Katie L. Burke

With over a decade of experience in science communication and a strong foundation in biology research, I am skilled at shaping compelling narratives from complex scientific concepts. I excel at guiding science storytelling from concept to publication and thrive in collaborative environments.

Changing Policies on COVID-19 Transmission

Despite its top-notch scientific institutions, the United States fared especially poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many missed opportunities that led to such an epic tragedy. One that has loomed especially large has been confusion around airborne spread of the virus. Precautions such as improving indoor air quality or wearing masks were ignored or downplayed until far too late. Linsey Marr, an engineer who studies aerosols at Virginia Tech, suddenly found her expertise needed in 2

How Hummingbirds Budget Nighttime Energy

Hummingbirds push the extremes of what is energetically possible in the animal world, zipping around with the fastest wingbeats of all birds, up to 80 beats per second in the smallest species. To keep up that pace, hummingbirds eat lots of nectar. If scaled to human size, their sugar intake would be equivalent to drinking a can of Coca-Cola every minute. Hummingbirds must get enough food to maintain their busy lives, without accruing fat stores that would weigh them down. Maintaining such a high

Four things newsrooms can do right now to counter science polarization

At SRCCON in June, we hosted a discussion about countering polarization in coverage of science topics. On the heels of two years of pandemic weirdness, not to mention years of entrenched discourse about climate change, the topic feels especially relevant.

We brought together an audience of journalists with four scholars studying this topic from various angles: researcher and reporter Jaime Longoria of the Equity First Vaccination Initiative and the Disinfo Defense League; psychologist Stephan L

A Handbook for Climate Communication

Katharine Hayhoe burst onto the science communication scene in 2011 with a book she cowrote with her pastor husband, Andrew Farley, titled A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. With its publication she demonstrated that she is a climate scientist who can discuss the topic of global warming with audiences generally thought to be unreceptive. Because Hayhoe is a churchgoing, involved Christian and a compassionate communicator with a can-do attitude, audiences of eva

An Antidote to Climate Despair

The book All We Can Save is an anthology of essays and poems by a diverse group of feminist climate experts and activists. A project has grown out of the book that aims to nurture a climate community "rooted in the work and wisdom of women."

All We Can Save is a collection of essays and poems that aims to serve as an antidote to climate despair while also fully conveying the gravity of the situation we confront. Its title is inspired by a line from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Natural Resources”: “My

Rethinking Menstrual Norms

When an issue arises with a person’s menstrual health, it is often framed as an individual problem. Maybe one’s period is early or late, short or long, heavy or light, especially painful, or somehow “abnormal.” But as anthropologist Kate Clancy points out in her inaugural book Period: The Real Story of Menstruation—a welcome outgrowth of her Period Podcast—the whole idea of a normal period is a myth, one begotten from eugenics that continues to pervade medical practice and menstruators’ percepti

An Ethics of Land Relations in Science

Scientists who strive for justice and equity in their institutions face an uncomfortable quandary: The knowledge systems that form the foundation of scientific research are entrenched in colonialist practices. This book is for them. It maps the path the author has followed in attempting to avoid scholarly and scientific practices that reproduce colonialism while conducting research on plastic pollution. Liboiron acknowledges that anyone taking on a similar goal will face difficult, paradoxical d

What Might Happen to COVID-19 Over Time?

The novel coronavirus is unlikely to go away completely after its first outbreak. People are only beginning to grapple with what comes next.

To deal with the global pandemic of a novel coronavirus, people all over the world have scrambled to enact social distancing so as to reduce the speed with which the virus is spreading—key to reducing the strain on health care systems. But even as different countries have met that threat with varying degrees of success, they need to prepare for the afterma

On the Scent Trail of Parkinson's Disease

After 10 years of experimentation, Milne, Kunath, and Barran have their answer—a team led by Barran published their results in March in ACS Central Science—and it may lead to a noninvasive screening test for early detection of Parkinson’s disease.

In 2009, chemist Perdita Barran of the University of Manchester received what turned out to be a momentous phone call from her collaborator, Tilo Kunath of the University of Edinburgh. A 68-year-old grandmother and nurse, Joy Milne, had stood up at a

The Giant Tadpole That Never Got Its Legs

The biggest tadpole ever found—at a whopping 10 inches long—was discovered by a crew of ecologists in a pond in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Alina Downer, an intern at the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station, came across the monster bullfrog tadpole as her crew was draining a manmade pond as part of a habitat restoration project for the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog. As the water level lowered, Downer and her colleagues were assessing what organisms we

An Honest Reflection

The Editor's Letter I wrote when I led the 2019 special issue, The Future of Water.

