Alumni Notes

A roundup of news about KSJ alumni. Stay in touch with your classmates by sending notes (and pictures!) — about career and family updates, books and articles published, shout-outs to fellow alumni — to David Corcoran at dacorc@mit.edu.


April 13, 2017

Mary Otto (2009-10) writes:

In 2007, when I was working as a reporter for the Washington Post, I found myself standing by the hospital bedside of Deamonte Driver, a Maryland schoolboy who was dying of complications from untreated tooth decay.

Doctors said that bacteria from an abscessed tooth had spread to his brain. At the time Deamonte had gotten sick, his mother had been searching for a dentist to see his younger brother who was complaining about dental pain. But they were Medicaid children. And Medicaid dentists were very hard to find.

The story of the death of Deamonte Driver, a few miles from the United States Capitol, helped inspire Congressional hearings and state and national efforts to address the shortage of care for millions of poor children across the country. I covered the unfolding events. There seemed to be so much to learn and to say about dental care — or the lack of it — in America. I kept writing.

In 2008, I left the Washington Post in a major newsroom downsizing. I found freelance work that allowed me to continue to explore the nation’s fragmented, insular oral health care system. America was suffering from a “silent epidemic” of oral disease, former Surgeon General David Satcher had warned.

One third of American children and adults faced significant barriers getting care.

How did this happen? I wanted to know more. A Knight Science Journalism Fellowship allowed me to explore the system and gain new understanding of its evolution and its limits; to gain a deeper grasp the workings of oral health and disease. During my fellowship year I studied the stories of human evolution contained in ancient teeth; I delved into oral health policy and epidemiology. I spent a week at an evidence- based dentistry bootcamp. I took a research trip to Alaska to visit tribal clinics in remote tundra and island villages.

Since my fellowship year I have gone on with my work as an independent journalist. I also serve as oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists. And my book, “Teeth: Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America” was published in March by The New Press. I can’t imagine having completed it without the support and encouragement I received as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow.


April 5, 2017

Here’s what alumni are writing: a monthly compendium from Federico Kukso (2015-16).

Hanno Charisius (2010-11): “The vampire comes out at night” (about bats in Brazil), Tages Anzeiger, Switzerland (in German).

Zack Colman (2015-16): “Why solar panels bloom in Southwest’s land of hydropower,” Christian Science Monitor.

Olga Dobrovidova (2014-2015): “Melting glaciers threaten to inundate Russia’s Far North and Siberia,” Russia Behind the Headlines.

Dan Falk (2011-12): “The multiple multiverses may be one and the same,” Nautilus.

Amanda Gefter (2012-13): “The night girl finds a day boy,” Modern Love, The New York Times.

W. Wayt Gibbs (1999-2000): “With a touch of thermonuclear bomb fuel, ‘Z machine’ could provide fusion energy of the future,” Science.

Giovana Girardi (2014-15): “The story of the snake that threatened an entire forest,” Estadão, Brazil (in Portuguese).

Pagan Kennedy (2010-11): “How to destroy the business model of Breitbart and fake news,” The New York Times Sunday Review.

Eli Kintisch (2011-12): “The great Greenland meltdown,” Science.

Federico Kukso (2015-16): “‘Useless’ science? Why basic human and social research is strategic,” La Nación, Argentina (in Spanish).

Robin Lloyd (1998-99): “When breathing goes awry,” Scientific American.

Annalee Newitz (2002-03): “Welcome to the age of the manufactured meme,” Ars Technica.

Clive Thompson (2002-03): “Face it, meatsack: Pro gamer will be the only job left,” Wired.


March 15, 2017

Since last September, Pere Estupinyà (2007-08) has been directing and hosting a science show on Spanish public TV. It’s called “El Cazador de Cerebros” (“The Brain Hunter”),” and it’s inspired by Pere’s book “El Ladrón de Cerebros” (“The Brain Snatcher”), which he wrote after his year in Cambridge.

“The Brain Hunter” has already completed its 13-episode first season, “and we’re producing the second season (in fact we’ll travel to Boston for interviews late April or early May),” Pere writes. “The videography team is amazing. It’s been a great success in Spain, and in the last two weeks we’ve been awarded two science journalism prizes: Foro Transfiere’s Best Audiovisual Work in Science and Innovation, for the episode ‘Science in Action,’ and Fundación Roche’s Best Audiovisual Work in Medicine, for ‘The Future of Medicine.’”


