SoCal Science Writing Symposium 2018 was held at UCLA’s Geffen Hall, organized by an independent group of science writers, and funded by the NASW Peggy Girshman grant.


Over 100 science writers attended–far more than expected. Freelancers, staff journalists, PIOs, and even science fiction writers came, covering everything from health & environment to space & mathematics. We went to workshops on storytelling & podcasting, a lively entertainment industry panel discussion, an editor meet & greet, a panel of brain scientists, lab tours and an optional fun happy hour afterward.

The following list of speakers participated:


Morning Speakers

Vince Beiser is an award-winning journalist and author of the forthcoming book, The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization. He has appeared as a correspondent on “SoCal Connected” and as a guest on many other programs. Amazon Studios, in partnership with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions and Epic Magazine, is developing a feature film based on one of his articles. 

Bob Niemack is a multi-award winning producer-writer-director with extensive experience in documentary and scripted series producing.  He began in television as an editor, and cut the Oscar and Emmy winning documentary SCARED STRAIGHT!  He has written, directed and produced hundreds of hours of television for network and cable, receiving many honors including seven Emmy Awards and a Peabody.  He’s produced a lot of medical TV without any formal medical training, and now finally understands the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack.

Cara Santa Maria is an award-winning journalist, science communicator, television personality, producer, and podcaster. Cara is a correspondent on National Geographic’s “Explorer” and Netflix’s “Bill Nye Saves the World.” She created and hosts a weekly science podcast called “Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria” and cohosts the “Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcast.

Jed Dannenbaum is a nonfiction filmmaker, story consultant, and Professor of Practice Emeritus at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He co-authored Creative Filmmaking From the Inside Out and has dozens of writing, producing and directing credits for HBO, Showtime, and educational media for PBS and the National Science Foundation.

Teresa Carey began her career as a USCG license sea captain. But, long days of solitude let her to becoming a writer. Not afraid to dive in, she started with a feature film, One Simple QUESTion, which was successful in a niche indie market and won awards at film festivals. Now, a recent graduate of the UC Santa Cruz science journalism program, Teresa is currently a Science and Social Medial Fellow at PBS NewsHour and a freelance video journalist. 

Brian Wecht is a comedian, musician, and theoretical physicist who recently left a faculty position at Queen Mary University of London for a career as a piano-playing ninja on YouTube. Brian cofounded “The Story Collider,” a science-themed live storytelling show and podcast. 

Helen Floersh is a multimedia journalist and science communicator with an M.S. in pharmacology from Tulane University and a B.S. in neuroscience from Rhodes College. In addition to producing science videos for Wisecrack, she reports on business developments within the healthcare and biotechnology industries as a writer for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. 

Katherine Spiers is host and creator of the food history podcast Smart Mouth. She has been a contributor at KCRW and was until recently food editor at LA Weekly; before that she was a managing editor and producer at KCET.

UCLA Lab Tours

Richard Kaner Lab Dr. Kaner is a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and of Materials Science & Engineering. Current active research topics include graphene for energy storage, conducting polymers for water purification and the synthesis and characterization of the world’s hardest metals. Tour participants can expect to see equipment for synthesizing graphene (a single layer of carbon) and turning this into energy storage devices, vacuum lines and dry-boxes for handling air-sensitive compounds and arc-meltors capable of creating superhard metals at >3000ºC. 

UCLA Meteorite Collection is the largest on the West Coast and fifth largest in the country. It contains over 2500 samples from about 1500 different meteorites. The collection includes the main masses of about 40 meteorites and the type specimens of more than 300 meteorites (many collected from hot deserts). The tour will be led by Alan Rubin, associate curator of the collection. Dr. Rubin has researched meteorites for more than 40 years and published close to 200 peer-reviewed research papers, about 50 popular articles on space science, and one trade science book, Disturbing the Solar System.


Meet & Greet: Editors & Publications

Laura DeFrancesco, Nature Biotechnology Laura has been feature and news feature editor since 2003. As the journal is focused on the application of technology, its coverage takes a multi-faceted look at the intersection of technology and society, which can encompass ethics, law, business and of course technology advances themselves.

Tami Dennis & David Olmos, UCLA Health Tami is Executive Director of UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, and David is Director for News Strategy & Editing. They are looking for freelance science and medical writers with experience writing about academic research, research scientists, clinical care and related topics.

