Editor’s note: This story is part of ‘Meet a UChicagoan,’ a regular series focusing on the people who make UChicago a distinct intellectual community. Read about the others here.
The summer before Joalda Morancy, AB’22, started high school, they were aimlessly scrolling through YouTube when something peculiar showed up in their recommended videos feed – an astronaut making a peanut butter and honey sandwich on the International Space Station. Though they had only a passing knowledge of outer space at the time, they instantly found the subject fascinating.
“I remember being super confused yet very intrigued about it,” they said. “The next thing I knew, I was falling down a spiral of research and discovery in the topic that would become my life-long passion.”
Nearly a decade later, Morancy, who studied astronomy and astrophysics in the College, has turned their fascination with space and alien lifeforms into a new children’s book.
Joalda Morancy’s book, “Aliens,” was released nationwide and internationally by Neon Squid, a publisher within Macmillan, on Oct. 18. This nonfiction children’s book explores the search for alien lifeforms, sorts myth from fact and takes readers on a journey through the solar system and beyond in 80 pages of colorful illustrations and engaging text.
This book, which is being translated into multiple languages, is a culmination of a long journey that started when Morancy was growing up in the suburbs of Tampa, Fla. As a first-generation, low-income student, Morancy often had to give up chances to enrich their education beyond their schoolwork due to a lack of resources.
However, these difficulties didn’t stop their pursuit of learning. On the internet, Morancy was able to research all kinds of science topics, especially space science and spaceflight, and incorporated themselves into several different online science communities, especially on Twitter.
In their last year of high school, they participated in a STEM summer program hosted by MIT and took a course that taught science communication in the form of journalism. Morancy was able to interview scientists and engineers on topics that interested them as part of this class, then wrote an article based on their research. This was just the beginning of their interest in science writing, which they found ample opportunities to cultivate at UChicago.
When Morancy began college at UChicago, they were initially overwhelmed by the transition to a large, private institution. With so many educational doors open to them, Morancy took as many classes as they could to further pursue their interest in science. They explored so many different subjects that they changed their major several times before finally deciding to pursue astrophysics in the winter of their third year.
Morancy’s favorite class in the College was called Explorations of Mars, which covers the history of humans learning about the planet Mars. Taught by Jordan Bimm, a postdoctoral researcher at the UChicago Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, the course combines perspectives from the social sciences and humanities to investigate how knowledge about Mars is created and communicated in science and technology, as well as across public culture.