Take Pickle Peninsula to Banana Bay: Betsy Mason’s grade-school map.

 

The map-obsessed Betsy Mason (2015-16) came across a children’s mapmaking contest and thought, “Wow, these are really incredible maps — these kids are going to grow up to be cartographers.” And then, she told us, “I said, ‘Huh, I wonder if they will.’”

A multiyear project to track down cartographers who had begun making maps as kids — and who held on to some of those maps as adults — culminated in Betsy’s recent post for National Geographic’s “All Over the Map” blog. Now a freelancer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she hopes that kids interested in cartography will be inspired by the post.

As a fellow, Betsy (who has a master’s degree in geology from Stanford) took Global Information Systems Mapping and Primitive Navigation classes at Harvard. At a mapmaking meet-up in Boston, she ran into Mike Foster, a cartographer in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, who shared a map he’d made ages ago. After that, she asked every cartographer she came across, “Weird question, but do you have any of the maps you made as a kid?”

“I got several when I went to a cartography conference,” she says. “My plan was to have a quick conversation about the map and how they started liking maps and what they like about their jobs now. These conversations were so interesting and so, so much fun. There are definitely some threads and similarities” in the early passion for map-making.

Betsy included a map she herself made as part of a third- or fourth-grade project unearthed from her parents’ basement. She says she once thought that if her teachers “had us draw maps, I would have been a cartographer too. But that’s not true; there was a whole pile of geography assignments in that box.

“I definitely don’t regret becoming a geologist or a journalist, but there is part of me that still really wants to make maps.” — Kate Telma


March 8, 2017
Sharon Weinberger (2008-09) will talk about her new book, “The Imagineers of War: The Untold History of the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World,” at the Harvard Book Store on Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m.

The book, being published this month by Knopf, chronicles the history of DARPA, which has quietly shaped science, war and technology for nearly 60 years.  Drawing on interviews, recently declassified Pentagon records, and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, “Imagineers” traces how one agency has shaped the modern world.

The bookstore is at 1256 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge; the event is free, and no tickets are needed. Sharon, now national security editor at The Intercept and a Radcliffe Institute fellow, says, “I’d naturally love any interested current or former Knights to attend.”


February 8, 2017

Anja Krieger (2015-16) writes from Berlin:

On February 7, my first radio piece in English aired on PRI’s “The World,” as part of the “Nuclear Family” series. It’s the story of Jörg Möller, an engineer from East Germany. For the past quarter-century, he has been dismantling the nuclear power plant his father helped build. In just two generations, nuclear power has experienced a steep rise and fall here in Germany. My story illustrates this, as well as how long it takes to take these plants apart. The interior, built with Russian technology in the 1960s, was pretty fantastic — it felt like visiting an old spaceship. You can listen to the story here.

Besides this piece, I’ve done more work in English recently. My story for Nature Outlook on Germany’s “Excellence Initiative” to create an elite of research universities was published in September, and the story I wrote on ocean plastics before the fellowship was included in the 2017 Ensia Best of Year print edition in January.


January 24, 2017

 

Ángela Posada Swafford (2000-01) is off on a month-and-a-half-long Colombian Navy expedition to the Antarctic, as the mission’s science blogger.

“This is my second trip with the Colombian Navy and 46 researchers from several universities and research institutions in the country, and my fourth overall expedition to the continent,” she writes. “Colombia’s Antarctic program is new but already solid, as researchers are focusing on the connections (oceanographic, biological, chemical, and atmospheric) between Antarctica and the tropical Pacific.

“And the powerful influence of one over the other is astounding. From El Niño to the krill eaten by the whales that are born off Colombia’s Pacific Coast, the tropics have a lot to deal with when it comes to Antarctica’s environmental changes.”

A freelancer living in Miami Beach, Ángela “has somehow managed to stay freelancing in order to do what makes me happy.” She writes for Scientific American, Español Online, and Muy Interesante, among others.


This has to be a first for KSJ: our own state senator. After three and a half terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, Lew Frederick (1984-85) gained 92 percent of the vote in Senate District 22 in November and will represent all of North Portland and much of Northeast Portland. He will serve on the 2017 Full Ways and Means Committee, its Natural Resources subcommittee (as co-chair), and its Public Safety subcommittee.

