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03/31/2006 08:00:00

Scientists and Journalists Discuss Communicating Science to General Public

PASADENA, Calif.—What is the best way to explain complex scientific information to the public? An astronomer, an expert on science journalism, and a National Public Radio science reporter will discuss this topic at the fourth annual Words Matter Science Writing Symposium at the California Institute of Technology. The event will take place at 8 p.m. April 5 in Sharp Auditorium, Room 155 in Caltech's Arms Laboratory. Attendance and parking are free and open to the public.

Panelists will discuss how effective communication plays a role in their work and will offer strategies for conveying science with clarity and grace. After presenting opening remarks, the panelists will engage each other, and then respond to questions and comments from the audience.

The panelists are Mike Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech; Bruce Lewenstein, associate professor of science communication at Cornell University; and Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio and occasional host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation Science Friday."

Brown investigates the solar system and its neighborhood through surface and spacecraft-based observational methods. He has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers and has attracted international attention for discovering 2003 UB313, which may turn out to be the 10th planet after the International Astronomical Union meets to discuss its fate later this year.

Lewenstein is an authority on the history of scientific journalism-how science is reported to the public and how the public understands controversial scientific issues and "emerging technologies" such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. He has also done extensive work evaluating "citizen science" outreach projects in which citizens participate in the scientific process by gathering, entering, and sometimes analyzing scientific data.

Before joining NPR, Palca worked as a television and print journalist in a career that included stints at Nature and Science magazines. He was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 1999-2000 and has won many awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the NASW Science-in-Society Award, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize.

A reception for the panelists will follow the symposium.

Words Matter is a Caltech program that brings a variety of prominent writers to campus for short residencies and special events. For more information about this symposium and Words Matter, go to or call (626) 395-3706


Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Written by Jill Perry