Official bio: Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a kid, and now he’s a writer in Washington, D.C. His stories have appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, and Psychology Today, among other places, and his work has been featured on “Radiolab” and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” among other shows. His books The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb were national bestsellers, and both were named an Amazon “Top 5” science books of the year. The Disappearing Spoon was nominated by the Royal Society for one of the top science books of 2010, while both The Violinist’s Thumb and The Dueling Neurosurgeons were nominated for PEN’s literary science writing award.

Unofficial bio: Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota, which means more to him than it probably should. He’s a fast reader but a very slow eater. He went to college in Minnesota and studied physics and English. At night, he sometimes comes down with something called “sleep paralysis,” which is the opposite of sleepwalking. One of his book covers appeared in an iPhone commercial once. Right now, he lives in Washington, D.C., where he earned a master’s degree in library science that he will probably never use. He feels very strongly that open-faced sandwiches are superior to regular ones.