Apple_Podcast_logoNot everyone likes to read. Some people prefer to listen. The spoken word has long been a popular medium, and audiobooks and podcasts have gone through something of a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, not least after the success of Serial.

This week, as Mosaic celebrates its 1 year anniversary, we’re delighted to enter the fore with our new podcast of audio narrations and audio documentaries.

Subscribe on iTunes or RSS.

Each week we’ll add a new Mosaic story: either one of our text features professionally read by a narrator, or an audio documentary. We’re uploading three for launch this week:

  • ‘Voices in the dark’ – our audio documentary exploring the world of voice hearing and audio hallucinations.
  • ‘The man with the golden blood’ – Mosaic’s most popular story comes to audiobook form with this reading of Penny Bailey’s tale of rare, and very rare, blood.
  • ‘In other words: inside the lives and minds of real-time translators’ – BBC Radio 4’s Geoff Watts reads his Mosaic story looking at the unique brains of the world’s interpreters.

You can also find all our audiobooks and docs on Soundcloud.

This is a new venture for us, so we’d love your feedback on what you liked or how we can improve. Leave us a review on iTunes, tweet us @mosaicscience or email mosaic@wellcome.ac.uk


KQKatharine Quarmby is a contributing editor at Newsweek Europe. She has worked as a journalist for the BBC, including stints as Newsnight’s science and politics producer, and at The Economist, as well as contributing to other papers. She has written two non-fiction (print) books, the first of which, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello Press, 2011), investigated disability hate crime and won the AMIA Media award, and No Place to Call Home: Inside The Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers, shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Award. She also writes non-fiction and short fiction e-books and silly books for children.

Twitter: @KatharineQ 

Website: katharinequarmby.wordpress.com

What is your feature about? 

My feature is about sexuality and disability. Usually features about this topic tend to focus on interviews with scientists and disabled men, and most are also heterosexual. I hope that this one is different – there are academics and scientists in the piece, but many are disabled people, and many are women. Not everyone is heterosexual this time around either…

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I actually learned a lot, even during investigating this topic for the article pitch. I learned that disabled and older people with age-related impairments have lots to tell younger and non-disabled people about sexuality, if there was an appetite to listen. The whole Hollywood view of sex, that sex only happens between two completely perfect and beautiful people (and who gets to define that anyhow?) as one interviewee put it, is so damaging to all of us. I’m so glad I got to do this project.

Read Katharine's feature on Mosaic from 3 March 2015.


Jessica Wapner

Jessica Wapner is a freelance writer equally fascinated by what’s under the microscope as by the people behind it. She writes often about the intersection of health, disease and social justice.

Her articles have been published in Scientific American, Slate, Aeon, TheAtlantic.com, AARP, New York, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. Her first book, The Philadelphia Chromosome: A genetic mystery, a lethal cancer, and the improbable invention of a lifesaving treatment, was published in 2013.

Jessica earned her degree in biology after studying mockingbird song for four years, and later served as editor for professional medical journals before turning to writing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

Twitter: @jessicawapner

What is your feature about? 

This article is many stories in one: how the foreskin came to be seen as a body part that American men are better off without; the challenges we face in interpreting medical evidence; the presence of bias in evidence-based decision-making; and the surprising extent of the controversy surrounding routine infant male circumcision. This story is also about the future of the foreskin, both in the US and in 14 African countries, where a massive voluntary circumcision campaign is underway for HIV prevention.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

So many things. I was not expecting friends and family to be so interested in the history of circumcision and how it became part of routine medical care in the US. Many dinner conversations were taken over by the topic over the past few months. Before starting research for this story, I had no idea that the US took such a different approach to routine medical circumcision than most other Western countries, and I didn’t know that so many people vehemently oppose the practice. And I was very moved by the dedication and warmth in the people I met in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The constraints of some very difficult circumstances cannot extinguish the irrepressible wish to improve health and life overall.

Read Jessica’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 24 February 2015.


