Kenneth Catania receives 2022 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books


Kenneth Catania, Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences, has received the 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Young Adult Science Book category. His book Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels & Other Tales of Evolution’s Mysteries Solved is one of four prize winners this year.

Ken Catania (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

For 17 years, the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize has recognized outstanding science writing and illustration for children of all ages. Sponsored by Subaru of America Inc., the program is intended to encourage the creation of science books that can help readers better understand and appreciate science. Winners receive a cash prize and a commemorative plaque. 

Great Adaptations, published by Princeton University Press in 2020, highlights some of the most remarkable results of nature’s evolutionary processes, including those of unusual creatures like the star-nosed mole and electric eels. As Catania tells readers in the introduction to the book, it serves as his “personal account of those unexpected and interesting things discovered during a career spent investigating biological mysteries.” 

“I’m just thrilled about this award. It’s especially touching because I was heavily influenced by what I read about animals growing up—it’s part of why I’m a scientist,” Catania said. “Knowing my writing might give back in the same way—inspiring young adults to choose careers in science—is special. And there’s a second reason to celebrate: I’m comfortable wrangling electric eels or tentacled snakes, but writing a book is much scarier!” 

“I am so pleased that Ken’s efforts to bring science to a young audience in an understandable way are being publicly recognized,” said John G. Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science. “His book opens up a fascinating world of discovery to future generations of scientists.”

A neuroscientist by training, Catania investigates the unusual brains and behaviors of specialized animals. These have included tentacled snakes, water shrews, alligators, crocodiles, insects and most recently electric eels. His studies often focus on predators that have evolved special senses and weapons to find and overcome elusive prey. He is an expert in extreme animal behaviors and studies specialized species to reveal general principles about brain organization and sensory systems. Catania was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2006, a Guggenheim Fellow in 2014 and received the Pradel Research Award in Neurosciences from the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. 

“Science books are a wonderful way for kids to explore,” said Sarah Ingraffea, project director for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, in a release. “We celebrate books that engage and encourage readers to ask questions. We want to inspire them with stories of real scientists and to show them that STEM is for everyone.” 

AAAS and Subaru of America Inc. first collaborated in 2005 to honor authors and illustrators for bodies of work that meaningfully contributed to the field of children’s science books. Since 2006, the prizes have been awarded annually for specific, recently published works. 

The other winners of the 2022 prizes are: 

  • Children’s Science Picture Book: Mimic Makers Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature, written by Kristen Nordston and illustrated by Paul Boston 
  • Middle Grades Science Book: A Shot in the Arm!: Big Ideas that Changed the World, by Don Brown 
  • Hands-On Science Book: Sky Gazing: A Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses, and Constellations, by Meg Thacher