Science, Nature, Tech

How Color Left Nature Behind

    Artists select their palettes ever so carefully, but an old piece of parchment with all the colors, circled in a wheel or disciplined into a grid, their names inked gracefully beneath them? I can pore over those antique charts for hours. Seeing the colors ranged next to one another, like somebody pinned a […]

Surveillance at the Compost Dump

    “You are under surveillance,” intones a disembodied voice. I look up, startled. My scalp tingles with honest sweat, and the sun warms my shoulders as I sling last fall’s leaves and broken tree limbs into a compost pile at the park. “You are under surveillance,” the voice repeats, its intonations flat. The pitch […]

Breakthrough Research Connects Genes, Personality, and Health

    Once upon a time, our parents’ social standing fixed us in place. Then our genetic inheritance. Then our environment. Nature, nurture, nature, nurture—back and forth the pendulum swung, which should have been a clue that the right choice was both. Even after we figured that out, though, we still thought in terms of […]

Why Are We Still So Confused About COVID?

  This is what it is like to be a layperson in the Years of COVID. “So my primary care doc said the vaccine loses effectiveness after six months.” “That’s what my pharmacist said, too. But nobody’s saying anything about a new booster.” “If you’re healthy, you don’t need a booster anyway, right?” “But I […]

Moths Are Not Romantics

    Humans are the ones who fly straight into the flame. Lost causes, unrequited loves, crazy gambles, consuming addictions, dangerous exploits—we live bent, one would guess, on self-destruction. All the poor moths want to do is set a flight path. When their light sources were the moon and stars, all went well. But our […]

Why Dust Matters

    The stuff is everywhere. Bunnies dancing in the corners. Midair sparkles in a shaft of sunlight. A fuzzy white coating on my bookshelf, like thrush on a tongue. We were made from dust, or so it is said. Stardust lives in our bodies. How could anything so important seem so irrelevant? A swirl […]

When Coral Reefs Die, Even the Midwest Loses

    Lacy, blossomed, branching, glowing in neon pink, green, yellow, purple, or orange—coral is a bouquet strewn on the sea floor. Who dives for fish when you can dive to be hypnotized by such beauty? Had I the courage to carry my breath in a tank, I would hang underwater for hours, trying to […]

Get Ready for Roadkill

      Most of us remember well our first sight of a dead human body. Most often it is surrounded by the aura of silent respect, but also more than a little horror, as if catching sight of a ghost while singing a hymn in church. Roadkill, on the other hand, usually offers no […]

Plants Warn, Defend, Scream, Remember, and Plan Ahead

        Before social media, Charles Darwin relied on a global network of colleagues who corresponded with him. Before AI, he used photos to study facial expressions around the world. Before Buzzfeed, he created quizzes about what emotion was pictured. Before Fitbit, he walked daily and counted his steps by dragging a flint […]

The Brilliant Dr. William Beaumont: Unethical or Just Aloof?

    Dr. William Beaumont—wealthy, respected, refined—leans over the body of Alexis St. Martin—an illiterate nineteen-year-old French Canadian—and threads a piece of string through an accidental opening. Dangling the thread down into St. Martin’s stomach, Beaumont swishes it about, then, at timed intervals, hoists up the piece of raw or cooked meat tied to the […]