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 23, 2018 

Ibiba DonPedro (2001-02), an award-winning journalist and activist in Nigeria, has just published four books on the country’s Niger Delta region. The books, she writes, “capture the different facets of the region’s tragic narrative, especially the discord and disruptive impact of the production of crude oil on the lives of the people of the region, as well as the environment” — and decry the “deeply flawed federal structure” that allows privileged groups “access to oil wealth and lifestyles of opulence and waste while the people of Niger Delta communities live in squalor and deprivation.”

“In all this despair and misery, however,” Ibiba continues, “is a message of hope that captures the boundless capacity of the human spirit, of youth, men, and women when they stand firm to create the space within which to reclaim their humanity against soul-destroying odds.”

The books are “Oil In Water,” “Out of a Bleak Landscape,” “Scavengers and Real Avengers of the Niger Delta,” and “Contested Grounds.” They’re available at Patabah Books in Lagos and at the Ikeja and Lagos airports.


 

Erich Hoyt (1985-86) has made Library Journal’s list of best reference titles of 2017 with his 22nd book, “Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises” (Firefly Books). The book grew out of Erich’s 2015 article for Hakai magazine on the revolution in whale and dolphin research since the 1970s.

Erich is founder and co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, which works with regional groups to identify habitats for the 130 species of marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, pinnipeds, sirenians, otters, and polar bears. (Its e-atlas, along with downloadable papers and reports, can be found at marinemammalhabitat.org.)

And he continues to direct whale research in Kamchatka and the Commander Islands, in Russia, working with 15 Russian collaborators who started as students in a program he co-founded in 2000. Papers on their pioneering work with Russian killer whales, Baird’s beaked whales, and humpback whales are posted at his ResearchGate site.

After his fellowship, Erich taught writing at MIT as visiting lecturer, and met his future wife, Dr. Sarah Wedden, then on a NATO postdoc at Harvard Medical School. They moved to Scotland in 1989, then — with their four children — to the Dorset coast of England in 2013.


In São Paulo, Brazil, Nira Worcman (1988-89) helps lead an active MIT Sloan club,  and nowadays she is spreading the word about the school’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge, which awards more than $1 million to global entrepreneurs using technology to drive economic opportunity for workers. (Registration ends on May 1.)

After her Knight year, Nira did her master’s in the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU, and continued to write for Brazilian and American publications, including Technology Review, Popular Science, and Super Interessante.  She returned to São Paulo and worked in public relations, then became head of communications at Roche in Latin America and later at Bristol-Myers Squibb. She is an associate director at the Brazilian P.R. agency Art Presse and a senior consultant at Sherlock Communications, an agency specializing in international clients in Brazil and Latin America.


March 9, 2018 

Rosalia Omungo (2016-17) has been promoted to managing editor/TV at KBC, Kenya’s national broadcasting system, putting her in charge of special projects, including health, environment, science, and features.

“It is exciting as well as challenging,” she writes from Nairobi, “because of the perception that KBC has been biased towards government. But we are progressing. We already have a project to encourage an in-depth investigative report per month, as well as a weekly talk show on environment and health.” In particular, she’s overseeing coverage focusing on the availability of health care as the national government moves toward universal and affordable coverage. And she is fostering partnerships with institutions and organizations to help train reporters and gain reporting grants. 

Rosalia’s tribute to the late Harvard scholar Calestous Juma,  a prominent global advocate for sustainable development in struggling countries, appeared on the KBC website in December.


February 8, 2018 

Yves Sciama on a reporting trip to Senegal.

 

“A bunch of new things are happening to me,” writes Yves Sciama (2013-14) from just outside Grenoble, France, adding (with a wink emoji), “Some of them may actually have some influence on our beloved profession — which tends to be very nationally insular.”

On Jan. 29, Yves was elected president of AJSPI, the French science journalists’ association, whose board includes KSJ alumna Chloé Hecketsweiler (2016-17), of Le Monde. He has been instrumental in organizing two important conferences: the 2018 European Conference of Science Journalists in Toulouse, France, and the 2019 World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Another board member and instrumental figure in the WCSJ2019 conference is Fabio Turone, also 2016-17.)

Yves encourages fellow alumni to join him at the Toulouse conference, this coming July 8. “The focus of the conference will be on the independence of both science and journalism, and we will talk a lot about conflict of interest and other such issues.” The meeting will include a Kavli workshop on science editing that will include sessions on fact-checking, vetting science stories, and more.

For the world conference in 2019, Yves is a member of the governing board and chair of the all-important program committee. (KSJ’s director, Deborah Blum, had that position for the 2017 conference in San Francisco.) He’s already drafted several Knight fellows to work with him: Iván Carrillo (2016-17), Maryn McKenna (2013-14), and Jane Qiu (2017-18).

“Our times call for a science journalism with a little more teeth,” Yves writes. “I want to push for a more interconnected and investigative vision of our profession, and help colleagues find new tools and ideas to challenge science more.

“But my passion fundamentally remains journalism, and I already look forward to two years from now, when the conferences are over and it will be time at last to head back to my utmost pleasure: reporting.”


American Eclipse,” by David Baron (1989-90), is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing. The book, subtitled “A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World,” tells the story of the total solar eclipse that crossed the American West in 1878, attracting many of the era’s great scientists — including Thomas Edison and the Vassar astronomer Maria Mitchell — to the frontier. You can read a chapter David left out of the book in Undark. “American Eclipse” is also an Amazon top science book of 2017.

Maryn McKenna (2013-14) also has an Amazon top science book of 2017: “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats.” You can read an excerpt from that book in Undark.

“Big Chicken” is also one of Smithsonian.com’s 10 best science books of 2017; a ScienceNews favorite science book of 2017; and a favorite food and farming book of 2017on Civil Eats, among other honors. And at the Harvard Book Store on Feb. 27, Maryn will be discussing the book with Nicholas Evans and signing copies. More “Big Chicken”-related events can be found here.


Meera Subramanian (2016-17) has completed four stories for her InsideClimate News series Finding Middle Ground: Conversations Across America. In Georgia, she met fifth-generation peach farmers whose crop failed after a too-warm winter. In West Virginia, she spoke to people who were trying to reconcile the effects of a devastating local flood with what their preachers were telling them about biblical end times. Up in Wisconsin, a father-daughter team of dogsledders had different explanations for the ongoing changes in their weather-dependent sport. And West Texas — a land of oil and gas, cows and cotton — is embracing wind energy and the steady jobs and income it provides. Meera’s series will continue through 2018.


Annalee Newitz

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

Marcia Bartusiak (1994-95): “Astronauts’ pre-flight peeing ritual and other marvels of space station life,” The Washington Post.

Richard L. Brandt (1991-92): “How do governments shape the course of innovation?” MIT Spectrum.

Dan Falk (2011-12): “In ‘Life 3.0,’ Max Tegmark Explores a Robotic Utopia — or Dystopia” and “‘River of Consciousness’: Oliver Sacks’ Final Essays on Attention, Memory, and Life,” Undark.

Teresa Firmino (2008-09): “Martin Rees: I am a technological optimist but a political pessimist,” Público (in Portuguese).

Cynthia Graber (2012-13): “The Ancient Origins of Dieting” and many other pieces for The Atlantic.

Daniela Hirschfeld (2009-10): “Uruguayans who modify the human genome,” El Observador (in Spanish).

Sascha Karberg (2008-09): “CRISPR is not always genetic engineering,” Der Tagesspiegel (in German).

Federico Kukso (2015-16): “Large Millimeter Telescope: The cathedral of Mexican astronomy,” Agencia SINC (in Spanish).

Robin Lloyd (1998-99) and Steve Mirsky (2003-04): “Tech honcho wants innovation for the bottom billion,” Scientific American. Robin is also a regular contributor to Undark.

Steve Nadis (1997-98): “What planets beyond our solar system may harbor life?” MIT Spectrum.

Annalee Newitz (2002-03): “Google raters at Leapforce settle legal complaints over abuse, wages owed,” Ars Technica.

Adam Rogers (2002-03): “How did President Trump do on his physical? It’s complicated,” and many other pieces for Wired.

Valeria Román (2004-05): “Two Argentine biologists create a mini-machine that NASA astronauts now use to study DNA,” Infoba (in Spanish).

Yves Sciama (2013-14): “France brings back a phased-out drug after patients rebel against its replacement,” Science.

Meera Subramanian (2016-17): “Finding Middle Ground: Conversations Across America,” InsideClimate News.

Mark Wolverton (2016-17): “How can we measure damage?” MIT Spectrum. “Dismantling doomsday: Daniel Ellsberg on the risk of nuclear apocalypse,” Undark. “Counting down to the apocalypse: Lisa Vox’s ‘Existential Threats,’” Undark.


January 18, 2018 

Jeanne Lenzer (2006-07) has been getting all sorts of attention for her new book “The Danger Within Us: America’s Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry and One Man’s Battle to Survive It.” You can hear her on NPR’s “Fresh Air“; read her scary essay “Can Your Hip Replacement Kill You?” in The New York Times; and enjoy “The Case of the Green Hairy Tongue,” a chapter she left out of the book, in Undark.


Two prestigious journalism awards for Iván Carrillo (2016-17), from the National and Mexican Councils for Science and Technology (CONACYT and COMECYT, respectively). The first is for “Axolotl: A God in Danger of Extinction,” in National Geographic Latin America; the piece explored the rapid disappearance of the axolotl salamander from the wetlands around southern Mexico City. A cult favorite of biologists, and historically venerated by the Aztecs, the axolotl is known for its friendly facial features and strange lizard-like legs.

Iván won the COMECYT award for “A Bridge of Life,” in Newsweek en Español, a fascinating and powerful story about an acquaintance who was one of the first recipients of a kidney transplant through a pioneering global exchange program. The story was based on Iván’s KSJ research project — which he also turned into a video documentary, “The Journal of Thirst.”


For his Spanish public TV program “El Cazador de Cerebros” (“The Brain Hunter”), Pere Estupinyà (2007-08) recently scored some big-name interviews: Edward O. Wilson from Harvard and Edward Boyden from the MIT Media Lab. “We’ve English-version interviews with Jennifer Doudna (gene editing), Shinya Yamanaka (iPS stem cells), and Karl Deisseroth (optogenetics) too,” Pere adds.