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Michael Fry

Cleaning Up the World’s Ballast Water

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency responsible for the prevention of marine pollution by ships, water carried in ships’ ballasts is a top threat to global biodiversity and marine ecosystems. How? By transporting thousands of species out of their native environments and depositing them elsewhere around the world, where they…

How Do Astronauts Go to the Bathroom?

It’s a common question. Very common, in fact.  Just how do astronauts answer nature’s call? Stop by the National Air and Space Museum’s “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit and you can see a replica of the space toilet–a $30 million investment–used by NASA’s space shuttle astronauts.  The mechanism, visible in this panoramic photo of Discovery’s “mid-deck,”…

Why Do Women Talk So Much?

Because their brains may be built that way. So says a University of Maryland School of Medicine study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, which found that young girls have a greater abundance of a protein that’s associated with language development in mammals. And this might explain why men tend to be less talkative than…

Surgical Masks–Not Just for the E.R.

Particulate levels in Beijing broke records last weekend, when the Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center recorded levels of PM2.5 that Reuters said may have reached 900 micrograms per square meter–more than 30 times what the World Health Organisation considers a safe daily level.

The Kilogram’s New Diet Plan

  Environmental contamination, and not the holiday season, has caused the International Prototype Kilogram to put on some extra pounds over the decades. Scientists are now looking for a safe and reliable method of cleaning the cylinder so that its mass remains stable and equal to that of several dozen copies around the world.

Mapping The Blitz

  Bomb Sight, a year-long project to map Nazi Germany’s bombing campaign against London, is now complete. The interactive tool, based on Bomb Census Survey maps from the United Kingdom’s National Archives, depicts the location and type of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe from Oct. 7, 1940 through June 6, 1941.

South Georgia’s Rats To Face Unprecedented Airborne Assault

For urbanites, rats are an often unavoidable by-product of city living. Though well-known as disease vectors, they’re probably more cringe-worthy than genuinely threatening to most human inhabitants. But on South Georgia island, rats are an invasive species, introduced more than two centuries ago by sealing boats. And now, their population estimated in the millions, they’re…

Damming the Mekong River

  Laos has announced plans to proceed immediately with the construction of an 820-meter-long hydroelectric dam across the Mekong River. Critics of the project say the Xayaburi dam, to be located in northern Laos, would be an ecological disaster for the Mekong and millions of people in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, who rely on…

Is Britain’s ban on lead gunshot working?

  According to a recent study, large numbers of waterfowl in the United Kingdom are being poisoned. The alleged perpetrator? Lead gunshot the birds ingest after–perhaps long after–it was initially fired. Scientists involved in the research contend that British hunters aren’t complying with laws that phased out the use of lead shot in the late…

Fresh powder!

For decades ski resorts around the world have used snowmaking equipment to supplement nature’s sometimes erratic bounty. But a resort in the western U.S. will this season arm its snow cannons with a controversial form of ammo: sewage effluent purchased from a local municipality. Needless to say, the plan has its detractors.  

Cocoa Thieves Haunt Malagasy Farmers

Madagascar, perhaps better known as one of the world’s top producers of vanilla, also grows cocoa beans. For chocolate. High-end chocolate. And that’s putting unprotected Malagasy farmers at risk. Because as demand for their “dark gold” rises, so do prices. And so does the temptation for armed cocoa bandits to rob unprotected farmers of their…

Gibson penalized for illegal wood purchase

    Madagascar’s hissing cockroaches might outlive its supply of tropical hardwood trees, but they’ll surely never be admired for their tonal qualities. Rosewood and ebony wood, on the other hand, are prized by luthiers and musicians. They’re also dangerously over-logged in Madagascar. Enter Gibson Guitar Corporation, whose stringed instruments, including the iconic Les Paul…

Where is Challenger Deep?

James Cameron’s recent voyage to the bottom of the sea made headlines worldwide. As well it should have–Cameron is the first person to venture alone to the deepest known part of the world’s oceans. His “vertical torpedo” submersible dove nearly 11,000 meters to a place he described as “lunar” and “desolate”–a place often called Challenger…

History’s Unheralded Geographers

A look at the artist James Whistler’s brief mapmaking career.