Exotic and isolated, animals found only on islands are quietly dying off. To many, the vexing wave of extinction portends an ecological crisis. To a cadre of brash scientists who think they’ve discovered a solution, these desperate times call for desperate measures—a strategy involving guns, poison, traps, and a wholesale rethinking of modern conservation. This longform story details the fight to preserve the most delicate places on Earth and marks The Atlantic‘s first publication of original reporting in the e-book format.
Click here to read an excerpt from the story and here to view slideshows that explore behind-the-scenes of reporting this piece.
Watching a musician in the throes of an improvisational solo can be like witnessing an act of divine intervention. But embedded memories and conspiring brain regions, scientists now believe, are the true source of this off-the-cuff creativity. This feature dives into the brain of renown classical pianist and improviser Robert Levin during performance. With a cognitive ethnomusicologist and neuroscientist acting as guides, we explore Levin’s process at the neuronal level.
When scientists slid a one-cm-size sliver of plastic bag they’d fished out of the North Atlantic Ocean under a microscope (L image), it looked relatively clean and smooth. But when they zoomed in a few thousand times (R image), a new world appeared. Marine microbes, the ocean’s flagrant opportunists, had not only colonized the fragment; some of them appeared to be eating it. Read more about plastic as a drifting buffet for marine microbes in this story I wrote for Scientific American.
Choanoflagellates, pictured above in the rosette colonies they are wont to form, are single-celled organisms that scientists believe represent one of evolution’s last stops on the way to animals. Just one spot over on the evolutionary chart, multicellular sponges, the earliest branching lineage of animals, appear. This piece considers the clues these pivotal nanoplankton could hold to understanding the origin of animals.
Only sixty years after the mass production of plastic began, the material is in every ocean and seabed on the planet. This is the story, published as my master’s thesis at MIT, of how it got there, how it’s transforming the ocean ecosystem, and what it means for the future of material design.
Meet James. James is at war with the universe… This essay explores the concept of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics through the life of James, a fictional character whose obsession with maintaining order makes Sisyphus look like a lightweight.
The word “nanotechnology” has crept into the social lexicon as of late, but what is it exactly and what is its potential to transform the way we live? This cover story zooms in for a close-up of the excitement and reservations of scientists who work with these tiny materials.
At midnight on a beach in Costa Rica, marine biologist George Shillinger affixes satellite data tags to leatherback sea turtles that have come ashore to lay their eggs. The hope is to use tag data collected from the turtles’ epic, trans-ocean migrations to help commercial fishermen sidestep the critically endangered turtles’ routes. Shillinger is one of three Bay Area scientists I profiled for this cover story, working to broker a balance between our dueling quests to conserve the ocean and harvest its resources.
Northern elephant seals may have faces only a mother could love, but they’re two tons of physiological triumph. They spend up to 90 percent of their life in the open ocean, migrate 10,000 miles each year and collapse and re-inflate their lungs several times daily during 1,500-feet feeding dives. For this cover story I hiked out to see the enormous pinnipeds with filmmaker Drew Wharton, whose documentary “A Seal’s Life” explores the species’ science and history.
In August of 2009, marine scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found this bluish-purple hydrozoan named Velella velella mingling with plastic pieces on the Pacific Ocean’s surface a cool thousand miles from the nearest shore. This feature explores the fate of our most durable material as it gathers within at least two ocean basins.