Jane Lee, Nature Jane, based in Washington, D.C., is a Nature news editor for the Americas. Her stories have appeared in National GeographicScience, and the San Jose Mercury News. Jane is an alumna of the science communication program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is open to pitches about an array of scientific topics, but those with surprising or counterintuitive results, or that flag a shift in thinking about a research topic or field, are especially welcome.

Rosie Mestel, Knowable Rosie abandoned yeast and fruit-fly labs long ago for the UC Santa Cruz science writing program. She has worked for New Scientist and the LA Times, and is former chief magazine editor for Nature. As Deputy Editor at Knowable, she’s making assignments of various lengths and formats in the social, physical and biological sciences. 

Lori Oliwenstein, Caltech Magazine Lori is Editorial Director in the Office of Strategic Communications at Caltech, and editor in chief of the Institute’s print and online publications, including its flagship periodical, Caltech magazine. Most ideas for Caltech’s publications are generated in-house and then assigned out when needed, but pitches are always welcome, especially if they are about research done at Caltech or by its alumni. If you have the ability to explain everything from quantum computing to gravitational-wave astronomy to a lay audience, feel free to send along a resume, even without a pitch.

Carla Pineda, KCET Carla is a digital editor and producer for Link TV and KCET. She is a Central American born and raised in Los Angeles. 

James Rickman, Playboy James is Executive Editor at Playboy. He’s looking for stories that bring news from the intersection of science and culture. Climate change and the Texas oil industry, Hyperloop and the young immigrants fueling American innovation, artificial intelligence and pop music…Playboy likes to educate its readers on complex scientific subjects via relatable human narratives.

Pamela Weintraub, Aeon Pam is the psychology and health editor of Aeon. She is the author of the award-winning book Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic. She’s looking for pitches about big ideas in the writer’s area of expertise.

Katie Wudel, GOOD Katie is the former deputy editor of GOOD Media Group whose work has earned a National Magazine Award. GOOD is always open to solutions journalism, especially pitches about groundbreaking scientific discoveries, the environment, and culture. Katie can offer feedback and pass high-potential pitches onto current editors.

April Fulton, NPR April is the founding editor of NPR’s award-winning food blog, The Salt, which blends the science and culture of food with a pinch of fun. She has worked at NPR and National Geographic, and has written for many publications, including The Washington Post and Los Angeles Magazine. She is a very recent L.A. transplant and is desperately seeking good bagels.


Brain Science Panel

Jonathan Flint is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a member of the executive committee for the UCLA Grand Challenge: Depression. He’s leading the largest depression study in history, of over 100,000 people, to identify genetic, biological, cognitive, social and environmental factors associated with depression. He will discuss the causes of depression and what can be done to improve treatments. 

Baljit Khakh is is a Professor of Physiology and Neurobiology, and Director of the UCLA Physiology Outreach Program. He is interested in the role of astrocytes, a type of glial cell, in the brain. A major project seeks to understand how astrocytes regulate neuronal function in the healthy brain and in models of brain disorders. 

Martin Monti is an Associate Professor in the Psychology and Neurosurgery departments and is interested in cognitive psychology. His laboratory focuses on two fundamental aspects of being human: (1) The interplay between language and thought and (2) Consciousness and cognition in coma, vegetative and minimally conscious states


PIOs & Freelancing Discussion Leader

Elizabeth Landau is the Senior Storyteller in the Web Studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, communicating NASA research to the public and leading multimedia projects. In her spare time, she freelances for a variety of publications including New ScientistScientific American and Princeton Alumni Weekly.



Symposium Organizers

Kate Gammon is freelance science writer based in Santa Monica. Her interests range from environmental engineering to the complex lives of scientists. It takes more than one hand to count the species of animals on which she has ridden. She has written for publications including Esquire, Newsweek, WIRED and Popular Science. 

Amber Dance is an award-winning freelance science writer based in Torrance. She mainly writes about life sciences, and has expertise in microbiology, cell biology, neuroscience, and lab techniques. She contributes to publications including Science News, PNAS Front Matter, The Scientist, Knowable, and Nature Jobs.  

Linda Marsa is a contributing editor at Discover and the author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Harm Our Health. Her work was anthologized in Best American Science Writing and has appeared in Newsweek, AARP The Magazine, Playboy, U.S. News & World Report, Nautilus, Aeon and Pacific Standard, among others.

Casey Rentz is a science writer whose essays have appeared in New Scientist, Scientific American,, The Guardian, and the Best Science Writing Online book series. Casey lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and two kiddos.