Five Articles in Three Weeks

by Kathryn on June 14, 2017

Apparently, I’ve been busy! In a span of three weeks, five of my articles came out on Science News for Students.

June 8, 2017: Cool Jobs: New tools to solve crimes

June 5, 2017: Underwater robot vaccuums up lionfish

June 1, 2017: Are fidget spinners tools or toys?

May 25, 2017: Cool Jobs: Counting calories and Explainer: All about the calorie

I didn’t write them all at once, though. This represents several months of work. I only work on one feature at a time for the website, though I will write shorter news stories whenever I get a chance. I wrote the piece about Calories starting in January, then moved on to Forensics in the spring. Those two pieces were like night and day. With Calories, I couldn’t get in touch with some of my first choice contacts, and I wound up with an unwieldy story that was difficult to pull together (lots of rounds of edits). One section of the article got turned into an “explainer” – so it’s not quite a separate piece, but I had to do a fair amount of work to get it to stand alone, so I’m counting it.

Forensics on the other hand, was quick and easy. The story came together smoothly, I had great sources, and the editing process was much faster. I think the opening scene (a fake burglary) may be my favorite from any of my stories on the site.

For the fidget spinner story, my editor asked for a quick turn-around so it could go up before the end of the school year. I did a whopping nine interviews for that story – a personal record! Four of them were with my husband’s cousin and her kids – they are featured in the story, which they thought was super cool.

Oh yeah, and I also wrote a short news story about lionfish. I’ve got another story on lionfish in the works. Stay tuned for that one!

Edit: Here’s the new lionfish story:

June 26, 2017: Camera catches new fish species — as it’s eaten!



Robots and Cyborgs

by Kathryn on April 20, 2017

Recently, I’ve written two articles for Science News for Students about robotics:

Teaching robots right from wrong and Wired and weird: Meet the cyborg plants

Artificial intelligence has always been one of my favorite things to learn about and think about. When my editor at Science News for Students said she’d like to see a feature on robot ethics, I was thrilled. An ethical system isn’t necessarily intelligent or self-aware, but clearly if machines do become self-aware, we’d want them to follow some sort of code of ethics that makes it possible for us to peacefully co-exist.


I loved researching this story. At first, I thought I’d be focusing on ethical dilemmas – the kinds of situations in which a robot or autonomous system is torn between difficult choices, such as the self-driving car that must choose between killing its passenger and killing a group of pedestrians. But as I worked on the piece, I realized these imaginary situations are interesting thought experiments, but not very practical. And the science just isn’t at the point yet where such an unlikely situation even matters. 99.99% of the time, the self-driving car simply has to avoid hitting pedestrians – that’s almost always the right thing to do! But even that simple rule can be tricky to implement, even given recent advances in machine vision and AI.

My other story, about cyborg plants, is more technical than philosophical. But it was also a fun one to work on because most people don’t think about combining plants and electronics. I know I certainly didn’t before I discovered the news story about a rose with a wire growing through its stem!

The robot theme doesn’t end here, either. I’ve also written two books that will come out in the next year: Careers in Robotics and Cutting Edge Careers: Robotics Engineer. Plus, I recently agreed to write a book about robotics in medicine, though I haven’t started that project just yet. I’m sure it will be fun to work on!


A Love of Language and Letters

March 9, 2017

A very special article just came out in Muse magazine: “Communing with the Letter Spirits.” This piece is about Douglas Hofstadter’s Letter Spirit project, which was an attempt to model human creativity through a computer program that created its own fonts. But for me, the meaning goes much deeper. When I was a teenager, I […]

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Climate Change vs Fracking

February 13, 2017

Four years ago, I attended a fascinating talk by Richard Alley about melting ice and climate change at the AAAS conference in Boston. Read my post about it here. When I found out that Muse magazine was going to focus an upcoming issue on climate change, I immediately remembered that talk and pitched an article […]

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How to Make a Dream Journal

November 21, 2016

I had the most awesome college job ever. I worked in the library repairing books. An elderly gentleman named Chuck taught me how to reinforce spines, replace covers, and repair torn pages (with a tiny iron and special fabric – never scotch tape!). I even learned some binding techniques. I loved that job. For Muse’s […]

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Happy Halloween

October 28, 2016

Ever since I first learned that a fungus can turn ants into zombies, I’ve wanted to write about it. I finally got the chance! My editor wanted a piece on “real zombies” in time for Halloween. This was a dream assignment for me. I love bugs, especially spiders. Ants are pretty cool, too. Here are […]

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October 25, 2016

Hooray! Author copies of my most recent book arrived over the weekend: The Science of Dinosaurs, part of the Super Awesome Science series from ABDO publishing. The book is aimed at grades 3 to 6, a much younger age range than my usual audience. And it’s about dinosaurs. My son (almost 2) loves dinosaurs. So […]

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More Video Games

October 14, 2016

Well, I guess I’ve found my niche in children’s nonfiction: video games. My husband used to work as a software engineer on games (like, 5 years ago), and conversations with him way back then led me to propose an article on video games to Odyssey magazine. Well, that article eventually landed me my first book […]

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From Brainwaves to Mind Reading

September 26, 2016

My latest article was just published on Science News for Students: One day, computers may decode your dreams Along with it, I wrote this explainer: How to read brain activity When I set out to write this article, the only real guidance I had was to write something about the science of brainwaves, including what […]

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Thinking Differently

September 7, 2016

I’ve been fact checking every issue of Muse magazine for a little over a year now. This job requires carefully reading every word of every issue. As a result, I feel a small sense of ownership for all of the articles, not just the ones I wrote. (I still contribute regularly, and someone else fact […]

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