Bryn Nelson

Bryn Nelson is a former microbiologist who decided he’d much rather write about microbes than mutate them. Since launching his new career in science journalism with a gripping yarn about an electronic watermelon thumper, he has written for the New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, BBC Focus, Science News for Students and many other publications. A resident of Seattle, he has a particular affinity for unconventional travel destinations and double tall lattes.

Twitter: @seattlebryn

What's your feature about?

This story is about people who can’t swallow, and the enormous physical and psychological toll it takes on their lives. Dysphagia is a common condition that many of us wrongly perceive as something that only affects older people, when it can strike a surprising range of individuals. It’s also a condition that we often hear little about, in large part because of its cruel tendency to force patients into seclusion; advocates, in fact, call it a silent epidemic. The story is also about our tendency to bond over and derive joy from food, what happens when that is suddenly yanked away, and how some patients are regaining a sense of resilience and hope.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

One of the biggest surprises for me was how little we know about what’s required for a successful swallow. Several researchers have estimated that the motion involves 22 muscle pairs and 7 of our 12 cranial nerves, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. I also wasn’t prepared for the extreme psychological impact of dysphagia, and the way in which it can affect both patients and their caregivers. On the bright side, I learned that technology is being exploited in a number of fascinating ways – from dissolvable tasting strips and re-engineered bread to 3D printing and an extreme neck piercing – in a bid to aid patients.

Read Bryn's story on Mosaic from 15 March 2016.

Lylyra-mra McKee's mother, when asked what her daughter was like growing up, tells the story of how, while some mothers heard "Mummy, Mummy," in their sleep, she heard, "Why? Why?". No answer, she says, could ever satisfy her daughter. That natural-born curiosity inevitably led Lyra to a career in journalism.

Lyra writes mostly about crime and the legacy of the conflict known as the Troubles in her native Northern Ireland. She also writes on LGBT issues. When she's not writing, Lyra works as a chambermaid and general servant for an 11-year-old Tortoiseshell called "Big Marie".

Twitter: @LyraMcKee

What is your feature about? 

My story is about how, nearly 20 years after Northern Ireland's historic peace agreement, a new generation of young people is dying because of the conflict. This time, though, it's not bullets and bombs killing them: it's suicide. This generation, known as the Ceasefire Babies, is having to deal with the legacy of a very bloody conflict, including things like traumatised parents, murdered grandparents, subsequent poverty and alcoholism. They are as much victims of the war as their grandparents were.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

That trauma can travel down generations. You don't have to have seen war to be affected by it. Northern Ireland is unique, as one academic quoted in the story points out, because the government didn't fall while war was raging. So we're one of the few countries that has the data to prove that war doesn't end with peace; it goes on taking lives, even when the guns are no longer firing. I think this casts an entirely new light on the Northern Irish conflict and has huge implication for conflict hotspots around the world.

Read Lyra's story on Mosaic from 19 January.

Sam WongSam Wong is a science writer based in London. His work has appeared in the Guardian, New Scientist and Nature. He has previously worked as a press officer for Imperial College London and the British Heart Foundation. He has a degree in natural sciences and a master’s in science communication. After hours, he writes and performs with the spoken word group Rhymes With Orange and has dabbled in standup comedy.

Twitter: @samwong1

What is your feature about?

It’s about the use of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD and MDMA (ecstasy), in psychotherapy. This actually goes back to the 1950s but recently there’s been a revival of scientific interest. These drugs have a reputation as dangerous because they are illegal, but actually both were safely used by therapists before they were used recreationally. Now, research with psychedelics is permitted with licenses but practically difficult, and most psychiatrists have little knowledge about it. But there have been small clinical studies showing promising applications in post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious psychiatric conditions.

