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Martha Heil (Fed)

Director, Internal Communications

Martha grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the part of the state that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the rest of the Atlantic Ocean but often gets left off of US maps. Surrounded by good teachers and fun learning experiences, she learned to love science and nature.

Martha started at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg as a biology major – she saw in its principles a way to organize her thoughts about the world. She later transitioned to being an English major as a way to satisfy her love of reading and writing. But she missed science. She turned to professor Hans von Baeyer, of W&M’s physics department, to learn how he wrote his popular science books. Her independent study in his class led to acceptance at NYU’s Science and Environmental Reporting Program master’s degree program, where Martha learned to be a reporter as well as a writer.

While at NYU, Martha interned with Discover magazine, where she wrote a column called “Millennium Watch,” about predictions the magazine had made about science at the turn of the new millennium, and whether the predictions had proved accurate. She also worked on astronomy stories with editor Corey Powell, which led to her first job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in 2000.

After a few years of West Coast life, Martha moved to the D.C. metro area and started work at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, where she helped start a feed of science news available to local newspapers called Inside Science News Service. She served as its managing editor. At AIP she also met the love of her life (now also her husband), James Riordon, another science writer.

Martha then worked at the American Bar Association as the news director, overseeing the organization’s news articles on its internet site. But again, she missed science. So she moved on to a short stint at the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C., where she oversaw media relations and news operations, including leading the association’s magazine, Observer.

Then she joined the University of Maryland in College Park as the sole science communicator for the Maryland Nanocenter, a group of labs used by ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ professors, government researchers, and local inventors. She organized events, wrote news releases, created outreach projects and taught science communication classes.

In 2019, Martha and her family moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, for her husband to take up a job in science media relations at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She founded the Southwest Science Writers Association and worked to get it nonprofit status. In the association’s first year, more than 20 professional science writers became active members, and the group received grants from local businesses to hold a logo contest, and organized social events. Annually, the organization holds a science communication contest, which looks at the best writing, visual and multimedia pieces related to the U.S. Southwest. Martha also volunteers as the Speaker of the Congress of Regional Science Writers Groups, a national organizing meeting to which 16 regional science writing groups send delegates each year.

Now at NIST as the director of internal communications, Martha looks forward to applying her strategic perspective to her daily work at the agency.

Martha likes reading 1940s female-written detective novels, crocheting and knitting, and baking cookies at Christmas. She likes spending time with her two daughters, currently both in elementary school.

Created October 14, 2020, Updated December 9, 2022