Skip to content ↓

MIT author examines love-science relationships

Press Inquiries

Press Contact:

News Office
Phone: 617-253-2700
MIT

Media Download

Author Karl Iagnemma works at his day job as a robotics researcher in mechanical engineering.
Download Image
Caption: Author Karl Iagnemma works at his day job as a robotics researcher in mechanical engineering.
Credits: Photo / Donna Coveney

*Terms of Use:

Images for download on the MIT News office website are made available to non-commercial entities, press and the general public under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license. You may not alter the images provided, other than to crop them to size. A credit line must be used when reproducing images; if one is not provided below, credit the images to "MIT."

Close
Author Karl Iagnemma works at his day job as a robotics researcher in mechanical engineering.
Caption:
Author Karl Iagnemma works at his day job as a robotics researcher in mechanical engineering.
Credits:
Photo / Donna Coveney

Karl Iagnemma lives a double life.

By day, he tweaks robots designed to probe distant planets. At night, he explores rocky emotional landscapes with his prize-winning short fiction.

A research scientist in the mechanical engineering department, Iagnemma (S.M. 1997, Ph.D.) has just released his first collection of stories, titled "On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction." With tales of mathematicians, phrenologists and plant experts in love, he presents readers with a nuanced picture of scientists rarely found in the world of fiction.

"The stereotypical view of the scientist or researcher is that they're very cold and rigorous and analytical, but of course they're people too," Iagnemma said. "Even doing something very abstract, very mathematical, there's room for emotion."

The characters in the book aren't only emotional scientists, they are scientific emotionalists. The title story, for example, features a man who tries mathematically to model his relationship with his girlfriend. The idea came from a class in nonlinear control that Iagnemma took while working toward his master's degree.

"One of the students set up a mathematical model of interacting people," he said. "He ended up with a long inequality proving that if you satisfied the conditions, the people would come together. It was brilliant and funny and a little bit sad."

Iagnemma began to write fiction as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. After he came to MIT, he started sending stories out for publication. Soon they were appearing everywhere, from Playboy to the Paris Review to a Pushcart Prize collection. His story "Zilkowski's Theorem" was included in the anthology "Best American Short Stories 2002."

Toward the end of his work on his Ph.D., Iagnemma realized that he had written enough stories for a book. "Within a couple of months I finished the book and had the thesis done," he said. " It was about the best two-month period of my life."

The stories in "Romantic Interaction" are unified by themes of loneliness and lost love, but Iagnemma splashes humor across nearly every page, further humanizing his scientist subjects. He also shows a predilection toward historical fiction, setting several of the stories in pre-1900 times.

"There's a weird perception that people were dumber back then, because we know the answers to the problems that they were trying to solve," he said. "It's hard to appreciate the challenges, but we are just as lost in quantum physics as those guys were on some steam engine problem."

With the book out and a rapidly expanding collection of glowing reviews, Iagnemma is often asked if he plans to quit his day job, a scenario that seems distasteful to him.

"If I was just writing, I would definitely miss doing research," he said. "And I get half my ideas from being around here. What I'd love to do is keep doing both, as long as I can stay awake."

For more information about the book, the author and upcoming readings, see http://www.karliagnemma.com.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 2003.

Related Topics

More MIT News

Music video screenshot showing about 20 rectangular boxes on a black background featuring MIT Syncopasian members singing

A cappella for a cause

MIT Syncopasian’s musical performance features the poem “Things We Carry On The Sea” by Wang Ping and invites Asian members of the MIT community to help celebrate AAPI Heritage Month.

Read full story