One of the first things Barbara Moran did as a Knight Science Journalism fellow was volunteer to become a research subject. She was partway through a study in cognitive science that tested perception through a series of questions, when the tester asked her: would an owl fit in a shoe box?
“I remember saying, well, what kind of owl?” Moran said. “And they told me, stop asking questions. Which of course I couldn’t do.”
Moran is now the senior science writer for Boston University’s Research News. It’s a position that has allowed her to explore the world in large and small ways, from investigating the terrain of an Alzheimers-ridden brain to climbing through the remains of an ancient Mexican city. Her natural inclination to question and explore has garnered her awards for her work, including NASW’s 2011 Science in Society award for her Boston Globe Magazine article “Power Politics,” and a 2016 Gold Excellence Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education for her writing at BU.
As a Knight fellow, she tried to fit in as many ‘quirky’ experiences as possible, from classes about food and culture to a lecture on Irish literature. “I was able to make these connections with scientists at MIT and Harvard in this really unique way, where you’re meeting them without asking anything of them,” she said. “And I’ve gone back to these people as sources many times.”
One of her favorite experiences was a class at Harvard with Naomi Oreskes, who would later become famous for her book on public policy’s influence on science, Merchants of Doubt. The class looked at the history of nuclear weapons, a topic that so intrigued Barbara that she eventually wrote her own book on the subject: The Day We Lost the H-bomb (2009), the account of a hydrogen bomb accidentally dropped into the Mediterranean in 1966 and its incredible recovery. Before moving to Boston University, she also worked on TV programs like Frontline and has been featured in publications including The Boston Globe, the Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times.
“The Knight program gave me the confidence to do these things, and the credentials. It sort of amped my career up,” Barbara said, adding jokingly,“It ruins your whole life, because nothing is ever better!”