Thomas Levenson, Professor and Director
Thomas Levenson is Professor of Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He heads the Graduate Program in Science Writing there. Levenson 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.
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. Her latest book is 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.
Bartusiak has also written Thursday’s Universe, a guide to the frontiers of astrophysics; Through a Universe Darkly, a history of astronomers’ quest to discover the universe’s composition; and Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony, a chronicle of the international attempt to detect cosmic gravity waves. Each was named a notable book by the New York Times. Another of her books, Archives of the Universe, a history of the major discoveries in astronomy told through 100 of the original scientific publications, is used in introductory astronomy courses across the nation. 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.
Phil Hilts, Director Knight Science Journalism Fellowships
Phil Hilts is the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. He is also the author of six books and has been a prize-winning health and science reporter for both The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Hilts, whose journalism career began in 1968, was the Times reporter who broke the story of the tobacco industry’s 40-year cover-up of its own research showing that tobacco was harmful and addictive. His most recent book, Rx for Survival: Why We Must Rise to the Global Health Challenge, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
During some 20 years at the Times and the Post and in more than 300 front page stories, Hilts has reported from such disparate locales as a mile deep in the Pacific Ocean while aboard the submersible Alvin, and a Zambian village where a traditional healer was “curing” AIDS. His articles on the inaccuracy of hypnosis-induced court testimony led to four men being freed from jail.
Hilts is also the author of Protecting America’s Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation. The book tells the story of the fight over using science as the basis of public policy. It won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Hilts has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and twice a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has also been a commentator on health and science issues for National Public Radio.
Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice
Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist, and essayist. He was educated at Princeton University and at the California Institute of Technology, where he received a PhD in theoretical physics. He has served on the faculties of Harvard University and MIT and was the first person to receive dual faculty appointments at MIT in science and in the humanities.
As a physicist, Lightman has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of relativistic gravity, black holes, globular clusters, and radiative processes. Lightman is the author of five novels, two collections of essays, a book-length narrative poem, and several books on science. His shorter pieces have appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, the New Yorker, The New York Times, and the New York Review of Books, among other publications. His novel Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller and has been translated into 30 languages. His novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award in fiction. His book about modern cosmology, Origins, was voted the best book in physical science by the Association of American Publishers.
Lightman is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Physical Society. He won the 1996 Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics for linking science and the humanities. In 2003, he received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the California Institute of Technology, that Institution’s highest honor. Sigma Xi, the international scientific research society, awarded Lightman the 2006 John P. McGovern Science and Society Award. In 2003, Lightman founded the Harpswell Foundation, which works to empower women leaders in Cambodia.
Seth Mnookin, Assistant Professor
Seth Mnookin’s most recent book, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, uses a combination of investigative reporting, intellectual and scientific history, and sociological analysis to explore the controversies over vaccines and their rumored connection to developmental disorders. 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, which chronicles the challenges and triumphs of the John Henry-Tom Werner ownership group of the Boston Red Sox. His first book, 2004′s Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.
Since 2005, Seth has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he’s written about the American media presence in Iraq, Bloomberg News, and Stephen Colbert. In 2002 and 2003, he was a senior writer at Newsweek, where he wrote the media column “Raw Copy” and also covered politics and popular culture.
His work has appeared in numerous publications, including New York, Wired, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Spin, Slate, Salon.com, and other publications. A former music columnist for The New York Observer, he began his journalism career as a rock critic for the now-defunct webzine Addicted to Noise and has also worked as a crime reporter at The Palm Beach Post, a city hall reporter at the Forward, a presidential campaign reporter at Brill’s Content, and a jack-of-all-trades at Inside.com. He graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a degree in History and Science, and was a 2004 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
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 singer and teacher of singing with venerable institutions like the Handel and Haydn Society and Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, with her husband Joe, son Joe, English Shepherds Dandelion and Bridget, and a blue-tongued skink named Godzilla.
Throughout the academic year guest speakers are invited into the classroom in person and digitally (through web conferencing) 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:
- Prizewinning author David Quammen
- Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics public affairs director, David Aguilar
- Author, reporter and GPSW Alum Emily Anthes
- Pulitzer-Prize winning author Deborah Blum
- NYT science journalist William Broad
- Photojournalist and writer B.D. Colen
- MIT Physicist Alan Guth
- Author, reporter, and GPSW Alum Courtney Humphries
- Boston Globe reporter and GPSW Alum Carolyn Y. Johnson
- Robert Kirshner, Harvard astronomer
- Thomas Murray, a former member of the President’s Commission on Bioethics
- Ivan Oransky, Executive Editor, Reuters Health
- Documentarian Jon Palfreman
- Author and editor Russ Rymer
- MIT Astrophysicist Paul Schechter
- Agent and editor Janet Silver
- Author, reporter, and blogger Rebecca Skloot
- Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dava Sobel
- Trine Tsouderos of the Chicago Tribune
- MIT Biologist Robert Weinberg
- Investigative journalist Robert Whitaker
- Science blogger Ed Yong
- Author, reporter, and blogger Carl Zimmer