Nobody ever said that writing about physics is easy. Keeping readers comfortable while piloting them through rapids of equations and torrents of abstract complexities can test the most experienced journalist. Members of the Science News staff face that challenge every week—and the success of our writers has been highlighted this year by two organizations of physicists.
Ron Cowen, who has covered astronomy for Science News for more than 10 years, has been selected as the winner of the 2000 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award. It recognizes “distinguished writing that improves the general public’s understanding and appreciation of physics and astronomy.”
The institute cited “Travelin’ Light” (SN: 8/21/99, p. 120). In that article, Ron described a proposed spacecraft that would be rigged with sails pushed by sunlight. He says that the topic first attracted him because it sounded like science fiction. Then, he became intrigued by the idea of using the ubiquitous energy to carry vessels beyond the solar system.
The AIP award also recognized two freelance articles that Ron wrote for national newspapers. He described the origin of the musical scale in The Washington Post and provided an overview of cosmology in USA Today.
Our second award winner is Peter Weiss, who has written about physics for Science News since 1998. The Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society presented him with its 2000 award for science writers for “The Sun Also Writhes” (SN: 3/27/99, p. 200).
Peter described how laboratory scientists are creating fiery electric arcs in small clouds of charged particles to mimic tumultuous conditions in the corona that surrounds the sun. He says that the novelty of scientists’ bringing a piece of the sun into the lab motivated him to cover that topic. He admits, however, that what first caught his attention was the fantastic pictures of mock solar eruptions.