My feature centres on a psychotherapist in Switzerland who used psychedelics in secret for many years. Her experience is quite different to those of scientific researchers in the field, who also feature in the article, but I think it can tell us a lot about how these drugs can help people and how to use them safely.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I was surprised by quite how much research had been done with LSD in the 50s and 60s before it was banned. At one point, it was seen as the next big thing in psychiatry, and there was even an LSD clinic set up at an NHS hospital in Worcestershire. Studies at the time were not rigorous by today’s standards, but there was enough evidence to suggest that it could be very helpful to people who were not helped by conventional talking therapies. When recreational use took off and LSD was made illegal, research ground to a halt and psychiatrists turned instead to the antidepressants, mood stabilisers and antipsychotics that are widely used today. These drugs are useful to a lot of patients, but many have problems of their own, and it seems shocking to me that the medical potential of psychedelics has been sidelined because of concerns about recreational use, when the evidence suggests they’re less dangerous than substances such as alcohol.

Read Sam's story on Mosaic from 12 January 2016.

Chris’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 previously produced Voices in the dark for Mosaic.

What is your story about?

It’s an audio documentary about British prisoners of war who, during World War II, were captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the construction of the notorious Burma-Thailand railway.

During three and a half years of captivity they endured terrible living conditions and the daily threat of infectious disease: malaria, cholera, bacillary dysentery, diphtheria, as well as the physical effects of malnutrition. Surviving on measly rations of rice and forced to undertake backbreaking work from dawn till dusk exacerbated their malaise and were significant reasons for such a high rate of mortality.

The medical officers and orderlies in the camps did their level best to battle these devastating conditions, but with limited supplies often had to use the ingenuity and skills of their comrades – engineers, plumbers, conjurors and tinsmiths – to help treat and rehabilitate the infirm.

The feature is a collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – namely Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill – who, eight years ago, began interviewing former Far East prisoners of war across Britain as part of a oral history research project. A total of 66 men were interviewed, of which eight appear in this Mosaic feature. Many more perspectives and regions of Far East POW imprisonment are covered in their book, 'Captive Memories'.

What surprised you?

The sheer number of people killed for the Japanese war effort was absolutely staggering. Not only did Allied POWs suffer high numbers of casualties during imprisonment, but the number of rōmusha – a Japanese term for labourer – who were forced or coerced into work from across Southeast Asia was vast. Many of these labourers, which included many women, died in the tens of thousands. This is a part of the story that I sadly haven't been able to cover in much depth, but is a vital part of this terrible story. Read more about rōmusha recruitment, their work on the railway and further afield, as well as their repatriation.

Hear Chris’s documentary on Mosaic and the Mosaic podcast from 8 December 2015.

Emily AnthesEmily Anthes covered car accidents and local crime for several daily newspapers before she discovered that there were journalists who wrote about science for a living. Now she spends her days covering genes, brains and behaviour. Her book,Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to biotech’s brave new beasts, was published last year. Emily has degrees in science writing and the history of science, and lives in Brooklyn with what may actually be the world’s cutest dog.

Twitter: @emilyanthes

What is your story about?

Because it has traditionally been considered unethical to include pregnant women in clinical trials, we know very little about how to treat illness during pregnancy or whether most drugs are safe for pregnant women to take. (More than 90 percent of drugs have been so inadequately researched that their effects on a fetus remain unknown.) That leaves pregnant women in a bind, forcing them to choose between taking a drug that might harm their developing children or giving up a medication that they really need. My story follows a group of three bioethicists who are working hard to change the status quo. They argue that it is, in fact, unethical not to test drugs in pregnant women.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

When I began researching the story, I knew that there were these gaping holes in our knowledge about whether various medications were safe for a fetus. What I didn't initially realise is that pregnancy also changes how the body metabolises drugs, in ways that are difficult to predict. So unless a drug has been specifically studied in pregnant women, doctors can't be sure what dose to prescribe.