Even by the standards of KSJ alumni careers, Lew’s has been memorable. He spent 17 years as a television reporter at KGW-Channel 8 in Portland, and 13 years as director of public information for the Portland Public Schools; his official biography says he’s also been a teacher, actor, and ranch hand. His wife, Melody, continues her art and her work with mental health peer support. Their son, David, is a teacher in Wyoming, and their daughter, Gwynedd, also an artist, lives in Portland.


Speaking of distinctions, how many of us are listed in IMDb, the Internet Movie Database?
Kevin Begos (2003-04) appears as himself in “The State of Eugenics,” a new public-television documentary about the State of North Carolina’s long-overdue effort to compensate survivors of a forced-sterilization program that lasted into the 1970s. The film airs nationwide on PBS this Sunday, January 29. (Check local listings!)

In 2002, when Kevin was Washington correspondent for The Winston-Salem Journal, he happened on a law-review article that included a brief mention of the North Carolina eugenics program, whose goal was to eliminate “undesirable” genetic strains in the population. That led him to a scholar who’d been given access to the program’s archives — and by combing public records and old news clips, he and his team were able to find surviving North Carolinians who had been sterilized against their will. The resulting five-part series won awards; was collected in a book, “Against Their Will”; and now forms a keystone of Dawn Sinclair Shapiro’s documentary.

From Winston-Salem, Kevin moved on to KSJ, The Tampa Tribune, and the AP’s Pittsburgh bureau, and he’s now freelancing from his home in Apalachicola, in the Florida Panhandle. His book about the origins and science of wine will be published by Algonquin Books in spring 2018.


Science|Business, a Brussels-based media company co-founded by Richard L. Hudson (1991-92), just hit a milestone: On January 12, it published the 500th edition of its weekly newsletter about European R&D policy. It also added the 50thmember to its network of universities, companies, and public-sector organizations that help pay for its news and events.

The company was founded in 2004 by two managing editors — Rich, from the Wall Street Journal Europe, and Pete Wrobel, from Nature — and “it has somehow survived and grown in the shark-infested waters of online media,” Rich writes. “The focus is on E.U. research policy — and if you want to see what that’s about, take a look at the very cool timeline  that Science|Business put together for the anniversary issue. Obscure fact: The E.U. runs the second biggest nonmilitary research program in the world, after the NIH.”


January 5, 2017

Alicia Chang (2015-16) is now an editor on the health and science team at
The Associated Press. Alicia was previously the AP’s science writer in Los Angeles,
where she broke the news about NASA’s ending its efforts to contact the Mars rover
Spirit after it got mired in a sand trap; attended a boot camp that helped teenagers
with autism navigate friendships; and obtained exclusive email correspondence between
Disneyland and public health agencies during a measles outbreak. The editing team includes
two other KSJ alumni, Jonathan Fahey (2007-08) and Stephanie Nano (2006-07).


November 26, 2016

“I am now a retired gent.”

“After a 48-year career in journalism, most of it as a reporter or editor covering medicine/science/
environment, I took down my shingle on June 30, 2016,” writes Nils Bruzelius (1992-93) from Washington.

“Those 48 years included 28 at the Boston Globe, where I was a health/medical reporter, member of the Spotlight Team (with a Pulitzer to our names), and health/science editor. My Knight fellowship fired me up to stay with science coverage until the boss asked me to take over the foreign desk in 1998. Finally, I took a buyout from the Globe in 2001 and migrated to Washington, as projects editor on NPR’s fabulous science desk.

“After about six months at NPR, the Washington Post approached me about taking the job of science editor on its national desk. I could not refuse, and I jumped to the Post in December 2002. I worked there for 6½ years with their fabulous health/science/environment reporters.

“In 2009 another buyout came along and reluctantly I left the Post. A few months later I accepted an offer to become executive editor at the Environmental Working Group (better known as just EWG), and spent the last 6½ years of my career editing original research reports, blogs, emails, government submissions, and many other documents.

“I am now a retired gent. I have no writing projects on my desk right now, but you never know what the future may bring. I remain hugely grateful to the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship, which fired me up at a time when my enthusiasm for the craft had begun to flag.”