Patrick Strudwick

Patrick Strudwick writes about politics, social issues, health and celebrity for a wide range of titles including The Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the Mail on Sunday. He has won several awards for his interviews and investigative journalism.

Patrick's Mosaic story 'One virus, four lives: the reality of being HIV positive' won the Science Explained category at the 2015 Medical Journalists' Association Winter Awards.

Twitter: @PatrickStrud 

What is your feature about?

Hepatitis C is at a crucial crossroads in its history – we now have new, miraculous cures, but this isn’t enough. So the feature explores the methods doctors are using to try and find the infected, as well as examining how and whether we’re ever going to be able to pay for the new treatments.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I had no idea how awful a disease hepatitis C is. I also had no idea how many people are infected with the virus, how badly they suffer, how dreadful the old treatments are and how revolutionary the new ones.

Read Patrick’s feature on Mosaic, from 17 February 2015.

1 Comment

imgresWe're thrilled to announce that Patrick Strudwick has won an award from the Medical Journalists' Association for his Mosaic feature 'One virus, four lives: the reality of being HIV positive'.

Patrick, who won the Science Explained category in the 2015 MJA Winter Awards, dedicated the award to Ian Gurnhill, who died several weeks after Patrick interviewed him for the story.

Congratulations also to Catherine de Lange, whose Mosaic feature 'Brazil's billion-dollar gym experiment' was shortlisted for the Best profile of a health of medical figure category at the MJAs.

These recognitions add to a number of successes Mosaic has enjoyed in its first year. Our stories have been republished in a variety of places, and articles have been translated into French, Hungarian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

In 2014, ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘DIY Diagnosis’ were listed among the best reads of 2014 by critics at Longreads, Longform and Digg.


Peter AldousPeter Aldhous got his break in journalism in 1989 as a reporter for Nature in London, fresh from a PhD in animal behaviour at the University of Nottingham. Later he worked as European correspondent for Science, as news editor for New Scientist and chief news & features editor with Nature, before moving to California in 2005 to become New Scientist’s San Francisco bureau chief. In February 2015, after a spell working freelance, he joined the new science desk at BuzzFeed News.

Peter also teaches investigative and policy reporting in the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, data visualization in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and leads training workshops for kdmc Berkeley.

Twitter: @paldhous

What is your feature about?

It’s a plea to consider animal minds on their own terms, rather than through humanity’s distorting lens. We all find it easy to project our own thoughts and feelings onto our pets and our closest living relatives, while struggling to do the same with creatures that seem more “alien”. Yet even the experts find it hard to design experiments that pose fair cognitive tests for animals that inhabit sensory worlds far removed from our own, and which interact with their environment in very different ways. These ideas have been bouncing around my head for a quarter-century or so, but it took a New York Times Op-Ed headlined “Dogs Are People, Too” to prompt me to challenge this anthropocentrism. I hope to convince you that “People Are Animals, Too” is a much better mantra, if we want to understand the diversity of animal minds, and with it our own place in the living world.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Some of my sources proved refreshingly frank about the double-standards that can colour the way in which experimental findings about animal cognition are written up. If a chimpanzee passes a test, it’s often assumed that the mental processes involved are similar to our own. But similar results for “lower” animals tend to be couched in explanations involving simple associative learning, rather than an acceptance that they understood the problem they were solving. Watch out for the story of “pig 3” – arguably an unsung “Einstein among swine” – and one scientist’s misgivings about the way which his team described her performance.

Read Peter’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 10 February 2015.


Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking. This month’s selection is loosely based around the theme of ‘happy’.

How to become Batman (podcast) (Invisibilia)

A relatively new science podcast from NPR, this has a good pedigree thanks to a team with experience on This American Life and Radiolab. This episode, recently rebroadcast on This American Life, has a great story on a fascinating subject: can blind people actually see? And is it our expectations that limit what people can do? We loved the Batman references.