This problem can have enormous public health consequences. After the US anthrax attacks in 2001 and the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, for instance, researchers learned that pregnant women metabolise certain antibiotics and antivirals much more quickly than non-pregnant women. And that means that pregnant patients who received these drugs during these crises may have been getting doses that were far too low.

Read Emily's story on Mosaic from 24 November

Will StorrWill Storr is a novelist and long-form journalist. His stories appear in broadsheet newspaper supplements such as the Observer MagazineSeven magazine (Sunday Telegraph), the Sunday Times Magazine and Guardian Weekend. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and GQ Australia. His award-winning radio documentaries have been broadcast on BBC World. He has reported from the refugee camps of Africa, the war-torn departments of rural Colombia and the remote Aboriginal communities of Australia.

He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2010, his investigation into the kangaroo meat industry won the Australian Food Media award for Best Investigative Journalism and, in 2012, he was presented with the One World Press award and the Amnesty International award for his work for the Observer on sexual violence against men. In 2013, his BBC radio series An Unspeakable Act won the AIB award for best investigative documentary.

He is also a widely published photographer whose portraits of Lord’s Resistance Army survivors have been the subject of an exhibition at the Coin Street Gallery in London’s Oxo Tower.

Twitter: @wstorr

What is your feature about?

My feature is about this recent craze for neuroplasticity - the brain’s ability to change its own structure. There are loads of amazing claims made for neuroplasticity - everything from reducing dementia to making you love broccoli - so I went on a hunt for the truth. I found that surprisingly few of them stack up. But the story is not just about the reality of neuroplasticity, it’s also about what is, to me, an even more interesting question - why has it become a craze in the first place? How is it that a complicated book on the brain by an obscure Canadian psychotherapist – The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge – has sold over a million copies and has been published in more than 100 countries? It turns out that this narrative taps into a great desire people have in the west - a fantasy that we can be whatever we want to be. It’s the same fantasy that drove the craze for Neuro-Linguistic Programming back in the 1980s and that lead to the book Self Help by Samuel Smiles becoming a surprise bestseller back in the 19th century.  It’s the same fantasy, too, that’s driving a lot of the hyped claims that are being made, at the moment, for epigenetics. It’s about freeing us from our limitations and achieving our dreams.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I was expecting a much more cynical take from the experts than I got. Actually, neuroplasticity really is an exciting area of science that goes against what many people thought prior to the 1990s. Contrary to what some commentators have implied, there really has been a change of mind on the scientific establishment as to how much the adult brain can change. So it’s not all hype. It’s based in truth. But the reality is, significant healing is only usually possible in people such as stroke victims if they’re relatively young, if they put in thousands of hours of tedious work and only because a part of their brain is ‘available’ for recovery. The ordinary person who believes that they can now achieve all their dreams, and become this fantasy version of themselves, just by training their brain in the right way, is only going to be disappointed. Sorry about that.

Read Will’s article on Mosaic from 17 November 2015.

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Virginia GewinVirginia Gewin used to track the microbial activity in farmers' fields before realising her talents for writing exceeded her laboratory skills. For the last decade, she has been a freelance science journalist covering environmental and health issues for publications including Nature, Science, and Discover. Perched in Portland, Oregon, she is an avid hiker and fledgling guitarist.

Twitter: @VirginiaGewin

What is your feature about?

Sufferers of what is commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome have, for decades, faced skepticism and even ridicule. Worse, they been ignored by the medical establishment, often told their debilitating symptoms are all in their head. My story chronicles recent efforts in both the US and UK to move this fractured patient-research community toward more productive relations.

What surprised you while writing it?

The biggest surprise was just how much bad blood exists between the patient and research communities. It all started with the dismissive name, but patients have been so mistreated, so maligned, that they lashed out, reportedly even hurling death threats at some researchers who back the notion that this disease has a psychosomatic component. Ironically, there aren’t that many biomedical mysteries yet to be solved — which is attracting the interest of a wide-range of researchers.

Read Virginia’s article on Mosaic from 10 November 2015.

