Raphael Rosen, science communications writer at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, is tasked with delivering the discoveries of one of the nation’s most advanced physics laboratory to the public.
Rosen first became interested in science writing in 2002, when he worked at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. There, he met a science writer and discovered that the field was something he could pursue.
“I’ve always liked science. I’ve always liked writing. And I’ve always liked to explain things. It married the things that I liked,” Rosen said.
While working as a public information specialist at the Exploratorium, Rosen got in touch with a friend who recently left a job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He reached out and began working as a writer with the Spitzer Space Telescope mission, interviewing astrophysicists and parsing their dense findings into articles for a lay audience.
“It was fun just to figure things and find out what to ask, what not to ask,” Rosen said.
He left the Exploratorium in San Francisco in June of 2010. Following aa science writing internship at PPPL that summer, he attended a master’s program at the University of Southern California for specialized journalism. He then went on to an internship with Sky & Telescope magazine in 2011, writing astronomy features and editing articles, before working as a freelance writer in New York City. There, he contributed to websites like and newspapers like The Wall Street Journal.
One of Rosen’s biggest accomplishments, he noted, has been writing a book, entitled Math Geek, about finding mathematics in everyday life.
“It was a full-time job. It was mainly research-driven, and the research was the bulk of my time. But I loved the process, it was fun,” Rosen said of the book project.
He applied for a position at the PPPL in 2014, and has been working there since February 2015.
Rosen’s day-to-day tasks include searching for papers, taking notes, speaking to scientists, and writing drafts. He begins by finding research papers written by laboratory scientists that are “in some way noteworthy.” He conducts interviews and follow-up interviews with the researchers.
Rosen then writes drafts, which are reviewed by the scientists, editors, and the U.S. Department of Energy before publication. On average, Rosen said, he writes eight to 10 drafts for a given story. The entire process from idea to publication takes about three weeks.
“Making my way through a very dense paper with very hard-to-understand sentences and a lot of equations can be difficult,” said Rosen. “It takes time to absorb all the new material and the jargon.”
However, Rosen loves the task of deciphering scientific language into something accessible for the lay audience.
“My favorite thing is the act of translating jargon into everyday prose. I find it very, very satisfying. It’s like working on a puzzle. Which words do you use to transmit the information in a way that is accurate but is readable?” said Rosen. “I also like the nuts and bolts of writing. I love grammar, I love thinking about sentence structure. The finely grained stuff.”
Rosen believes that science journalism is important because the public needs to “understand what the popular issues are in society.”
“What are the issues involved in GMOs or cloning or climate change? What are the actual facts? Those facts drive policy, laws, what you do every day,” said Rosen. “Learning science helps you navigate the world and make your own decisions.”
For a budding science journalist, Rosen suggests writing, writing, and writing.
“Just write as much as you can to have something to show. Whether it’s for an actual newspaper or magazine or website or your own blog, or whatever it is. Just have something to show,” said Rosen. “It helps you to practice translating and making science understandable.”