My lovely wife in the psych ward (Pacific Standard)

The story of a marriage that happens to include multiple episodes of psychosis. Full of hope, there's optimism in this piece, but introspection and doubt too. This story begs the question: where does love fit in stories of (mental) ill-health?

Soar: The quadriplegic who reached for the sky (video)

An uplifting short about an Australian man with quadriplegia called Dave Jacka. We really hope they make a longer film about his kayak trip.

E-cigarettes: is vaping any safer than old-fashioned smoke? (The Guardian)

A lively and entertaining look at the controversy and confusion over e-cigarettes from the reliable Will Storr.

Bombshell Scientology Film Revealed: Alex Gibney on Cruise, Travolta and 'the Prison of Belief (The Hollywood Reporter)

A long profile piece on the documentary maker famous for, among other things, his inside look at the Lance Armstrong scandal, and his latest film about Scientology. It's about someone at the top of their game who gets to make great things.

What do we need to know? (video) (Aeon)

A two-minute animation about knowledge, cut from a lecture at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The last line really resonated with us: “kindness is an absolute”.

A choose-your-own adventure on Twitter

Finally, a bit of pure, innovative fun. Start here.

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.


Linda GeddesLinda Geddes is a Bristol-based freelance journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She spent nine years as an editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including winning the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism, and being shortlisted for the Paul Foot Award.  Her book, Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be was published in 2013.


Twitter: @lindageddes

What is your feature about?

Lots of parents worry that they're not doing enough to stimulate their child. This feature explores whether parenting is something that should be taught, or whether what comes naturally is good enough. It also looks at why there's such an achievement gap between children from rich and poor households by the time they start school, and what steps might be taken to close the gap. 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

It made me think about the values I'd like to instil in my children and how best to achieve this. As a result I have started trying to praise my children for everyday good behaviour, such as playing nicely together, or helping to tidy toys away. I'm also encouraging and supporting them to try and solve problems for themselves.  

Read Linda’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 3 February 2015.


Alice BellAlice Bell is a London-based freelance writer focusing on the politics of science and technology. She has degrees in the history of science and sociology of education, as well as a PhD in science communication.

She was previously Lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial College where she also set up an interdisciplinary course on climate change. She’s also worked as a bookseller, as Head of Public Engagement at the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit, and setting fire to bubbles in the children’s galleries at the Science Museum.

Twitter: @alicebell

What is your feature about?

I looked at the Radical Science Movement. Active in the 1970s, they asked questions about the role scientists played in war, pollution and inequality, as well as how science itself might be reformed to be less sexist, for example, or better at communicating with the public.

The UK end of this centred around a group called called the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. It all sounds quite establishment — and, indeed, the inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Society, with all sorts of the great and the good present — but this were a bit of a front group for something much more radically left wing. As one of their members told me, they were the scientific wing of the revolution. They wanted to change the world, and felt we needed to change science as part of that. They loved science, but didn’t like how scientific energies were being applied, and wanted to change that. 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I guess it was discovering they existed in the first place. I’ve worked in the politics of science since I was a teenager but hadn’t heard of them until a couple of years ago. We were clearing out an old library at the University of Sussex and a colleague turned up at my office with a load of slightly faded magazines called Science for People and manifestos for this thing called the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. “You might be interested in this” he said, muttered something about how the Americans had a slightly different approach from the Brits, and wondered off.

Honestly, I cringed, expecting it to be some stuffy attempt to explain science to the uneducated masses. I’ve seen a lot of publications like that, they’re well meaning, but usually pretty crass. I was wrong. The magazines were honestly trying to open up debate on science. It was also openly political, which I’m not used to seeing in scientific debate. And they were funny! The pages were full of jokes and cartoons, poking fun at the scientific establishment.

Intrigued, I started to dig around and find out more about who these people were, and where they went. The best bit was talking to people who’d been involved, hearing the life stories, ideas and arguments behind what had ended up printed in the magazines, and how diverse they were. I soon realised that, although the organisation had largely dissipated, they had quietly had quite a bit of impact, and several of their fights are still relevant today. Whether you're relieved or disappointed that the revolution they called for never happened, we can learn a lot from tracing their story.  

