I had a wonderful childhood. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, I was surrounded by classical music, interesting discussions about religion and God, books, and science, for my parents believed it was important to share with me and my brother and sister those things that most deeply enriched their own lives. My father and mother were musicians, my grandfather was a Methodist minister, and every week we faithfully attended the symphony concert and church, but it was my father’s infectious enthusiasm for science that gave me the grounding that would many years later allow me to write confidently about science and scientists, though my formal schooling was almost entirely in music. In our family, science was not something you had to learn in school (though you might learn something of it there), not something you had to do for a living, and not something other, smarter people did. The opening of my book Measuring the Universe describes the summer outing when my father taught my brother and me how to measure the height of the windmill on my grandparents’ farm in the Texas hill country, by measuring its shadow.
I met my future husband, Yale Ferguson when I was fourteen years old and he was sixteen. We married when I was not long out of high school and moved to New York City so that he could get his Ph.D. at Columbia University and I could attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, studying voice. I have BMus and MS degrees from there. I was never a famous singer, but I was very well regarded among my fellow musicians, and my career was rewarding. While still at Juilliard I was in the chorus for the opening night of New York’s Lincoln Center, Leonard Bernstein conducting, the first of many times I sang with him. I was soloist in a performance of Zoltan Kodaly’s Missa Brevis when Kodaly himself was in the audience. I sang the role of the “First Fairy” in Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the New York City Ballet. I sang under the batons of such legendary musicians as Igor Stravinsky, Leopold Stokowsky, Seigi Osawa, and Charles Munch; in the premier of Peter Schickele’s (P.D.Q. Bach’s) The Seasonings; and with then-fledgling conductors John Nelson, Leonard Slatkin, and Jorge Mester. I sang at the funeral of Robert Kennedy.
When our first two children were five and two years old, we moved to Chester, N. J., and I began to use a second skill acquired at Juilliard, conducting choral and instrumental ensembles. The most memorable musical event from those years was a series of concerts I conducted in 1975-76, during the Bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution, of the magnificent and little known American music from that era, performed in period costumes, by candlelight, in historic churches draped with antique flags. I spent more than a year researching, publicizing, rehearsing and conducting those concerts. I recall my 9-year-old son, who must have felt a little neglected, commenting when it was finished, “Well, thank goodness that’s over for another two hundred years!”
In 1986, my scientific adventures began. My husband, by then a professor at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. was overdue a sabbatical, and we took it at the University of Cambridge, in England. During our stay and subsequent shorter visits to Cambridge, I attended lectures in many different subjects in the University, including physics and astrophysics, and became acquainted with eminent scientists, including Sir Brian Pippard and Stephen Hawking. Soon after our return to the U.S.A., I retired from music making and began to write and lecture about science. My first book, Black Holes in Spacetime, was inspired by an award-winning science fair project developed by our eight-year-old daughter. My second book, Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything, was a Sunday Times bestseller in England. Since then I’ve written seven more books that have been translated into many languages. I’ve enjoyed being a part of workshops, panels, and lecture series in the U.S., Britain, and Italy, and serving as primary consultant for Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell. Our family has also spent several more lengthy sojourns abroad, in Oslo and Venice and three times in Salzburg, Austria.
In 2000, a third adventure: My husband and I and our daughter, then 20 years old, traveled to South India to help initiate a “Companionship” between our Episcopal church in New Jersey and the Pastorate of Kothapallimitta, a severely impoverished, rural, mostly Dalit (“untouchable”) pastorate. Since then we and others working with us have successfully raised funds to build a large school there. During these same years, I have been honored to serve on the U.S. Board of Advisers for the Templeton Foundation, as a columnist for the Templeton “Big Questions On-line,” and as a member of the Episcopal Guild of Scholars. My husband and I are delighted to have two grandchildren. We now live in South Carolina and spend a few weeks each year in Cambridge, England.