Priyanka PullaPriyanka Pulla is a science and health journalist, a career she settled on after much meandering as an associate consultant in a strategy consulting firm, a film reviewer, a business journalist and a copy editor. Her interests today are anything to do with medicine, science policy and health policy. She has written for Science, The British Medical Journal, Forbes India, Nature India, Yahoo India and Mint.

Twitter: @PriyankaPulla

What is your feature about?

It’s about the majority of medical practitioners in India, who outnumber doctors by a wide margin, and are known to most people as “quacks”. These are people who practice medicine, but have no medical degree. Sometimes they don’t even have a high school degree. Naturally, Indian regulations forbid them from practicing medicine. Yet, there is a growing conviction amongst health policy researchers that the only way to solve the dual problem of abysmal access to healthcare in rural India and the substandard healthcare offered by these “quacks” is to train this group of people.

My story explores two of the training programs running in India right now (there are others such as programs, such as the one run by World Health Partners) to understand if they can really make a difference.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

First, I realised that I might have personally consulted and been treated by a “quack” once. I never knew the term RMP (rural medical practitioner). Many people think it stands for registered medical practitioner, or a doctor registered with the medical regulatory body in India, as did I, until I did this story. That’s when recalled that I had visited an ‘RMP’ once, who had treated me for a severe attack of bronchitis in a city I was new to.

Second, I realised that quacks are not the homogenous group of charlatans that media reports project them as. They are people with vastly varying levels of competency: at the high end are people trained in paramedical courses who have a good knowledge of anatomy and pharmacology, while at the low end are people without a high school education, who drifted towards this practice because they had no job opportunities elsewhere. At the high-end are ‘quacks’ who understand the threat their profession is in and have children of their own who are qualified doctors: the son of one of the RMPs I spoke to is now a qualified neurosurgeon. These RMPs know that there is no way out for profession, except to fight for more training programs for themselves. They are articulate, knowledgeable and very concerned about their reputation as medical practitioners. At the low end are quacks that are out to make a quick buck and won’t balk at embarking on complicated medical procedures. The challenge is to identify all these medical practitioners, train them according to their level of competence, and allow them to go back to their practices.

Third, while I knew there were a number of informal providers in India, I didn’t know that nearly 70 per cent of rural India goes to them for treatment. That’s a massive number, and impossible to ignore.

Read Priyanka’s article on Mosaic from 3 November 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 for the Wellcome Trust, and is a Commissioning Editor on Mosaic.

Twitter: @christinagiles

What's your feature about?

It's about how one group of young people, born in the early 1980s, drank more alcohol than any other people their age for a century, helping Britain reach 'Peak Booze' in 2004. I look at the possible reasons behind our boozing, and explore the possible impacts, both then and now, of a youth spent drinking cider, lager, Archer's, Hooch, vodka, wine and cocktails...

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

It was fascinating to hear about how different youth subcultures have been appropriated by the drinks industry to find new customers. I was also surprised about the extent to which the current generation of young adults just aren't drinking the way that my generation did. It's too soon to understand completely why this might be, but there are some interesting ideas floating around - from a rise in fitness and body consciousness to the financial impacts of increased tuition fees. It will be intriguing to see whether the levels of drinking remain lower in this group as they age. More widely, will per capita alcohol consumption continue to fall, as it has been since 2004?

Read Chrissie's piece on Mosaic from 27 October 2015.

Matthew FrancisMatthew R. Francis is a science writer, freelance journalist, physicist, and frequent wearer of jaunty hats. His writing has appeared in Nautilus, NOVA, Smithsonian Air & Space, Symmetry Magazine, Physics World, and a number of other publications. He is a regular contributor at Forbes and The Daily Beast. He holds a PhD in physics and astronomy from Rutgers University, and taught at several universities before becoming a full-time writer. He specializes in stories about astronomy, some unusual corners of physics, and the nuts-and-bolts of how science operates — or fails to operate.

