I’ve written about almost every field of science, but I write most often about physics, space, Earth science, ecology and environment (the “plants and particles” beat as I sometimes call it). Some of my favorite stories come from the interface between physics and fields like ecology and cancer research. Whatever the topic, my goal is always to communicate what scientists do, how they think and why it matters. Lately I’ve been increasingly straying beyond the confines of traditional science coverage to tell stories of science’s impacts on others.
Below is a mostly complete list of my published writing to date.
NEWS Surprise! The proton is lighter than we thought, Science, July 20, 2017
New experiment puts proton on a diet
NEWS Singing animals reveal forest facts, Inside Science, June 27, 2017
Ecologists propose using animal song to measure forest health.
NEWS Solar System survey casts doubt on mysterious ‘Planet Nine’, Nature, June 22, 2017
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.
PROFILE Creating a “pacemaker” for the brain, UMBC Magazine, May 26, 2017
Kafui Dzirasa brings a physics and engineering approach to neuroscience.
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.
PROFILE Hyungsoo Kim is making time accessible–and fashionable, Wesleyan Magazine, Spring 2017
A watchmaker makes it possible to “touch your time.”
NEWS Reports of Universe’s Fine-Tuning May Be Exaggerated, Inside Science, May 12, 2017
On whether stars could burn and life could evolve in other universes. Complete with They Might Be Giants song lyrics!
NEWS How just one data point could predict the collapse of an entire ecosystem, Science, May 9, 2017
Study on algae forests could be applied to fisheries, forests and beyond.
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
A collaboration between Smithsonian researchers and the Emberá people of Panama aims to give indigenous communities a say in the environmental future and decolonize science.
PROFILES NIST and the Nobels, May 2, 2017
Profiles of the 5 laureates who did their Nobel-winning work at NIST. (I was the primary reporter and writer on the profiles of David Wineland and Dan Shechtman, and did extensive reporting and rewriting on the other three.)
NEWS APS Meetings Go Social, APS News, April 2017
Twitter and other platforms bring meeting attendees and outside audiences closer together.
NEWS Chaos Theory May Help Predict Red Tides, Inside Science, March 22, 2017
Puzzling out ecology’s hidden causation
NEWS Little Boy and Fat Man Cast Shadows Over April Meeting, APS News, March 2017
As nuclear threats grow, physicists are urged to lend their expertise.
NEWS Solar Eclipse Offers Up a Scientific Bonanza, APS News, March 2017
Physicists seek a better understanding of the solar corona and space weather
NEWS Gravitational Waves: Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, APS News, March 2017
LIGO team continues to look for new events and radio telescopes join the search.
NEWS Split decision in first-ever quantum computer faceoff, Science, February 21, 2017
Ions get the right answer more often, but superconductors are faster.
FEATURE How magnets and boiling kettles encode the secrets of reality, New Scientist, February 15, 2017
A strange symmetry links mundane phenomena with unsolved questions. Are physicists finally cracking its code? (cover 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.
NEWS The Best Way to Protect the World’s Forests? Keep People In Them, Smithsonian, December 28, 2016
Indigenous leaders and conservationists argue for a new way to protect forests.
PROFILE America’s most innovative rancher, Wesleyan magazine, December 30, 3016
Anya Fernald blazes her own trail in the sustainable meat world. (cover story)
NEWS In Temperate Forests, Edges Hold More Carbon than the Middles, Inside Science, December 19, 2016
A “green lining”: Edges of some temperate forests grow faster and absorb more carbon.
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 Can community-based logging fight climate change?, Discover Magazine, November 4, 2016
How logging done right could save the forest and the climate.
NEWS Nature lovers may risk loving nature to death, Inside Science, November 3, 2016
Study quantifies threats to plants and points the finger — at us.
NEWS Your future smartwatch might be printed with an inkjet printer, Science, November 1, 2016
Carbon could challenge silicon in the realm of flexible electronics.
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
In which I suggest a way to modernize the world’s most famous science prize.
NEWS Peru signals space ambitions with Earth-monitoring satellite, Nature, September 15, 2016
Spacecraft could help scientists track logging, natural disasters and illegal mining.
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.
FEATURE Researchers Unpack a Cellular Traffic Jam, Quanta, August 16, 2016
How theoretical physics could help shed light on cancer’s deadliest act.
Republished at Wired
FEATURE Collaborations: Partners in knowledge, Nature, July 27, 2016
How to make collaborations between scientists and indigenous people effective and inclusive.
OP-ED The battle to save Dueling Creek, Washington Post, July 8, 2016
Why even a battle-scarred little suburban park is worth saving.