Read Alice’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 27 January 2015.


Mike IvesMike Ives is a journalist based in Hanoi, Vietnam, and a regular contributor to The Economist, The New York Times and other publications. He has reported on business, politics, science, art, food, health, travel, architecture, real estate and the environment.

Twitter: @mikeives

What is your feature about?

My Mosaic story explores the health and policy implications of peat fires in Indonesia – and the clouds of noxious smoke haze that they generate. There was a flurry of haze-related political activity in 2014 in both Indonesia and Singapore, the wealthy city-state where the smoke haze often ends up. But many haze-watchers doubt that the activity will eliminate the problem. And scientists are still struggling to understand exactly how smoke from peat fires affects human health.  

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Three big things. First, in Indonesia, it can be extremely difficult – and often impossible – to pin down exactly who is responsible for causing a given peat fire. Second, there is far less scientific data available on the health effects of peat smoke relative to more conventional emissions, such as factory smokestacks or automobile tailpipes. And third, although atmospheric scientists can study smoke haze with sophisticated equipment and modeling technologies, they still have trouble predicting when a peat fire will start, how much smoke it will generate and where that smoke may travel.  

Read Mike’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 20 January 2015.


Chrissie GilesChrissie Giles studied biochemistry at the University of Leeds. Concluding that clumsiness and practical science do not mix, she completed a Master’s in science communication in 2003 and has been working as a writer and editor ever since.

Her editorial career began in a medical communications agency and, via a brief stint in the heady world of motor caravan journalism, she now writes and edits stories on biology and medicine as a Commissioning Editor on Mosaic.

Twitter: @christinagiles

What's your feature about?

Doing a job that involves helping people at all stages of their lives ­– from before birth to death – must have an impact on you. I wanted to explore how medical training attempts to prepare doctors for breaking bad news, especially around life-limiting illnesses and end-of-life, and what the responsibility of bearing such news can do to people. How do doctors care for themselves and their patients in such potentially stressful circumstances, while still getting the message across?

What did you learn in the process of reporting and writing it that you didn't expect?

One of the people I spoke to told me that student doctors are sometimes surprised that working with the dying is part of their job. I found this really shocking, but appreciate that there may be some denial in play here – dealing with death and dying must be extremely difficult, especially the first time a patient dies.

That said, most of us live with a functional denial of death. I think that we all need to be more open about discussing serious illness, dying and death. We must make sure that our relatives know our wishes and preferences, before it’s too late.

Read Chrissie’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 13 January 2015.


Georgina_KenyonGeorgina has worked as a journalist for the Guardian and the BBC and also as a writer for the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the World Health Organisation. She recently moved from London to work on a beach with a very friendly crocodile called Eric in Far North Queensland in Australia.

What's your feature about?

The feature is about Indigenous people's views about health, family and also, ongoing racism in Australia. It explores how injustices from the past and present impact on Aboriginal people now.   

What did you learn in the process of reporting and writing it that you didn't expect?

That only in the 1970s did Australian law enforce very basic rights for Aboriginals, such as to be paid for working. Many Aborigines were also forced to leave school at a young age because no teacher wanted them in school. The sadness so many Aboriginal people felt at being treated so cruelly in their own country still affects their health. Despite this, the few Aboriginal people I interviewed were happy to talk to me and share their experiences and also show me friendship. I also learned how, even when physical barriers are taken down, such as fences on the old mission stations, it understandably takes a lot of effort for people to develop initiative and independence as adults. 

Read Georgina’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 6 January 2015.


As 2014 rapidly approaches its end we wanted to give a little something to our readers - and what more appropriate than a book? 

We’ve taken 14 of the most popular stories from Mosaic’s first year and compiled them into a single anthology, which – in keeping with our ethos – we’re giving away free to download to your favourite ereader. 

