Award Winners

2007

Radio

In a thematic series, Keith Seinfeld of KPLU-FM in Seattle/Tacoma described the electrical properties of the human brain and how scientists are finding new ways to use those properties to treat diseases and injuries. The judges were impressed by his clear, concise language and great use of sound in telling about important research in neuroscience. “While a drill whines in the background, cutting a hole in the top of a patient’s skull, Keith Seinfeld carries his listeners into the story,” said Jeff Nesmith, a Washington-based science writer for Cox Newspapers. “This kind of radio journalism…

Online

Katie Alvord, a freelance reporter who won in the online categeory for her stories on the changing environment of Michigan’s Upper Pennisula, said the award “makes the intense work I did to write this online article series even more worthwhile.” She added, “Especially for a small-town freelancer like me, it’s a real boost to get this kind of recognition.” In a solid example of localized science reporting for a community-based Web site, freelance writer Alvord described the potential local impacts of global warming on a local Michigan community. Kathy Sawyer, a freelance science writer formerly…

2006

Magazine

Millions depend on the banana to stay alive. With diseases threatening many banana varieties, scientists are searching for new hybrids. In a lively account, Canine described the research effort and the ingenious methods being used to breed a better banana. “This was such an evocative piece that I had to go home and eat a banana,” said Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. “This article had everything you look for—depth, detail, significance and science. Truly an enjoyable read.” Canine said he hopes his story brought "wider attention to the pressing scientific need to breed new, disease…

Children's Science News

Geiger won praise from the judges for explaining the basics of natural selection and evolution to children in a story about the changing color of lizards in the New Mexico desert. “Kids who don’t really give a flip about the debate over evolution that surrounds their classrooms relate to lizards,” said Jeff Nesmith of Cox Newspapers. Laura Helmuth of Smithsonian magazine said Geiger used “clear, amusing, colorful language” in describing natural selection, speciation and the geology of sand dunes. “The explanation of the process of science was non-intimidating,” Helmuth said, “and true to field…

Large Newspaper

The judges were impressed by Burling’s use of a single case study about the life and death of an Alzheimer's patient to explore the current scientific understanding of the disease and its human impact. Andrew Revkin of The New York Times called Burling’s story “a superb route into a harrowing subject” that illuminates aspects of science “with rare clarity.” Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer who was formerly with The Washington Post , said Burling’s story elegantly juxtaposed “the science of the disease with the consequences, not only for the patient but for the patient’s family.” "I am…

Small Newspaper

In stories on climate change in the West, Nijhuis described the work of contemporary scientists who are using pioneering field work in Yosemite by biologist Joseph Grinnell nearly a century ago to better understand the changes now occurring in animal populations of the Sierra range; the efforts by Aspen, Colorado and other western towns to grapple with changing climate; and the impact of airborne dust, from drought-stricken grazing lands and other sources, on snow pack in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Peter Spotts of The Christian Science Monitor called her series “a nice blend of…

Television (1981-2009)

Geneticists wanted to make an ordinary purple petunia more purple. Instead they got white flowers. Why? Quite by accident, the researchers found a secret defense system in living cells, a gene-silencing mechanism called RNA interference. It has become one of the hottest topics in biology and was the subject of the recently awarded 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. In addition to the RNAi segment, the NOVA scienceNOW program, presented by Robert Krulwich, also featured a humorous description of the chemistry of fuel cells, complete with electrons attached to the posteriors of “Car…

Radio

Public Radio International's "Living on Earth" program took a clear-headed look at the ongoing efforts to understand and tame nuclear fusion, a field in which overly optimistic projections have led some critics to joke that fusion is the energy source for the future and always will be. Kathy Sawyer, a freelance science writer formerly with The Washington Post , called the winning program “a well-produced overview that not only informs listeners about the science, but also about the process of learning the science, with all its uncertainties and controversies.” A segment on cold fusion explored…

