Psychology Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Seventeen, and The New York Daily News. Cole’s first foray into novel writing focused on issues of feminism and motherhood. In 1980, Doubleday published her novel, What Only a Mother Can Tell You About Having a Baby. And in 1982, Doubleday published her book, Between the Lines: Searching for the Space Between Feminism and Femininity and Other Tight Spots in 1982. Both books were well-received with a write-up in TIME Magazine for the former and a series of excerpts published in The Milwaukee Journal[3] from the latter.

Science writing[edit]

Frank Oppenheimer and the Exploratorium[edit]

While living and writing in San Francisco, Cole was handed a magazine assignment to write about the Exploratorium, an innovative science museum. At the time, she had no interest in studying science, but her experience with the Exploratorium changed that. She avidly pursued an independent study of physics with the help of the Exploratorium staff, and developed a friendship with the Exploratorium's founder and the "uncle of the atomic bomb", Frank Oppenheimer, who became her mentor. Her experiences with Oppenheimer and the Exploratorium inspired her to pursue science writing.


Cole first wrote about science themes for the New York Times both in a column series called "Hers" and individual magazine features. Focusing primarily on physics and math, she went on to write a science column for the Washington Post magazine, and her science articles have appeared in the Esquire, The Smithsonian, Lear's, The New Yorker, The Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. She wrote and edited for Discover magazine for years, sharing a column with Stephen Jay Gould and Lewis Thomas. In 1994, Cole began covering physical science for The Los Angeles Times in a column called "Mind Over Matter," which she continued for years. After she left The Los Angeles Times to pursue teaching at the University of Southern California, she continued to contribute to The Los Angeles Times periodically.

Her science journalism has appeared in prestigious collections including The Best American Science Writing in 2004 and 2005, and in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002.

One noted critic of her writing is physicist Peter Woit as mentioned in his blog.[4] Woit expresses concerns about Cole's characterization of his work with String Theory.


In the mid-1980s, Cole began writing nonfiction science books. In 1985, Bantam published Sympathetic Vibrations: Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life with a foreword by Frank Oppenheimer. The book was based on Cole's New York Times "Hers" and Discover columns, and was republished in 1999 under the title First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life. In 1998, Mariner published Cole's second science book The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, a national bestseller that has been translated into twelve languages. In 2001, Mariner published The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything. In 2009, she published a book about her friend, mentor, and colleague Frank Oppenheimer called Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up.

Radio commentaries[edit]

Cole is a frequent radio commentator. She appeared on American Public Media's Marketplace[5], and her past science commentaries for KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) spanned topics from "The Magic of String Theory" to "The Evolution of Evidence."[6] She's also commented for the BBC World Service and WYNC Studio's Science Friday.


Cole is a retired professor from the University of Southern California's (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She has also taught science writing at Yale and Wesleyan universities, and was a professor of Science, Society and Communication at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She's been actively involved with the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and PEN West.

Art and science[edit]

In keeping with the spirit of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Cole engages in exploring connections between art, science, politics, etc. She helped to found an ongoing series of events at the Santa Monica Art Studios called "Categorically Not!" In each event, three different fields (from physics to the arts) are represented by three people discussing a common theme—such as Fluid Dynamics.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, 1995
  • Skeptics Society Edward R. Murrow Award for Thoughtful Coverage of Scientific Controversies, 1998
  • Los Angeles Times Award for Deadline Reporting, 1998
  • E.A. Wood Science Writing Award, 2001
  • Exploratorium's Public Understanding of Science Award (presented by Frank Oppenheimer)
  • Lifetime Member, Sigma Xi
  • USC "Remarkable Woman Faculty Member" Distinction


  1. ^ "USC Annenberg - K.C. Cole". Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  2. ^ "K.C. Cole resume". Tuvalu.santafe.edu. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  3. ^ "Meet K.C. Cole". The Milwaukee Journal – Google News Archive Search. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "Corrections..." Columbia.edu. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  5. ^ "Marketplace". Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  6. ^ "MultiMedia". Kccole.com. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "Categorically Not". Categoricallynot.com. Retrieved January 21, 2019.