Download .epub
Download .mobi (Kindle)

The books are compatible with a Kindle or any other ereader of choice as well as iBooks and other ebook apps.

There is a table of contents in each book (just click ‘contents’ in your ereader to view), but here is what’s included:

  • Arrested development, by Virginia Hughes
  • Blood speaks, by Rose George
  • Can you supercharge your brain?, by Emma Young
  • DIY diagnosis: how an extreme athlete uncovered her genetic flaw, by Ed Yong
  • How malaria defeats our drugs, by Ed Yong
  • Hungary’s cold war with polio, by Penny Bailey
  • Medicine’s dirty secret, by Bryn Nelson
  • The big sleep, by Frank Swain
  • The future of sex?, by Emily Anthes
  • The man who grew eyes, by Moheb Costandi
  • The man with the golden blood, by Penny Bailey
  • The mind readers, by Roger Highfield
  • The mirror man, by Srinath Perur
  • Why do we have blood types?, by Carl Zimmer

All of these stories and more are of course also available to read on our website: http://mosaic.com/stories

If videos are more your thing, we recommend the boxset of Last Chance Saloon, our 11 episode mini-series following Twink’s musical journey through the brain and mental health. That and more available on our YouTube channel and the Mosaic website.

And if you want more bite-sized reading for your idle holiday moments, check out our #StockingFillerScience advent on Twitter.

We're now finished for the year but will be back on 6 January 2015 when normal service continues with more stories of the science of life every week.

Thanks for reading this year. Happy holidays and a happy new year.


Scan_11_400x400Rebecca Guenard is a genuine math and science nerd with a PhD in chemistry to prove it. She served a tour in academia before finding fulfillment as a science writer. Now she flits from covering one fascinating chemistry topic to the next. She is currently exploring health and beauty chemistry. She has written for The Chemical Heritage Foundation, Kid’s Discover, and Scientific American.

You can see examples of her mind wanderings at atomic-o-licious.com. Or follower her on Twitter @BGuenard.

What is your feature about?

It is a chronicle of the chemical measures we have taken throughout history to alter our hair colour. Even in our modern world, creating a particular aesthetic surpasses concerns over the ill effects that can come from the routine application of caustic chemicals to the head. But accepting some risk in the pursuit of beauty seems to be a part of human nature.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by the proximity of the discovery of oxidative permanent hair dyes to the origins of the large-scale manufacture of synthetic organic compounds. Hair dyes were right there at the point in history when chemists realised they could develop and mass produce molecules for a consumer market. I was also struck by the ingrained human desire to manipulate our appearance. I assumed the ubiquity of dyed hair was the result of advertising, but we were colouring our hair long before there was such a thing as a marketing department.

Read Rebecca's feature on Mosaic from 16 December 2014.


Our monthly round-up of stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking.

Particle Fever (Dir: Mark Levinson)

Award-winning film edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Godfather), following 6 scientists through the launch of the Large Hadron collider. Defies people who say you can’t show the process of science because it’s dull and reveals why science, all science, is fundamentally fascinating to those who love it. The trailer perhaps doesn’t do the film justice.

Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn)

A narrative-based, choose your own adventure style game (interactive story?) about living with depression. Surprisingly absorbing, with a well-written narrative, but a difficult experience – there aren’t many glimmers of hope.

Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher (BBC Radio 4)

A spookily fascinating exploration of the mysterious ‘number station’ radio broadcasts. A perfect topic for audio, the first-person storytelling works well and the bells will haunt our nightmares for weeks to come.

Unfinished London (Jay Foreman)

Funny, engaging short film about the development of London’s transport infrastructure. Feels home-made (in a good way) but very well-edited. Gave us that nice satisfaction of discovering little-known stories behind well-known locations.

Wes Anderson’s Worlds (New York Review of Books blog)

An essay about Wes Anderson’s film-making style, but also Vladimir Nabokov and an artist called Joseph Cornell. It's about one commonality in their approach to making art. Heartening and inspiring.

