In case you missed them, here’s a few pieces I’ve recently written and published for Smithsonian, Inside Science, and Undark magazine. Thanks as usual to my excellent editors. I’m only posting brief excerpts here, so if you’re interested, please check out the whole thing using the links below.
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At Major Engineering Conferences, Women Are Still Hard to Find
At the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Expo last week, most of the participants — and nearly all of the high-profile speakers — were men.
More than 15,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors descended upon downtown San Diego last week for the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC), presenting and talking about the latest developments in the field, such as new kinds of integrated circuits for mobile phones and quantum computing technologies. As with many conferences, there was much to see and discuss, but one topic in particular became something of a sore spot with engineers in the field: Nearly all of the high-profile speakers were men.
“We are very concerned. There are few women here,” said Alba Vela, a postdoctoral researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. She joked that a conference photographer seemed to be following her around, given that there were relatively few women to highlight with photos on the conference website…
For years, engineers and advocates for women in engineering and science have talked about gender disparities and tried to educate the community in hopes of changing the dynamics and achieving gender parity. “We thought it would happen organically,” said Elizabeth Rogan, chief executive of the OSA, “but it didn’t.” And as it relates to the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition, it still hasn’t…
[Read the entire piece in Undark magazine, published on 13 March.]
How Plate Tectonics Could Make Rocky Planets Hospitable to Life
Planets closely orbiting red dwarf stars may have dynamic tectonic plates, making them more life-friendly than previously thought.
Shifting, slipping and colliding tectonic plates played an essential role in the emergence and evolution of life on Earth. Such tectonic activity generated volcanoes that spewed carbon dioxide and other gases into the air. Rain brought the gases down to Earth, where they were pushed underground again by moving plates. For billions of years the cycle has regulated the climate and stabilized the temperature, which helped enable life to arise.
Plate tectonics like what’s seen on Earth seems rare — no other world in our solar system has tectonic activity currently — but scientists now argue there could be a different way to generate an active crust on alien worlds.
The researchers argue that a planet orbiting close to its host star can experience stresses from that host’s gravitational pull. Those stresses then weaken the outer crust, aiding or generating plate tectonics similar to those seen on Earth. That process could increase the likelihood of life developing on these planets…
[Read the entire article in Inside Science, published on 27 February.]
‘The End of Ice,’ and the Arctic Communities Already Grappling With a Warming World
A new book highlights the changes endured by inhabitants of the Arctic, serving as a harbinger of what’s to come in lower latitudes.
The Aleutian people of the tundra-covered Alaskan island of St. Paul, hundreds of miles from the mainland, used to count on giant rookeries of northern fur seals every year for pelts and meat. They hunted plenty of fish and birds, too, but their sources of food, especially the once iconic fur seals, have drastically dwindled, transforming their way of life.
Many St. Paul residents now attribute the vanishing fur seals to climate change—or “climate disruption,” as Dahr Jamail, an environmental journalist and mountaineer, often calls it. Instead of a looming, abstract threat projected sometime in the future, climate change now affects people living near the poles in visible ways. These changes in the Arctic don’t stay in the Arctic, as climate effects inevitably travel down to lower latitudes, but people in the northern parts of the world live on the front lines of a warming, melting and morphing planet.
In his new book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, Jamail travels to meet members of these communities and chronicle their stories. While reporting the latest climate science from the field, including melting ice sheets, rising seas and bleaching coral reefs, Jamail never loses sight of the people already being directly affected, including fishers, hunters, farmers and island-dwellers like those of St. Paul…
[Read the entire piece in Smithsonian magazine, published on 8 January.]