Beginning in the 1980s I wrote freelance science articles on topics like molecular engineering, the Carlos Casteneda controversy, how Star Wars achieved its special effects, Paolo Soleri’s architecture, and materials harder than diamond, for magazines like Discover, Science 80-86, and Human Behavior. For Walter Annenberg’s short-lived Panorama I previewed Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and it led to my working with Carl, Ann Druyan, and Gentry Lee on a proposed TV series called Nucleus. (Alas, it did not fly.)
From 1997 until 2013 I wrote for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and got a thrilling education. I was there for the discovery of dark energy and wrote about it until Saul Perlmutter won the Nobel Prize (and after). At the other extreme, I learned that duct tape really can do almost anything, except seal ducts. Unfortunately blogs and aggregators and even newspapers routinely republish press releases as if they’re news stories. They are not.
Recently I’ve discovered a whole new realm with direct impact on people’s lives: engineering. It ain’t what it used to be.
Here are some favorite stories.
about entering the new world
In the Domain of Design: more and more, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
A Dissent Network to Hide Protestors from Government Agents: Rangzen is Tibetan for liberty, and this smartphone system is designed to preserve it.
A Cellphone Network Deep in the Jungle: it’s not strictly legal, but those who live in the most remote areas can’t wait forever to be connected.
about making stuff
Bending Light, Sound, and Quasiparticles with Metamaterials: the X-Lab makes new materials based on the imagination.
Roman Seawater Concrete: the properties of ancient Roman concrete that made port facilities still solid today.
A Step Toward Better Lithium-Ion Batteries: conducting polymer for a new generation of anodes.
Graphene Under Strain Yields Gigantic Pseudomagnetic Fields: electrons react to 300-tesla pseudo-fields.
about looking closely
Atom by Atom, Bond by Bond: highest-resolution images of a molecule breaking and reforming chemical bonds.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance With No Magnets: replacing strong fields with no external fields at all.
Watching an Atom’s Electrons Move in Real Time: ultrashort laser pulses reveal valence electrons in motion.
about life at home
A Dent in the Iron Hypothesis: plankton blooms do not send atmospheric carbon to the deep ocean.
Bold Traveler Journeys Toward the Center of the Earth: a single-species ecosystem, 2.8 kilometers down.
On the Threshold of Abrupt Climate Changes: an early look at looming threats.
about tools of science
BELLA Laser Achieves World Record Power: a quadrillion watts of peak power once each second.
Science Goes to Great Depths: the Davis Campus is down in a mine, far from the Halls of Ivy.
Into the Ice: the forty-year dream of IceCube, a kilometer-scale neutrino observatory, becomes reality.
about the particle zoo
What’s Up With the Higgs Boson: members of the LHC’s ATLAS explain the discovery.
Daya Bay Surprise, the Last Neutrino Mixing Angle: a surprisingly large value for theta one-three.
What Keeps the Earth Cooking: measuring the radioactive sources of Earth’s heat flow.
First Long-term Storage of Antimatter Atoms: ALPHA holds antihydrogen atoms many minutes.
about stars and galaxies
The Age of the Universe: a hundred million years older than we thought and expanding more slowly.
BOSS Quasars Measure Early Expansion: quasars probe dark energy over ten billion years in the past.
Closest Type Ia Supernova Solves a Cosmic Mystery: the surprising make-up of an ordinary Type Ia.
Dark Energy’s Tenth Anniversary, Part I, announcing the accelerating universe.
Dark Energy’s Tenth Anniversary, Part II, success breeds competition.
Dark Energy’s Tenth Anniversary, Part III, the aftermath: confirmation and exploration.