SciCom alumnus Dana Mackenzie wins career mathematics writing award

January 12, 2012

Mathematics journalist Dana Mackenzie.

Freelance journalist Dana Mackenzie, a 1997 graduate of the Science Communication Program, has earned career recognition from a consortium of national societies for his reporting in mathematics.

Mackenzie received the 2012 JPBM Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics at a ceremony on January 5 in Boston. The prize honors Mackenzie's work in writing about mathematics and physical sciences for general audiences and specialists, in publications ranging from Science and Discover to American Scientist and mathematical society books.

"Over the last 15 years Dr. Mackenzie has produced a remarkably broad and deep body of writing for experts and nonexperts alike," states the prize citation. "The work focuses largely on mathematics itself, but also touches geology, climate change, astronomy, academic mathematics as a profession, and even the game of chess -- at which Dr. Mackenzie competes at the [U.S. Chess Federation] National Master level."

The award specifically praised Mackenzie's work on several volumes titled What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, published by the American Mathematical Society (AMS). "These lucid, informative, and witty volumes showcase the importance and applicability of up-to-the-moment developments in mathematics, in fields ranging from the geometry of surfaces to signal processing to the history of mathematics in antiquity," the citation reads. "In these and other works, Dr. Mackenzie reveals, celebrates, and illustrates the excitement and vitality of learning, using, and discovering excellent mathematics."

Mackenzie thanked several influential people for shaping his career, including fellow mathematics writer Barry Cipra, Science magazine deputy news editor Robert Coontz (SciCom class of 1990), American Scientist editor Rosalind Reid, and SciCom founder John Wilkes, who granted Mackenzie the last spot in the class of 1997.

"I like to tell people that my job gives me the opportunity to get free lessons from the smartest people in the country every week," Mackenzie said. "For someone who likes learning new things, journalism -- especially science journalism -- is like a never-ending trip to the candy store. I never know what I'm going to turn up next."

Mackenzie earned his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. from Princeton University, both in mathematics. He taught mathematics at Duke University and at Kenyon College in Ohio before enrolling in the SciCom program. He completed an internship at American Scientist in summer 1997 and then returned to Santa Cruz to start his career as a freelance mathematics and science writer.

In addition to his magazine and mathematical society writing, Mackenzie wrote The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be (John Wiley & Sons, 2003), which was named one of Booklist's top four science books of 2003 and one of's best audio books for 2010. He appeared on "The Universe," a program on The History Channel, to discuss the moon's origins.