Journalist covering science, environment, culture and society

I’m an independent journalist covering science, the environment, culture and society from Mount Rainier, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital. My work has been published in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Nature, Science, Washington Post, Washington Post Magazine, Quanta, Inside Science, Science News, APS News, Eos, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Discover, Aeon, Undark, Smithsonian, Scientific American, New Scientist, American Forests, Mongabay, National Geographic, NPR, the Atlantic, Orion, Yale E360 and others.

I look for the story that isn’t being told, the angle that isn’t being considered. I like writing about underdogs and the unexpected, about places others don’t go to and people whose voices aren’t being heard. Trees and forests have a special spot in my heart.

Selected Work

NEWS Is the world’s oldest tree growing in a ravine in Chile?, Science, May 20, 2022
Scientist claims new oldest tree record—and warns that the record-breaker may die without further protection

FEATURE Bringing Back Fire: How Burning Can Help Restore Eastern Lands, Yale E360, April 7, 2022
Almost every part of what is now the United States used to burn regularly. I reported on people trying to bring fire back, why they do it, and what makes burning in 2022 so hard.

Supported and co-published by the Food & Environment Reporting Network

Republished by Wired and Mother Jones

ESSAY Can a Hidden World Be Saved From an Invasive Scourge?, New York Times, February 21, 2022
A collaboration with Leslie Brice to document the valuable yet threatened ash wetlands of Maryland.

Learn more about our project and future plans.

FEATURE Where Berlin’s infamous wall once stood, humans and nature now flourish, Washington Post, December 3, 2021
A travelogue of my bike ride along the 100-mile trail tracing the route where the Berlin Wall once stood.

FEATURE Forest Fight, Science, December 2, 2021
Germany invented “scientific” forestry. But a huge tree dieback triggered by climate change has ignited a fierce debate over how the nation should manage its trees.

FEATURE How can the most endangered ecosystem in the world be saved?, Nat Geo, September 17, 2021
The United States is losing a megadiverse, carbon-capturing ecosystem – and hardly anyone’s paying attention.

Co-published by the Food and Environment Reporting Network as Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation ambitions

FEATURE A soil science revolution upends plans to fight climate change, Quanta, July 27, 2021
There’s been a dramatic paradigm shift in how scientists understand soil. But many people who hope soils can save the climate haven’t gotten the memo.

Republished in The Atlantic

FEATURE Marshes on the Move, Science, June 17, 2021
What does the future hold for coastal wetlands, our most valuable ecosystems? Despite the threat of sea level rise, one scientist sees a surprisingly optimistic future.

NEWS Answers to these botanical mysteries could help a climate-stressed world, National Geographic, June 16, 2021
Have you ever wondered where your turnips, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, brussels sprouts, bok choi, tatsoi, rapini or canola oil came from? Scientists now have the answers.

FEATURE How the pandemic saved Glut, an odd, beloved Maryland food co-op, Washington Post Magazine, June 14, 2021
The story of a worker-run food coop that’s still going strong after more than 50 years.

FEATURE New internet woven from ‘spooky’ quantum links could supercharge science and commerce, Science, June 3, 2021
It’s been hyped as an unhackable communications network and national security priority, but what can a quantum internet really do?

FEATURE ‘Forest gardens’ show how Native land stewardship can outdo nature, National Geographic, April 23, 2021
A growing number of recent studies document how Indigenous people often enhance biodiversity more than other land managers, and even “nature” itself.

FEATURE There’s a Booming Business in America’s Forests. Some Aren’t Happy About It., New York Times, April 19, 2021
An investigation into how wood pellets became one of the world’s most controversial climate solutions and split communities and environmentalists in North Carolina and beyond.

OP-ED Invasive Insects and Diseases Are Killing Our Forests, New York Times, February 8, 2021
It’s not just humans. Trees also suffer plagues. And if we want forests to protect us, we need to protect them.

FEATURE Planting crops — and carbon, too, Washington Post, January 22, 2021
With growing farmer and corporate interest and endorsement from Biden, soil carbon sequestration is having a moment. But some worry its potential to fight climate change is being exaggerated.

FEATURE A fight for forest equity in Southeast D.C. takes on new urgency amid pandemic, Washington Post, December 5, 2020
A nonprofit advocates for woods access for all.

FEATURE Can an ambitious breeding effort save North America’s ash trees?, Science, November 12, 2020
A scientist who refused to accept doom and gloom narratives and may be on the cusp of reviving one of North America’s most important trees.

NEWS Mangrove loss has fallen dramatically, but the forests are still in danger, Washington Post, September 12, 2020
New research using satellites and ancient soil seek to reveal the future of some of the world’s most important forests.

