My first story for The New York Times delved into the paper’s comment platform, where the 14-person moderating team fields about 12,000 comments a day and where readers are deeply invested in contributing to the online conversation. I really enjoyed interviewing the editors and learning how they keep the tone of the comment section civil and productive, especially when many other media companies’ s have simply eliminated their platforms because they had devolved into name-calling free-for-alls. It takes a surprising amount of work to fashion a productive online reader forum. Read the full story here!
I recently published my first online news story for Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine. I discovered a new study that found the range of the Anna’s hummingbird, a common species in the western U.S., had expanded its range north in dramatic fashion over the past 40 years. But the impetus behind the shift wasn’t warming temperatures or other factors associated with climate change. It was people putting out nectar feeders in their backyards. Anna’s hummingbirds have good memories: once they find a food source, they stick to it, even forgoing their usual winter migrations to stay near year-round feeders.
I wondered if this human activity was a bad thing–are we messing up the birds’ natural habits to their detriment? The experts I spoke to said no; in fact, the populations of Anna’s hummingbird in the study area were thriving, thanks to the additional food sources. Read the whole story here!
My new story for scientificamerican.com looks at an ongoing project to find, scan, analyze and declassify thousands of films depicting America’s nuclear weapons tests from the 1950s and early 1960s. Atmospheric testing was banned in 1963, and since then, physicists have had to design computer simulations to “test” the efficacy of weapons in the current U.S. stockpile. Now, they can compare the simulations against baseline data in the recently declassified films and make sure that the weapons’ potential detonation would occur as advertised. Of course, Dr. Greg Spriggs, the physicist leading the project, hopes that day never comes.
Spriggs walked me through the nuclear reactions taking place in each of the four films embedded in the story. His explanations appear as captions for the movies. Take a look!
My story in the May 2017 issue of Scientific American explores the evolution of bird nest shape. Most researchers believed that the common cup style, like the kind robins build under your porch eaves, evolved first, followed by the more complex and time-consuming roofed style. But one team of scientists has found that it happened the other way around. Most ancestors of today’s songbirds built nests like Fort Knox, while the open bowl style came about later. I know I will never look at a blue jay or osprey nest the same way again. Check out the story here!
I’m excited to publish my first feature for the BBC, “The Monster Ships That Changed Travel,” revealing how the biggest transatlantic liners of all time gave rise to today’s colossal cruise ships. I did a deep dive into century-old engine technology, corporate competition between Cunard, White Star and the European lines; the onboard perks enjoyed by Gilded Age high-rollers and the legacy of the Titanic–all of which led to the invention of the world’s most luxurious “floating cities.”
The idea for the story emerged from my recent book research trip to England. In Liverpool I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum and discovered the fascinating histories of ocean liners like Cunard’s RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania and White Star’s RMS Oceanic and RMS Titanic. Through incredible scale models, artifacts and ephemera (my favorites were the menus, showing the culinary aspirations of the early 20th century), I noticed the head-to-head race to build ever larger, faster and fancier vessels. I love stories about epic competition–and this one was no exception. Take a look!