living book covers science

Learning Science Through Biography

Bringing Science to Life Through Living Literature. How to Convey Understanding to Struggling Students.

A popular educational paradigm divides people into left-brained and right-brained learners. For instance, left-brained individuals excel in math, science, and technology, while the right-brained excel in literature, art, and the humanities. I don’t know whether there is any scientific merit to this paradigm. Nevertheless, anecdotal experience suggests that children gravitate toward one or the other naturally. When I was in high school, I thrived in the arts and humanities, but I struggled in math and science. I could pull an A+ in a literature or history class with barely an effort. However, despite my best efforts to comprehend the material, I regularly got C’s in math and science.

Has your child experienced something similar? Sometimes the way out of this dilemma is to take a fresh approach to the subject. I recently did an article called “To Math Through Literature,” which advocated using literature to introduce “right-brained” children to mathematical concepts. The literary approach offers a “backdoor” into the subject for students who struggle with numbers, providing a more conceptual approach.

Today I’d like to do the same for science. If your child struggles with understanding certain scientific principles, consider a literary approach. Thankfully, there is a rich genre of literature that introduces young readers to scientific concepts through biography. Biography is an excellent vehicle for teaching scientific concepts. Because every scientific advancement was built upon the experience and insights of specific individuals, retelling the stories of how those discoveries were made can help children wrap their minds around the scientific principles behind them.

If you’d like to explore teaching science through biography, here are some recommendations to get started!

Great Inventors and Their Inventions by Frank Bachman

Frank Bachman’s 1913 classic Great Inventors and Their Inventions is one of this format’s earliest and most enduring examples. Bachman structured his work as a series of mini-biographies of notable inventors. It profiles James Watt (the steam engine), Elias Howe (the sewing machine), Cyrus McCormick (the reaper), John Gutenberg (the printing press), Alexander Graham Bell (the telephone), and several others. The biographical information helps students to get to know the men behind the machines. These descriptions of their ideas and experiments introduce the scientific concepts. Since it was written in 1913, the language can be a little dusty. Yet, it holds up surprisingly well. I’ve assigned this book multiple times in my homeschooling career, and children have always responded well to it. I’d say this book is suitable for older children, 13 and up.

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick

The Greeks were masters of mathematics and engineering. So what better way to get introduced to these subjects than through the life of Archimedes of Syracuse, one of the greatest Greek thinkers? Jeanne Bendick’s Archimedes and the Door of Science uses the life of Archimedes and the cultural backdrop of Greek Syracuse to illustrate various principles of mathematics, science, and engineering. The book is beautifully illustrated with sketches and diagrams that enrich the narrative. The engaging and often humorous text makes these concepts very accessible. Recommended for ages 9 and up.

Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick

Bendick’s follow-up text, Galen and the Gateway to Medicine follows a format similar to that of her Archimedes book. Using the same wit and engaging narrative, Bendick’s book on Galen follows the life and ideas of the Roman-era physician Galen of Pergamon. Interestingly, his medical ideas would shape the medieval understanding of medicine, biology, and human anatomy. Moreover, the book is nicely illustrated. Recommended for ages 9 and up, especially for children interested in the history of medicine and the ethical ideas behind Western medical practice.

Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker

One aspect of science that always remained frustratingly opaque for me was chemistry. This was especially true regarding the different elements and their properties. Thankfully, Ben Wiker’s Mystery of the Periodic Table helps to clear up the subject with a study of the elements through the lives of some of chemistry’s most important innovators. Like Great Inventors and Their Inventions, Mystery of the Periodic Table is an anthology; the discoveries of Von Helmont, Boyle, Stahl, Priestly, Cavendish, and Lavoisier are all chronicled. Wiker’s work takes a diverse approach that is suitable for various age groups; I’d say the bulk of the text is suitable for middle schoolers, but high schoolers who need a refresher in fundamentals would probably benefit from it as well.

Brilliant by David Michael Warren

Another solid anthology with a distinctively Catholic focus is David Michael Warren’s Brilliant: 28 Catholic Scientists, Mathematicians, and Supersmart People. It is published by Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute. This book is best seen as an expansion of one of the fundamental ideas of Bishop Robert Barron’s ministry—the compatibility of faith and science. Written for ages 7 to 11, Brilliant introduces children to a host of Catholic scientists whose discoveries have transformed their respective disciplines. Furthermore, it emphasizes the compatibility of faith and science.” The subject matter is expansive, covering astronomy, math, physics, medicine, and more. Beautifully, it aims to demonstrate how faith-filled people have made important contributions to the world of science.

Dr. Beaumont and the Man with a Hole in His Stomach by Samuel and Beryl Epstein

Because I always like to include obscure materials, I want to recommend Samuel and Beryl Epstein’s Dr. Beaumont and the Man with a Hole in His Stomach. William Beaumont (d. 1853) was a U.S. Army surgeon who is remembered as the father of gastrointestinal physiology. The Epsteins’ book on Dr. Beaumont tells the fascinating tale of Beaumont’s work with Alexis St. Martin, a fur trader who was shot in the gut and somehow managed to survive despite having a hole in his stomach that never fully healed. Beaumont’s work with St. Martin led to many notable discoveries in how the stomach and intestinal system work. Written in 1978 and never reprinted, Dr. Beaumont and the Man with a Hole in His Stomach is not the easiest book to get a hold of, but if you find a copy, it’s worth the read.

In Pursuit of Wisdom by Phillip Campbell

Finally, because I cannot resist an opportunity for blatant self-aggrandizement, may I humbly recommend my own In Pursuit of Wisdom: Science and Catholicism Through the Ages from Our Sunday Visitor. In fact, this book is ideal for older children. While most of the other titles we’ve covered here are suitable for younger grades, In Pursuit of Wisdom would be ideal for 11th to 12th grade and beyond. This book takes the reader on a journey through science from ancient times to today, focusing on how the Church has interacted with scientists and scientific disciplines. There’s a ton of biographical information on many brilliant characters. This includes Gerbert of Aurillac, St. Hildegard of Bingen, Robert Grosseteste, Fr. Christopher Clavius, Georges Lemaitre, and more! This text is ideal for students (and parents!) who want a comprehensive understanding of how the Church has nurtured scientific discovery through the ages.


While none of these books directly replaces learning scientific concepts, they can help ease your child into the subject by providing a more literary introduction. If your child struggles with science, try introducing them to the lives of great scientists. You may be surprised how much more they enjoy all things science. After all, this approach helps to build a solid grasp of how it all fits together. Consequently, your child may develop a stronger interest in science and God’s creation. As an added bonus, this approach allows you to integrate history and literature into your science studies.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Join me and other homeschooling parents at our Homeschool Connections Community or our Facebook group to continue the discussion!

Additional Resources

I’ve shared a few excellent titles here, but there are many more! Maureen Wittmann’s For the Love of Literature offers additional science biographies and literature titles for preschool to adult levels. Alternatively, you can click on the links to any of these books above, scroll down to the bottom of the listing, and see Amazon’s recommendations for other books in a similar style.

Homeschool Connections offers a wide variety of out-of-the-box science courses online designed to get kids excited about science in real life. To name just a few:

  • Bug Camp (Entomology)
  • Come to Your Senses: The Science Behind Your Five Senses
  • DNA and Mutations
  • Mission: Mars! From Myth to Mariner to (Maybe) Manned
  • Medicine, Invention, and Technology in the Middle Ages

And keep an eye out in future years for an online course based on In Pursuit of Wisdom: Catholicism and Science Through the Ages!

NOTE: This article includes affiliate links.

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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