Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearance

Science News, January 2017

Below the shimmering turquoise waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies the scene of a prehistoric mass murder. In a geologic instant, most animal and plant species perished. Drilling through hundreds of meters of rock, investigators have finally reached the footprint left by the accused: Earth’s most notorious space rock impact, Chicxulub. The dinosaur killer.

A feature article about new clues about the apocalyptic final days of the dinosaurs, including the first direct victims of the Chicxulub impact. Lead feature in a special issue on the K-Pg extinction. Cover story of issue. Adapted for Science News for Students. The special issue co-won the 2017 Eddie award for full-issue consumer magazine in science or technology.

Changing climate: 10 years after An Inconvenient Truth

Science News, April 2016

More than 25 years before the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson was about as far away from the red carpet as possible. It was 1978, and high in the rugged Andes, Thompson and fellow scientists were witnessing the first glimpses of a pending worldwide disaster. Rising temperatures were melting ancient titans of ice and snow. Mammoth glaciers were disappearing at unprecedented rates and withering to the smallest sizes in millennia. The delicate balance of Earth’s climate was upset.

A feature story on a decade of climate discoveries since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Published in print edition as well as a special online package. Cover story of issue.

New fascination with Earth’s ‘Boring Billion’

Science News, October 2015

Earth’s long history starts with an epic preamble: A collision with a Mars-sized space rock rips into the young planet and jettisons debris that forms the moon. Over the next few billion years, plot twists abound. The oceans form. Life appears. Solar-powered microbes breathe oxygen into the air. Colossal environmental shifts reshape the planet’s surface and drive the evolution of early life.

A feature article on Earth's so-called boring billion, a seemingly uneventful time in the planet's history that's now the setting of a fierce debate between scientists over what delayed the rise of animals: evolution or the environment.

The magnetic mystery at the center of the Earth

Science News, September 2015

Earth’s depths are a hellish place. More than 5,000 kilometers belowground, the iron-rich core scorches at temperatures comparable to the sun’s surface and crushes at pressures akin to the weight of 20 blue whales balanced on a postage stamp.

A feature article on a baffling paradox surrounding Earth's core and magnetic field. Published in both online and print editions. Accompanied by a list of the magnetic fields around the solar system's other rocky worlds.

EPA underestimates methane emissions

Science News, April 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a methane problem — and that could misinform the country’s carbon-cutting plans. Recent studies suggest that the agency’s reports fail to capture the full scope of U.S. methane emissions, including “super emitters” that contribute a disproportionate share of methane release. Those EPA reports influence the country’s actions to combat climate change and the regulation of methane-producing industries such as agriculture and natural gas production.

How to Hide Your Genome

Science, February 2014

As the cost of genetic sequencing plummets, experts believe our genomes will help doctors detect diseases and save lives. But not all of us are comfortable releasing our biological blueprints into the world. Now cryptologists are perfecting a new privacy tool that turns genetic information into a secure yet functional format. Called homomorphic encryption and presented here today at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science) the method could help keep genomes private even as genetic testing shifts to cheap online cloud services.

Featured on Slashdot and in the print edition of Science.

Galactic surprise: New find overturns theories how our galaxy evolved

Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 2013

Our galaxy wasn’t always the beautiful cosmic ballet it is today. Billions of years ago, the Milky Way was a chaotic jumble of stars and gas moving every which way. Only over time did the Milky Way morph into its current uniform shape, with flat arms of starlight reaching out from a galactic core. Now, a new NASA study shows this process happened much more recently than scientists had thought.

Featured in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Pg. C1 & online, second most viewed story for January 2013) and the San Jose Mercury News (Pg. 1B & online).

Investigating the Venus Flytrap’s Speedy Snap

Inside Science, November 2012

Plants aren’t typically known for their speed, but the carnivorous Venus flytrap can close its jaw-like leaves in the blink of an eye. Charles Darwin once referred to the Venus flytrap as “one of the most wonderful plants in the world.” But despite the plant’s notoriety, its closing mechanism remains a mystery 250 years after its discovery.

Syndicated by Business Insider, Fox News and LiveScience, and others.

A Star That Devoured Its Own Planets

Simons Foundation, October 2017

A devourer of worlds lurks around 350 light-years away. According to a recent study comparing the chemical composition of a pair of sunlike stars, one of the stars has consumed the rocky equivalent of 15 Earths.

Release picked up by the Daily Mail, UPI, Astronomy Magazine, Breitbart, and others.

Crowdsourcing weather using smartphone batteries

American Geophysical Union, August 2013

Smartphones are a great way to check in on the latest weather predictions, but new research aims to use the batteries in those same smartphones to predict the weather. A group of smartphone app developers and weather experts created a way to use the temperature sensors built into smartphone batteries to crowdsource weather information. These tiny thermometers usually prevent smartphones from dangerously overheating, but the researchers discovered the battery temperatures tell a story about the environment around them.

Picked up by Washington Post,, Discovery News, MIT Technology Reviews, Slash Gear, CBS News, Telegraph, Gizmag, and others.

Stanford scientists eavesdrop on erupting volcano’s astonishing seismic sound

Stanford University, July 2013

When volcanoes grumble, scientists listen.In 2009, Redoubt Volcano outside Anchorage, Alaska, began spewing towering ash plumes more than 12 miles tall. While similar volcanic outbursts are common in Alaska, seismic sensors listening to the volcano’s innards recorded something unusual: an accelerating series of earthquakes leading up to each of the volcano’s eruptions.

Picked up by National Geographic, New Scientist, Discovery News, ScienceNOW, Los Angeles Times, EarthSky, NPR,, The Guardian, CBS News and others.

SLAC X-rays resurrect 200-year-old lost aria

Stanford University, June 2013

At first glance the beautifully bound 1797 Luigi Cherubini opera Médée looks like an impeccably preserved relic of opera’s golden age. However, flip to the final pages of the aria “Du trouble affreux qui me dévore” (“The terrible disorder that consumes me”) and you see the problem: Thick smudges of carbon completely black out the closing lines.

Picked up by KQED, the San Jose Mercury News, Discover Magazine,, LiveScience,, NBC News, Yahoo News, The Daily Mail, the Mumbai Mirror, and others.

Five things science can (and can’t) tell us about North Korea’s nuclear test

Science News, January 2016

North Korea sent political shock waves around the world on January 6 when it claimed to have carried out a successful test of a hydrogen bomb, which, if true, would be a substantially more powerful and sophisticated class of weaponry than the country’s previous efforts. The underground test generated a magnitude 5.1 earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Making scientists into scientific spokespeople

American Geophysical Union, June 2013

How would you bring up scientific funding if you bumped into your senator while he’s buying cheese and cured meats at the local market? How about getting a stranger interested in safer alternatives to lead-based welding solder? Communicating science to lawmakers and laypersons is important, but scientists too often get tongue-tied talking with everyday folks.

The Iceman Cometh at 275 Molecules of Water

Inside Science, September 2012

If you’ve ever dealt with an exploded can of frozen soda in the freezer, you’ve seen firsthand that ice takes on a crystal structure. At freezing temperatures, water molecules line up to form geometric shapes, creating ice’s crystal structure. The crystal structure takes up more space than the loose liquid water molecules, causing water to expand when frozen.

Infographic demonstrating how the speech recognition system works on an iPad game built to help children born with cleft palates improve their speech. Created in Adobe Photoshop.