Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

Katherine J. Wu wins Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award

The winner of the 2020 Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, is New York Times science and health reporter Katherine J. Wu (@KatherineJWu).

Wu received the award and its $1,000 prize for four stories:

The panel of judges praised Wu as a skilled and creative storyteller whose work spans a wide range of scientific topics. They cited her fresh story ideas, versatility, clear writing, command of science and complexity, and the touches of humor she added when appropriate. In letters supporting Wu's nomination, her editors at Smithsonian said she filed "incredible story after incredible story" and "single-handedly raised the magazine's reputation as a valuable source of information."

Wu was selected as the winner from a record-high number of submissions—71 in total.

Wu took a non-traditional path to science journalism, starting out as a writer before flipping to academic science and earning a PhD in microbiology and immunology at Harvard. During graduate school she discovered how much she loved doing science. “But ultimately, I realized I loved writing about it more,” she recalled, “and sharing stories from the people behind it.”

Wu was an AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Smithsonian magazine, then worked as a staff writer at NOVA for a year after completing the PhD in 2018, after which she rejoined Smithsonian. She also worked as a production editor at Undark before joining the Times. Her work has also appeared in National Geographic, Popular Science and Scientific American. She has been an Early Career Fellow at The Open Notebook and a senior producer for the Story Collider.

Along with the winners of other 2020 awards conferred by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers, Wu will be honored in a video celebration planned for October by the two organizations.

Judges for the 2020 award were:

  • Tariq Malik, editor-in-chief of Space.com and a CASW board member
  • Liz Marshall, program manager for the Society for Public Health Education
  • Richard Harris, science correspondent at National Public Radio and CASW treasurer
  • Thomas Lin, founder and editor of Quanta Magazine and a CASW board member
  • Ashley Smart, associate director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, senior editor at Undark, and a CASW board member

Smart, who worked with Wu as an editor at Undark, was allowed to recuse himself from the selection vote.

The Clark/Payne Award was created to encourage young science writers by recognizing outstanding reporting in all fields of science. It is given each year in honor of journalist Ev Clark, who offered friendship and advice to a generation of young reporters. Until he retired from the role and handed the reins to Malik this year, the annual judging was organized by John Carey, former long-time senior correspondent for Business Week and colleague of Seth Payne, who raised money for the award in memory of Ev Clark. CASW now administers the fund and manages the submission process and presentation of the award. This is the 32nd year of the award.

Entrants must be age 30 or younger. The deadline for submissions is the end of June each year. For more information, please see the Evert Clark page at casw.org.