Virginia Hughes

SCIENCE WRITING HAS BECOME a substantial part of my professional life. I think mostly because I didn't shy from writing about particle physics, I have become the de facto science editor of Johns Hopkins Magazine, and the publication's lead science writer. So by necessity, I have become a student of the genre.

It pleases me to scribble a bit of an appreciation for Virginia Hughes, in no small part because she spent a semester as a science writing fellow at my magazine some years ago. She is wicked smart, literate, and curious, and wields a formidable gift for clarity. 

I could point you to any of her work, but this time will cite a blog post. Virginia writes the "Only Human" blog for National Geographic. A few days ago, her dog made a fatal dash into New York traffic, and her post, "On Losing a Dog," is both poignant and a fascinating example of her mind at work.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, so: On Tuesday morning my 17-month-old dog ran into a busy parkway, met a car, and died on impact.

My husband and I took his body to the vet. Then we came home and wept, in fits and starts. We took all of his stuffed animals and balls and bones and other crap down to the basement. I took a bath, and later, a shower. We made sandwiches. We flipped through old text messages for the dozens of photos and videos of him we had sent to each other. We tried to get used to a too-quiet, too-clean apartment.

After a few hours, because this is what I do, I started looking up scientific research about losing a pet. There were more studies than I expected (PubMed produced 66 papers with search term “grieving pet”), and what the studies reported was more comforting than I expected. So I figured it might be helpful—both for my mental health and for any of my readers who are going through something similar—to write some of it down.

I love that last graph, in large part because of the connection to a mind that works so much like mine. Virginia's story "Our Body the Ecosystem" appeared first in Popular Science and then in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012. She also publishes a weekly newsletter, Grey Matters, which I receive and recommend. You can subscribe here.