The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Christine McKinley

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by Christine McKinley, a licensed mechanical engineer and the host of the History channel series Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. Her twenty-year engineering career has included projects in power generation, industrial facilities, and commercial construction. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she plays bass in the pop trio Swan Sovereign.

Christine is also the author of Physics for Rockstars, available now from Penguin. This approachable book explains the world of physics with clarity, humor, and a dash of adventure.

Join us as we talk about everything from physics and engineering to the underground railroad, and more!

List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.

Even though I wrote a book about physics, I’m kind of an imposter. I am not an original science lover. In high school history, writing, and Spanish were relatively easy for me. Math and science were tougher, but they seemed important somehow, like they were describing something real. I wanted college to be hard and interesting so I chose to study mechanical engineering. I wanted to leave knowing things about the world that I didn’t know when I started.

I intentionally didn’t write much about “modern” physics in my book. Plenty of brilliant people are writing about that. I focused on the basic physics you learn (or ignore) in high school – the physics of stage dives, motorcycle jumps, and fist fights.

My not so secret intention is to get more women to choose engineering. Every single woman engineer I’ve met was great to work with and had a wicked sense of humor. I want more of them!

What would your Patronus/familiar be?

A crow or raven. I have such a vivid memory of their black silhouettes against the white snow where I grew up in Alaska. I talk to crows when I see them in the woods or on my street. Nothing deep, just “Hey. What’s up? Why are you making so much damn noise this early?” Randomly, several friends have created bird nicknames for me, probably because I look birdlike. If I were in trouble and needed help from an animal, I feel like a crow would be most likely to help me out.

Physics for Rock Stars Christine McKinleyIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?

I am going to cheat on this one. I want my own band, Swan Sovereign, to be the soundtrack of Physics for Rock Stars. I submit to the judges (are there any?) that I be allowed this exception because I used examples in the book that I only knew because of playing with the other two women in Swan Sovereign. Also, we really do rock. Although, I don’t get to make band decisions because I’m the bass player. Everyone knows the bass player doesn’t get a vote in anything.

If you could name a planet after anyone (other than yourself), who would you choose and why?

Harriet Tubman needs some kind of celestial body named after her. She navigated people to freedom using the stars. Enough said, right?

Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?

Proof of life on Mars would be so much more humbling and awesome than a fountain of youth. We need humility and wonder, not another way to be beautiful, and God forbid, immortal.


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