Some of the best stories are those whose headlines make you go, Wait, but why? One example: “Some ecologists value parasites ― and now want a plan to save them.” Another is “For a better brick, just add poop.” Both stories unpack the scientific merits of seemingly wild ideas. And judges of this year’s international AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards announced on Nov. 9 that these stories swept top honors in its Children’s Science News category. Laura Allen claimed the Gold Award for her story on how poop can create more eco-friendly construction materials. Stephen Ornes took home the Silver Award for his piece on the little-appreciated ecological value of parasites.
Science News Explores writers took home first place in writing for children in the 2022 international AAAS Kavli Science Journalism competition. Winners were announced November 10. Magazine editors Sarah Zielinski and Maria Temming authored a trio of Science News Explores stories — part of the magazine’s Wild Things series. Illustrator JoAnna Wendel portrayed the research in a cartoon format. One story described cockatoos who taught each other how to open garbage bins. Another explained the reason pandas can stand out in zoos but blend into their environment in the wild. The last showed goldfish that learned to drive a wheeled aquarium around a room. “These comics were a truly delightful way to bring science to life,” one judge noted. “The authors and illustrator explained the scientific process with a light touch, in a way that was both fun and hugely engaging for young people.” As the authors of these pieces noted, even topics that are fun “can sometimes be intimidating for kids . . . We thought comics would be the perfect way to hook a young audience and show them that science doesn’t have to be a slog.”
Sarah Zielinski and JoAnna Wendel took first place for multimedia in the annual D.C. Science Writers Association’s Newsbrief Awards. As the group notes, “short pieces are the true workhorses of science communication,” yet often get overlooked in favor of honoring longer, more in-depth stories. Zielinski wrote and Wendel illustrated the comic-form piece: Cockatoos learn from each other how to open garbage bins. This peek into a cool example of wildlife teaching their peers about how to find a great meal “is top-tier science communication,” one judge wrote. “The format is engaging, innovative and does a wonderful job illustrating the process of scientific inquiry to inspire young minds to question the environment around them.”
Stephen Ornes took home the silver AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award in the Children’s Science News category for Whales get a second life as deep-sea buffets. “This story really captures the imagination and builds out a lovely image of the weirdness of the sea floor,” observed Blythe Terell, one of the judges and supervising editor for Gimlet Media. Even the researchers were captivated by what they found on the seafloor, notes Stephen. Pointing to a video that accompanied his story, he notes: “You can hear the scientists marvel and gasp and react like kids on Christmas morning.” This is Stephen’s second Kavli win. In 2015, he took home a gold award in this category. A long-time Science News for Students writer, Stephen’s whales piece was his 599th story for us.
Sharon Oosthoek won the silver AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for Children’s Science News for her story, Rare-plant hunters race against time to save at-risk species. Notes Sharon: “When rare plant hunter Steve Perlman told me losing a species is a lot like losing a friend, I felt the emotional tug of his job. I knew then I wanted to write a piece that conveyed to our young readers not only the sound scientific reasons for protecting rare plants, but also the humanity that drives this work.”
Kathiann Kowalski won first place for best feature writing in the freelance digital media category from the Ohio Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for her story, Science works to save a salty world treasure. It covered her field reporting in Wieliczka, Poland, with researchers who are studying the threat that tourism poses to a 700-year-old salt mine and art gallery, one that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has listed as a World Heritage Site. The sprawling underground warren, which contains some 2,000 chambers and spans a vast 7 million cubic meters (265 million cubic feet), is full of statues and other artworks sculpted from salt.
Kathiann also won second place in this competition for a medical/science story in the digital media category: Heartbeat can affect racial perception of threat. This story described provocative research findings that suggest the phase of a cop’s heartbeat can affect how threatening someone’s behavior appears — but only if the person being judged belongs to another race.
Roberta Kwok won the
silver AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award for Children’s Science News for her
story, The shocking electric
account “is not only a ripping good yarn, it is also a wonderful description of
the process of science,” noted one judge, John Carey. “Her story makes science
seem both fun and compelling—and something that children could aspire to do
Stephen Ornes won the
gold AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award for Children’s Science News for his
story, Where will lightning
Starting with a harrowing story about hikers caught in a thunderstorm atop a
mountain in California’s Sequoia National Park, Ornes describes what scientists
have learned about the behavior of lightning and what they are still struggling
to understand. Stephen says he loves to write about science
for children “not only because of the subject matter and style but also
because it makes me a better dad. I no longer linger at the playground when a
storm moves in, and I can finally explain in straightforward terms why hanging
out in a thunderstorm is a terrible idea.”
Kathiann Kowalski won
first place award from the Ohio Chapter of the Society of Professional
Journalists for her story, Recycling the Dead. It explains how
Mother Nature breaks down the bodies of organisms, large and small. By
extracting the building blocks of those once-living plants, animals, fungi and
more, nature keeps our planet from being overrun by wastes. Instead, the dead
get turned into food for the living.
Douglas Fox won first
place in the AAAS Science Journalism Award for Children’s Science News for his
story, Where rivers run uphill. Said one of the
contest judges, Arndt Reuning of Deutschlandradio, Fox covered “an important
issue in a vivid and funny way. He’s a superb and entertaining story-teller.”
Explained Doug himself: Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing for a young
audience “was remembering to be awestruck by the basic things that we tend to
take for granted — like the simple fact that glaciers can evaporate. More and
more I think that this is also good advice for communicating science to