Float On, Jellyfish

sea nettleThe local science writers’ group organizes a lot of cool events. Last weekend some of us spent a morning in Baltimore, checking out the jellyfish exhibit at the National Aquarium and touring a NOAA ship.

I might write about the NOAA ship later; for now, I’ve written about the jellyfish for The Last Word on Nothing.

That jellyfish at the left is a northern sea nettle. Isn’t it pretty?

There’s one video in the blog post. Here’s another:

Those are moon jellies, drifting in a tank in the lab.

These upside-down jellies share their tank with the amusingly-named blue blubber jelly.

upside-down jellyThe Floating World of Jellyfish

Photos and video: me

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Bug on my Glasses

The other day I was walking down the street when I noticed something on my glasses. I took them off to wipe them and realized I’d managed to collide with the tiniest caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

teensy caterpillarLook how green it is!

Here’s a closeup:

caterpillar excu
I deposited the little guy on a hedge.

photos: me

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Bug on my Restaurant Window

Friday evening was pleasantly cool here in Washington, and I had dinner outside one of my favorite restaurants, Jaleo, with a former neighbor who’s moved to New York. (So silly. Why must people move away?)

As we sat there, I heard a loud insect sound, looked up – and spotted this enormous beauty, high up on one of the restaurant’s huge windows.

jaleo bug

I believe it’s a katydid.

photo: me. I would like to congratulate my Canon S95 on getting this shot. 

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Bells and Cicadas

cathedralYesterday after my voice lesson I sat for a while outside Washington National Cathedral, listening to the bells ring. A bit of sleuthing on my phone told me there was some sort of change ringing convention in town. It was great to listen to. I’ve always thought change ringing was an incredibly cool hobby – all that noise – but I’m not sure I have the brain for the counting.

I went home and wrote about it for The Last Word on Nothing.

Sounds of Summer

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Mercury and Birds

confluenceA story I’ve been working on since April came out this week. It’s about the effects of mercury pollution on bird songs. It appeared on the websites of both Environmental Health News and National Geographic. It also got a nice mention from the New York Times.

The story is mostly about the research of Dan Cristol, an ecologist at William and Mary. He started studying the effects of mercury contamination from an old DuPont factory on the birds in a tributary of the Shenandoah River a decade ago. He’s part of a big project, funded by DuPont.

For the story, I took the train to Williamsburg and spent an afternoon with Cristol there, meeting the zebra finches in the animal research facility. (So cute.) The next morning, he picked me up early for the 150-mile drive to the Shenandoah Valley, where he was meeting a professor and a grad student from another university to give them a tour of his field sites along the river. On the way back to Williamsburg in the afternoon, he dropped me off at Richmond to catch the train back to D.C.

Read the story: Heavy metal songs: Contaminated songbirds sing the wrong tunes

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DotW: Dictionaries on Another Website

Dictionaries by my deskI have pretty much abandoned my Dictionary of the Week feature. In fact, I’ve neglected my whole blog lately. You see, I have a full-time job now, and it’s really hard to keep up with a blog when you’re at work for a big chunk of the day.

I mean, I worked all day when I was freelancing, but back then, writing for this blog was part of my work responsibilities.

This week for the Science Writers Handbook blog, I wrote about the dictionary I use the most, my Webster’s New World Dictionary. (Here’s the DotW I wrote about it in 2010.) I love that book.

Looking Up Words

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Ice Cream Essay

Transcript of actual e-mail conversation between me and another contributor to The Last Word on Nothing, a little over a week ago:

Me: I’ve been particularly low on lwon ideas lately. Got anything for me?

Cameron: Ooooo…. I’m low, too. Something summer related?

Me: The total awesomeness of homemade ice cream? Not sure I have 500 words about that, though.

Her: I think it doesn’t have to be 500. You could look for some ice cream studies.

Me: Or mint studies. Mint chocolate chip is the best. It’s not my favorite flavor, it’s just *amazing* when it’s homemade with real mint leaves.

Her: Oooo, yes. When we did it at home we did a combo of mint leaves and mint extract, but now I feel like that was cheating! Do you just pulverize a lot of mint leaves?

Me: Yup! I don’t even pulverize them. I just kinda chop them. I use the Joy of Cooking recipe – when you’ve heated the milk and sugar, you turn off the heat, dump in the mint, cover it, and leave it for half an hour. Then you strain it. It’s amazing – it tastes so planty.

And that, girls and boys, is where essays come from.

Very Aromatic Plant Chocolate Chip

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Looking for the Great Tinamou

great tinamous

When I travel the world, I see a lot of birds. I don’t usually go out of my way to look for them, but I stop and look when they cross my path. Last week for The Last Word on Nothing I wrote about the time I went to Panama and got excited about the great tinamou.




On the Trail of the Great Tinamou

photo: me. See the birds?

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Life in the Gig Economy

A few weeks ago I took part in a conversation with some other smart science writers about the “gig economy”–a new world in which nobody has jobs and everybody makes a living by stringing together gigs. It’s a tough way to make a living.

The Gig Economy

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Solar Plane Story is Online

In case you missed it in the print edition of Discover, my story about the Solar Impulse, a solar plane that’s supposed to fly around the world next year, is available online now.

Light Makes Flight

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