June 7, 2022
As a principal scientific engineering associate at the Molecular Foundry, Tracy Mattox trains people in the analysis of very small particles called nanos, supervises research, designs experiments, and conducts her own research.
Nanos also appear in her writing. After taking an almost two-year break due to the pandemic, Mattox recently released her ninth e-book titled “A Hex on You” featuring the character Nancy Nano, a nanoparticle that lives in the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab. In her first e-book “You’ve Never Seen Small,” Nancy Nano describes the research in the Molecular Foundry, its electron microscope, atoms and their components, and the periodic table of elements. Mattox makes the Nancy Nano books accessible to both elementary school children and adults without a science background by defining all terms, avoiding acronyms, and using puns (“Never trust an atom . . . they make up everything!”) – all in 12 pages.
Beyond her work and Nancy Nano e-books, Mattox also mentors interns at the Molecular Foundry, raises two children, teaches yoga online, and writes chapter books.
What led you to a position at Berkeley Lab?
I always loved science. I knew my freshman year in high school I wanted to get into chemistry. I followed my husband here after graduate school in Ohio and found a job posting on Craigslist – I didn’t know about Berkeley Lab – and joined in 2007, a year after the Molecular Foundry opened.
What inspired you to write the first Nancy Nano book?
So many scientists were trying to explain to kids and people without scientific experience what their job actually involved. Also, my whole family wanted to know what I do at the Lab. Nancy Nano is geared toward fifth grade and my oldest was in that grade at the time. Some of the books I tied into topics my kids were learning in school.
What are the challenges of creating the Nancy Nano books?
When at a user facility, you are busy and pulled in a lot of directions. It makes the job exciting but carving out time . . . it takes one to two months to write. I schedule 30 minutes at a time to write. This one took a little longer.
Read the Nancy Nano ebooks at https://nancynano.lbl.gov/