NEWS Global Warming Could Unlock Carbon From Tropical Soil, New York Times, August 12, 2020
Warming soils in the tropics could cause microbes to release carbon from storage. One scientist called the finding “another example of why we need to worry more.”

FEATURE Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut?, New York Times Magazine, April 30, 2020
I tell the story of an attempt to rescue a great tree through genetic engineering.

FEATURE Can ‘Carbon Smart’ Farming Play a Key Role in the Climate Fight?, Yale E360, March 31, 2020
A lot of hype — and money — is going into the idea of fighting climate change use farm soils. But some scientists are skeptical.

Co-published by the Food and Environment Reporting Network: Is carbon farming a climate boon, or boondoggle?

And republished by Grist.

OP-ED Don’t cancel the outdoors. We need them to stay sane., Washington Post, March 24, 2020
Parks and natural spaces provide a crucial, health-enhancing outlet at a stressful time.

FEATURE Green Revolution 2.0, Moonshot Catalog, March 9, 2020
Feeding humanity as the climate changes will require crops that are more productive, hardier, and more diverse than ever. Scientists around the world are using modern tools to spark Green Revolution 2.0.

FEATURE Germany’s Ruhr valley beckons with converted coal mines and a unique industrial heritage, Washington Post, February 21, 2020
A travel story about “Germany’s Appalachia.”

FEATURE The Green Miles, Washington Post Magazine, February 13, 2020
Eastern Kentucky was devastated for decades by mountaintop removal. Now scientists have figured out a way to undo the damage — one tree at a time.

This story received an honorable mention in the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment.

OP-ED We don’t need to just plant trees. We also need to take care of them. Washington Post, January 30, 2020.
An obsession with tree planting but little money for keeping them alive.

OP-ED Want to understand the biodiversity crisis? Look at the trees in your backyard., Washington Post, May 23, 2019
The loss of ash trees makes clear that mass extinction is neither remote or abstract.

OP-ED The federal government is silencing its scientists, Washington Post, December 16, 2018
Obstructive media policies have made it all but impossible to speak with scientists at many federal agencies.

OP-ED Cure yourself of tree blindness, New York Times, August 27, 2017
A meditation on the joys and sorrows of learning your trees.

FEATURE How Scientists Can Team Up With Indigenous Groups To Protect Forests and Climate, Smithsonian Magazine, May 3, 2017

Most scientists come up with their own research agendas and work and publish papers with other scientists. Catherine Potvin and Javier Mateo-Vega ask indigenous communities what research they would like to pursue, find funding to support it, include community members as collaborators and coauthors, and return results to communities. I don’t know anyone else who does science this way. It was a privilege to tell their story.

Lee esta historia en español!

ESSAY What the death of an oak tree can teach us about mortality, Aeon, December 6, 2016
Trees are not like us — and we can learn from that.

FEATURE Warning to forest destroyers: this scientist will catch you, Nature, October 4, 2016
Profile of geographer Matthew Hansen, who is shining a light on the dark world of deforestation.

OP-ED Update the Nobel Prize, New York Times, October 3, 2016
It’s time to modernize the world’s most famous science prize.

OP-ED The battle to save Dueling Creek, Washington Post, July 8, 2016
Why even a battle-scarred little suburban park is worth saving.

OP-ED The ups and downs of the Bradford pear, New York Times, March 18, 2016

Of all the environmental evils in our world, is an ugly pear tree such a bad thing?

Followup blog post on gaining perspective on the Bradford pear

OP-ED Chasing the rabbit in D.C., Washington Post, January 22, 2016
Why square dancing can make the world a better place.

OP-ED Cities as havens for trees, New York Times, December 25, 2014
A beautiful eastern hemlock tree in my neighborhood got me thinking about whether cities can help preserve trees that are threatened in the wild.

My Writing

Why tell stories about science? Science, like any other endeavor, has characters, plot, intrigue and heartbreak. But perhaps unique among human pursuits, it inevitably progresses: We always know more than we did before. My writing sheds light on what scientists know, what they hope to learn and why it matters.

Writing – A nearly complete catalog of my published work.

Editing – I’ve edited science stories, books, reports, blog posts and more.

Blog – Occasional essays and original reporting on a range of topics. Most touch on issues related to the environment and sustainability.

Multimedia – In 2012 I produced a series of pieces for the Perpetual Notion Machine, a science radio show in Madison, Wisconsin. I have also developed innovative posters, brochures, and videos on topics in physics and science education.

Music and Dance – I play traditional music and organize occasional music and dance events.

Check out my work, read more about me, and please contact me if you would like to discuss a project. You can also subscribe to my writing.