Faculty and Staff

Faculty

Seth Mnookin,  Professor and Director

Seth Mnookin is the Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing, a Professor in Comparative Media Studies/Writing, and an elected board member of the National Association of Science Writers. His most recent book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, won the National Association of Science Writers “Science in Society” Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize. He is also the author of the 2006 New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top and 2004’s Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, which was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. His 2014 New Yorker piece on rare genetic diseases won the American Medical Writers Association prize for best story of the year and was included in the 2015 Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and his essays and reporting have also appeared in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Smithsonian, New York, Wired, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Spin, Slate, and Salon.com.

Marcia Bartusiak, Professor of the Practice

Combining her training as a journalist with a graduate degree in physics, Marcia Bartusiak has been covering the fields of astronomy and physics for more than three decades and has published in a variety of publications, including Science, Smithsonian, Discover, National Geographic, and Astronomy. She was among the first to report on such discoveries as dark matter, meteorites from Mars, and the universe’s bubbly large-scale structure. More recently, she has been delving into science history with such books as Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved and The Day We Found the Universe, about the birth of modern cosmology in the 1920s, which was reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a small wonder” and received the History of Science Society’s 2010 Davis Prize for best history of science book for the public. Her latest books are Dispatches from Planet 3, a collection of cosmological essays, and an updated edition of Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony, her award-winning chronicle of gravitational-wave astronomy.

In 2006 Bartusiak received the prestigious Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics for her significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, and humanistic dimension of physics and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “exceptionally clear communication of the rich history, the intricate nature, and the modern practice of astronomy to the public at large.” In 1982, she was the first woman to win an AIP science writing award and five years later was a finalist in NASA‘s Journalist-in-Space competition. She lives in Sudbury with her husband, mathematician Steve Lowe, and their bearded collie named Hubble.

Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice

Alan Lightman has an unusually interdisciplinary career as a physicist, novelist, and essayist. He was educated at Princeton University and at the California Institute of Technology, where he received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Before coming to MIT, he was on the faculty of Harvard University. At MIT, Lightman was one the first people to receive dual faculty appointments in science and in the humanities and was John Burchard Professor of Humanities and Senior Lecturer in Physics before becoming Professor of the Practice of the Humanities to allow more time for his writing.

Lightman is the author of six novels, several collections of essays, a book-length narrative poem, a memoir, and several books on science. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, Granta, Nature, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books, among other publications. His novel Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller and has been translated into thirty languages. His novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award in fiction. His most recent books are Screening Room, A Memoir of the South (2015), named one of the best books of 2015 by the Washington Post, The Accidental Universe (2016), named by Brainpickings as one of the best books of 2016, and Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (2018), the basis of an essay on the PBS Newshour. His essays on science are frequently cited by the New York Times as among the best essays of the year in any category.

He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has won other awards and is the recipient of 5 honorary degrees. Lightman is also the founder and chairman of the Harpswell Foundation, which works to advance a new generation of women leaders in Southeast Asia.

Thomas Levenson, Professor

Thomas Levenson is Professor of Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He has written four books on science and the history of science:  Newton and the Counterfeiter (2009), Einstein in Berlin (2003), Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science (1994) and Ice Time: Climate Science and Life on Earth (1989), and his work has been translated into six languages besides English.  He has also produced, directed, written, and or executive produced several science documentaries, most recently the PBS mini-series Origins, (2004 – E. P.) and the “Back to the Beginning” episode in that series (Written, Produced and Directed), for which he received the 2005 National Academies Communication Award.  Prior to Origins, Levenson produced the “Dome” episode in the Public Broadcasting Service series Building Big, hosted by David Macaulay, honored by a 2001 George Foster Peabody Award.   He blogs at The Inverse Square Blog and Balloon Juice and his short-form writing has appeared in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and digital publications.  Levenson earned his bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard, and now lives about three miles from the scenes of his undergraduate indiscretions with his wife, Katha Seidman, and the apple of his eye, Henry.

Staff

Shannon Larkin, Academic Administrator

Den mother to the students and faculty in the Program, Shannon Larkin is the graduate administrator for Science Writing. She is quick with a tissue, cup of coffee, directions, the appropriate form and an occasional raised eyebrow when the situation warrants. She sat for two years on the Committee on Graduate Policy and co-chaired the Graduate Administrators Roundtable. When she’s not at MIT, Shannon is also a professional singer and teacher of singing in the Boston area.  She lives in Cambridge, with her husband Joe, son Joe,  English Shepherds Dandelion and Ladybird, and a blue-tongued skink named Godzilla.

Affiliates and Guest Speakers

In addition to the members of our faculty, we have a number of professional science writers and journalists who teach in the program, serve as thesis advisors, or are available as mentors.

Program Affiliates and Instructors

Rahul Bhargava (instructor, data visualization)
Deborah Blum (instructor, investigative journalism)
David Corcoran (thesis advisor)
Tim DeChant (instructor, news)
David Dobbs
Cynthia Graber (instructor, podcasting)
Corby Kummer
Toby Lester (thesis advisor)
Maryn McKenna
Russ Rymer (thesis advisor)

Guest Speakers

Throughout the academic year guest speakers are invited into the classroom to share their expertise on current issues in both science and the communication of science. Many are drawn from the vast community of science writers, journalists, and scientists living and working in the Boston metropolitan area. Students also have the opportunity to join the Knight Science Journalism Fellows at their weekly seminars.

Recent guests have included: