2020 Year in Review: The Top 12 Stories That Captured Your Attention on 'Columbia News'

What stories grabbed the attention of our readers in 2020? The results were pretty surprising. We invite you to take a look back.

Kelly Moffitt
December 17, 2020

From a raging pandemic to political upheaval to a social justice reckoning, what were the stories that captured the attention of the Columbia University community in a year like no other?

Here at Columbia News, we crunched the numbers to take a look back at the most-read stories on our website for every month of 2020. The results were surprising. Scroll along with us as we take a look back.

January 2020: A Quantum Leap

TOP STORY: A Quantum Breakthrough Brings a Technique From Astronomy to the Nano-scale

Right from the start of the year, big news emerged from the Energy Frontier Research Center in the form of a quantum breakthrough. But that wasn’t all: Columbia News readers gravitated toward emerging information about a mysterious virus outbreak in China, a fresh new book about preventing sexual assaults on college campuses, and analysis of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran in the wake of the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

February 2020: An Empire State of Mind

TOP STORY: Columbia Launches Shawn ‘JAY-Z’ Carter Lecture Series

At the beginning of Black History Month, the African American and African Diaspora Studies department launched the Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter Lecture Series, bringing Carter himself to campus. You can see clips from the lecture here and test your knowledge of Columbia’s Black History here. The second most-read story of the month? An incredible look at the Columbia students who saved four lives using Naloxone they were trained to administer through campus opioid overdose prevention programs. 

March 2020: The Month Everything Changed

It is no surprise that the top stories on Columbia News from March 2020 all reflect the seismic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on New York City. First and foremost, readers devoured this advice from veteran war and disaster correspondent Judith Matloff on surviving the new normal. Other top stories included resources for remote-schooling for youngsters, insights into a pandemic economy, and why Shakespeare is more important than ever during quarantine. In other news, in one of the final in-person, on-campus events of the year, Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland came to Columbia.

April 2020: At the Forefront of Pandemic Response

crowded airport terminal, woman with long brown hair, black dress, tan jacket walking under purple lamps, looking like vertical boards on ceiling

TOP STORY: Could a New Ultraviolet Technology Fight the Spread of Coronavirus?

As quickly as the coronavirus pandemic seemed to upend our lives, Columbians across the University came together in search of solutions, and to offer aid. The most-read story of the month and year on Columbia News, on the potential of far-UVC light to kill viruses and bacteria in public spaces, reflects that. Also highly read were a look at Columbia students mobilizing to help frontline health care workers, a perspective on end-of-life care during a pandemic, and a list of books to read during quarantine

May 2020: A Commencement Unlike Any Other

A man wearing a scarf is standing in front of columns.

TOP STORY: A Syrian Refugee Earns a Bachelor’s Degree After Twelve Years

May marks an incredible time in the life of the University: Commencement and all associated festivities for graduates. This year’s ceremony was the first to be conducted completely online due to COVID-19 restrictions. But we still found ways to celebrate our graduates, including in this most-read story of the month, which was about political science major Qutaiba Idlbi’s determination to bring political transition and justice to Syria. You can read more stories from the Class of 2020 here. Readers also gravitated to a new study that estimated the odds of intelligent life emerging beyond our planet and to the naming of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners.

June 2020: A Racial Justice Reckoning

A woman wearing a face covering, holding up a sign--which reads, "I can't breathe! Say his name. George Floyd!!!--walking with a group of protestors..

TOP STORY: America Responds to the Death of George Floyd

Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, three Columbia Professors shared their perspectives on anti-Black violence, public anger and the nature of protest. Social justice was on the minds of readers, who also made the news of Columbia and Howard Universities’ launch of the U.S. African American Redress Network the second-most-read story of the month. Also of interest: Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s lessons from the Hadith of the Plague and the news of a new oral history project to document how COVID-19 affected New Yorkers

July 2020: Learning to Live in the ‘New Normal’

J. Thomas Vaughan giving a thumbs up next to his garden

As President Bollinger outlined a plan for a safe return to campus in the fall, the Columbia community started adjusting to “new normal” life. That included J. Thomas Vaughan, a professor in engineering who found a small plot of land on Morningside campus on which to garden. And in response to the ongoing climate crisis, the University announced the establishment of the Columbia Climate School to meet the challenges of a warming world. 

August 2020: A New Generation of Change-Makers

A composite image of 11 headshots of people who are the Obama Foundation Scholars for 2020-2021

TOP STORY: Columbia World Projects Announces 2020-21 Cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars

August marked a breath of fresh air with two top stories: the announcement of the third cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars and the selection of 20 new Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity. Readers also drew lessons from the literature of past pandemics and marked the return of researchers to campus. They also got a kick out of our list of Columbia Podcasts.

September 2020: The Passing of a Legend

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seated in a black leather chair against a Columbia Law School backdrop, gesturing to a crowd of onlookers.

TOP POST: The Columbia community mourns the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (LAW’59). #SheOpenedTheDoor #RIPRBG

On September 18, 2020, at the age of 87, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and the Columbia community mourned. A memorial Instagram post, the most liked of the year, touched off an outpouring of support and appreciation for the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School and the second woman to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Columbia News readers also flocked to top stories about Columbia Business School students helping local companies weather the pandemic and a program to test wastewater in residence halls to identify signs of the novel coronavirus.

October 2020: Honoring Indigenous People

A black plaque with gold writing and gold trim on a stone displayed in a garden at Columbia University honoring the Lenape People

TOP STORY: The University Is Right to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day

2020 marked the first year that Columbia University officially celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day during the federal Columbus Day holiday. To mark the occasion Elsa Stamatopoulou, the director of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Program at ISHR, wrote about the efforts that brought this moment to pass. Also of interest to readers this month: breakthroughs into new quantum mechanical states using graphene and innovative kits that were mailed to engineering students to help them learn remotely

November 2020: A Groundbreaking Election

A photo of seven people wearing masks standing in front a white van on the street at night.

TOP STORY: Columbia Students Road Trip to Pennsylvania

The presidential election was on the minds of readers for most of 2020 (as evidenced by this 2019 piece staying in our top-read stories all year), but this group of Columbia Law students did something about it, capturing the attention of readers. Also at the top of the list: President Bollinger’s thoughts on the election and a reflection on what was lost and gained during an unusual Thanksgiving with Teachers College Professor Aurélie Athan.

December 2020: Looking Forward to a New Chapter

A globe with photos of people all over it, against a black backdrop

TOP STORY: Columbia Welcomes First Cohort of Displaced Students

With eyes on the future as 2020 comes to a close, Columbia announced the first recipients of the Scholarship for Displaced Students. Readers also gravitated toward President Bollinger’s open letter to President-elect Joe Biden about “costly and consequential” federal policies that have damaged American universities’ ability to attract top academic talent from around the globe.

What did we miss? What are you looking forward to in 2021? Share interesting stories from your corner of Columbia using our pitch form or by emailing [email protected].