May 9, 2022

The notion that humankind can peer into a mirror and glimpse the “cosmic dawn” is almost unbelievable. Except Quanta Magazine’s Natalie Wolchover explained it so poetically, so completely that even plebeians like myself could understand that it’s not only possible to “witness the first stars flicker on,” but doing so could actually reveal so much more — including extraterrestrial life.

On May 9, the staff of Quanta Magazine, and notably Wolchover, won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting “for coverage that revealed the complexities of building the James Webb Space Telescope, designed to facilitate ground-breaking astronomical and cosmological research.”

This is the first Pulitzer awarded to the 10-year-old online science magazine, an independent publication from the Simons Foundation. It is also Wolchover’s first Pulitzer, an honor she found out about while sick in bed with COVID-19.

Wolchover earned her bachelor’s in physics from Tufts University and studied graduate-level physics at the University of California-Berkeley before leaving academia to become a science journalist. She has won numerous scientific awards including the 2016 Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award and the American Institute of Physics’ 2017 Science Communication Award for Articles.

The Pulitzer-winning work outlines the improbability of the Webb Space Telescope’s very existence, as well as all the potential snafus it could have faced when launched in December 2021. By the end of Quanta’s coverage, readers join the featured astronomers and researchers — including a mother-daughter duo — in bated breath.

About five months later, we learned that the rocket carrying the telescope launched, reached its operational orbit, and fully aligned its massive mirrors. The potential Wolchover writes about is closer than ever.

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Mel Grau is the senior product specialist at The Poynter Institute, focusing on Poynter's training experiences and newsletters. She previously edited The Cohort, Poynter’s biweekly…
Mel Grau

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