Award Winners

2017

Magazine

Gold

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 fires…

Audio

Gold

“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 adult…

Children's Science News

Gold

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…

Large Newspaper

Gold

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 guesswork…

Small Newspaper

Gold

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 the…

Television: Spot News/Feature Reporting

Gold

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 theorists on…

Television: In-Depth Reporting

Gold

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 first…

Online

Gold

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 to flooding…

2016

Magazine

Gold

The gene editing technique called CRISPR is much in the news, but the judges praised Hall’s piece for not only explaining the powerful new technique but also using a very specific example– preventing the decay of store-bought mushrooms – to show how the new science may be having its most profound and least publicized effect in agriculture. “By the fall of 2015, about 50 scientific papers had been published reporting uses of CRISPR in gene-edited plants, and there are preliminary signs that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of the agencies that assess genetically modified…

Audio

Gold

From a desolate volcanic landscape in the highlands of Iceland to the edge of the world’s second largest ice sheet in Greenland, reporter Ari Daniel and environment editor Peter Thomson of PRI’s “The World” took listeners to the frontiers of field research on current and potential effects of climate change. “Ari Daniel brought listeners along on an exciting and fascinating ride to explore melting glaciers in Greenland and Iceland,” said Rich Monastersky, features editor in the Washington office of the journal Nature . “The vivid pieces put us right there with the scientists as they…

Children's Science News

Gold

Anna Rothschild engaged her early adolescent viewers with a series of brightly written pieces about the microbial culprits behind cavities, a clever homemade microscope that can be used to view the denizens of pond scum, and a frank and informative discussion of menstrual periods. “Funny, compelling, intriguingly gross and hugely informative—the videos written, edited, animated and narrated by the multi-talented Anna Rothschild do a marvelous job of conveying science in a form that is kid-friendly and likely to stick in young brains,” said Claudia Wallis, managing editor of Scientific American…

Large Newspaper

Gold

In a heartbreaking story about the stillbirth of their son, Mikki, journalists Jop de Vrieze and Zvezdana Vukojevic searched for answers within the Dutch system of prenatal care that might have helped prevent their son’s death. They delved into scientific articles, medical guidelines, policy documents, parliamentary papers and internal documents, and spoke to more than 30 sources. Infant mortality has been a topic of considerable discussion in The Netherlands since a 2003 study found the nation’s infant mortality rate was among the highest in the European Union. Midwives have an autonomous…

Small Newspaper

Gold

In his series for the Point Reyes Light , Peter Byrne took a close look at claims of a breast cancer epidemic among white women in upscale Marin County and found that widespread cancer screening, producing many false positives, is the likely cause of a feared “cancer cluster” in the county. He reported that many non-cancerous findings are erroneously entered in the state’s cancer registry as cancerous. “There is not more breast cancer in Marin than elsewhere, experts say; rather, it is detected more frequently—and often erroneously,” Byrne wrote. “Over the decades, the persistent belief that…

Television: Spot News/Feature Reporting

Gold

Setting the stage for what proved to be a landmark conference on climate change in Paris, Rebecca Morelle and Stuart Denman traveled to a high-altitude research laboratory in the Swiss Alps to talk with scientists who have been keeping an eye on rising levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the broadcast, Morelle reviewed the history of global negotiations to control human-generated atmospheric emissions, including the successful effort to reduce substances that damage Earth’s protective ozone layer. In interviews with the UN official in charge of the climate conference…

Television: In-Depth Reporting

Gold

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini gained international attention in 2011 when he announced he had performed the world’s first synthetic organ transplant by replacing a patient’s trachea, or windpipe, with a plastic tube. When doubts arose about the success of subsequent operations, Karolinska officials disregarded the results of an investigation by an outside expert and reaffirmed their faith in Macchiarini. In a gripping three-part documentary, reporter Bosse Lindquist explained how the surgeon did not fully inform his patients about the risks of the trachea implants and had falsified research…

Online

Gold

Charles Piller reported that researchers at leading medical institutions had routinely disregarded a law requiring public reporting of study results to the federal government’s ClinicalTrials.gov database, thereby depriving patients and doctors of information that would help them better compare the effectiveness and side effects of treatments for diseases such as advanced breast cancer. Piller found that four of the top 10 recipients of federal medical research funding from the National Institutes of Health were the worst offenders: Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, the…