I am an award-winning  journalist, videographer, podcaster and fledgling software developer.

My themes are about science, medicine, technology and business. I do news stories, features and profiles and use  words, visuals and audio.

On Twitter, I’m @metricausa

Contact me: v [dot] marx [at] alum [dot] mit [dot] edu

My work has appeared here:

Newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Boston Globe, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Handelsblatt, Die Welt, Die Zeit, Facts, Weltwoche.

Magazines and websites: The Economist, Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Methods, The Daily Beast, The Lancet, New Scientist, Popular Science, Red Herring, Science Magazine, Scientific American, Der Spiegel, MIT’s Technology Review, Utah CEO, Chemical & Engineering News, Genomeweb.

TV and radio: ARTE, ZDF, WDR, BR, HR, WGBH

My Google Scholar page
My LinkedIn page

I was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and I am a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where I was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow.

Here, I am collecting samples with teammates; we were volunteers with a marine biology research project. We were called the ‘goats;’ we spent our time on sharp, slippery rocks to get to the tide-pools. The cool kids did the diving and underwater tasks.

My podcast is: Conversations with…

In Conversations with…scientists I speak with researchers about their work and their lives, about their field and about the role of science in society. It’s research made personable.

Sometimes it’s a conversations with one scientist, as in the case of  Carol Robinson, professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. There is an episode with Paola Oliveri, developmental biologist at University College, London.

Others are podcast features and they include a number of scientists in academia, non-profit research institutions, universities and at companies.

Bye-bye Bunny, for example, is about antibodies in our bodies,  about COVID-19, about different types research antibodies and about the prospects for making research antibodies animal-free.

You can listen to any of these podcasts on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Breaker, on transistor.fm. And a few podcasts are right here.

Machine learning, quantum computing, they’re not magic 

‘Artificial intelligence’ (AI) is hard to beat as an enigmatic term. And quantum computing is right up there, too, in the way it draws attention. Without good training data machine learning algorithms can disappoint.

For my Nature Methods story Machine learning, practically speaking, I asked biomedical researchers about how they use machine learning. For example, machines can learn to assess whether a tissue sample that the system has not previously ‘seen’  indicates breast cancer.

For my story Biology begins to tangle with quantum computing and in a piece called Bits of quantum bits, I asked scientists about how they use quantum computing and what they think it’s promise is. And I looked into the mysterious disappearance of Ettore Majorana.

Illustration by Erin Dewalt SpringerNature

Erin Dewalt did this wonderful illustration for the machine learning story. It’s modern and retro, which corresponds well to ML, which is new and has been around for decades, too.

(Erin Dewalt)

When computational pipelines go ‘clank’

Pipeline plunk

These two stories, available here and here, are about what it takes to build and maintain computational pipelines. Yes, pipelines can go ‘clank’ and they can plunk but interviewees talk a little about how to avoid that or to fix it when it does.

There’s text, animation and a podcast. And some animated puns that harken back to another story I did on benchmarking software tools. Again, some fun, informative interactions with scientists and collaboration with the oh-so-talented managing designer Erin Dewalt.

 

COVID-19

COVID-19 has cost so many lives and disrupted our everyday around the world.

For Scientists set out to connect the dots on long-COVID, I  explored what might underpin the bewildering array of symptoms some people experience after they recover from COVID-19. They might have breathing problems, heart palpitations, joint pain, damage to their lungs, heart or kidneys, they might have ‘brain fog.’

I also did three podcasts to go along with this long-COVID piece.

One is about genetic diversity and long-COVID. It’s a conversation with Nadia Rosenthal, scientific director of The Jackson Laboratory. The podcast and transcript are on this page.

Another is about long-COVID and brain fog. It’s a conversation with Avi Nath, intramural clinical director at the US NIH National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The podcast and transcript are on this page.

And there’s a podcast with a more business angle about modeling long-COVID on this page.

Primer detectives is about coronavirus testing and I looked into some issues with PCR assays, including the one from the CDC, which was giving inconclusive results.

Coronavirus jolts labs to warp speed is a piece about the many ways labs are accelerating their work to make headway on this coronavirus. They rush to expand resources for collaboration, swap data and findings in genomics, assay-building, in structural biology. The spike protein of the virus holds some secrets about this virus’s infectiousness.

