Award Winners

2017

Large Newspaper

Gold

"The Uncounted"

Reuters

Fifteen years after the U.S. government declared antibiotic-resistant infections to be a grave threat to public health, a Reuters investigation, “The Uncounted,” found that infection-related deaths are going uncounted because federal and state agencies are doing a poor job of tracking them. They lack the political, legal and financial power to impose rigorous surveillance, including mandating that specific drug-resistant infections be routinely recorded on death certificates. The number of deaths from such infections, regularly cited in news reports and scholarly papers, are mostly...Read more

Silver

“Das grosse ABC”

Marlene Weiss

Translation

For more than 10 years, Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki worked largely by himself on a proof of the so-called ABC conjecture, one of the most important unresolved problems in mathematics. In the summer of 2012, he published it. The proof is encompassed in four scientific articles that together fill about 500 pages, according to writer Marlene Weiss, who entered a mathematical realm where the language is so strange that hardly anybody but...Read more

Small Newspaper

Gold

“Long quest to understand these bodies without identities”

Mail and Guardian − Johannesburg, South Africa

“Bone specialists try to prise secrets from veld bodies”

Mail and Guardian − Johannesburg, South Africa

“Unnamed, unclaimed -- while families wait for their return”

Mail and Guardian − Johannesburg, South Africa

In a moving series on forensic science and the quest to identify hundreds of unidentified dead who pass each year through the mortuaries of a single province in South Africa, Sarah Wild told the stories of both the professionals trying to improve the identification process and the families seeking to know what happened to their loved ones. Each year, between 1,300 and 1,600 people in Gauteng province are added to South Africa’s already long list of unidentified dead. Forensic anthropologist Ericka L’Abbe of the University of Pretoria, holding the skull of one person who died from blows to...Read more

Silver

“Rising seas, rising stakes”

The Providence Journal

“Losing ground”

The Providence Journal

“On the brink”

The Providence Journal

Judges praised Alex Kuffner for his comprehensive look at the risks facing Rhode Island communities from either a once-in-a-century hurricane or a sea level rise of seven feet by the end of the century, as projected in a worst-case scenario by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Kuffner noted that six percent of residential structures within Rhode Island’s 21 coastal communities are currently vulnerable to some level of flooding in the event of a 100-year storm. That number would double if seven feet of sea level rise is factored in. One study...Read more

Magazine

Gold

“Firestorm”

High Country News

Douglas Fox took readers inside the dangerous and unpredictable behavior of wildfires, describing the audacious steps one team of researchers took to better understand the anatomy of a monster fire burning in southern Idaho in August 2016. An instrument-laden light aircraft penetrated the towering smoke plume of the fire, registering an 80 mile per hour updraft of hot, buoyant air, followed by a turbulent downdraft. Only aloft, some scientists say, can researchers start to really understand how a wildfire “breathes” and moves across the landscape. That may open new avenues for monitoring...Read more

Silver

“The Strange Brain of the World's Greatest Solo Climber”

Nautilus

Alex Honnold, the world’s greatest solo climber, doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us. He climbs to dizzying heights without a rope or protective equipment of any kind, shuffles across narrow sills of stone such as the “Thank God” ledge high atop the sheer granite face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. When J.B. MacKinnon, a Canadian freelance writer, approached Honnold about having scientists look at what goes on in his unusual brain, the climber said he once would have been afraid to submit himself to such scrutiny. But he agreed, and the result was a fascinating tour of the...Read more

Television: Spot News/Feature Reporting

Gold

“Why there could be many identical copies of you”

BBC Earth

Reporter Melissa Hogenboom and video producer Pierangelo Pirak entered the world of quantum weirdness, grappling in a visually engaging fashion with the theory that there may be multiple universes beyond our own. Equally intriguing ─ and unsettling ─ is the possibility that we may have cosmic twins very much like ourselves living in alternate universes. The ideas, usually confined to discussions among physicists and cosmologists, are driven by the mathematics of inflation theory and quantum mechanics. Hogenboom and Pirak explore the implications with several of the world’s leading...Read more

Silver

“How moss revealed an undetected air pollution threat in Portland”

PBS NewsHour

“These robots are helping answer a huge unknown about young marine life”

PBS NewsHour

Cat Wise and her colleagues offered solid reporting on the uses of science to better understand the nearby environment. Researchers in Portland found that mosses from two neighborhoods had high levels of cadmium and arsenic, likely from a nearby glassmaking center. Using data from air quality monitoring stations, the researchers determined that mosses could be used as indicators of air pollution and allow a more comprehensive method for tracking potential problems in local air quality.  In a second piece, Wise explained how a marine ecologist is using robots (with casings made from...Read more