PROFILE Physicist makes thin films for tough conditions, APS News, July 2016
For those not attracted by academia, there are plenty of intellectual challenges in the private sector.
PROFILE Edward Bouchet continues to inspire, APS News, June 2016
Edward Bouchet, the first African-American to earn a physics PhD, didn’t get nearly enough recognition in his lifetime, but he’s a pretty big deal today.
PROFILE A life in physics, Art/Sci, Spring/Summer 2016
Robert Brown enjoys a varied career as a physicist and medical imaging entrepreneur.
NEWS Advancing beyond Advanced LIGO, APS News, May 2016
Gravitational wave physicists celebrate a success and plan for the future.
NEWS HAWC charts the extreme gamma-ray sky, APS News, May 2016
Astronomers produce high-energy sky map after year of observations.
NEWS Science meets politics: A complicated relationship, APS News, May 2016
A debate over the role scientists should play in an increasingly nasty political arena.
NEWS Attracting new ideas for measuring big G, APS News, May 2016
Program managers seek fresh approaches for measuring nature’s most elusive fundamental constant.
PROFILE Traditional musician and storyteller Anna Roberts-Gevalt ’09 blazes a modern trail, Wesleyan Magazine, April 5, 2016
I profile one of the most creative and forward-looking people in traditional music.
NEWS Battling the emperor of maladies, APS News, April 2016
Physicists and oncologists team up to make progress on cancer
NEWS Physicists, the brain is calling, APS News, April 2016
At the APS March Meeting, neuroscientists encourage physicists to get involved.
FEATURE For some, Einstein’s space-time ripples have yet to break their silence, Inside Science, March 25, 2016
LIGO made the headlines recently, but how else are physicists looking for gravitational waves? (with a photo credit!)
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
Scientists seek to re-envision coastal protection so it helps ecosystems instead of harms them.
NEWS Satellite alerts track deforestation in real time, Nature, February 23, 2016
System uses Landsat data to issue warnings just hours after tree loss is detected.
BROCHURE Physics in your future, American Physical Society, February, 2016
Profiles of 15 women physicists in a wide range of careers.
NEWS A break in the trees, Inside Science, February 17, 2016
Physicists write equation describing how all trees break in storms; biologists protest.
NEWS Gravitational Waves Spotted, Confirming Einstein’s Ripples In Spacetime, Inside Science, February 11, 2016
A long search hits the jackpot, opening a new window on the universe.
OP-ED Chasing the rabbit in D.C., Washington Post, January 22, 2016
Why square dancing can make the world a better place. (OK, not everything I write is about science!)
FEATURE STORY The physics of life, Nature, January 5, 2016
From flocking birds to self-organizing molecules, physicists are seeking to understand “active matter” — and looking for a fundamental theory of the living world.
PROFILE Sensing the planet, APS News, December 31, 2015
I profile three physicists who develop remote sensing technology that’s helping answer global-scale questions about forests and climate change.
NEWS The physics of sliding on ice, Inside Science, December 21, 2015
A new mathematical model could answer puzzling questions about frozen water, one of Earth’s most common and strangest materials.
PROFILE Steve Rolston wants to start a quantum revolution, Wesleyan magazine, December 7, 2015
Fifty years after Richard Feynman said no one understands quantum mechanics, Steve Rolston is using it to achieve unprecedented control of atoms and light.
NEWS Indigenous people could be key to storing carbon in tropical forests, new report concludes, ScienceInsider, December 2, 2015
Too many times scientists have discounted indigenous knowledge, but on climate change the two communities are aligning. Indigenous leaders are attempting to use science to advocate for a stronger voice at the Paris climate talks.
FEATURE STORY Breaking the Waves, Science, November 13, 2015
Scientists are starting to put hard data behind calls for a softer approach to shoreline protection.
FEATURE STORY A Twisted Path to Equation-Free Prediction, Quanta Magazine, October 13, 2015
Ecologist George Sugihara uses chaos theory to find hidden order in some of the world’s most complex systems: fisheries, stock markets, genetic networks, brains. Can his methods make our crazy world more predictable?
Reprinted at Wired
FEATURE STORY Fortunate encounter, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Fall 2015
The endpieces of DNA, known as telomeres, were supposed to help scientists cure cancer and end aging. Turns out not so much. But researchers have discovered an expected link between telomeres and lung disease that could actually save lives.
PROFILE Petar Maksimovic, on the hunt for new physics, Johns Hopkins Physics and Astronomy publication, Fall 2015
PROFILE Exploring math’s foundations, Art/Sci, Fall 2015
Colin McLarty melds philosophy, mathematics and history.