Think simple is also about assays for this virus. Labs and companies are developing simpler assays, which might make large-scale roll-out easier.

Here is a video I did about one of the systems presented in this piece. I call this type of video Quick-Look, a nano-documentary.

Coronavirus encounter is about an emerging structural biologist from Singapore whose career development through a fellowship in Germany had to take a detour due to COVID-19. His experience is likely one example of many around the world.

Here are the podcasts on long-COVID.

This one is based on a conversation with Nadia Rosenthal, the scientific director of The Jackson Laboratory.

“The field is racing. And yet I’m not seeing that much that’s really budging our understanding of what’s going on in these various cases where people are really having very different responses,” says Nadia Rosenthal.

Most of the studies on animal models of COVID look at time points that are acute, like three days, six days, nine days, maybe 21 days maybe, and although mice have a compressed lifespan, the virus is basically running the same show.
And so you really need to take these mice out for months to understand whether we have the right models for long COVID and the study of long COVID.”

You can hear this podcast here:

And you will find a transcript here:

This podcast on long-COVID is based on a conversation with Avi Nath from the US National Institutes of Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“Now, the virus may be gone, but the music lingers on. But what is lingering: is it the immune system that is lingering or is it parts of the virus that are lingering?”

You can hear this podcast here:

And you will find a transcript here.

This podcast on long-COVID is based on a conversation with Terina Martinez, a field application scientist at Taconic Biosciences.

“We are all on the brink, hopefully, of reaching some better population immunity because of the vaccine program. But the research doesn’t stop because of the vaccines. I think that because we have this whole group of people who have long COVID we need models that will help us understand what’s going on there, because, you know, giving someone another vaccine, is it going to stop their long COVID.”

You can hear this podcast here:

And you will find a transcript here.

For Metropolis of Science, a project developed by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism’s Marguerite Holloway, I did a piece about the  Yellow Fever Fence in New York City.

Yellow Fever came to visit New York many times. Here an account by James Hardie.

“Coffins, coffins of all sizes!” is what boys shouted through the city streets, touting the pine coffins for the many dead. The four-dollar price tag was too steep for many people. Nightly, a dead cart carried corpses to the pits of Potter’s Field, now the site of Washington Square Park.

Yellow Fever repeatedly ravaged New York City. It’s a sad reminder that infectious diseases do not just come and go.

“When yellow fever ravaged New York in 1822, the city’s Board of Health put up a picket fence to quarantine a section of lower Manhattan. Residents were ordered to leave. If they were unwilling, the authorities forcibly removed them. Those who were too poor to leave were taken to a temporary asylum.” 

The project is part of Columbia University’s Center for Science and Society.

These days many people seem to tune out science and care little about facts. I made these gifs and use them on social media to highlight science I find notable.

The Vertebrate Genomes Project

Here are some videos I shot and produced about The Vertebrate Genomes Project. That’s the plan to sequence all vertebrates on Earth. There are around 66,000 vertebrates.

There’s an animation about the first group of reference-grade genomes.

Since that video was produced, the research team has generated many more genomes than these first 15. Will update the animation. Information about the project’s progress can be found here.)

And here’s a mini-documentary about the Vertebrate Genomes Project

Here is a story in Nature “The Big Challenges of Big Data”

“Biologists are joining the big-data club. With the advent of high-throughput genomics, life scientists are starting to grapple with massive data sets, encountering challenges with handling, processing and moving information that were once the domain of astronomers and high-energy physicists.”

An Iron Man and cancer researcher

composita/Pixabay

This is a piece about a scientist at Baylor College of Medicine. Ken Scott is an Iron Man, a dad, a husband, a scientist, a religious man and a cancer patient. I started writing about him after I had interviewed him for a story and he shared his cancer diagnosis with me. I wrote for him and his family. Then I asked him if it would be ok to write about him in a more public way. He and his wife said yes and I am grateful for that.

The story starts like this:

As a kid, Ken Scott once rode his bike off the roof of his family home. In a later experiment, he attached a model rocket to the bike that melted his seat and his rear caught on fire. Ken grew up to marry his high school sweetheart, raise two kids, become a scientist. He trains hard; he has jogged up to 10 miles at a time wearing a backpack loaded with 100 pounds of logs. He competes in the Iron Man in which participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.