Catherine Foster (1983-84), director of journalism at Canisius College in Buffalo, writes with sad news about a classmate:

Karen Birchard, who was science correspondent for the CBC when she and I were part of the first group of fellows, then the Vannevar Bush Fellows, died this week, fighting uterine cancer. After the fellowship, Karen spent some time in Ireland, and then came home to Canada, where she was the Canadian correspondent for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her colleague Ian Wilhelm remembered her this way:

“‘Karen Birchard loved to tell stories. … Her almost encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian higher ed would come spilling out along with her ebullient laughter. She’d tell me funny anecdotes about university presidents she’d met, describe a new campus building she’d just toured, and then offer a sidebar on how high the snowdrifts were in Prince Edward Island, her home. … In this week of giving thanks, I’m thankful for Karen’s enthusiasm for telling stories. It was infectious, and it helped our readers — and me — better understand the world.’”


A new book from Sharon Weinberger (2008-09), “The Imagineers of War: The Untold History of the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World,” is being published in March by Knopf. The book chronicles the history of DARPA, which has quietly shaped science, war and technology for nearly 60 years.  Founded in 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik, the agency aimed to create “the unimagined weapons of the future.” Over the decades, DARPA has been responsible for countless inventions and technologies that extend well beyond the military, from the internet to neuroscience. The book drawing on interviews, recently declassified Pentagon records, and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act traces how one agency has shaped the modern world.

To request review copies, write Sharon at sharonweinberger@gmail.com.


Reto Schneider (1997-98) has won the Punkt journalism award from the German National Academy of Science and Engineering for a story about artificial intelligence in the Swiss magazine NZZ Folio. For the article, “The Duel” (read it in German here), Reto competed against six machines “to find out how closely their intelligence matches mine. It was a close call.”


November 21, 2016

As science journalists struggle to find their footing in an age when earthquakes and aftershocks are constantly rearranging the landscape, more than two dozen gathered at MIT’s Endicott House over the weekend of November 11-13 for a conference on the changing roles of science editors. Among them were five KSJ alumni: Carey Goldberg (2001-02), Robin Lloyd (1998-99), Annalee Newitz (2002-03), Corinna Wu (2005-06), and Tom Zeller (2013-14). The conference, sponsored by KSJ and the Kavli Foundation, ranged widely over the challenges and uncertainties that face editors at media new and old. Some ideas that emerged over three days of nonstop discussion: a “field guide” for editors, much like the one for writers, co-edited by KSJ’s director, Deborah Blum; a new category of science journalism awards, this one aimed at editors; and a profession-wide effort to give science journalists a place at the table as advocates for science news at the all too many media outlets that have no science editor.


David Baron reconstructs a forgotten tale.

David Baron (1989-90) has a new book coming out in June 2017 from Liveright Publishing. “American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World” tells the story of a total solar eclipse that crossed the American West in 1878. The eclipse attracted many of the era’s great scientists — including Thomas Edison and the Vassar astronomer Maria Mitchell — to the American frontier, and it helped inspire the United States’ rise as a global scientific power.

“I had great fun digging through archives and old newspapers to reconstruct this forgotten tale,” David said. He hopes that the release of his book will prove timely, as the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, will be the first in nearly a hundred years to be visible across the entire continental U.S.

Information about the book, including how to receive a review copy, can be found at www.american-eclipse.com.

David lives with his husband in Boulder, Colorado.


“A new way to approach writing.”

Beth Livermore (1997-98) is busy writing at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, where she was awarded a fellowship to complete a one-month residence. She is working on a series of essays about natural history and contemporary life that are framed by the farm where she lives with her husband, “chickens, goats, horses, rabbits, an ornery donkey, a house pig named Hamlet, and two teenagers.”

Last spring, Beth graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction. She says that her time as Columbia taught her “a new way to approach writing, and, frankly, to synthesize the world.”

Though recently a student, since leaving MIT Beth has spent plenty of time on the other side of the classroom, teaching at Rutgers, Columbia, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the New York City public schools. She has mentored writers via the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, and she encourages other fellows to check it out and get involved (awwproject.org).

Along with completing her residency, Beth is currently teaching at Gotham Writers Workshop.


