In an effort to encourage intellectual discourse, UCSB will distribute over 2,000 free copies of author Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” today.

Chancellor Henry T. Yang will personally hand out the books on the first floor of Davidson Library, beginning at noon. The event is part of the fifth annual UCSB Reads program, organized every Winter Quarter to encourage campus-wide discussion about a particular issue.

In matching with this year’s theme: “Our Bodies, Our Cells: Exploring Identity,” Assistant University Librarian Brian Mathews said “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is an intellectually stimulating read but also widely relatable to a broad audience.

“This year’s book does have a strong science theme, but it is a very approachable story,” Mathews said. “It is not a textbook, but rather a human interest story. It is very emotional and sad and an excellent piece of writing.”

Janet Martorana, UCSB Reads Committee co-chair, also said the book covers issues outside science and medicine.

“[It includes] broad topics such as research and medical ethics, women’s issues, racism and exploring what determines one’s identity, who has control over it and of the social, cultural and economic impacts of genetic identity,” Martorana said.

The book describes the often overlooked life of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who originated the HeLa cell line. According to Skloot, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a tissue sample from Lacks, unbeknownst to her.  Lacks passed away oblivious to the fact that her cells would survive and become the first to grow in culture. In addition to helping researchers better understand diseases such as cancer, HeLa cells also played a vital role in the development of the polio vaccine as well as the innovation of in-vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping.

The book giveaway will be accompanied by discussion-based lectures from faculty and graduate students, including two faculty panel discussions in the library on Feb. 2 and Feb. 15 at noon. Additionally, Davidson Library will launch project “Identity Tree” in honor of the book, which involves the collection of student fingerprints and cell names on a large banner.

According to Yang, the program expands beyond the university, fostering community between the campus and city itself.

“We are so pleased to participate in this program with our partners, including the Santa Barbara Public Library System and our sister academic institutions, including Santa Barbara City College, Westmont and Antioch, as well as local high schools,” Yang said in an e-mail.

Skloot will lecture on her book on April 11 at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall. Tickets are $5 for students.