Online

The judges praised the use of Web technology and the overall excellence of the Online NewsHour’s site about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the state of earthquake research. “This very nice package included two interactive graphics, a slide show, and general stories of a length appropriate to the Internet,” said Mary Knudson, a freelance editor and writer who also teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University. Neil Munro of the National Journal called the site “a very promising example of what the Web can become—easy to read and understand, short enough to be attractive.” Larisa…

2005

Magazine

A doctor’s use of science and skill may be the easiet part of patient care, Gawande wrote in his winning piece. But the best outcomes can depend on other, more nebulous factors “like aggressiveness and consistency and ingenuity.” “Gawande’s article described how doctors respond to the sometimes painful product of good scientific analysis,” said Neil Munro of the National Journal , who served as a judge. "I think there is an enormous amount to be learned from close, detailed observation of cases," said Gawande, who is a practicing surgeon as well as a staff writer for The New Yorker. "It…

Children's Science News

Elizabeth Carney gave her young readers an inviting description of the field work by scientists who are studying the remains of an ancient mammoth in Siberia. Laura Helmuth of Smithsonian magazine commended Carney’s use of “inviting, non-patronizing language,” including the amusing image that a mammoth weighs more than 230 fourth graders. Carney, who wrote her story while working as an intern for Scholastic publications after completing a master’s degree in biomedical journalism at New York University, also told her readers that many questions remain unanswered, such as why the mammoths died…

Large Newspaper

The print judging committee was impressed by Overbye’s wit and erudition in walking readers through the arcane world of string theory, the mysteries of time, and the prospects for another Albert Einstein. “Sometimes the simplest, most basic elements of the universe are the most difficult to understand and explain, and surely time must be one of the top contenders,” said Gino Del Guercio, an independent television producer and former AAAS journalism prize winner who served as a judge. “Overbye writes about it with wit and clarity that makes it all look easy.” “Overbye’s articles reflect the…

Small Newspaper

Monastersky was selected for a series of three unrelated pieces that showed a broad grasp of science, from the politically sensitive debate over how boys and girls learn about math to the risks of fish farms to the search by physicists for an elusive force that shapes the universe and accelerates its expansion. “Monastersky’s work stands out for its meticulous explanatory reporting of a remarkably broad range of scientific controversies,” said Robert Lee Hotz of the Los Angeles Times . “I am deeply honored that the judges selected my work for the award,” Monastersky said. “There are many…

Television (1981-2009)

The judges noted the thoroughness and timely production of the hour-long NOVA program that aired within three months of the 26 December 2004 earthquake and devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. “A great combination of science and human drama,” said Warren Leary of The New York Times . “A fine documentary done in a very timely manner.” “Beyond the specifics of the scientific explanations, the production makes clear why the public needs to know ‘scientific stuff,’” said Kathy Sawyer, a freelancer formerly with The Washington Post . She called…

Radio

Nielsen took listeners on a hunt for clues on why 65 dolphins stranded themselves in a mangrove swamp near the town of Marathon in the Florida Keys. Many of the animals died. As marine scientists were cutting up the dolphin carcasses, Nielsen was on the scene, providing his audience a graphic experience in hands-on research as well as an intriguing description of the matriarchal dolphin society that may have triggered the stranding event. Dan Vergano of USA Today called the segment “a beautifully executed piece, with great use of on-the-scene sounds and very human quotes from the scientists…

Online

The judges were impressed by the lively quality of Grossman’s work, which looks at the struggle to preserve biodiversity in Madagascar, an African island smaller than Texas but home to a prodigious diversity of fauna and flora more varied than that of all of North America. Grossman introduces online visitors to a rich catalogue of critters, including the fossa, a remarkable predator that looks like a cross between a cat and a dog and loves to snack on lemurs, the tree-dwelling primates for which Madagascar is famous. Diedtra Henderson of the Boston Globe said Grossman gives “a clear sense of…