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Five Questions With "Kitchen Scientist" Liz Heinecke

Welcome to our first edition of Five Questions With, an interview series where we at Piccolina sit down with inspiring women from around the world to answer our burning questions about everything from personal empowerment to parenthood! First up is Liz Heinecke, who you may recognize from our recent Instagram Stories takeover, in which Liz showed us a fun science experiment for kids.

Affectionately dubbed the "Kitchen Scientist", Liz is an author and scientist who has spent her career sharing her wisdom with children by way of her online educational platform KitchenPantryScientist.com and seven books teaching kids (and their parents) how to perform simple science experiments at home. She's also a regular fixture on local TV morning shows including CBS and ABC, and frequently makes appearances for library programs, and at STEM, STEAM and tech festivals.

Between experiments and writing, Liz also paints, sings, and plays the banjo. Her latest children's science book is Chemistry for Kids and her first book for adults, RADIANT: The Dancer, The Scientist and a Friendship Forged in Light, comes out in February 2021!

What was a moment in your childhood when you felt powerful in a new way?

When I was growing up, we'd spend a week or two every summer backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was always a cautious kid but spending time in the wilderness taught me to be more confident. Learning survival skills taught me to always be prepared and to respect nature. Carrying a backpack allowed me to carry my own weight, rather than counting on my parents to do it for me. I loved fishing, and on those trips my dad taught me to tie knots, take fish off the line, clean them and cook them over a fire. To this day, those backpacking trips are some of my favorite memories. I still recall how powerful and independent I felt when I could hoist a heavy backpack onto my shoulders, or grab my fishing pole and head out to catch a rainbow trout for dinner.

How do you instill empowerment in your children? What does that mean to you?

I try to teach my kids empowerment through my actions and words. They know that if something is important to me, I will work hard to make it happen. I always encourage them to figure things out on their own, give them room to make mistakes and try not to be too critical. For example, when they are cooking or baking something, which is basically math and chemistry, I try to get them to solve how to double a recipe or do a substitution on their own before jumping in to help.

Liz HeineckeI always encourage them, but my most frequent responses are "look it up," or "try to work it out yourself."

What was your favorite piece of clothing when you were a kid, and why? (Maybe it was a pair of jeans that always made you feel comfortable and confident, or a lucky dress that you wore on a big test day?)

I'm a tee shirt and jeans person. As a kid, I was fortunate enough to see the King Tut exhibit in San Francisco the first time it came to the United States. My grandparents had a book about his tomb that I read every chance I got, and I loved the way Egyptian artists rendered eyes. At the exhibit, my parents bought me a black tee shirt with King Tut's famous death mask screen-printed on the front. It was my favorite shirt ever. I think I loved it because the image was beautiful and I was proud to have seen the exhibit.

What trailblazing woman did you look up to when you were younger? Who do you look up to now? (This can be a public figure or someone close to you. Tell us what about them inspires you!)

My mom is my role model. She is a kind, caring person who has always followed the paths that interest her. When I was growing up, she was a "stay-at-home" mom, an active member of the League of Women Voters, and an environmentalist. In addition to starting the first cooking school in Manhattan, Kansas, she got a master's degree in restaurant and institution management which led to a job managing dining units at UC Berkeley. Now she's retired and has plenty of time for reading, traveling and gardening.

As far as science role models, I remember reading about Barbara McClintock when I was in high school. My dad is a physicist and subscribed to Scientific American magazine, which had an article about her discovery of transposable genetic elements or "jumping genes." I didn't understand much of the article at the time, but reading about her work inspired me to take a genetics class in high school.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I'd teach myself to think outside the box and not to worry about what other people think. When I was young, I compartmentalized ideas and experience. I was interested in art, music, science and books, but it never occurred to me that one could write science books, be a scientific communicator or use science to restore ancient art. I assumed you had to be a doctor, a musician, a lab scientist, or a professor. Cross-disciplinary thinking is much more interesting. As an adult, I've learned that embracing and combining skills and interests allows one to do really interesting work.

Liz Heinecke

What is one thing that your children have taught you?

They reminded me how to see the world like a kid again, which is a gift. Adulthood tends to make us oblivious to the beauty all around us. The simple act of taking a walk with a child allows you to observe the world through their eyes. Suddenly, a dandelion is not a weed. It is a beautiful golden flower that tickles your chin and makes you feel five years old.

What does "trailblazing" mean to you?

Trailblazers are not conformists. They are originals. Whether it is intellect, empathy, artistic talent or social skills, every person on this planet is born with a set of gifts as unique as their DNA. To me, trailblazing means discovering those gifts and forging a new path, without worrying too much about what other people think.

What is your favorite Piccolina product, and why?

I love the diverse group of women featured on Piccolina's products. At the moment, my favorite is the Marie Curie Trailblazer Tee because I just wrote a book about Marie and the dancer / inventor Loie Fuller, called RADIANT: The Dancer, The Scientist and a Friendship Forged in Light, which will be our next February. I've spent the last two years learning about how brilliant and hardworking Marie Curie was. Her discovery of the radioactive element radium and her method for extracting it could have made her rich, but she and her husband Pierre decided not to patent their technique. Instead, they shared it with other scientists, because they felt that it would lead to other important discoveries that would make the world a better place for everyone. Thanks to their work, the treatment for cancer which we now call radiation therapy was invented!

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  • Piccolinakids just came across my social media viewing the past few days and immediately caught my interest; I thought of our niece-in-law, Liz Lee Heinecke, for her work with kids science books and her interest in Madame Curie ~ and here she is! How very exciting! Liz is a remarkable woman and a fabulous mom to three delightful, talented young adults. Kudos to Picolinakids for selecting Liz Heinecke for this initial interview!

    Kathryn Heinecke Haight on October 6th, 2020