Revised: Two science communicators in residence join Faculty of Science

YFile note: On Oct. 1, Alison Motluk informed the Faculty of Science that she would not be able to fulfill her role as a science communicator in residence. The story has been altered to reflect this change.

The Faculty of Science welcomes three two new science communicators in residence this academic year – B.D. ColenAlison Motluk and Patchen Barss. Each will bring experience covering a wide range of relevant and globally significant science topics for major publications, documentaries, broadcast and through photography. This is the third year of the highly successful program, which has attracted top science journalists and communicators, and garnered applications from across the globe.

Although Colen was part of last year’s candidate search, he started his Faculty of Science residency this September and will be on campus once a week, usually on Wednesdays. Motluk will join the Faculty of Science for eight weeks beginning Oct. 28 and continuing until Dec. 20. Barss’ 10-week residency starts Jan. 6, 2020, and runs to March 13 (Barss will be on campus five days a week).

“We are excited to have such highly regarded journalists and communicators embedded in our Faculty,” says Interim Dean EJ Janse van Rensburg. “It is a great opportunity for our faculty members and students to have such high-calibre candidates as a resource to learn how to better communicate their research to the public. At the same time, I hope B.D., Alison and Patchen will enjoy their time here digging deep into ongoing research that piques their interest and engaging with our researchers and students.”

The goal of the program is to help promote excellence in science-related communications.

Patchen Barss
Patchen Barss

Barss tells stories about emerging multidisciplinary research. He has written, edited and produced material for television, magazines and newspapers, as well as for universities, museums, research institutes and public outreach campaigns. He most commonly writes about cosmology, artificial intelligence, genetics, the relationship between math and nature, and similar meaty topics.

“I’m interested in messy, process-based, incremental research more than headline-grabbing breakthroughs,” he says. “The York science communicator residency is a rare opportunity to watch scientists at work over time, pursuing questions they are most curious about, and whose answers tend to be complex and elusive. These are the stories I like to tell.”

Barss has worked for the BBC, CBC, the Discovery Channel and TVO; Scientific American, Nautilus, The Walrus and the National Post; the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the Council of Ontario Universities. His children’s book, Flow Spin Grow: Looking for Patterns in Nature, came out in 2018 from Owlkids Books.

Working with cultural consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources, Barss has developed content and strategy for the Perlan Museum of Natural Wonders in Reykjavik and the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, as well as for many other science, children’s and general interest museums.

He also works as a research communications trainer, helping scientists connect more effectively with media, policy makers, donors and the general public.

B.D. Colen

B. D. Colen
B.D. Colen

“Improving public understanding of, and respect for, the sciences and scientists is literally essential for humankind’s continued survival,” says Colen. “I look forward to working with York’s researchers and students to help them find ways to communicate with an increasingly skeptical public.”

Between his years as a reporter, editor and columnist for the Washington Post and Newsday, and his years in academic and corporate public affairs, Colen, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, has 40 years of experience in science and medical communications. He taught science feature writing, news writing and documentary photography for 19 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and covered subjects ranging from the early years of the HIV-AIDS epidemic to bioethical issues surrounding death and dying and the care of premature infants. In his public affairs career, he was at various points the media affairs director for Harvard Medical School, communications director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and, for 11 years, director of communications for the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard University’s senior communications officer for university science. Now a permanent resident of Canada, living in London, Ont., Colen is the author of 10 published books, all on medically related subjects, including Born At RiskO.R.: The True Story of 24 hours in a Hospital Operating RoomMr. King, You’re Having A Heart Attack (with Larry King); and Hard Choices: Mixed Blessings of Modern Medical Technology.

And with all of that, Colen says his first and greatest love has always been photography, which he began professionally by photographing the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom for a weekly newspaper five days after he turned 17.