Twitter: @DrMRFrancis

What is your story about?

When we look at all the possible places life could exist in the cosmos, we have to wonder: is Earth-like life inevitable? Many potentially habitable worlds in our Solar System aren’t much like Earth. Even Mars, the most Earth-like of the lot, is strikingly different in a number of important ways, but when we start thinking of icy moons like Europa, we have to wonder if life need follow the same patterns elsewhere that it followed here.

But it’s not just the species of life that could be different. At a recent conference, I heard several fascinating talks about understanding the chemistry of life by testing how much that chemistry could be tweaked. That got me started thinking again about a major theme in the writings of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould: that life as we know it is contingent on the vagaries of history. Specifically, if we reran the history of life on Earth, the species we see today wouldn’t exist — and possibly the chemistry of life itself might have turned out differently.

My story examines how scientists on Earth can examine the possibility of alien life without leaving the planet: both in the lab and at field sites around the world.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

The most exciting things for me were all on the biochemistry level, which is an area of science I have never studied formally. Researchers can now discuss evolution on the level of molecules, which helps us understand viruses, the rogue proteins known as prions, and of course the way new species evolve from existing ones. Learning that led to all sorts of new thoughts (for me at least!) about how life could have arisen, and whether early Earth could have evolved different forms of life with different chemistries than we see today.

Read Matthew’s article on Mosaic from 20 October 2015.

We're always on the hunt for new ideas and writers. If you'd like to write for us, this is what we're looking for:

Subject matter

A Mosaic story needs to be on a topic or issue that will resonate with a general readership. A scientific or research angle is important too.

Our remit is fairly broad, spanning any aspect of biology, medicine, public health, history or ethics that in some way touches on human health, or the human condition more widely.


The most important thing for Mosaic is the story. We’re not after reviews, profiles or essays. What we want is a strong compelling narrative that will engage our readers over 3000+ words.

We have many ‘topic, no story’ pitches, and we won’t commission until we have some idea of what the potential narrative might be. What’s the transformation at the heart of your piece? Where do we start, and where might it end? What’s the journey we want to take the reader on?

Can you sell me the story in a single sentence?


Reporting is very important: we’re not interested in a piece that could be written without you leaving your desk. We cover expenses for any travel that is essential to the piece, so tell us how you plan to report the story. Where would you go? Who would you see? What scenes would you be painting in your piece?

What’s new?

‘Why now?’ is another question we ask when considering pitches. We’re not looking for news or investigative journalism, but there has to be a sense of why our readers would want to read about this topic at this moment in time.

Of the pieces we’ve commissioned so far, many draw on new discoveries or new approaches that are transforming a particular field and then explore and explain the science and social/cultural context around it. Others are on timeless topics that have always fascinated, such as ageing or consciousness.

But they are all new in some way. So, what’s been published on this topic before? How is your angle different and what makes your story unique?

Send your pitches to [email protected]

Most Mosaic features are commissioned at 3000 words, for a flat fee plus expenses.

mary-oharaMary O’Hara is an award-winning social affairs journalist and author of the book Austerity Bites. She writes for publications including The Guardian and The Observer and appears regularly on broadcast outlets and other forums in the USA and UK. Mary was educated at St. Louise’s Comprehensive in Belfast and at Magdalene College, Cambridge where she read social and political science.

In 2010 she was an Alistair Cooke Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley, California where she conducted research on press coverage of mental illness and suicide. She authored the most recent Samaritans’ Media Guidelines on reporting suicide, is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts and is a trustee of the charity Arts Emergency. Mary is currently a communications lead for Fulbright/TedX in Southern California and writes a monthly social policy column for The Guardian: Lesson From America. She was Special Rapporteur for the European Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014 and will reprise the role in 2015.

Twitter: @maryohara1

What is your feature about?