November 7, 2016

Susan Phillips

KSJ alumni will be well represented this month at the United Nations climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco. Susan Phillips (2013-14) and Zack Colman (2015-16) were two of five journalists selected by the International Reporting Project to attend the conference. Yves Sciama and Catalina Arevalo (both 2013-14) will also be there, taking part in a discussion for journalists and scientists on improving climate-change reporting in the Mediterranean.

The conference (also known as COP22, for the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties) will discuss international plans to confront climate change. The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, which will come into effect during the conference, calls for the formation of a governing body to oversee implementation of goals and guidelines to reduce global warming.

IRP is a nonprofit organization that funds journalists to travel internationally and report on undercovered issues. Susan expects the U.N. conference to be a “follow-up to Paris, in many respects,” with a focus on transparency and money, especially the differing responsibilities of affluent and developing nations. While in Morocco for the conference, she is looking forward to doing field reporting on the country’s ambitious solar power project and searching for other climate change stories.


After 34 years at 113 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, scene of many Fellows’ garden parties in 1983-98, Victor and Ruth McElheny have moved to a continuing care retirement community in Lexington, Mass. This is just 15 minutes’ drive from Cambridge. Their new address is:

Victor and Ruth McElheny
Brookhaven at Lexington
1010 Waltham Street, Apartment 14F
Lexington, MA 02421-8052
(Email remains mcelheny@mit.edu.)

Victor continues writing, such as contributing pieces on the history of innovation to Bob Buderi’s Xconomy.com, headquartered in Cambridge but operating across the U.S. The current issues covered by science journalists strike him as even more challenging and interesting than they were when the shock of Sputnik hit America in 1957. That was the year he started his work as a newspaper reporter in South Carolina. Current reading includes three studies: Thomas Piketty’s on wealth, Robert J. Gordon’s on the slowdown of U.S. growth, and Claudia Goldin’s and Lawrence Katz’s on the decisive impact of education.


Federico Kukso (2015-16), an Argentine science journalist, is giving a seminar on the challenges facing the field at the second international workshop on science journalism in Cali, Colombia, in December. The purpose of the event, hosted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and affiliates, is “to improve the quality of science journalism in the region and to strengthen the connections between Latin American science journalists,” he said .

Federico Kukso

The workshop also includes visits to the CIAT laboratories and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security to talk to scientists about their research and its potential political effects.

Latin America has a rich history of science reporting, but there is a lack of national and regional organizations for journalists, Federico said. The workshop is meant to provide journalists with a forum to discuss how to cover issues like climate change and food safety, and an opportunity to network with other Latin American science journalists.

“I think it’s time to start building bridges between Latin American science journalists and science journalists from all over the world,” Federico said. He hopes that events like this one will lead to larger international conferences in the future.


Christopher Ketcham (2015-16) had the lead Op-Ed essay in The New York Times on November 1, a scathing critique of the federal jury’s verdict that acquitted Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their accomplices in the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last winter.

“The lives of federal land managers in the American West got a whole lot more difficult,” he wrote, adding:

“This was more than just a court victory. The Bundys landed a blow against a culture of public service embodied by the federal employees responsible for maintaining law and order and protecting our wildest Western landscapes. And while we don’t know the reason for the acquittals in what seemed like an open-and-shut case of guilt, it comes against a backdrop of deep antipathy in parts of the West toward the environmental regulation of the hundreds of millions of acres of rangeland, forests and national parks managed by the federal government on behalf of all Americans.”

Chris is working on a book about the livestock industry in the American West.


Zack Colman (2015-16), a new deputy editor at the Christian Science Monitor, wrote its October 16 cover story, “How the Western Water Wars May End.” It’s his first byline at the Monitor, and one of the first stories to run on the site’s new energy/environment vertical, Inhabit.

Zack Colman

In Washington State’s Yakima valley, engineers, farmers, and environmental groups have devised a plan to combat climate change and water shortages. Zack describes the agreement, which captures annual snowmelt and repurposes it to nourish this arid region.

Water represents the one of the West’s most disputed issues, and the Yakima accord is one way to bring opposing sides together. Zack says it could serve as a model for other areas of the country suffering from restricted water supply.

Before joining the Monitor, Zack covered energy and environment policy for the Washington Examiner, The Hill and Smart Grid Today. At Inhabit, he says, “We’re going to fill what I think is a void in climate change. There are a lot of people, policymakers and business leaders, making changes in their own backyards that we think deserve more attention. We intend to highlight those examples.”