The story of palm oil (The Guardian)

A whizz-bang multimedia story with audio, video, text, infographics – somehow it all comes together quite nicely. There might not be an overall narrative, but it’s an effective way of approaching such a broad topic.

What it was like having an abortion in 1959 (BuzzFeed)

A grandmother tells a personal story of a 1950s abortion. The story moves back and forth in the narrator’s life – does that enhance the story, or make it too confusing?

Losing Ground (ProPublica)

More multimedia: this time about land loss in Louisiana as a result of climate change.

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.


Chris ChapmanChris’s media career began after gaining a spot of work experience on illustrious daytime game show Supermarket Sweep. He has subsequently worked for several indie production companies, design agency Red Bee Media and the BBC, and has produced educational films for the young people’s charity YouthNet. He now produces films for the Wellcome Trust.

Twitter: @chimpy

Chris has produced and narrated Mosaic’s first audio documentary.

What’s your documentary about?

It’s an audio story about the phenomenon of voice hearing. We all have an inner voice, but for some people they have a much more pronounced experience. Voice hearing is often associated with conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis. But some voice hearers often don’t share the view that they have a ‘brain disorder’– they believe the voices they hear are rooted in significant and sometimes traumatic events in their lives. By gradually exploring these events they believe they can begin to understand what their voices represent.

The story also covers clinical perspectives and features a new therapeutic technique called ‘avatar therapy’, which is helping voice hearers manage the distress their persistent voices can cause. It involves the creation of a visual representation of their voice using computer software. The voice hearer – with the aid of their therapist – enters into a dialogue with this avatar into order to increase their self-esteem and limit the power of the voice.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That most of us will experience voice hearing at some point in our lives. For some, it may only happen once or twice. For others, the experience can become more prolonged, perhaps even problematic.

I was also encouraged to learn that clinical approaches to voice hearing are now listening to the experiences of voice hearers themselves as a way to guide their understanding of symptoms.

I also learnt quickly how to be decisive in the edit suite. I had so much interesting material, it was very difficult to decide what to leave out. In order to keep the story under an hour I had to remove a number of segments, including one about Joan of Arc (who once threw herself from a tower at Château Beaulieu-les-Fontaines, apparently as a result of the voices she heard) and a segment about a 16th century hallucinating monk. One segment featuring Professor Paul Fletcher I did keep as a standalone Extra, as he provided a really interesting perspective on how our brains can in fact be unknowingly deceitful. 

Listen to Chris’s documentary in Mosaic, publishing 9 December 2014. A sneak preview below:


Carrie ArnoldCarrie Arnold is a freelance science writer covering many aspects of health and the living world. Before that, she worked in the field of public health for many years. She has written for a wide variety of magazines and other publications, including Scientific American, Discover, Slate, Aeon, Nautilus and Women’s Health. Carrie lives in Virginia with her husband and cat.

Twitter: @edbites

What is this feature about?

My story is about the booming opioid epidemic in the country and the one programme that is helping to reduce overdose deaths. Naloxone is a cheap, safe drug that can rapidly reverse the effect of an opioid overdose, but it had only been available in hospitals. Since many overdose victims never make it to the hospital, a scientist in Boston decided to distribute naloxone to drug users and their families to see if it would help decrease the number of people dying.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Just how many people had experienced opioid addiction or overdose. Every time I mentioned this story to people, someone seemed to share a personal story of a friend or family member who had been addicted or overdosed. Many of the people I interviewed had walls filled with photos of individuals who had died from an overdose, many of whom were even younger than me. It’s so common and so stigmatised. It was really heartbreaking at times.

Read Carrie's feature on Mosaic from 30 November 2014.


UnknownDr Lucy Maddox is a clinical psychologist, lecturer and writer. Lucy works clinically on an NHS psychiatric ward for teenagers at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, and she lectures at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and the Anna Freud Centre.

