Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss—a writer of popular science books—may have some future competition for the bestsellers' list. Recently the National Science Writers Association (NASW) chose senior physics major Yvette Cendes as one of 10 undergraduates to participate in the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.
"The reason this honor was so cool is that I got a press badge. That was fun," said Cendes.
But that wasn't everything the NASW offered. She was teamed up with Time magazine contributing writer Michael Lemonick for shadowing and mentoring. Lemonick introduced her to reporters and editors of major science magazines as well as scientists—many Cendes said she has admired for a long time.
"Mike told me a lot of things about how science journalism works," she said. "I learned how to cover a big conference like AAAS. It's not a typical conference because of its huge size, and so journalists spend time working their informal contacts with scientists and other journalists."
In addition to meeting Lemonick, Cendes said she will not forget attending her first press conference, which was on the topic of Mars rovers and consisted of a panel of the mission scientists. She was puzzled by a statement about an issue raised by one scientist.
"After hearing journalists from major publications ask their questions, I decided to bite the bullet and raise my hand, as I wanted to know the answer (it's a science geek instinct). So I asked my question while trying to sound just as professional as all those 'real journalists'," she said.
"I got the Mars scientist to admit that the issue was a serious problem. My fellow students in the program got a kick out of it," added Cendes.
She is leaning toward a career in astrophysics research but wants to do some science outreach through writing. She adds, "Maybe something like Carl Sagan did."
"I really like to write and tell people how great science is," said Cendes.
Cendes, a senior from Pittsburgh, Pa., is no novice when it comes to writing about dark matter and other discoveries with origins in the cosmos. She contributes articles to the online Journal of Young Investigators, a nonprofit undergraduate science publication. It was her journal article on dark matter that she submitted to the NASW competition that won the competition.
Back from Boston, Cendes is busy with school activities that range from writing her senior thesis on "Test and Feasibility of the Cherenkov Radiation Detector for the Auger North Project" to being president of the Physics and Astronomy Club. She also writes a column for The Observer, dabbles in the Ham Radio Club, is the business editor for the Athenaeum and plays first violin for the Case Camerata.
She also has been a member of the research team of Case Western physicist Corbin Covault for the past two years. The group has built, tested and installed detectors for the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina, the world's largest cosmic ray observatory. A northern cosmic ray observatory is being planned for a site in Colorado, and Cendes' thesis work describes detectors for that research site.
Meanwhile she's still basking in excitement about the AAAS meeting and plans to remember some parting advice from Lemonick, "Be nice to students and other young journalists, because you'll be begging them for jobs before long."
"I won't forget this experience for a long time," said Cendes.
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