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/2008, numerous questions have arisen around the impact of economic downturns and austerity policies on people’s mental wellbeing. My article takes an in-depth look at the some of the key issues, including any connection between austerity policies and suicidal behaviour, drawing on empirical evidence and research from around the world.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

The most illuminating thing I learned in this process, apart from how complex the links between mental health and financial and economic problems can be, is that when it comes to the fallout of the ‘Great Recession’ and austerity for public health it is likely to be many years before the true impact can be fully calculated.

Read Mary's article on Mosaic from 6 October 2015.

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.

Carrie previously wrote 'Can America cope with a resurgence of tropical disease' and ‘Saved: How addicts gained the power to reverse overdoses’ for Mosaic.

Twitter: @edbites

What is your story about?

I first got the idea when two of my friends had babies. One of them couldn't breastfeed her child and was looking into obtaining extra milk from other local moms. Another friend had a micro-preemie and struggled to establish a milk supply with the premature birth and the stress of having her baby in the NICU, not knowing if she would make it. While all of this was happening, a friend from college, who is a NICU nurse, posted on Facebook about a fundraiser for the hospital's milk bank that featured Jen Canvasser, one of the piece's main characters. These stories opened my eyes to the world of donor breast milk. Although I knew that women had been breastfeeding each other's babies for thousands of years, I had never heard of donor milk banking.

As I dug into the story more, I realized how many facets the story had. You have mothers trying to save their babies, other mothers donating extra breast milk, and hospitals trying to save the tiniest babies. But the demand for donor milk is growing so much that there's not always enough for everyone who needs and wants it. What do you do then? Some companies have begun paying women for their excess breast milk, but not everyone thinks that's ethical, especially when campaigns target low-income, minority mothers who have historically low rates of breastfeeding.

The story, then, is ultimately about the growing need for donor human milk and how we are struggling to meet the need.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I've never had kids, and I knew pumping breast milk was difficult and time-consuming, but I never realized just how time-consuming it could be. Mothers who donate their milk are seriously devoted. They spend a lot of time pumping their milk not just for their own child, but for babies they've never met. It's amazing.

I also hadn't thought about what someone might do with their excess milk. I didn't know that donating it was an option, and that there were so many preemies who might need it.

Read Carrie’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 29 September 2015.

Lesley Evans OgdenLesley Evans Ogden is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver, Canada. After scaling the ivory tower, turning a lifelong fascination with birds into a PhD in ecology, she parachuted into the wilds of science journalism. She is a regular contributor at BBC Earth, Natural History, New Scientist and BioScience. Lesley is an alumna of the Science Communications Program at the Banff Centre and the Santa Fe Science Writers Workshop. When not working on her next story she enjoys time with family, trail running, hiking, cycling, watching comedy or mystery, and contemplating contemporary enigmas like how odd socks lose their mates.

You can find her on Twitter @ljevanso.

1  What is your feature about?

My feature is about exploring, and exposing, some of the stereotypes about disability and how it is often portrayed in the media. We seem to have a great desire to dichotomize people into the categories of “disabled” versus “non-disabled,” but I think that labeling does us a disservice in coming to terms with the vast continuum of experiences of being human, and in creating societal tools to address a diversity of needs. Often media stories about disability follow the overused and oversimplified narrative of overcoming tragedy. I wanted to explore a more complex, interesting and nuanced reality. So the idea of reverse integration intrigued me.

2. What did you learn that you didn't expect?

What surprised me was how much I had to confront and overcome my own anxiety, prejudices and preconceived ideas about disability. Speaking to experts, I came to realize that my fear is not unique. Barriers created by fear of difference can lead, and have led, to many different forms of prejudice and discrimination in human societies – not just in the form of “able-ism” around disability. What surprised me about seeing reverse integration in action was its apparent effectiveness in breaking down those barriers.

Read Lesley’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 22 September 2015.


