I write about science and the environment from Mount Rainier, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital. I’ve written for science and general-interest publications including The New York Times, Nature, Science, Washington Post, Washington Post Magazine, Quanta, Inside Science, Science News, APS News, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Wesleyan Magazine, Discover, Aeon, Nautilus, Smithsonian, Scientific American, New Scientist, NPR and Slate.
Selected Recent Work
FEATURE Bacteria Use Brainlike Bursts of Electricity to Communicate, Quanta, September 5, 2017
Supposedly simple cells can organize themselves into complex societies and negotiate with other colonies. Is there anything we can do that they can’t?
NEWS Nature videos help to calm inmates in solitary confinement, Nature, September 1, 2017
Pioneering ecologist Nalini Nadkarni has found that nature videos help solitary confinement inmates feel less stressed and reduce violent incidents. Some applaud the work as a humanitarian initiative; others see it as a band-aid on a cruel and counterproductive practice.
OP-ED Cure yourself of tree blindness, New York Times, August 27, 2017
A meditation on the joys and sorrows of learning your trees.
NEWS Massive El Niño sent greenhouse gases soaring, Nature, August 10, 2017
Tropical forests drop 3-billion-ton carbon bomb
NEWS Singing animals reveal forest facts, Inside Science, June 27, 2017
Ecologists propose using animal song to measure forest health.
NEWS China’s quantum satellite achieves ‘spooky action’ at record distance, Science, June 15, 2017
Time to start preparing for unbreakable encryption and a quantum internet.
NEWS Earth-observing companies push for more-advanced science satellites, Nature, May 23, 2017
As the Trump administration tries to cut Earth science funding, private companies are building ever fancier satellites for scientists to play with.
FEATURE Can expensive, ultra-green homes sell in a gritty suburban Maryland town?, Washington Post Magazine, May 18, 2017
A profile of two young, ambitious developers building one of the country’s greenest homes — right next door to where I lived and worked for three and a half years.
PROFILE The Outlier, Wesleyan Magazine, Spring 2017
Pagan Kennedy charts an uncommon literary course.
FEATURE Swirling Bacteria Linked to the Physics of Phase Transitions, Quanta Magazine, May 4, 2017
A look at how physicists are explaining the strange and wondrous world of bacteria
Republished at Wired
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.
FEATURE Mayans Have Farmed The Same Way For Millennia. Climate Change Means They Can’t, NPR, February 3, 2017
An innovative, indigenous farming and climate solution.
OP-ED The Free Flow of Scientific Information Is Critical for Democracy, Scientific American, February 3, 2017
Communication channels between government scientists and journalists must remain open.
FEATURE What it would take to reach the stars, Nature, February 1, 2017
How to get away from it all — really, really away from it all.
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 Scientists are close to building a quantum computer that can beat a conventional one, Science, December 1, 2016
Private companies big and small place their bets on a future quantum computer.
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.
BOOK REVIEW The socially savvy tree, Science, September 15, 2016
Review of The Hidden Life of Trees, a runaway German bestseller now available in English.
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?
NEWS Reshaping the Chesapeake Bay, one living shoreline at a time, Washington Post, March 14, 2016 (with a photo credit!)
Scientists seek to re-envision coastal protection so it helps ecosystems instead of harms them.
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.
ESSAY These women should win a Nobel Prize in physics, Slate, October 6, 2014
Only two women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics. I profile 10 who deserve consideration.
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 old-time music and dance events.