I’ve been doing freelance writing for much of the last decade. It’s a great way to hone my skills as a storyteller as well as explore areas of interest that may not be relevant to the publications for which I work full-time. It’s also how I became turned onto the idea of science writing as a career. Below are some of the stories I’ve worked on in this capacity:
The Wisconsin DNR has a lead abatement program that it uses to either subsidize or fully fund communities that use city dollars to change out the lead pipes in their communities. This story is about that program and the impact it has had in Wisconsin — from Green Bay, the first city in the state to fully replace all lead pipes, to Stoughton, which is currently in the middle of replacing all of their lead pipes.
Embracing the benefits of aquatic plants
(Wisconsin Natural Resources, Fall 2020)
This is undoubtedly one of my favorite freelance projects. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reached out to me in Dec. 2019 and asked if I would be interested in writing a 16-page section of aquatic plant management in Wisconsin. Having very little knowledge of APM (and to say nothing of the project length), I jumped at the opportunity and found myself wading through a rich and colorful world of delicate ecosystem balances, passionate and thoughtful environmentalists, and more management techniques than I could have dreamed of. It was so much fun to learn about such an important part of Wisconsin — and one that I’d before given only little thought.
In April 2019, thanks to Planet Forward, I won a trip to the Galapagos Islands for my story on dumpster diving. I was aboard a ship for 10 days in some of the most ecologically unique areas of the world. It was absolutely wild, but it was also technically a work trip and I was on assignment. I decided to do a story about a problem that to many Americans would seem farcical: invasive goats. This was a very serious problem in the Galapagos for a very long time, but through the efforts of many dedicated scientists, they were able to eliminate the threat. This is that story. I hope you enjoy it!
Biodigester transforms food waste into fertilizer, energy
(Planet Forward, Dec. 10, 2018)
In August2018, I flew to California with Planet Forward to tour facilities that combat food waste in innovative ways. Of the many places we visited, the one that impressed me the most was the large University California, Davis, biodigester, which breaks down organic matter into fertilizer for area farmers. It also converts the methane it produces into electricity for the area’s power grid.
‘Gross’ and unpopular, but dumpster diving can help the planet
(Planet Forward, Nov. 29, 2018)
Sometime in 2017, my partner and I took up dumpster diving as an exciting new hobby. It quickly became heart-breaking, however, too see how much waste accumulates unnecessarily in our quiet Midwestern town and to think about the same happening all around the country. It’s still a fun hobby, but our purpose is a little bigger: We’re excited to be giving new life to food, clothing, and furniture that is in otherwise perfectly good condition. In this listicle, I lay out some of the benfits we’ve seen from this unusual practice in an effort to get others to join our community.
I’d always wanted to try my hand at a podcast and in my second semester of grad school, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing environmental activist Tia Nelson for Edge Effects, a graduate student-run digital magazine about climate issues. We spoke about environmental communication and the importance of voting during a climate catastrophe.
Environmentalist breaks conventions with comedy
(Planet Forward, Mar. 8, 2018)
Michael Branch is a desert-dwelling, award-winning environmental essayist who “writes like a drunken professorial hillbilly” and shows us that humor can have a place in communicating conservation’s weightier issues. I met Mike when he was giving a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and asked if I could interview him for this story. I love when interviews feel more like hanging out with an old friend than doing work, and Mike fit that mold perfectly; we chatted for 30 minutes before the interview even began.
When I was growing up, common thought in neurology was that however well you were one year after a traumatic brain injury was the best you would be for the rest of your life. When a friend of mine introduced me to the UW’s Tactile Communication & Neurorehabilitation Lab, which is turning that idea on it’s head, I knew I had to check it out. This story meant a lot to me personally, as I have my own history of neurological impairment, so I was thrilled when the editors of the Isthmus kindly made it that week’s cover story.
A major discovery in human evolution
(Isthmus, Sept. 17, 2014)
UW anthropology professor Dr. John Hawks is well known for his efforts in science outreach, so I was not surprised that he was kind enough to grant me an interview on what promised to be a very important discovery: an entire underground chamber full of fossil hominins! At the time, he could not explain to me its significance (he could only describe the discovery as “tremendous”), the fossils turned out to be those of Homo naledi, whose place in the evolutionary spectrum is still being debated.
Waiting for Keju
(Isthmus, Aug. 20, 2015)
It was very important for me to at some point do a conservation story, so I was very happy when the Isthmus approved this proposal. Keju (which means “cheese in Malay) was born in the Henry Vilas Zoo to a mother who was not completely interested in raising the baby orangutan. I was able to write a little about the importance of conserving oil palm trees to the backdrop of Keju’s narrative.
(Isthmus, Jan. 5, 2017)
This story was something of a challenge. While I had at the time of writing this acquired a good deal of science knowledge and science writing experience, I’d never done a story on either chemistry or computer science. Luckily, Drs. Mavrikakis and Abbott were more than accommodating to my lack of knowledge and, in the end, I believe I was able to communicate the purpose of their work with the clarity that they had showed me in the interview.
(Isthmus, Nov. 3, 2016)
Another wonderful challenge! I don’t write a lot about medical science, but I would love to do more. As a trained EMT, I have an interest in medicine, but but I am not as learned in the finer areas of anatomy discussed in this piece.
Seeing stars… and more
(Isthmus, Jan. 14, 2016)
As a university town, the concentration of Madison’s access to science tends to be around the university or downtown. However, small pockets exist outside of these areas where local efforts seek to encourage children to become scientists. The Space Place is one of these efforts. Located on Madison’s south side, the facility holds educational workshops that explore the cosmos in a way that kids and their families can understand together!
A treasure trove of relief maps in UW Science Hall (Isthmus, Nov. 7, 2013)
This was my first story for the Isthmus. I remember being nervous to pitch it because I wasn’t sue how interested they would be, but I found the maps interesting a beautiful enough to find out. Thankfully, they accepted my query and I was able to go a little more in depth into my interest here.