Sue ArmstrongSue Armstrong is a science writer and broadcaster. As a foreign correspondent based in Brussels and then South Africa, she worked for, among others, New Scientist and the BBC World Service. She has worked as a consultant writer for the WHO and UNAIDS for more than 25 years, and was commissioned by the WHO to write a book on AIDS, for which she reported from many of the worst affected countries of Africa and Asia.

Her book on pathology, A Matter Of Life And Death, was published in 2010. p53: The Gene That Cracked the Cancer Code, published in 2014, was ‘highly commended’ by the British Medical Association and shortlisted for the BMA Book Awards 2015 in the Basis of medicine category. She lives in Edinburgh.

Twitter: @armstrong_sue

What is your story about?

It’s about a gene called p53 that is arguably the single most important gene in cancer. Its job is to prevent tumours from forming, and the gene is corrupted by mutation or prevented by some other means from working normally in virtually every case of human cancer. I focus on a group of people in southern Brazil born with mutant p53 in every cell in their bodies, who are therefore extremely vulnerable to cancer, and on the medics and scientists working with them. Where did the mutant gene originate? What effect does it have? What can the Brazilian carriers tell us about how p53 – our bodies’ first line of defence against cancer – works normally and what happens when it goes wrong? In other words, what can they tell us about the dynamics within cancerous cells? Lots, it seems!

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

This gene is almost endlessly fascinating as it seems to play a role in regulating so many of the key processes of living, from quality control of our cells (that’s cancer prevention at work), to ageing, to energy production through metabolism. But what most stopped me in my tracks in writing this story was the testimony of a father whose son George inherited a mutant copy of p53 and died at 17 after a childhood spent in and out of hospital being treated for multiple tumours. It made me realise how high the stakes are in cancer research and how big the gap can be between the promise of science and the delivery. There can be few things more cruel and lonely than the moment a patient and his or her family are told there is no more the doctors can do, they have exhausted all options for treatment, and they are on their own.

Read Sue’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 15 September 2015.

Bryn NelsonBryn Nelson is a former microbiologist who decided he’d much rather write about microbes than mutate them. Since launching his new career in science journalism with a gripping yarn about an electronic watermelon thumper, he has written for the New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, BBC Focus, Science News for Students and many other publications. A resident of Seattle, he has a particular affinity for unconventional travel destinations and double tall lattes.

Twitter: @seattlebryn

Bryn previously wrote 'Medicine's dirty secret' and 'Inside the green schools revolution' for Mosaic.

What is your feature about?

My story is about a severe and chronic form of eye pain whose source isn’t immediately clear. For some people, however, the agony is so excruciating that it can provoke thoughts of suicide. An 82-year-old ophthalmologist named Perry Rosenthal, once hailed for his breakthrough discoveries in the field, has obsessively hunted for the true cause of this mysterious pain. In doing so, he has alienated some former colleagues and become a hero to patients who felt abandoned after their own eye doctors accused them of being dishonest or melodramatic.

Within the past few years, Rosenthal’s potential explanation – that dysfunctional nerves or altered pathways in the brain may be causing some of the worst pain – has begun to catch on. As he gains supporters, more researchers are using the new line of enquiry to devise their own strategies to alleviate the suffering. 

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I didn’t know beforehand that our corneas are so jam-packed with nerve endings or that the tear film is such a sophisticated and sensitive three-part structure – meaning that the pain triggered by something going wrong in or around the eye can be incredibly intense. I also didn’t realise that few researchers or patients are really happy with the catchall category of “dry eye disease”, which has become something of a dumping ground for anything that can make your eyes feel dry, including chronic eye pain.

Like cancer, though, the range in severity and the underlying mechanisms of “dry eye” may vary enormously. That lesson stuck with me as a surprising example of how little we still know about our eyes and how messy medical science can be. From multiple patients, I also learned how intractable eye pain can take over nearly every aspect of their lives – and even make some wish they were dead.

Read Bryn's feature on Mosaic, publishing 8 September 2015.