NEWS Elisabeth Werner wins faculty research award, Art/Sci, Fall 2015
PROFILE Educator Middy Tilghman kayaks on the “roof of the world”, Wesleyan Magazine, September 15, 2015
A kayaking adventure in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains leads to an innovative summer camp and an opportunity to help a war-torn nation heal.
FEATURE STORY Battling a giant killer, Science, August 21, 2015
An afternoon hiking among dead eastern hemlocks in Georgia led to more than two years of research and reporting, and ultimately to this story on the long, hard fight to save this beautiful and important tree.
NEWS Fourteen percent of U.S. coastline is covered in concrete, Science, August 18, 2015
Scientists report the first national estimate of coastline infrastructure
FEATURE STORY Seventy years later, atomic bombs still influence health research, Inside Science, August 5, 2015
Seventy years later, radiation safety standards are still based on atomic bomb survivor studies. Scientists say it’s past time for an update.
NEWS Trailblazing cancer–physics project accused of losing ambition, Nature, August 5, 2015
Some scientists say a National Cancer Institute program to fight cancer with physics has lost its mojo.
PROFILE Improving lives with physics, APS News, July 1, 2015
Profile of development engineering pioneer Ashok Gadgil.
FEATURE STORY Weighing the world’s trees, Nature, June 30, 2015
Using everything from humble tape measures to state-of-the-art satellites, scientists are trying to figure out how much carbon is stored in the world’s forests–and how long it will stay there.
NEWS Gamma-ray method flags up nuclear stashes, Nature, April 11, 2015
Physicists propose a safer, better way to screen cargo for nuclear material.
FEATURE STORY Bold experiments will put general relativity to the test, Discover, April 2015
Powerful telescopes and huge gravitational wave detectors will test the theory Albert Einstein worked out a century ago with pencil and paper.
FEATURE STORY Night skies get the blues, Physics World, March 2015 (available in print only)
LEDs could help reverse the global growth in light pollution, but only if they’re used correctly.
NEWS A more finely tuned universe, Inside Science, February 20, 2015
New simulations seek to determine how well our universe is “tuned” for carbon-based life.
FEATURE STORY Moore’s Law is about to get weird, Nautilus, February 12, 2015
Some unconventional ideas that could help computers stay fast and powerful as our semiconductor technology reaches its limits.
FEATURE STORY Learning Curve, Johns Hopkins Gazette, January-February, 2015
How an innovative grants program (and Belgian beer mixers) fuel discoveries about the human brain at Johns Hopkins.
NEWS Cloud monitor to hitch a ride on the space station, Nature, December 12, 2014
New NASA instrument could help improve climate predictions and the International Space Station’s image.
FEATURE STORY Karl Alexander’s decades-long study shows the long shadow of a poor start, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Winter 2014
Sociologist’s 25-year study of urban poverty seriously challenges the American equal opportunity myth.
NEWS Ensuring Quality: NIST Suggests New Purity Test for Biotech Products, NIST Tech Beat, December 2, 2014
NEWS Device cools itself in the blazing hot sun, Physics World, November 27, 2014
A new way to stay cool without using energy.
NEWS Can we eavesdrop on E.T.?, Inside Science, November 19, 2014
What are the odds of intercepting communications between distant civilizations?
NEWS A few long jumps can make an epidemic, Physics World, November 5, 2014
Theoretical model shows how important random long jumps are in disease and biological invasion spread.
BLOG POST Making passion projects happen, National Association of Science Writers website, October 19, 2014
NEWS Strengthening Thin-Film Bonds with Ultrafast Data Collection, October 17, 2014
ESSAY These Women Should Win a Nobel Prize in Physics, Slate, October 6, 2014
Only two women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics (as of today). Plenty more deserve consideration.
PROFILE Making a career of putting numbers on nature, APS News, October 2014
Profile of physicist-turned-ecologist-turned-British science advisory Lord Robert May.
FEATURE STORY On the Edge, Science, September 25, 2014
Profile of Dutch mathematical ecologist Marten Scheffer, who in the 1980s found ecological tipping points in lakes, and has since extended the idea to climate, forests, and even migraines and depression. (login required for full story)
FEATURE STORY Harnessing the potential of spin, Johns Hopkins University Physics and Astronomy publication, Fall 2014
NEWS Breaking Beautiful, Inside Science, August 25, 2014
Thin-film cracks make spirals, crescents and Keith Haring-like art!
NEWS Going mobile with NMR spectroscopy, Physics World, August 13, 2014
Formerly cabinet-sized electronics shrunk to fit on grain-sized silicon chip.