You can read the piece on Medium here. 

For The Daily Beast, I wrote

New Mayan Discovery: The World Isn’t Ending!

…“That is correct, the world will not end,” says William Saturno, the Boston University archaeologist behind a new paper that could help put to rest the long-held myth that the ancient Mayans predicted a 2012 apocalypse—a belief still held by 10 percent of the world’s population, according to Reuters. “A cycle is ending, but a new one begins, according to the Mayans, who regard their calendar as a series of infinite cycles,” he says.

Read the full story here, which also includes a bit about an excavated room that was likely space where a Mayan nerd—a calendar-keeper, astronomer, and scribe—puzzled away.

*

James Cameron and Investors Seek to Lasso and Mine an Asteroid

Also for The Daily Beast I did a story about asteroid mining. James Cameron is advising a company called Planetary Resources. Asteroids have bounty to offer,  says John Lewis, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, also an adviser to Planetary Resources,  and author of  a bookMining the Sky, Untold Riches From the Asteroids.

Read the full story here.

For The New York  Times, I did this story about libraries.

Technology: In DSpace, Ideas Are Forever
“The libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are earnestly bookish (2.6 million volumes and 17,000 journals) but increasingly digital (275 databases and 3,800 electronic journals). And just as e-mail dealt a blow to snail mail, digital archives are retooling scholarly exchange. A number of universities, from the California Institute of Technology to M.I.T., are creating ”institutional repositories” designed to harness their own intellectual output. M.I.T.’s archive, perhaps the most ambitious, is called DSpace (www.dspace.org).

Scholarly Storage: Traditionally, journals make research public after peer review, which can take months, sometimes years. Archives like DSpace, however, collect unpublished work — documents of any length, lecture notes, photos, videos, computer simulations, blueprints, software — in all disciplines and make most of it available to anyone as soon as it’s received.”

ARTE theme evenings –

Themenabende/Soirées thématiques

For the public television network ARTE, which is run jointly by French and German public television, I curated and produced theme evenings.

These are multi-hour evenings on one theme. They are made up of different genres: feature films, short films, documentaries, animation and experimental genres, too.

I enjoyed producing these, taking them from idea about an evening-long narrative arc, through development to broadcast.

Some films we bought, others we produced or co-produced. Plus we produced graphical vignettes in between the pieces which could have any length. We told smaller stories within the arc of a larger story.

Im Testfieber

For Süddeutsche Zeitung, I wrote a story about studying for the GRE.

For Die Zeit, I did a story about zebrafish research, friendship and rivalry in science.

Von Fischen und Frauen

For The Lancet, I wrote  NIH global health fellowship reinvents itself.

It’s about a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) program to train global health researchers widening its medical focus. I had the chance to speak with former fellows of the NIH Fogarty Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars, such as pediatrician Eric McCollum from Johns Hopkins University who went to Lilongwe, Malawi and at the time was heading back there soon. He seeks better ways to treat respiratory illness and malnutrition in children with HIV/AIDS and other conditions he sees in under-resourced hospital wards.

And there was Ana-Claire Meyer, a UCSF neurologist who studies the effects of infectious disease on the nervous system. She mainly lives in Kisumu, Kenya and explains how she has expanded her medical scope given that her Kenyan colleagues ask about treating  epilepsy, stroke, and dementia.

Also for The Lancet, I did a piece called FDA Reform Plan Edges closer to Realisation on a Congressional bill that modifies the US Food and Drug Administration regulation of drugs and devices. For example, it involves $6.4 billion in ‘user fees’ for FDA from drug makers over five years, the necessity for drug companies to inform FDA of looming drug shortages and the increase of jail terms related to drug counterfeiting.

Steam Power takes to the Road again. 

For New Scientist, I wrote about Swiss engineer Roger Waller, a modern steam pioneer. He and his team update and redesign steam engines on railway routes. And they have built a steam car.

To cut or not to cut

For New Scientist, with Graham Lawton I wrote about male circumcision. It’s a decision parents of baby boys face and it’s not an easy one.

