Two UCSC alumni win awards for excellence in science communication

Jessica Kendall-Bar and Rodrigo Pérez Ortega were winners in the National Academies’ inaugural Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communication

Jessica Kendall-Bar
Jessica Kendall-Bar
Rodrigo Pérez Ortega
Rodrigo Pérez Ortega

Two UC Santa Cruz alumni—Jessica Kendall-Bar, who earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2022, and Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, who earned his M.S. in science communication in 2019—are among the inaugural recipients of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communication, given by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in partnership with Schmidt Futures.

Kendall-Bar, now a Scripps Postdoctoral Scholar at UC San Diego, is the top winner in the “Research Scientist: Graduate Student” category for her work at UC Santa Cruz on data visualization tools and animations to help scientists communicate their findings. Pérez Ortega, a bilingual science journalist based in Mexico City, was recognized as a winner in the “Science Journalist: Early Career” category for his work as a staff writer at Science magazine.

The announcement of the awards from the National Academies said that “Kendall-Bar’s range of beautiful, relatable work utilizes impressive, innovative tools and platforms that can be used to further the cause of science communication into the future.”

The projects recognized by this award include Kendall-Bar’s work with several different research labs at UC Santa Cruz using data visualization tools to transform animal tracking data into cinematic and informative animations of marine mammal behavior (see “Visualizing Life in the Deep”). In her thesis research on the sleep patterns of seals, she worked with Daniel Costa and Terrie Williams, both professors of ecology and evolutionary biology.

She was also recognized for her work with the UCSC Coastal Resilience Lab to develop graphics supporting research on the coastal protection benefits of coral reefs, as well as a data visualization portal for exploring the coastal protection benefits of mangroves.

In addition to her own research, Kendall-Bar helped teach workshops and courses on data visualization at UCSC, and she created an online learning center as a resource for scientists interested in using graphic design, animation, and other visual communication tools.

“The news of this award came after hearing that our research trip to was cancelled due to poor sea ice conditions—a silver lining amidst discouraging news, telling us that it is more important now than ever to tell stories that protect the planet,” she said.

As a staff writer at Science, Pérez Ortega focuses on diversity in science. He is also editorial director of The Open Notebook en Español. He covers life sciences, medicine, health, policy, and academia, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Nature, Science News, Knowable, and other media outlets. After studying biomedical sciences with a focus on neuroscience at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, he earned a master’s degree in the UCSC Science Communication Program.  He is a founding member of the Mexican Network of Science Journalists and serves on the board of the National Association of Science Writers.

“This award recognizes my work as the first-ever diversity reporter at Science magazine, and it’s a big step to make science a more inclusive endeavor,” he said.

The National Academies’ Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communications were created in this past year to increase the quality of science communication by recognizing outstanding science communication among research scientists and early career science journalists and creating opportunities for science journalists to make connections and pursue stories at the national, regional, and local levels.