Redux: Finding Peter Ganz

This first appeared in December 19, 2013.  I run it again now because I’ve been reading David C. Cassidy’s new book, Farm Hall and the German Atomic Project of World War II, subtitled, “A Dramatic History.”  Cassidy is an historian of physics, so the “history” part of the subtitle is not unexpected.  But he also […]

Loving Explosions

Years ago, talking about the persistent rumor that the Hubble Space Telescope was an off-the-shelf spy satellite retrofitted for astronomy*, I told a NASA employee that I was pretty sure academic astronomers were culturally anti-military and they wouldn’t be crossing lines and dealing with spies or the defense department.  The NASA employee looked at me […]

What I Learned in Humanities 110

My alma mater is, for better or worse, the undergraduate equivalent of a cult film: Most people have never heard of Reed College, and the few who have really like to argue about it. So it’s disconcerting when arguments usually confined to the Reed campus attract national attention. In recent days, a Washington Post column […]

Redux: Johnny and Oppie

So.  Everybody got excited about gravitational waves coming from the mergers of neutron stars and black holes.  My Facebook feed which is full of scientists and science writers got further excited about a newish phrase everybody used, “multimessenger astronomy.”  My Facebook feed agreed that “multimessenger astronomy” is an all-around dreadful phrase.  Not only does it sound corporate and […]

The Beginning of the Endling

Last spring, I wrote a story about the origin and evolution of “endling,” a word used to describe the sole surviving member of a species. Endling was coined in the mid-1990s by Robert Webster, a Georgia doctor who, during his work at a convalescent center, realized that there was no precise English word for a […]

A Tree Persists in Brooklyn

The first pages of children’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn describe eleven-year-old Francie Nolan sitting on her Brooklyn fire escape, daydreaming that she lives in a tree. For Francie, it wasn’t hard to imagine; tree limbs curled gracefully around the fire escape, shading her from the summer sun with umbrellas of pointed leaves. The tree […]

Redux: On Getting From “Wow!” to “[yawn]”: Yes!!!

Yesterday the Royal Swedish Academy announced that the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics would recognize the discovery of gravitational waves; the recipients would be Barry Barish, Kip Thorne, and Rainer Weiss, three of the visionaries who shepherded the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) through four decades of technological and bureaucratic innovations. (Another founder of the […]