Whether she’s riding NASA’s “vomit comet” or having sex in an ultrasound machine, New York Times best-selling author and science writer Mary Roach is willing to put herself in the line of fire in the name of knowledge. With her latest book, she takes that mission literally: “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” provides a mirthful, informative peek behind the curtain of military science. It’s only fitting that she makes a stop in the nation’s capital next week to discuss the enthralling and sometimes bizarre science behind fireproof uniforms, shark repellent and other inventions that keep U.S. defense teams well equipped.

You got shot from 70 feet away, you acted in training simulations, you witnessed a cadaveric penile transplant — what was your favorite exploit for this book?
I think it was going out on that submarine, the USS Tennessee. You show up at this port in Georgia and you sail out somewhere overnight and in the morning you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly this [sub] pops up and you put down a little gangplank and climb down and disappear.

Was there any one innovation or procedure that really changed the game for our armed forces?
You know, it’s high-tech stuff you hear a lot about but sometimes it’s the low-tech stuff that makes the biggest difference, like just a better, more effective tourniquet that a service member can put on him or herself while they’re waiting for the medevac to come. That’s huge because bleeding out is the No. 1 cause of death in a combat situation.

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Are these researchers celebrated within the military or are they unsung heroes?
I think they’re more in the background. … Most of the research isn’t being done on bases and it’s certainly not being done on forward-operating bases, the places where people are deployed. It’s happening here in the U.S., kind of out of sight.

As a civilian, I finished with a new appreciation for the military and its sciences. Was that a goal?
As an author, my goal is always to educate and entertain. I didn’t really set out to give military researchers a round of applause, but I’m happy if that’s the result, because they impressed the hell out of me. They’re scientists and they’re very dedicated and they care a lot about the men and women who are in harm’s way. I ended up with that appreciation and I think it would be great if readers did as well.

There isn’t a focus on political stances or agendas in your book. Is it important, regardless of how readers feel about war, for them to understand it?
I do think so. I think that anytime you can look more closely, the better. I mean, the military is huge and there are so many facets to it. There is no the military. There is evil and good. There is bureaucratic and lame. There is hardworking and devoted. There are so many different sides of it, and so I just wanted to focus on this one group and this one aspect I don’t think people know much about. I’d love it if people on both sides of the divide read the book, learned something from it and enjoyed it. I just think knowledge is power and anytime the conversation moves away from black and white and into the subtler shades of gray, it’s a good thing.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; June 9, 7 p.m., free.

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