She attended the University of Michigan for her first two years of college and then transferred to Barnard College in New York, from which she graduated with high honors in 1978. While in college, she studied English, physics and astronomy and dreamed of starting a popular magazine about science for intelligent lay readers who wanted to know more about what's going on across the great divide of C.P. Snow's two cultures. Instead, at the age of 22, she was hired as a founding staff member for the science magazine that Time Inc. launched in 1980, Discover magazine. During her four years there, I specialized in writing about biology.
She has also worked as the science writer for Time magazine, an editor at the now-defunct women's magazine, Savvy, and a professor at the New York University's Graduate Program in Science and Environmental Reporting. She has written for the Atlantic, Parade, Washington Monthly, Reader's Digest, Fox Television Network, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, most of the major women's magazines and many other publications.
In 1990, she began working for the New York Times, and the next year she won a Pulitzer prize, for beat reporting. The submission to the Pulitzer committee consisted of ten features she had written on a variety of topics, including scorpions, sexual infidelity in the animal kingdom, the Human Genome Project and the molecular biology of the cell cycle.
She has also won numerous other awards, among them the AAAS award for excellence in journalism, the Lewis Thomas Award for distinguished writing in the life sciences, the General Motors International award for writing about cancer, and the Barnard Distinguished Alumna award. The Forbes MediaGuide, an appraisal of 500 U.S. journalists, included her among the seven journalists awarded its top rating of four stars.
She is the author of Natural Obsessions,The Beauty of the Beastly, Woman: An Intimate Geography, and The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.
She lives in Maryland, with her husband, Rick Weiss, who covers science for the Washington Post.