This Ordinary Stardust

A Scientist's Path from Grief to Wonder


By Alan Townsend, PhD

Formats and Prices




$38.00 CAD

A compassionate, vulnerable, and transformative exploration of the nurturing and spiritual power of scientific wonder, as illuminated through the tragic dual cancer diagnoses of author Dr. Alan Townsend’s wife and daughter. 

A decade ago, Dr. Alan Townsend’s family received two unthinkable, catastrophic diagnoses: his 4-year-old daughter and his brilliant and vivacious wife developed unrelated, life-threatening forms of brain cancer. As he witnessed his young daughter fight during the courageous final months of her mother’s life, Townsend – a lifelong scientist – was indelibly altered. He began to see scientific inquiry as more than a source of answers to a given problem, but also as a lifeboat: a lens on the world that could help him find peace with the painful realities he could not change. Through scientific wonder, he found ways to bring meaning to his darkest period. 

At a time when society’s relationship with science is increasingly polarized while threats to human life on earth continue to rise, Townsend offers a balanced, moving perspective on the common ground between science and religion through the spiritual fulfillment he found in his work. Awash in Townsend's electrifying and breathtaking prose, THIS ORDINARY STARDUST offers hope that life can carry on even in the face of near-certain annihilation.


  • "This Ordinary Stardust is a wondrous book that reduced me to tears and brought me a fresh perspective on life, death, and the bittersweet consequences of impermanence. It also happens to be a page turner I couldn’t put down."
    Jon Krakauer
  • "This is an extraordinary, powerful book full of science and suffering, spirit and love. It’s rare to encounter such a rich mix, and Alan Townsend’s steady voice makes it all work."
    David Quammen, author of The Heartbeat of the Wild and Breathless
  • “In sharing his own story through searing grief, Alan Townsend shows us — in a way that nobody else could — how scientists are first and foremost people, with hearts both delicate and resilient.”
    Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl and The Story of More

On Sale
Jun 4, 2024
Page Count
256 pages

Alan Townsend, PhD

About the Author

Dr. Alan R. Townsend is a scientist, author, speaker, and Dean of the University of Montana’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. His childhood in Hawaii and Montana led him to a career devoted to understanding our changing planet, and what we can do to find a more sustainable relationship between human progress and the environments on which we all depend.  He is a highly cited author of more than 140 scientific articles, and has served in multiple prominent leadership roles, including Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, Provost of Colorado College, Director of the University of Colorado’s Environmental Studies Program and its Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, and Co-Director of the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program. He is an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, a Google Science Communication Fellow and a board member of the Earth Leadership Program and Future Earth of North America. Alan was one of six internationally known scientists chosen to be in the Let Science Speak documentary film series, which premiered at Tribeca in September of 2018. 

Learn more about this author