Journalist to speak on campus about diamonds, lakes

By Christine Won

Kevin Krajick, author of “Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Artic,” will be presenting his research on science journalism Thursday and Friday as part of the yearlong celebration of the Illinois State Geological Survey Centennial.

Thursday’s events will begin at 4 p.m. at the Beckman Institute Auditorium. Aside from his book, Krajick also is to discuss the history of diamond prospecting.

Krajick is the second guest speaker to come to the University as part of the Illinois State Geological Survey Centennial’s series on high profile speakers, said Dr. William Shilts, chief of the Illinois State Geological Survey.

“Kevin has a knack for explaining things in an easy way to understand – I noticed that particularly when I worked with him on his book and some of his articles,” Shilts said. “I hold great respect for people who can translate science like Kevin can.”

“Barren Lands,” a true story, records the history of the search for North American diamond mines. It presents the “diamond rush” of the 1990s in North America as well as Canada and one man’s pursuit of diamonds. The book also talks about how a group of Canadians found a diamond mine that now supplies 18 percent of the world’s diamonds.

On Friday, Krajick will be presenting “The Art and Science of Science Journalism – The Case of the African Killer Lakes” at 9 a.m. in Room 112 Gregory Hall.

He explains in the article the eruption of carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos in Africa, west of Cameroon, in 1986 that killed more than 1,700 people and what an international team of scientists did to prevent recurrence of the natural disaster.

“It’s a great story because it’s about a terrible mysterious disaster, and we found a way to prevent the natural disaster of Lake Nyos,” Krajick said.

Krajick is the first person to win the Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism twice – once in 1998 and now in 2004 for his article on “Defusing Africa’s Killer Lakes.”

“Mr. Krajick has done an outstanding job in communicating the problem (of Lake Nyos) to the world – his award-winning articles have reached a large audience,” said Jean Pierre Tchouankoue, visiting lecturer in geology at the University.

As a freelance writer, he has worked for the National Geographic, New Yorker and Smithsonian. Krajick will be discussing the process of writing science journalism, where he gets his ideas and how to write a scientific story so it’s compelling for anybody to read.

His ideas come from all sorts of places – things in newspapers or one story leads to another, he said.

“Writing about science is like writing about anything else,” Krajick said. “You’ve got a story to tell with characters, plot and hopefully with a little bit of intrigue – it’s all the same elements, only it’s true. Truth often is stranger than fiction.”

Krajick is interested in more than the heart of science, but the effects it has on people, as in the case of Lake Nyos, he said.

“It’s not just an abstract academic pursuit,” Krajick said. “We’re trying to save lives.”