Science writing from physics to ecology

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, Eos, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Wesleyan Magazine, Discover, Aeon, Undark, Smithsonian, Scientific American, New Scientist, National Geographic News and NPR.

Selected Work

PROFILE An Agitator for Science Reform Walks a Fine Line in the Era of Trump, Undark, February 15, 2018
Daniel Sarewitz aims to put his ideas in front of power players without enabling a president who seems as likely to destroy science as to reform it.

NEWS OSTP Emphasizes Quantum Computing, APS News, February 6, 2018
Usually science-averse Trump administration adds quantum information expertise amid calls for a coordinated approach to quantum research and major investments by other countries.

NEWS First New Species of Temperate Conifer Tree Discovered in More Than a Decade, National Geographic, January 30, 2018
The Ulleungdo hemlock, found on a small Korean island, is likely already endangered, but it may hold the key to fighting invasive species.

NEWS Prestigious Climate-Related Fellowships Rescinded, Eos, January 19, 2018
Cuts and delays to federal postdoc funding programs are imperiling early-career climate scientists at a critical career stage.

FEATURE Step aside CERN: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics, Nature, January 10, 2018
How tabletop experiments could find evidence of new particles, offering a glimpse beyond the standard model.

NEWS At age 16, A Maryland student is working with NASA on a serious project, Washington Post, December 31, 2017
A local high school sophomore has been working with NASA scientists for almost two years to map and conserve mangroves using satellite data.

NEWS Major Federal Tropical Research Project to Cease 7 Years Early, Eos, December 11, 2017
A signal of the Trump administration’s plans for US science: the early termination of a DOE research program to improve how climate models simulate tropical forests.

NEWS Revealing the Methods of Climate-Doubting Blogs, Inside Science, November 30, 2017
A group of scientists dive into the murky climate blogosphere to reveal how climate skeptics operate.

FEATURE Research in action, Nature, November 21, 2017
US states, counties, cities and indigenous governments offer sound career opportunities for putting science to use.

FEATURE Physicists Take Their Skills to the Great Outdoors, APS News, November 2017
Profiles of three physicists putting their expertise to study and conserve nature.

NEWS Explaining tropical forests’ astonishing biodiversity, Inside Science, October 12, 2017
A new chapter in a longstanding science mystery.

FEATURE Rise of Distorted News Puts Climate Scientists on Their Guard, Eos, October 2, 2017
How scientists are responding to the alt-right/fake news industry’s climate “coverage”.

NEWS Tropical forests may be carbon sources, not sinks, Nature, September 29, 2017
Clever use of satellite data confirms that tropical forests are taking a big hit.

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?

(Republished by Scientific American)

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.

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.

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.

Lee esta historia en español!

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.

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

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.

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 old-time 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.