Award winning science and math journalist Natalie Wolchover will join the Cornell community as the the spring 2022 Zubrow Distinguished Visiting Journalist Fellow in the College of Arts and Sciences, serving as a speaker and guest lecturer while on campus.
The Distinguished Visiting Journalist program, established in 2020, brings accomplished journalists such as Molly O’Toole, Los Angeles Times immigration and security reporter, to Cornell each year. Wolchover will join as the program’s first science-focused fellow.
While in Ithaca, she will work as a guest lecturer and contributor to the Arts Unplugged event on “The Science of the Very, Very Small.”
In addition to guest lecturing, she hopes to interact with many different faculty members at Cornell, especially faculty in the physics department and students in various fields of study.
“I want to give a couple of talks to potentially graduate or undergraduate physics students on improving their own writing about physics,” she said. “Then also I’d like to talk to journalism or communications students who are not necessarily focused on science about going in that direction.”
After completing her undergraduate degree in physics at Tufts, Wolchover started a masters program in physics at the University of California Berkeley before dropping out to pursue science journalism.
She described the career shift as a spur of the moment decision. During the winter break after her first semester she had an epiphany and began to research internships and freelancing opportunities in the science writing field, she said.
“I just dropped out of grad school the very next day,” Wolchover said, “and I have been a physics writer ever since.”
Wolchover attributed her love of reading and writing to her family and saw science journalism as the perfect mesh of her background in physics and her interest in writing.
As she was starting her career, Wolchover tutored physics students to make money while, she freelanced stories for different publications and started a science blog.
Wolchover got her first job after several internships at Popular Science Magazine and Science Illustrated. She later became the first writer for Quanta Magazine, which published several of her award winning articles, including “A Fight for the Soul of Science.”
According to Wolchover, this article — one of her personal favorites — is an example of a storytelling piece that integrates research with the human side of science.
“For any form of writing journalism, you have to figure out what the story is so you’re not just giving people information,” Wolchover said. “You’re weaving information into the truest possible narrative that you can construct in finite space.”
Wolchover expressed that a story including details about scientists, rather than simply their work, is more likely to compel readers and make the science accessible. She tries to maintain scientific complexity within understandable, human narratives.
“I feel like all of that makes science more real and tangible and more of a human story that makes sense to people,” Wolchover said.
Wolchover expressed that the pandemic and the rise of reporting on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention exemplified the importance of both science journalism and scientific literacy.
“I can see the possibility of a society that is much more scientifically literate and has the skills to reason better to approach situations in a scientific way,” she said. “Good science writing can help. Of course, education is very important as well.”
During her time at Cornell, Wolchover said Cornell students should feel free to reach out and connect with her on campus.
“I’m very excited to spend time at Cornell,” she said. “It’s an amazing university. For anyone reading this article who wants to reach out or connect, I’d be happy to do that.”