PROFILE Ian Garrick-Bethell ’02 takes a moon shot, Wesleyan Magazine, July 16, 2014
Lunar scientist finds new ways to approach old problems.
NEWS A watery surprise from Earth’s depths, EARTH Magazine, July 14, 2014
First finding of water from the mantle’s transition zone. (login required)
ESSAY Farewell invertebrates, we hardly knew you, Last Word on Nothing, July 1, 2014
A lament for the National Zoo’s Invertebrate House.
NEWS New NIST metamaterial gives light a one-way ticket, NIST Tech Beat, July 1, 2014
Metal-and-glass sandwich gives metamaterials a new trick.
NEWS Qubits team up to detect errors, Physics World, June 17, 2014
Physicists stitch together seven ions and inch toward a working quantum computer.
NEWS Quantum math could explain irrational reasoning, Inside Science, June 16, 2014
Blame your irrational decisions on quantum theory!
NEWS Thin-film peeling is not always smooth, Physical Review Focus, June 6, 2014
New theory provides nanoscale look at gecko adhesion.
NEWS Lithium sulfur: a battery revolution on the cheap?, NIST Tech Beat, June 3, 2014
A mix of common ingredients could provide the long-sought mix of energy density and cycle life.
PROFILE Finding the epigenetic keys to prostate cancer, Johns Hopkins Magazine, June 2, 2014
Johns Hopkins researcher seeks clues to a modern epidemic.
NEWS Physicists lock in on proton’s magnetic moment, Physics World, June 2, 2014
New, ultra-precise measurement could help explain why matter outweighs antimatter.
MUSEUM REVIEW National Museum of Mathematics is antidote to math phobia, Science News, May 31, 2014
Museum aims to make math fun for the whole family.
NEWS Deepwater Horizon methane lingered longer than thought, Science News, May 31, 2014
A deep-sea methane mystery.
NEWS New chemical blend helps plastic heal itself, ScienceNOW, May 8, 2014
Hole-sealing chemistry could lead to self-repairing airplane wings.
NEWS Why does time flow forward?, Inside Science, April 30, 2014
A mind-bending tale of memory, entropy, the Big Bang and two definitions of time!
NEWS Major step taken toward error-free computing, Science News, April 23, 2014
Quantum information passes a major stability threshold.
NEWS Voter model works for US elections, Physical Review Focus, April 18, 2014.
A computer simulation reproduces red-blue electoral maps. Are our voting decisions really that simple?
NEWS Ocean bacteria may have shut off ancient global warming, Science News, April 14, 2014.
Carbon-munching microbes may help regulate Earth’s temperature.
NEWS Cracking bacteria’s code, Inside Science, March 24, 2014
Computer model predicts how antibiotic resistance evolves.
FEATURE STORY Cloudy forecast, Science News, March 7, 2014
To predict global warming precisely, scientists still have to figure out clouds.
NEWS Nanomaterial may be future of hard drives, ScienceNOW, March 7, 2014
Scientists slap two materials together and get a magnetic surprise.
MOVIE REVIEW Catching Particle Fever, Science News, February 22, 2014
A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the men and women who found the Higgs boson.
NEWS Magma spends most of its existence as sludgy mush, Science News, Feb 18, 2014
Crystals open a window into volcanic depths.
BOOK REVIEW The Sixth Extinction, Science News, Feb 11, 2014
The science of extinction, by New Yorker reporter Elizabeth Kolbert.
NEWS Filament of cosmic web set aglow, Science News, Jan 20, 2014
Astronomers spot universe’s hidden structure — maybe.
FEATURE STORY Tomorrow’s catch, Science News, Jan 13, 2014
Can chaos theory can help manage fisheries sustainably?
PROFILE Physicists give renewable energy the Silicon Valley treatment, APS News, Jan 2014
Two young energy entrepreneurs seek to upend electricity generation and storage.
FEATURE STORY The next scientific revolution: big data, Johns Hopkins Physics & Astronomy Publication, 2013
Big data science has transformed astronomy and is poised to do the same for every other field.
