American Institute of Physics Announces 2020 Science Communication Award Winners

News Release

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2020 -- The American Institute of Physics recognizes the winners of the 2020 Science Communication Awards for their topical works on reshaping our world, recognizing forgotten women in science, searching for knowledge, and hunting down black holes. Since 1968, AIP has recognized journalists, authors, reporters, and other diverse writers for their efforts in science communication.

Winners for each category receive an engraved Windsor chair, a certificate of recognition, and a check for $3,000. The 2020 winners are

"This year’s winners showcase scientific accomplishment, imagination, and the wonder of scientific discovery through the written word and outstanding video imagery,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “These four examples of outstanding communication reach out to the general public in ways that draw the reader and viewer in without overwhelming their interest or their senses. AIP is proud to recognize how well our four awardees succeed at increasing the public appreciation of the physical sciences.”

Susan Hockfield, winner of AIP's 2020 Science Writing, Books award CREDIT: Hockfield

BOOK WINNER: “The Age of Living Machines” by Susan Hockfield

In what judges called a “book for now,” Susan Hockfield provides a balance of information without overloading the reader in “The Age of Living Machines,” published by W.W. Norton & Company. Hockfield crafts a narrative of how scientific discoveries shape and reshape our world with each new technological advancement and looks to the future for the promise of the technology revolution.

The judges commented that the book tells of the process of science, covering a breadth of the types of people doing science with focus on the biology and technology fields, speaking against anti-science and reaching the public.

“The abiding interest of non-scientists and non-engineers, my target audience, to understand why they might have confidence in a better future was a powerful inspiration,” Hockfield said. “At a time when it’s easy to feel that confidence in science is at a low point, the enthusiasm of non-scientists and non-engineers for the possible future technologies motivated me to write technology stories they could understand.”

The judges called “The Age of Living Machines” a “joy to read, both interesting and entertaining” while keeping in mind a feel for the general public.

Hockfield is President Emerita, a professor of Neuroscience, and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 2004 to 2012, she served as the 16th president of MIT, the first life scientist and first woman in that role. As a biologist, she pioneered the use of monoclonal antibody technology in brain research, identifying proteins through which neural activity early in life affects brain development. Before joining MIT as its president, she was the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Neurobiology, dean of the graduate school of Arts and Sciences (1998-2002), and provost (2003-2004) at Yale University.

Joshua Sokol, winner of AIP's 2020 Science Writing, Articles award CREDIT: Sokol

ARTICLES WINNER: “The Hidden Heroines of Chaos,” by Joshua Sokol

Joshua Sokol wins this year’s articles prize for his Quanta Magazine article, “The Hidden Heroines of Chaos,” published May 20, 2019. His feature story highlights Daniel Rothman who, in 2019, picked up the scent that Edward Norton Lorenz had worked with two women, who were deeply involved in the early stages of chaos theory and whose work had been lost to history. Ellen Fetter and Margaret Hamilton were two programmers in Edward Norton Lorenz's lab who used a computer about the size of a desk to run weather simulations.

While telling the story of how Rothman tracked down information about the two programmers and their contributions to the lab, Sokol interweaves information about the science of chaos theory, as well as the origin story for this interesting field of modern physics. The judges said the result was a compelling feature that manages to include a mystery, science research, and commentary on programmer's roles, past and present, in science labs -- not to mention the role of women.

“Before this piece, I had very little idea of what early computational science looked like,” Sokol said. “I was surprised to learn how much of a team effort that discoveries from this era were and how they often involved these pioneering early programmers, many of them women. I was also surprised and dismayed to learn that as the dynamics of the field shifted, even someone involved in famous computational work like the butterfly effect and the Lorenz attractor could be discouraged and pushed out.”

Judges wrote that “The Hidden Heroines of Chaos” was unanimously chosen as the winner in this category for being an “exemplary combination of storytelling and physics explanation.”

Sokol is a freelance science journalist, covering astronomy, physics and other fields for Science, Quanta, The New York Times, and elsewhere. Previously, his journalism has been recognized in awards from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and from the planetary science and high-energy astrophysics divisions of the American Astronomical Society.

Curtis Manley, winner of AIP's 2020 Writing for Children award <br/>CREDIT: Manley

WRITING FOR CHILDREN WINNER: “Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet” by Curtis Manley

The Writing for Children Prize is awarded to Curtis Manley for “Just Right,” a compelling story line with current scientific exploration of the universe, published by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Children's Publishing Group).

Manley said inspiration for his books usually comes from memories, observations, or his scientific training and fieldwork. For “Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet,” however, inspiration happened differently.

“Since middle school I have enjoyed reading science fiction. Those stories often include exotic planets orbiting distant stars, but it wasn’t until 1995 that reality caught up to fiction and astronomers finally proved that some other stars really did have planets,” Manley said. “Although I had been eagerly reading news reports and articles about exoplanets, it was actually my editor who suggested I consider writing about the topic. I’m grateful for the care she took in ensuring that the science details were correct and explained clearly for young readers.”

The judging committee proclaimed “Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet” is a book for any age. It tells an engaging story of a young girl’s search for knowledge that starts with a question and flows through her exploration for answers.

“The scientific concepts in the book are explained clearly, and the beautiful illustrations support the entertainment and educational value of the book,” the judges wrote. “This is a book you buy for yourself or to give to any person who wants to understand how ‘Goldilocks Planets’ are found.”

Manley is a writer and author of children’s picture books “The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read,” “Shawn Loves Sharks,” “The Crane Girl,” and the upcoming “The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures.” His poetry, haiku, and flash fiction have appeared in literary journals. He grew up in western Pennsylvania and currently lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife, daughter, and cat.

Penny Palmer, winner of AIP's 2020 Broadcast and New Media award <br/>CREDIT: Palmer

BROADCAST AND NEW MEDIA WINNER: “Black Hole Hunters” by Catalyst

“Black Hole Hunters” wins this year’s Broadcast and New Media prize. The hour-long feature by Catalyst and shown on Australian Broadcasting Corporation follows scientists on their quest to find black holes in the universe. The journey takes the viewer to “the cusp of an unprecedented milestone in human achievement -- the very first picture of a black hole.”

The judges enjoyed the “the clever use of natural imagery -- waves, sand, waterfalls -- to illustrate complex concepts” and appreciated that the story was told from an Australian perspective.

Penny Palmer, executive producer for Catalyst, said it was not hard to get excited about the universe’s most mysterious and extreme phenomena.

“Black holes rightfully capture the imagination of anyone who comes across them,” Palmer said. “And when you combine their story with the ingenuity, enthusiasm and tenacity of the scientists seeking to understand them better, you have a real exciting documentary on your hands.”

Palmer said she and her team were constantly astonished by the effort and the precision used by the scientists while they were detecting gravitational waves with the Event Horizon Telescope. The judges felt the feature let the personalities of the host, Tamara Davis, an Australian astrophysicist at the University of Queensland, and other scientists really shine through.



AIP has presented its Science Communication Awards every year since 1968 to recognize the best science writing of the previous year. The award recognizes the writers' efforts to improve the general public's appreciation of the physical sciences, astronomy, math, and related scientific fields. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit


The American Institute of Physics advances, promotes and serves the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP offers authoritative information, services, and expertise in physics education and student programs, science communication, government relations, career services for science and engineering professionals, statistical research in physics employment and education, industrial outreach, and the history of physics and allied fields.


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