Love, Sex and Mushrooms :Adventures of a Woman in Science is an inspiring memoir of scientific and human love stories. Author Cardy Raper discovers her passion for science while studying volcanoes at the age of eight. She meets disappointment early in college where science is taught as facts to be memorized. Cardy transfers to a contrasting university and falls in love with her employer and scientific mentor Red Raper. Readers follow their marriage and family throughout the book with one life-changing interruption: Red’s premature death. While devastating at the time, Cardy slowly recasts this robbing misfortune into incentive to make it on her own in the male-dominated world of scientific research—a feat she might never have achieved had Red lived on.
In meeting Red, Cardy simultaneously falls in love with research on fungi. Even before Red’s death, preparation for her solo career began. As Red’s reputation grew, his role as teacher and administrator expanded leaving Cardy to carry out the laboratory research.
Through flashbacks, readers experience the challenges of a mother raising a son and daughter amid two adults’ advancing careers when women working outside the home were not only rare but also taboo. Her courage and persistence are rewarded: Cardy Raper becomes a world-renowned scientist for whom a recent testimonial dinner drew researchers from all over the world.
Love, Sex and Mushrooms delivers a bonus. Readers discover something not well understood by nonscientists: how scientific knowledge is developed. This book conveys how scientists devise experiments to advance understanding about the myriad ways fungi accomplish sexual union. Cardy and Red Raper share a decades-long body of research, first on hormones governing courtship between male and female in a water mold, then on a mushroom-bearing fungus with over 20,000 sexes.
Their findings lead to the astonishing revelation that molecules regulating mating and sexuality in fungi bear strong resemblance to molecules regulating development and sensory responses in many other organisms from flies, fish, and worms to mice, rats, and humans. This memoir describes not only the triumphs and dead ends of that research but also the difficulties of one woman’s efforts to carry on alone as an independent scientist. Cardy Raper ultimately surpasses her husband’s legacy.
The author’s life in academia from Syracuse University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Wellesley College, and finally the University of Vermont spans over half a century moving from classical genetic studies to the molecular age. The account illustrates how each morsel of knowledge leads the way to further research and how key discoveries, such as the structure of the molecule of inheritance by Watson, Crick, and Franklin, release a watershed of investigative tools and scientific insights never before possible. This memoir also champions the relevance of curiosity-driven research to the understanding of fundamental biological principles, many of which are clearly applicable to humans.
The book is intended for lay readers, including scientists who are unfamiliar with fungi. Scientific jargon is avoided whenever possible. Photographs, illustrations, and a glossary enhance the text. The personal story woven into this memoir includes in-depth descriptions of associates—from lab techs to Nobel Laureates—who sustained the author’s passion for her academic life in science.