Galaxies’ missing mass may hide in gas clouds, Science News, January 13, 2014
Materials’ light tricks may soon extend to doing math, Science News, January 9, 2014
Unusual three-star system promises new test of gravity, Science News, January 6, 2014
Sun’s rotation driven by enormous plasma flows, Science News, December 5, 2013
ISON appears to have broken up after brush with sun, Science News, December 3, 2013
Methane emissions may be far higher than estimated, Science News, November 25, 2013
Surprising metals found in microbes, Science News, November 12, 2013
Historical events linked to changes in Earth’s temperature, Science News, November 10, 2013
Dark Energy Search Gets Murkier, Science News, October 31, 2013
Oort Cloud Tosses Astronomers a Cometary Curveball, Science News, October 25, 2013
Material Looks Cool While Heating Up, Science News, October 25, 2013
New Limit Placed on Physical Constant, Science News, October 15, 2013
Higgs Field Prediction Lands Nobel Prize in Physics, with Andrew Grant, Science News, October 8, 2013
Australian Cats and Foxes May Not Deserve their Bad Rep, ScienceNOW, August 23, 2013
Circuits for Light, Physical Review Focus, August 16, 2013
Right Fish, Wrong Pond, Johns Hopkins Magazine feature article on Rachel Carson’s experience at Johns Hopkins, Summer 2013
Ocean Wave Breaking Stirs Up Atmosphere, Physical Review Focus, May 3, 2013
Trees Call For Help–And Now Scientists Can Understand, National Geographic News, April 15, 2013 (this story got picked up by NPR’s Weekend Edition; listen to their piece here)
Predicting Collapse, ScienceNOW, April 10, 2013
Marc Kamionkowski profile (pdf), Johns Hopkins University Physics and Astronomy publication, 2012
PhysTEC News, Winter 2012 (pdf). I wrote all articles except “The Big Picture” and “1ook in 10”.
Tackling the scientific meeting, National Association of Science Writers website, October 29, 2012
Texas Hosts Lively Teacher Preparation Conference, APS News, July 2011
2006 Blewett Recipient Now on Tenure Track, APS News, June 2011
Four Funded Sites Join APS Teacher Education Program, APS News, June 2011
Physics Sheds Light on Cancer and Bacteria Evolution, APS News, May 2011
Physicist Takes a Look at TIMSS, APS News, April 2011
Minority Serving Institutions Take on Teacher Preparation (pdf), APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics/Committee on Minorities Gazette, Spring 2011, pp 7-8
Community Values APS’s Education Research Journal, APS News, November 2010
Program to Aid Minority Transition to Grad School, with Sara Webb, APS News, August/September 2010
Recruiting Physics Students in High School, APS Forum on Education Newsletter, Summer 2010
PhysTEC Scholarship Program for Future Physics Teachers, APS Forum on Education Newsletter, Summer 2010
Task Force Calls Physics Teacher Preparation Massively Inadequate, APS News, April 2010
Kavli Plenary Session Examines STEM Education, with Calla Cofield, APS News, March 2010
Andrew Noble – profile of a physicist turned ecologist, PhysicsCentral, 2010
Sam Wurzel – profile of a physicist turned entrepreneur, PhysicsCentral, 2010
Arthur Ashkin – profile of a laser pioneer, LaserFest.org, 2010
Are Plants Energy Efficient?, with Neil Zimmerman, PVF Newsletter, September 2009, pp 2-3
“Physics First” Battles for Acceptance, APS News, July 2009
March Meeting Highlights Energy Storage, Generation, APS News, May 2009
Lithium-ion Batteries, PhysicsCentral, 2009
Fiddle Physics, PhysicsCentral, 2009
Mary Lee McJimsey – profile of a high school physics teacher, PhysicsCentral, 2009
Press Release: PhysTEC Addressing National Physics Teacher Shortage, EurekAlert, October 2008
From February 2009 to May 2011, I wrote a bimonthly column called the Education Corner. A sample is available here.
Scientists Greater than Einstein: The Biggest Lifesavers of the Twentieth Century, Quill Driver Press, 2009
Scientists Greater than Einstein profiles ten scientists, mostly non-famous ones, whose discoveries have saved millions of lives, possibly including yours and mine. Though not one of the primary authors, I did a lot of the research and editing for this book, as well as some of the writing. It was a fascinating journey into public health and medical history — and surprisingly, a bit of agronomy and insect toxicology as well.
Selected Web Content
Ethics Case Studies, a page that hosts a set of ethical case studies specific to issues in physics research
Resources for Undergraduate Physics Faculty, a page to help physics faculty members develop their undergraduate programs
Resources for Undergraduate Physics Students, a page to help undergraduate physics students access career and financial resources
PhysTEC Key Components, a set of pages documenting the key components of the PhysTEC project
History of APS Involvement in Education, APS, September 2012
I wrote the PhysTEC project’s annual reports for the National Science Foundation from 2007 to 2011. Reports are available in the right column here. I also wrote the project’s status reports from 2007 through 2010.