Water is both ordinary and anomalous. It is the only substance on our planet naturally found in all three states: solid, liquid, and gas. Its molecules stick together like minuscule magnets, pulling rainwater into round drops. Water is remarkable in its ability to absorb and hold heat, a property that influences nearly every aspect of Earth’s weather and climate. Liquid water is a “universal solvent” that can dissolve many other substances, including several discussed in this issue: salt, lead,

First Person: Mona Hanna-Attisha

The title of your book is inspired by a line from Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence: “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know, doesn’t exist.” How did that idea become a theme in your book? If you haven’t thought about something, you’re not going to recognize it as a problem. That was my story. I didn’t know about the possibility of lead in water. I was blind to it for a year and a half. I’ve been taking care of kids with lead poisoning for more than a decade, both from Flint

Scientists in the Wake of the Hurricanes

The lessons in Puerto Rico apply to other science communities hit hard during last year’s intense hurricane season. It was the most expensive disaster year on record. Three hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) occurring within a month of one another joined the list of the United States’ five most costly hurricanes, revealing that Americans are remarkably vulnerable. Scientists are no exception. The scientific community has poured out support for researchers in the wakes of these hurricanes—offer

Moving Forward After Flint

Siddhartha Roy is a graduate student at Virginia Tech in Marc Edwards’s lab, and as the communications director for the Flint Water Study, he interacted with residents there to uncover the Michigan city’s water contamination problems. In spring 2015, LeeAnne Walters, a mother of four in Flint who was concerned her water had high levels of lead, contacted Marc Edwards about testing for lead in her water after the city’s water utility had dismissed her concerns. On April 28, Edwards, Roy, and thei

Flint Water Crisis Yields Hard Lessons in Science and Ethics

Like many scientists, Virginia Tech civil engineer Marc Edwards chose his career to serve the public good. But his experience uncovering the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, where citizens were exposed to high levels of lead because of government and scientific negligence, has been a stark reminder of what can happen when science is misused or ignored. To make matters worse, the Flint water crisis is a repeat of very recent history. About a decade ago, Edwards revealed high lead levels in public w

Selected Editing

Digital Content

Paradox, Sunrise, and a Thirsty Place

This essay, published in print in American Scientist’s September–October 2019 special issue on the Future of Water and read here by the writer and artist Nina Elder, traces the complexities of living and making art in an era of climate disruption, using the format of the scientific article as a frame for exploring these concepts. The text reflects the author’s research in the U.S. Southwest, a recent residency at the Montello Foundation in northern Nevada, and her ongoing engagement with the changing landscape of Alaska.

Elder creates projects that reveal humanity’s dependence on, and interruption of, the natural world. Often collaborating with scientists and larger research institutions, she explores geologic time, the Anthropocene, and deep futures. Her drawings, installations, and public works have been featured in Art in America, in VICE Magazine, and on PBS.

Read the essay in print here: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/paradox-sunrise-and-a-thirsty-place
Read the rest of the issue here: https://www.americanscientist.org/magazine/issues/2019/september-october

Photo captions:
[0:06] water glass, Montello Foundation, Elko County, Nevada
[0:44] a sage-covered hillside, Ortiz Mountains, New Mexico
[1:12] sunset from Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake
[1:33] author’s hand at sunrise, Montello Foundation, Elko County, Nevada
[1:59] clouds, Elko County, Nevada
[2:33] sunrise, Tetzlaff Peak, Utah
[3:39] The coastline of Lost Lake, in Chugach National Forest near Seward, Alaska, shows the intricate curves and turns of a landscape formed by glaciers. Elder’s photography book Erratic (2018) collects her notes and letters, as well as her photos and drawings of glacial landscapes and erratics, rocks carried from one place to another by glaciers.
[4:19] Donahoe Lake, Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska
[5:09] Fort McGilvray, an abandoned World War II fort near Seward, Alaska
[6:42] Icebergs float in Portage Lake on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, 2018.
[7:26] Skilak Lake, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
[8:12] The Sun rises over the Knik Arm on the summer solstice, Anchorage, Alaska, 2018.
[9:10] Glaciers have left their mark on the landscape near McCarthy, Alaska, 2017.
[10:00] Wind marks on the Twa Harpies Glacier, Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska
[10:28] an erratic, Bomber Pass, Alaska
[10:58] Stairway Icefall, Root Glacier, Alaska
[11:33] rocks collected by Cynthia Hendel, held by the author, Wrangell–Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska
[12:02] Elder’s project in progress, the Solastalgic Archive, holds materials that contextualize and give breadth to how we are living and making in this time of accelerated change. She asks people to contribute an object to the archive in response to the questions, “What helps you feel the present? What connects you with your ancestors? How are you creating the future? Where is your time? When are you?” Materials in the collection thus far include poems, photographs, zines, seeds, rocks, mixtapes, manifestoes, coffee cups, recipes, and diagrams.

American Scientist is the illustrative, award-winning magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society and is your source of science, technology and engineering news and features since 1913! Visit our website at http://www.americanscientist.org.

© 2019 American Scientist / Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society