Television: In-Depth/Feature Reporting

Gold

“My Love Affair with the Brain”

Luna Productions for PBS

Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg described the career and impact of Marian Diamond, a neuroscientist whose pathbreaking studies with rats in the 1960s transformed the previous understanding of the brain as an immutable, fixed structure. She found anatomical changes in the rat brains that were due to environmental factors, opening the door to an understanding of the brain’s plasticity. Her results were resisted initially, with one male scientist loudly telling her after a talk: “Young lady, that brain cannot change.” Diamond persisted, following her curiosity where it led. She did the...Read more

Silver

“Poisoned Water”

WGBH/NOVA

NOVA investigated the science behind the disastrous results that occurred when officials in Flint, Michigan decided to change the city’s water source to save money but ─ by overlooking a crucial corrosion control process ─ allowed lead from old lead water pipes to leach into the city’s drinking water. Thousands of residents, including particularly vulnerable children, were exposed to dangerously elevated levels of lead. In interviews with scientists, residents and public officials, NOVA explored the impact of the health crisis in Flint and beyond, noting that other water systems across the...Read more

Audio

Gold

“The Whale Menopause”

BBC Radio 4

“Granny,” the oldest known killer whale, was estimated to be over 100 years old when she died. She was featured in the documentary by reporter Victoria Gill and producer Andrew Luck-Baker on menopause among female killer whales, who stop having babies in their 30s or 40s. Researchers want to know why the whales have such long post-reproductive lifespans and what their experiences may mean for short-finned pilot whales and humans – the only other mammalian species known to undergo menopause. The matriarchs among the killer whales lead from the front, helping their pod mates, including the...Read more

Silver

“Chasing Meteors”

Radio National, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Deep in the Outback of southern Australia, Robbie McEwan recounted the hurried chase by planetary geologist Phil Bland and colleagues to find a meteorite that had been sighted by a cook taking a break on the veranda of a pub in a dusty desert town. More importantly, it also was detected by a new network of automated cameras recently deployed by Bland’s team in an ambitious effort to track meteors not only to their final points of impact but also back to their points of origin in the solar system. McEwan followed the story of Bland and Aboriginal guide Dean Stuart as they raced to find...Read more

Online

Gold

“Boomtown, Flood Town”

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune

In a comprehensive, richly interactive story, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune reported that more frequent and fiercer rainstorms are likely in cities like Houston due to climate change, even as unmanaged growth and lack of zoning have made the city more vulnerable to risk of flooding. In a story that presaged the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area, the reporters took a closer look at two previous storms ─ the Memorial Day Flood of 2015 and the Tax Day Flood of 2016 ─ and described how the loss of undeveloped prairie and wetlands has made areas more prone...Read more

Silver

“The West’s newest bird species has a beak like a crowbar”

High Country News online

In an engaging report from the South Hills of Idaho, Nick Neely wrote about the discovery and probable disappearance of North America’s newest bird species, the Cassia crossbill. The reddish birds have crowbar-like beaks that are capable of prying open the toughest cones from lodgepole pines, the birds’ seed source and co-evolutionary partners on which they entirely depend. University of Wyoming ecologist Craig Benkman and his colleagues discovered the Cassia crossbill in a range of just 27 square miles of lodgepole forest. They eventually convinced the American Ornithologists Union that...Read more

Children's Science News

Gold

“A New Way to See”

Ask Magazine

Elizabeth Preston wrote about a blind 13-year-old boy who has learned to use echolocation, a way of seeing with sound, more commonly associated with animals such as bats and dolphins. Humoody Smith, who was born in Iraq and lost his sight at the age of two, clicks his tongue as he walks through his neighborhood, sensing objects by listening for echoes. Preston describes ways in which her young readers can themselves experiment with echolocation. She also talked to a scientist who has used brain scans to determine that echolocators use areas of the brain normally associated with seeing when...Read more

Silver

“The Secret Lives of Plants”

Scholastic Science World

Jennifer Barone wrote about how plants detect and respond to changes in the world around them and even communicate with their neighbors through chemical signals. When scientists recorded vibrations of a caterpillar eating leaves and played the recording back to some plants but not others, the plants exposed to the munching sound produced more chemical defenses against the bugs. When sagebrush plants are attacked by hungry insects, researchers have found, they emit chemical cues into the air to alert neighboring plants. Trees also interact with their environment, Barone reported. Scientists...Read more