2019 Large Newspaper - Silver

Nathaniel Herzberg described the work of scientists trying to understand the past and potential future of Notre Dame cathedral in the wake of the devastating fire that nearly destroyed the historic structure in April 2019. The cathedral debris offers a wealth of insight into more than eight centuries of the structure’s architectural history. From the first night, art historians, archaeologists and curators helped firefighters save as much of the cathedral as possible. Once the real extent of the damage was known, teams of scientists were organized to explore the cathedral’s structure and materials. As one chemist told Herzberg, “Now we have a unique chance to explore the cathedral’s hidden parts, but also to extract intangible information that was inaccessible before. There is a real sense of urgency here, because this information can disappear very quickly.” Researchers also will be studying the range of human emotions linked to the heritage and fate of the cathedral. “It is awful to say so, but for us, the Notre Dame fire is the terrain of our dreams, an incredible opportunity,” an anthropologist told Herzberg. Judge Paul Raeburn, a veteran science writer and author, called Herzberg’s story “a really deep dive into the Notre Dame rebuilding efforts. The story puts the reader right on the ground in the cathedral.” Herzberg also won a silver award in this category in 2015. “The fire in Notre Dame horrified the whole world,” Herzberg said, noting that he had seen the flames while riding home on his bicycle. “It was a personal shock.” But in talking to scientists, he learned that the catastrophe also presented an urgent research opportunity. “All this knowledge, buried under centuries of history, was coming to the surface,” Herzberg said.