When microbiologists plunge into the ocean

Microbiologists want to be heard on the subject of climate change. In a consensus statement, a community of scientists writes: “underappreciating the importance of microbial processes both on land and in the oceans, “we fundamentally limit our understanding of Earth’s biosphere and response to climate change and thus jeopardize efforts to create an environmentally sustainable future.”

The consensus statement ‘Microbiologists’ Warning to Humanity’ is here and so is a petition. Rick Cavicchioli, from Australia’s University of New South Wales, has been spearheading this effort.

Microbiology of the oceans is fascinating and there’s so much left to find out about what determines the distribution of microbial species, for example, and roles the microbes play.

There’s also increasing collaboration between biological oceanographers and physical oceanographers. Oops, let’s not forget chemical oceanographers. Read more in my Nature Methods story here: When microbiologists plunge into the ocean.

Here’s a striking Landsat 8 satellite image showing phytoplankton swirls in the sea north of Canada’s Yukon Territory. Whoo, these are some swirls. And here’s a blog post with more pics.

(Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center OceanColor Web)

For Science, I did a story called Beautiful Bioimages for the Eyes of Many Beholders.

“A handful of image-sharing databases and software systems is becoming available, and these images might change the way biologists look at their own and other researchers’ data–if several obstacles can be overcome. Aside from the technical difficulties of creating user-friendly databases and interconnected networks of images in the scientific literature, there are pesky legal and ethical questions, such as ownership and credit.”

Method of the Year: spatially resolved transcriptomics

The Method of the Year, chosen by Nature Methods, is about how labs find out and capture which genes are expressed where in a tissue or cell. It’s called spatially resolved transcriptomics.  Here is my story, here’s an excerpt:

If a researcher is making a smoothie, it might be snack time. Or it could be the moment to prepare a sample for bulk RNA sequencing, in which tissue is homogenized and analyzed to yield averaged gene expression from the mRNAs in a tissue’s cells — its transcriptome. …Working with single cells is more like digging into a fruit salad than a smoothie, says Hongkui Zeng, who directs the Allen Institute for Brain Science. …“Fruit tart is spatial transcriptomics,” says Bosiljka Tasic, an Allen Institute researcher who was interviewed jointly with Zeng. “You know exactly where each piece of fruit is and what is the relationship of each piece of fruit to the other,” she says….

Counting proteins

Here is a story in Nature Methods about an emerging technology called single-cell proteomics. Researchers can now routinely sequence genomes, and they can sequence RNA. Some labs are working on ways to tally how many proteins there are in a cell.

Having this tally is another big step toward understanding cells. And understanding the differences between healthy cells and those afflicted with disease.

For this story Erin Dewalt again did a fabulous illustration.

Single cell proteomics. A dream that is slowly becoming reality.

It’s not a faraway dream to tally proteins in single cells. Credit: Stéphane Larochelle, Erin Dewalt Springer Nature

This illustration came about as I interviewed people and heard what a powerful dream this concept of single-cell proteomics was to them.

Some science behind the rogue science of editing the genes of human embryos and bringing them to term.

Here is a story about embryo-editing in Nature Methods. Yes, it sounds creepy. There are scientists who are editing the genomes of human embryos. And in one case –perhaps more?– the babies were brought to term. This story is about one such rogue scientist….and it’s a look beyond rogue scientists.

It looks at DNA-repair mechanisms and discusses if they might work differently early on in development. It’s about the opportunities that might rest with gene-editing, what it will take to deliver gene-editing constructs efficiently. It’s about lowering the risk of mosaics. It’s hard to edit all the cells in a developing embryo. And then there’s the CRISPR-Cas system itself.. how might one stop it from editing after the first edit.

Sugars–cells use them in all sorts of ways

Here is another podcast. It’s on this blog page and called Sugar Rush. You can also listen to the podcast on SoundCloud or right here.

And yes, I wish it were about candy, which I love. It is about sweetness, but not about the type we eat but the type that coats our cells. Sugars coat all cells in the human body.

I spoke with a number of scientists working to understand the role these sugars play. Pam Marino at NIH, Gordan Lauc of the University of Zagreb, Chris Taron at New England Biolabs.