Many universities have dedicated student-run science publications. Such publications are ideal places for young science writers to work with an editorial team, build up confidence and grow their portfolios. But they are also teasers of what is to come from the emerging generation of science writers.

Periodically, we’ll cover some of those student-run science publications here on The SA Incubator. Today, we re-introduce The Sieve (Twitter), a science blog by students of the Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Science Writing. The Sieve was created by last year’s students of the same course. Now that they’ve graduated, the blog has passed to the new bunch. And it’s going from strength to strength.

The Sieve logo

After a hiatus during the summer holidays, The Sieve relaunched this month with a new batch of Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Science Writing students. Describing themselves as “an eclectic bunch,” the four bloggers aim to translate science into compelling stories. It is an interesting angle which is becoming the norm of most student science publications: feature the “wow” factor of science so that non-science savvy readers too get excited about it.

To achieve this, the bloggers need to be genuinely enthusiastic about science, especially the science topics they’re covering. And judging by the three posts published since its relaunch, enthusiasm is not a problem for The Sieve’s bloggers. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their excitement soaks into their stories.

Alex Kasprak managed to get me all enthralled about geology and a line graph in his excellent piece, “The Revolution Will Be Clumpy”. The opening paragraph is enough to get you hooked so I’ll just include it here rather than try to summarise his story:

“Geologists are able to tell you the exact history of the waxing and waning of glaciers over the past five million years because microscopic creatures in the ocean have been unwittingly recording this dance in their shells. Their shells are made from the carbon and oxygen found in seawater. As glaciers form, seawater is removed from the ocean and trapped on land, resulting in subtle changes in the chemistry of the ocean. These changes are recorded in the shells, which create a detailed history as they pile up on the ocean floor.”

Meanwhile, Jean Mendoza recounts how cities are unique from an architectural perspective as he addresses a new research that mixes advances in computer science (and power) and Google street view with urban architecture. What’s not to like?

And there’s also a book review which is more than a book review. In “Rachel Carson and the Power of Science Writing”, Gabriel Popkin discusses science writing as a tool engage people. Here’s a snippet:

“So Carson was a science writer who started out, like many, as a celebrator of science. But because of her scientific training, she recognized the dangers that certain scientific advances—especially those in atomic physics and chemistry—posed to the ecosystems she loved. However, Silent Spring is not anti-science; rather it uses science to questions humans’ use of scientific knowledge in the post-World War 2 period. In answering these questions, Carson makes full use of her prodigious writing skills, eloquently synthesizing the best government and academic science of her time.”

The Sieve’s science-is-awesome style is a welcome departure from the more traditional science writings, still present in some popular broadsheets: educate people by pushing diluted non-jargonised science to a bunch of readers; sensationalise new research instead of pointing out how sensational the research really is. If The Sieve is of any indication, there is real value in portraying science as the cool thing it is.


UPDATE (September 26, 8.00 pm EDT):

A new piece went live on The Sieve hours after I published this post. It's about the science of cookies, so I just had to include it here.

A Sweet Tooth Goes to Potions Class by Kelsey Calhoun.

Very few people get in a snit over cookies. But even though most people like them, everybody has a different idea about what makes a perfect cookie. Should it be chewy, thick, crunchy, or crisp? It turns out there is some fascinating food chemistry behind cookie texture. A lot depends on how much a cookie spreads, and when it sets. When you know how different fats, proteins, and sugars act in cookie dough, you can mix and match for your perfect cookie texture.