Backgrounder: Mariette DiChristina

Mariette DiChristina

Photo courtesy of Mariette DiChristina.
© DiChristina 2006.

Some might call Mariette DiChristina, executive editor of Scientific American, a “space case,” and they would be absolutely right. For 20 years, DiChristina has been at the forefront of reporting about the science behind NASA’s push to explore space.

DiChristina, 41, says space captured her imagination even as a child growing up in North Tarrytown, New York. “You know how some kids can rattle off baseball statistics? I could recite the orbital periods of different satellites,” she said in a March telephone interview with this reporter.

Though she dreamt of becoming an astronaut, the thought of studying mathematics dissuaded her. In college, her skillful writing and knowledge of science attracted the attention of her Boston University professors. As an undergrad, she was encouraged to take the first graduate level science journalism class ever offered at the college.

After graduating from Boston University in 1986, with a journalism degree, DiChristina was hired by the Gannett Westchester Newspapers as the Pelham municipal reporter. Even when reporting on local issues, DiChristina’s fascination with science informed her writing. “I wrote lots of science stories, but I didn’t call them that,” she told this reporter.

For example, Gannett Westchester Newspapers asked DiChristina to write a story about how a common species of marine fish, the bluefish, had returned to the coast earlier in the season than expected. Instead of simply photographing the fisherman who caught the fish, DiChristina dug further. She spoke with a naturalist to get a scientific perspective on the lifestyle of bluefish. The first story spawned a series on coastal sea life, linking many ecological changes to the early arrival of the bluefish.

In 1987, DiChristina landed a job as a copy editor at Popular Science. She was quickly promoted to associate editor and then senior editor, gaining the confidence of her bosses along the way. Ultimately, DiChristina was given free reign to pursue her longstanding interest in space exploration and the technologies that make it possible. Her stories about the Hubble telescope, X-ray observatories, and planets outside our solar system helped Popular Science bag a 2001 Douglas S. Morrow Public Awareness Award, acknowledging the magazine’s contribution to increasing public awareness about space exploration.

DiChristina steadily worked her way up the masthead at Popular Science and, in 1997, she was named executive editor. Then, after 14 years with the magazine, she decided it was time to move on. In 2001, DiChristina became executive editor of Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in America.

While her fascination with space science endures, DiChristina has lately turned her attention to what John Horgan called “the final frontier of science” in a 2000 article for Globe and Mail: the brain. In late 2004, she helped launch Scientific American MIND, a bi-monthly magazine that chronicles breakthroughs in psychology and neuroscience.

DiChristina also contributed to the second edition of A Field Guide for Science Writers (2005), in which she characterized science journalism as, “an enterprise that educates the citizenry in a way that makes them scientifically savvy.”

She credits her unflagging excitement about science for her continued success. “[Writing and editing science stories] still tickles me,” she told this reporter. “I can’t think of a more fun thing to do.”

Bob Grant is a first year graduate student in NYU’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program.


  • DiChristina, Mariette. Telephone Interview. 28 Mar 2006.
  • Blum, Deborah, Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz Henig, eds. A Field Guide for Science Writers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Horgan, John. “The Brain: the Final Frontier of Science.” Globe and Mail. 1 Apr. 2000.