Science writing from physics to ecology

I write about science, the environment and people from Mount Rainier, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital. My work has been published in 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, American Forests, Mongabay, National Geographic News, NPR, the Atlantic, Orion, Yale E360 and others.

Selected Work

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?

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 What Is Really Killing Monarch Butterflies?, Scientific American, March 2020
Many scientists have pointed the finger at milkweed loss, and by proxy Roundup and Monsanto. But not everyone agrees.

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.

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.

NEWS Aphid-munching beetle could help save hemlock forests, Science, January 22, 2020.
A rare success for biological control – but much work remains before hemlock trees are safe.

NEWS Forests Could Turn from Allies to Enemies in the Fight Against Climate Change, Inside Science, November 27, 2019
Climate change may cause trees to live faster and die younger, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere.

NEWS Guyana refutes findings that deforestation skyrocketed after REDD+ payments stopped, Mongabay, November 25, 2019
Mixed results from evaluation of major test for climate-change-fighting program

NEWS For D.C. students, lessons in growth, of the garden variety, Washington Post, November 15, 2019
D.C.’s first school-based food forest feeds students’ bodies and minds.

NEWS A mysterious disease is striking American beech trees, Science, November 15, 2019
While scientists debate its cause, beech leaf disease spreads rapidly.

NEWS Scientists Can Now Predict Which Invasive Insects Will Wipe Out Forests, Inside Science, November 4, 2019
Surprisingly, it’s the trees, not the bugs, that matter.

FEATURE Catchy findings have propelled this young ecologist to fame—and enraged his critics, Science, October 24, 2019
I profile the scientist behind the message that tree planting is the world’s best climate solution.

FEATURE Waiting for the Quantum Simulation Revolution, Physics, October 21, 2019
There’s a lot of hype, but chemists and materials scientists say quantum computers have a ways to go before becoming useful.

NEWS Warming Tropical Soils May Release Huge Amounts of Stored Carbon, Inside Science, September 26, 2019
Innovative method yields alarming findings highlight danger of climate feedbacks.

FEATURE Soil’s Microbial Market Shows the Ruthless Side of Forests, Quanta, August 27, 2019
Innovative science reveals that the underground world may not be as beneficient as often claimed.

BOOK REVIEW The Overstory: Admirably ambitious but ultimately overrated, August 26, 2019
My somewhat belated review of a best-seller on trees.

FEATURE Better Batteries or Climate Bust, The Moonshot Catalog, August 17, 2019
Learn why we need new, never-before-seen materials to decarbonize the economy and build a survivable future.

NEWS Forecasters fear 5G wireless technology will muck up weather predictions, Science, August 7, 2019
A remarkable inter-agency squabble pits telecoms against meteorologists.

ESSAY What All the Affection for Monarch Butterflies Misses, Atlantic, June 4, 2019
Monarch butterflies are an outlier species whose success we have enabled. What about all the other less famous insects?

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.

NEWS ‘Wood wide web’—the underground network of microbes that connects trees—mapped for first time, Science, May 22, 2019
Climate-driven changes in forest fungi could unleash carbon bomb.

OP-ED Why Journalists Are Wrong to Say Trump Is at War With Science, Undark, April 11, 2019
By endorsing rhetoric that science is under siege, we play into the narrative that the media is just another partisan actor.

NEWS Map of mangrove height reveals carbon-rich forests, Inside Science, February 22, 2019
Critical ecosystem’s first global height measurement could aid climate change fight. Also, 65-meter-tall trees!

FEATURE How much can forests fight climate change?, Nature, January 15, 2019
Forests take carbon out of the air, so they’re often touted as climate change fighters. But trees influence climate in lots of other ways that are rarely accounted for. I dove into the complex (and controversial) science.

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.

FEATURE How US Corn Farmers Adapted to Climate Change, Inside Science, December 14, 2018
Changing weather and planting practices have massively increased corn yields. But whether the good times will last is another question.

Republished by ABC News

NEWS Space laser to map trees in 3D, Science, December 14, 2018
Lidar instrument will peer down at forests from International Space Station — but the dream of a long-term global dataset remains elusive.

FEATURE Forests Emerge as a Major Overlooked Climate Factor, Quanta, October 9, 2018
Yes, forests store carbon, but emerging research shows that they also influence global climate and weather in other important and far less obvious ways.

Republished in The Atlantic

NEWS Congress Throws Tropical Forest Research Program a Lifeline, Eos, October 5, 2018
Scoop: Congress rescues another climate-related research program after Trump administration tries to throw it in the dumpster.

FEATURE Eyes in the Sky, American Forests, Fall 2018
Lasers in space are mapping how well forests are fighting climate change.

NEWS Surprise! Trees Are Gaining Ground Globally, Inside Science, August 8, 2018
Satellite images reveal widespread forest growth, but new trees won’t halt climate change and biodiversity loss.

NEWS An arboreal murder mystery: What is killing beech trees?, Washington Post, July 30, 2018
There’s a new disease attacking beech trees. If it spreads, it could be ecological apocalypse: Beech is the most common tree in DC and is near the top in many states. My story is the first report in a national news outlet.

NEWS Quantum physics gets attention—and brighter funding prospects—in Congress, Science, June 13, 2018
Spooked by foreign investment, Congress members consider spending big on quantum physics research despite uncertain payoffs.

NEWS D.C. says its tree canopy is growing. Federal researchers disagree., Washington Post, June 10, 2018
Two methods for measuring D.C.’s urban forest come up with conflicting results.

FEATURE Technology and satellite companies open up a world of data, Nature, May 29, 2018
Scientists, long accustomed to turning to the government for data, are being wooed by private companies.

PROFILE The policy entrepreneur, Wesleyan magazine, May 9, 2018
A master of law and policy, Sara Rosenbaum helped millions of Americans get health care. Now she’s fighting to protect them.

NEWS DOE’s maverick climate model is about to get its first test, Science, May 3, 2018
Energy department’s 4-year, $80-million effort runs at high resolutions, but some climate scientists are unimpressed.

FEATURE Can Green Infrastructure Save America’s Capital from Overflowing Sewage?, Inside Science, April 25, 2018
Ambitious plan aims to keep waste out of rivers with plants and permeable pavers rather than massive new pipes.

NEWS US government considers charging for popular Earth-observing data, Nature, April 24, 2018
Discussions underway about whether mega-popular Landsat and NAIP programs should charge for access.

FEATURE Honoring trees, Orion, Spring 2018
A unique art exhibit for grieving scientists.

FEATURE Cancer and the artillery of physics, Johns Hopkins Magazine, March 26, 2018
A biologist asks whether he can use physics to understand cancer and find new ways to stop it.

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 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 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.

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)

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 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.

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

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.