The Richard Merritt Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Science Journalism annually recognizes a Duke graduate or undergraduate student for the best piece of science journalism produced during the previous calendar year.

Merritt Science Journalism Award

The Richard Merritt Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Science Journalism annually recognizes a Duke graduate or undergraduate student for the best piece of science journalism produced during the previous calendar year.

A cash award of $500 is presented to the winner at a celebratory dinner held each spring in conjunction with the university’s Melcher Award and Futrell Award programs.

Read about our most recent winners.

How to Enter

Eligibility

Any work of journalism (text, video, infographic, animation, etc.) focused on explaining scientific research to a general audience:

  • Personal blog entries, video uploads, or other publicly accessible creations
  • Written stories must be at least 500 words long; stories in combined or other formats are also eligible
  • Must be produced by a current undergraduate or graduate Duke student
  • Must have been published or broadcast during the previous calendar year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31)

NOT Eligible: Research reports or journal articles intended for a primarily scientific audience.

Selection

The award committee, comprising Duke research communications leaders, will evaluate each entry based on:

  1. Clarity in explaining the science/research, and
  2. Ability to engage a lay audience in the subject matter

Deadline

The submission deadline is 11:59 p.m. ET, February 16, 2018

Submit Online

Use our online form to submit your entry.

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Contact

For questions about the award, please contact Minnie Glymph, communications director for the Pratt School of Engineering.

2018 Contest

Winner: Aaron Reuben

Aaron Reuben

States May Be Intentionally Poisoning Each Other With Toxic Air

Judges felt that the well-structured and beautifully written “States May Be Intentionally Poisoning Each Other With Toxic Air” stood out amongst a strong group of contenders to earn the top prize of the 2018 Merritt Award. Written by Aaron Reuben, a graduate student in clinical psychology, the long-form piece was originally published on the Vice website Tonic that covers wellness, science and big-picture health issues. The piece explored the implications of a study finding that most air polluting facilities across the United States have been systematically sited at state downwind borders, where the particles, soot, and heavy metals they pump out will be carried to neighboring states. The judges felt the article flawlessly weaved a wide range of scientific research and sources together with vibrant characters that brought what otherwise could be a dry topic into the human realm.

Honorable Mention

The committee also decided to recognize Alex Rudee as a runner-up for his strong submission “What Happens When the Saguaros Disappear?” published as a blog post by the National Parks Conservation Association. The piece explores how climate change is slowly diminishing one of the Southwest’s iconic plants while bringing in insightful viewpoints from local Native American cultures.

Previous Winners

2017 Contest

2017 Contest

Winner: Brenda Yang

Brenda Yang

Are Our Scientific Heroes Too Heroic?

Judges selected the thought-provoking "Are Our Scientific Heroes Too Heroic?" from among several strong entries to be the winner of the 2017 Merritt Award. Originally published in the guest blog on ScientificAmerican.com, the article was written by Brenda Yang, a PhD student in psychology and neuroscience. Her article is a meditation on how the manner in which stories of scientific success are told may change the performance of students studying science. Judges praised Yang's inspiring and self-reflective work, which included references to her experiences as a teacher and a student.

Honorable Mention

The committee also wishes to recognize another excellent submission as runner-up – Matthew Scult's "Training the Brain's Motivation Center." The article also appeared on ScientificAmerican.com. It presents an engaging first-person look at neurofeedback research in the Adcock Lab at Duke.

2016 Contest

Nearly 20 Duke graduate and undergraduate students entered the 2016 Merritt Award competition, submitting articles and blog posts on topics from invasive beavers to digital health innovation to atmospheric haze — and showcasing the range of fascinating science going on across Duke and beyond.

Winner: Rosa Li

Rosa Li

Young Daredevils: Children Are Just
As Willing As Teenagers to Take Risks

From among several strong entries, the judges selected “Young Daredevils” as the winner of the 2016 Merritt Award. Originally published on Slate.com, the article was written by Rosa Li, a PhD student in psychology and neuroscience, and featured her own research. The judges praised the entry as a well-written, solidly reported, compelling and highly accessible piece that provides an excellent model for other researchers who wish to share their work with the general public.

Honorable Mentions

The committee also wishes to recognize two other excellent submissions as runners-up:

  • The Worm Turns, by biology PhD student Sheena Faherty. The article was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • Building Batteries from the Microstructure Up, by civil engineering PhD student Andrew Stershic. The article was originally published in DEIXIS, the annual magazine of the U.S. Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program.

2015 Contest

The 2015 Merritt Award competition attracted a wide variety of entries from graduate and undergraduate students across the university. The selection committee noted and welcomed the rich diversity of approaches to communicating science that were reflected in the entries — from articles published in mainstream publications, to documentary-style and animated videos, to blog entries chronicling fieldwork experience.

Winners: Anastasia Lambrou and Joshua Latner

Joshua Latner

Anastasia Lambrou

From among several strong candidates, EbolaChat, a video by undergraduate students Anastasia Lambrou and Joshua Latner, was selected as the winner of the inaugural Merritt Award. The judges cited the entry as a creatively produced, accessible and compelling video that met its goal of educating high-schoolers and other members of the general public about Ebola thanks to the team’s sound understanding of how to communicate clearly about a complex scientific topic.

 

Runners-Up

The committee also wishes to recognize two other excellent submissions as runners-up:

 

About Richard Merritt

Richard Merritt

Richard Merritt was a longtime writer and media relations specialist for Duke University and Duke Health, with 25 years of service at the time of his death in 2013. He truly loved telling the story of Duke scientific research and did much to advance the university through his contributions over the years. The Richard Merritt Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Science Journalism was established by his family, friends, and colleagues to honor his memory. For more information or to contribute, please email pamela.hanson@duke.edu.