Alex O'BrienAlex O’Brien is a freelance science and technology writer. She is a regular contributor for German-based Trademark Publishing and has written for Delayed Gratification and TheLong&Short, among other publications.

Alex previously wrote ‘How to mend a broken heart’ for Mosaic.

Twitter: @obrientweet

What is your feature about?

Cancer surgery - with a specific focus on a new drug derived from scorpion venom that highlights tumours to an unprecedented detail and could be a potential game changer in this field.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

During my week with the Olson research group at the Fred Hutch in Seattle I found that a significant amount of the team aren’t working in labs wearing white coats. In fact, a lot of the work happens in offices and on computers. These are computational biologists and chemists who try to find patterns, algorithms and analyse data – mostly before any typical lab experiments are done. I learned that today maths and computer science (bioinformatics) plays a huge role in research in general.

Read Alex’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 1 September 2015.

Mary-Rose AbrahamMary-Rose Abraham is a multimedia journalist, currently based in Bangalore, India. She was previously a staff producer for several years at ABC News in Los Angeles and New York City. Mary-Rose graduated with honors from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Twitter: @maryroseabraham

What is your story about?

The intersection of human health and canine health.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Having grown up in the US, I was familiar with the system of impounding dogs (and cats) and the subsequent euthanasia of millions of these animals every year. In Indian cities, there is no large-scale shelter system, which explains why dogs make their homes on the streets. However, I was surprised to learn that it is against Indian law to kill them. Perhaps in this one narrow measure, India fulfils the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Read Mary-Rose’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 25 August 2015.

KQKatharine Quarmby is a writer and journalist, and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. 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 newspapers. Her third non-fiction book, Hear My Cry, co-written with ‘honour’ violence survivor, Diana Kader, is published this year by Hachette Poland. Her previous books have won the AMIA International Literature Award and been shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Non-Fiction award, and her journalism has been shortlisted for the Paul Foot Prize. She finds the connection – and clash – between science and society on particular issues completely fascinating, and has written about or made films about genetic modification, the BSE crisis, adoption, genetics and identity, fertility and the nuclear industry.

Katharine previously wrote 'Sex, lives and disability' for Mosaic.

Twitter: @KatharineQ 

What is your feature about?

It’s about testing the case for medical cannabis to be introduced in the UK. I think it’s important to tell controversial stories ‘in the round’ – interview people with widely differing points of view about whether or not there should be reform of our cannabis laws, in this case. I felt it was crucial to hear the voices of scientists on the latest research (on how effective cannabis is a treatment) and of people, many of whom have disabling conditions, who feel that their access to a medicine that they feel is of use to them is denied.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I’m intrigued by the fact that cannabis still carries such a pariah status as a plant and drug. This means that advocates both for and against are very passionate about their positions. This makes for a good story but puts a lot of pressure on scientists, somewhere in the middle, trying to puzzle out the benefits and harms of cannabis.

Read Katharine's feature on Mosaic, publishing 18 August 2015.

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.

Carrie previously wrote ‘Saved: How addicts gained the power to reverse overdoses’ for Mosaic.

Twitter: @edbites

What is your story about?

Few of us think much about the world of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that surround us. Especially in the US, issues of so-called 'tropical' diseases like toxocariasis, Chagas disease, and neurocysticercosis seem like issues for other countries. With a new wave of these diseases on our doorstep, this complacency could be deadly.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

When I started reporting, I expected to find warning signs. But as I dug deeper and spoke with doctors and locals, especially those in South Texas, I realised that we were long past the time of warning signs. Plenty of people were already suffering from deadly diseases that few of us have heard of or can even pronounce. It's easy to make it an issue of "Them," of travellers bringing diseases back or immigrants arriving from other countries. The issue, though, has much more to do with poverty than anything else. Poverty, like many of these diseases, is already here.

Read Carrie’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 11 August 2015.