Florence Williams

Florence Williams


"Making Spaces of Awe and Restoration"

Anyone who’s gazed at the moon or stood still in a magnificent stand of trees knows what it’s like to experience the Power of Awe. We know that it momentarily stops time, fills us with reverence for the mysteries of life and draws us closer to one another. Only recently studied by science, research shows that even momentary brushes with awe help us behave in more generous ways. And when we spend time outside in nature, engaging all our senses, our heart rates slow, our stress hormones dip, our thoughts grow both more expansive and less self-focused.

This is a talk about creating those spaces of awe and restoration in an increasingly urban and frenetic world. We’ll look at the latest science behind these powerful but understudied emotions and see how inspirational pioneers in urban planning are working to improve our cities and our brains.


Florence Williams is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance writer for National Geographic, the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Slate, Mother Jones, and numerous other publications. She is currently working on a book about Nature and the Brain.

A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science. She has received many awards, including six magazine awards from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the John Hersey Prize at Yale. She was named “Author of the week” by The Week in May, 2012. The Wall Street Journal calls her writing “droll and crisp,” which makes her feel like a pastry.

Her first book, BREASTS: A Natural and Unnatural History (W.W. Norton 2012) received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and the 2013 Audie in general nonfiction. It was also named a notable book of 2012 by the New York Times. She serves on the board of her favorite non-profit, High Country News, and lives with her family in Washington, D.C.