Nancy Huang has always loved telling stories about science, the more unexpected the better. As an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, she often talked about her research on African clawed frogs. They were used in pregnancy tests until the late 1980s, because the female frogs lay eggs when injected with urine from pregnant women.


As a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and later a college biology professor, her research switched to the microscopic worm C. elegans. Most of the worms are self-fertilizing hermaphrodites with exactly 959 body cells. The rare males have an additional 72 cells, most of which are devoted to sex.

After more than 15 years of weaving these and other stories into undergraduate biology classes, she decided to skip the grading and write science stories for a living.

After six years of studying worm embryos and teaching, Nancy got to wear a fancy hat and robe.
During eight years as a biology professor in Colorado, Nancy often hiked with her husband and daughter.

Shortly thereafter, an MRI revealed a noncancerous tumor in her brain—a meningioma. After five hours of brain surgery and two days in an induced coma, Nancy found herself unable to speak, read, or write. In addition, brain swelling left her concussed for months.

Her glasses rubbed into her surgical staples, allowing bacteria to creep into her skull and multiply. After two additional surgeries and progress in relearning to communicate, she had a new story to tell. Like the best science stories, it includes challenges, determination, and progress over time—both for herself and the science that’s changed her life many times over. The Word Thief is her first book.

Nancy the day before brain surgery. After surgery, she would not remember her kids' names.