Lucy has written for various publications including The Guardian, Science, Prospect, The Psychologist, The Times and The Huffington Post. She was a British Science Association Media Fellow in 2013.

Follow her on Twitter: @lucy_maddox or read her blog Psychology Magpie.

What is your feature about?

My piece is about the impact that hospitals and other healthcare buildings can have on patients, families and staff. This impact is not only emotional, it’s also physical, measured in terms of patient recovery, staff health and family interactions.

The evidence suggests that a well-designed building can speed recovery, whereas a badly designed one might make patients and staff feel sicker. I look at some examples of great healthcare design and also consider what gets in the way of the best design principles being used more widely.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by how beautiful some of the spaces were that I visited. They really do make you feel better as you walk in. Some of the uses of technology were really ingenious too: I loved seeing the robots in the Norwegian hospital, and the nappy accelerometers in the Dyson neonatal unit in Bath were a great idea.

I was struck by how much evidence there is around healthcare design, and yet how little that evidence is typically drawn upon, for a variety of reasons.

Read Lucy's feature on Mosaic from 25 November 2014.


Geoff Watts
Image credit: Bowbrick/Flickr

Geoff Watts spent five years in academic biomedical research, realised he’d made a mistake in thinking he’d enjoy lab work, and dropped out with no plans for the future beyond staying in touch with science. Journalism eventually offered the ideal escape route, and he’s since divided his time between writing and radio broadcasting.

He’s presented countless programmes on science and medicine for BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service – but has not yet learned to like the sound of his own voice.

What is your feature about?

Being pretty bad at languages myself, I’ve always been intrigued by what still seems to me to be a remarkable skill: simultaneous interpretation. To listen in one language while speaking in another and conveying the same content presents the brain with a demanding and wholly unnatural task. How does it do it? My story looks at the progress being made by neuroscience in its attempt to find out.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

That contrary to what I thought must be a total myth, some simultaneous interpreters might (might) be able not just to knit or doodle while they’re interpreting, but even do a crossword.

Read Geoff’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 18 November 2014.


Andy ExtanceBefore becoming a science writer, Andy Extance worked for six and a half years in early-stage drug discovery research. However, when he had his first feature – on a cause of common heart-related problems in new drug candidates – published in Chemistry World in 2004, the course of his career shifted.

Today Andy’s science writing explores everything related to chemistry, from Earth’s environment to space, from food to fusion, and from solar cells to how we smell.

Twitter: @andyextance

What’s your feature about?

The fragile hope that’s emerging for people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) thanks to new treatments addressing the disease’s genetic cause. The disease is caused by a mutation in the X sex chromosome, meaning only boys get it, and it’s really, really horrible. Their muscles progressively degrade. From seeming normal – but maybe a bit clumsy – when they’re very young, boys ‘go over a cliff’ (in the words of one interviewee) around age 7 or 8, losing the ability to walk. In their teens they lose the use of their arms and therefore any independence, and they will typically die sometime from the age of 21 to 30 as the muscles powering their heart and lungs fail.

DMD is quite rare – affecting one in around 2,500 boys born worldwide – which means that it hasn’t been well studied. New treatments are now emerging, thanks to university researchers, small companies, and determined patients and their families. However, the time it’s taking to prove whether they work and are safe is painful for those whose lives depend on them. I was able to speak to families on clinical trials for the new drugs, the companies developing them, researchers, charities and drug regulators about how delays make patients’ desperation worse.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

How bad the current standard treatments for DMD (steroids) are. They help keep boys’ muscles strong and slow their deterioration, but the families I spoke to absolutely detest them because they have very nasty side-effects. I’ll save the details for the main article, but the point is the comparison between steroids and the drugs in development. Families are allowed to use these drugs even though they have a long list of negative effects and limited benefit. Meanwhile, in general, they’re not allowed to take new drugs that could help a lot more, as researchers and regulators strive to prove they work and are safe. It’s a bizarre, frustrating, difficult situation.

Read Andy’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 11 November 2014.