Award Winners

2017

Large Newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016

Large Newspaper

Silver

“Narben am Grund - Scars in the Ground” - 23 Mar. 2016

Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich)

 

In 1989, German scientists plowed a patch of sea floor off Ecuador to study the possible effects of deep sea mining. They monitored the ten-square-kilometer plot for a few years and then moved on. In the summer of 2015, a new German research vessel returned to the site to explore what had happened in the 26 years since the first excavations in the fragile ecosystem. They found life on the sea floor had scarcely recovered. Not even bacteria have managed to fully recolonize the scars in the ocean floor, researchers found. Other species have never returned. Some...Read more

Small Newspaper

Silver

“Graying of HIV: After 35 years of the AIDS virus, a generation makes new medical history” - 5 June 2016

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

 

More than half of the 1.25 million Americans infected by the human immune deficiency virus (HIV) are age 50 or older, Barbara Peters Smith reported in her award-winning piece. In just four years, that share should reach 70 percent. “As the longevity boom collides with a resurgence of HIV diagnoses nationwide, scientists are just now learning how this persistent, incurable virus ─ along with the powerful drugs that keep it at bay ─ takes a toll on the body that makes natural aging look like a gift,” she wrote. People with HIV experience age-related changes in their DNA more...Read more

Magazine

Silver

“The Forgotten Continent” - 14 July 2016

“Listening for Landslides” - 28 Apr. 2016

“Trouble in Tibet” - 14 Jan. 2016

Nature

 

In a trio of stories from China, Nepal and Tibet, Beijing-based freelancer Jane Qiu described how fossil finds in China are challenging ideas about the evolution of modern humans and our closest relatives; how rapid changes in Tibetan grasslands are threatening Asia’s main water supply and the livelihood of nomads; and how scientists are wiring up mountainsides in Nepal to monitor and forecast heightened landslide hazards in the wake of the devastating Nepalese earthquake in 2015. The judges praised Qiu’s initiative and in-the-field reporting skills. Her piece on...Read more

Television: Spot News/Feature Reporting

Silver

What a smell looks like” - 21 June 2016

PBS NewsHour

 

Nsikan Akpan told viewers how odors swirl through the air like turbulent dyes flowing through water. The physics of movement in each medium is similar, scientists say, and understanding how odors propagate through the environment could be an important step in developing better artificial “noses” to detect hidden explosives or chemical weapons or other contraband of interest. Such studies also are laying the groundwork for a nationwide study on how humans and animals use smells to map their surroundings. “The NewsHour takes a cue from YouTube with this innovative snapshot of...Read more

Television: In-Depth/Feature Reporting

Silver

“Making North America” Origins

“Making North America” Life

“Making North America” Human

Windfall Films (London) for NOVA/WGBH

 

The three-part NOVA series on “Making North America” describes how powerful geological forces formed a continent, how life evolved on that continent, how humans first set foot on North America, and what surprises the continent’s changing landscape may have in store for us. The lushly photographed series, with stunning computer graphics that recreate a world of tectonic upheaval, provides a look deep into our planet’s history. Paleontologist Kirk Johnson, an enthusiastic and fearless guide, takes viewers on an extended field trip to some of the most stunning locales on the...Read more

Audio

Silver

“Hidden Brain” podcast ─ “When Great Minds Think Unlike: Inside Science’s ‘Replication Crisis’ ” - 24 May 2016

NPR

 

NPR’s Shankar Vedantam and his producers explored why findings in scientific studies may fail to hold up when other researchers try to reproduce them. The issue was spotlighted in 2015 when University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek and a consortium of colleagues reported they had been able to reproduce the original results in fewer than half of 100 published psychology studies. Vedantam looked more closely at efforts to replicate one study on the effects of gender and ethnic stereotyping on performance by Asian women in math tests. In the study, volunteers who were...Read more

Online

Silver

“Science Isn’t Broken. It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for.” - 19 Aug. 2015

“You Can’t Trust What You Read About Nutrition. We found a link between cabbage and innie bellybuttons, but that doesn’t mean it’s real.” - 6 Jan. 2016

“Failure Is Moving Science Forward. The replication crisis is a sign that science is working." - 24 Mar. 2016

FiveThirtyEight

 

For the first piece of her award-winning entry, Christie Aschwanden, a reporter for FiveThirtyEight, spent months exploring the seeming rash of reported incidents of misconduct and fraud in scientific research and concluded that the headline-grabbing cases are “mere distractions.” She added: “If we’re going to rely on science as a means for reaching the truth ─ and it’s still the best tool we have ─it’s important that we understand and respect just how difficult it is to get a rigorous result.” She proceeded to highlight that difficulty with a revealing dive into the world...Read more

Children's Science News

Silver

“The shocking electric eel!” - 2 June 2016

Science News for Students

 

From its opening paragraphs about a zoologist’s unwise affection for a pet eel named “Sparky,” to its description of an eel’s use of electrical pulses to trick its prey into revealing their location, Roberta Kwok’s story on electric eels offered a fascinating glimpse into the behavior of these underwater predators capable of demolishing an entire school of fish. Philip Stoddard, the Florida International University zoologist who attempted to pet Sparky, was immediately zapped with about 500 volts of electricity, roughly four times the jolt he would have received from a...Read more