The Great Eucalyptus Debate

The Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, is a magnificent tree. That is perhaps the only thing that everyone agrees on. It is, as Jake Sigg puts it, “a big, grand, old tree.” Tall, gnarled, stripey-barked, with white flowers like sea anemones, blue gum eucalyptus are characteristic of the San Francisco Bay area, despite being native […]

Rosetta and Philae: Plucky siblings for life

On September 30, the Rosetta orbiter will make a controlled collision with Comet 67P/C-G. It is not designed for landing, so this is the last we will hear from it. This date also marks an end to a happy period for my family that started in 2013 when my son was just four years old […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): The Anthropocene

On Monday, at an international meeting of geologists in Cape Town, South Africa, the 35 members of the Anthropocene Working Group summarized their seven years of work. Chief among their preliminary findings is that the current human-dominated chapter in our planet’s history, informally known as the Anthropocene, is geologically real. That’s “real” as in “recorded in the earth’s rock layers.” The report is the latest […]

Redux: What Luis Alvarez Did

This post originally ran on November 11, 2013. I rerun it now partly because I liked it and mostly because it’s a conversation with Hope Jahren and Ben Lillie. Hope has a new book out, written with her usual brilliant, nail-gun verve; Ben runs an on-going travelling theatrical anthology that’s like nothing else I’ve heard of. […]

Give a Science Writer a Stage

The Devil had two tattooed women in tight skirts holding a rope taut on stage. One he told to stand on her toes while the other crouched slightly. The rope between them showed a slight angle downward, which the Devil said expressed global mean temperature decreasing slightly from 1998 till now. The Devil’s data was cherry picked […]

Guest Post: A Mathematical Mastermind Gets His Head Examined

On a December day a few years ago, John Horton Conway settled in for an interview at the office of neuroscientist Sandra Witelson. Conway wasn’t there for an appointment proper, but rather to provide fodder for Witelson’s ongoing research on scientifically minded brains. All the same, he’d braced himself for an arsenal of standard neuropsychological […]

A Moore’s Law Mystery

You know those things that people say as an aside? Things that aren’t their main point, but just kind of come out of their mouths. Fun facts, little anecdotes, steam of consciousness blips. I find that when I’m looking back at my notes from conferences, the things that pop out to me are, largely, those […]