November 21, 2009

Science Journalism Awards Announced

Winners of AAAS Kavli Awards include television and radio stories supported by NSF

A television feature about growing diamonds in the lab, and a radio story that dramatizes some strange coincidences in a discussion of randomness and probability won recognition earlier this month in the 2009 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. Both programs were funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

"Diamond Factory" was produced by Julia Cort for WGBH's NOVA science NOW, and aired on public television stations in June. It features host Neil deGrasse Tyson showing how materials science offers the means to engineer diamonds with the strength and conductivity of the real thing. Along the way, Tyson variously adopts the persona of Indiana Jones and travels blindfolded to the diamond producers' top-secret location, where he learns that diamonds that can be customized in size and shape offer a valuable resource for future electronics, transportation and communications.

"Julia Cort is a master of expressing complicated ideas in a way that's easy to understand and compelling in following the story," said Paula Apsell, senior executive producer, NOVA, and director of the WGBH science unit. "The techniques she used are emblematic of the approach we take at NOVA scienceNOW, creating stories that are educational and entertaining and, critically, that appeal to families."

"A Very Lucky Wind" was produced by Jad Abumrad, Soren Wheeler and Robert Krulwich at WNYC's Radio Lab and also aired in June. It begins with the story of a girl in England, Laura Buxton, who sends a balloon into the air--but not before attaching a label that said, "Please send back to Laura Buxton." The balloon winds up touching down 140 miles away in the yard of a girl with the same name, of the same age, and sharing many other traits. The producers use this as a departure point for a spirited discussion of randomness versus fate, incorporating the perspectives of University of California, Berkeley statistician Deborah Nolan and Jay Koehler, professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

Jad Abumrad said the show was inspired by questions about the true state of randomness.

"What is a miracle? What is the mathematical threshold for a miracle?" said Abumrad. "These were among our questions. And we learned that given enough time, strange things will happen."

The 2009 awards are the first to be given under a new endowment by The Kavli Foundation. In recognition of that endowment, the awards--first given in 1945--are now called the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. The Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity.

Independent panels of science journalists select the winners of the awards. The winners for each category will receive $3000 and a plaque at the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego in February.


Image 1: A polycrystalline diamond disc, made with chemical vapor deposition, is shown. Credit: WGBH

Image 2: Neil deGrasse Tyson examines an unpolished man-made diamond, fresh out of the grower, while Apollo Diamond's Robert Linares looks on. As host of WGBH's NOVA scienceNOW, Tyson, astrophysicist, and director of the Hayden Planetarium, makes science both educational and entertaining. Credit: WGBH


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