Portfolio

Some of my writing.

 

The Prosthetic Eyeball is a Work of Art

Making a realistic eye takes more than technical skill: an Object Lesson.Originally published at The Atlantic. 

The eye is about the size of a quarter, resting gently in Kurt Jahrling’s hand as he adds faint washes of yellow and blue to the white surface. The ocularist has already laid tiny, reddish-pink threads of silk over the surface to mimic the curves of blood vessels, tiny rivers winding from either corner toward the iris. A hazel centerpiece surrounds a black dot meant to mimic the pupil; as the finishing touch, he adds the arcus, a grey ring that hugs the outer edge of some aging irises.

 
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'You Get Ideas.' Flatiron Institute Brings Biologists, Astrophysicists, and Coders Under One Roof

Originally published at Inside Philanthropy.

Bring leading computer scientists together with leading astrophysicists, and exciting stuff happens—complex computer simulations of galaxy formation, algorithms churning through terabytes of data collected by telescope arrays. Same thing goes for biologists, as they work with programmers to bring order to the chaos of neurons firing by the millions. 

But get everyone working together under the same roof with extensive time and funding, and unexpected work might take shape. New ideas could form as computer scientists and researchers from a variety of fields hold meetings, chat over lunch, or just run into each other in the hallways.

 
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In the Garden Cemetery

The Revival of America’s First Urban Parks | Originally published in American Forests Magazine.

In the 1820s, America's cities had a problem: People kept dying, and church burial grounds were filling up. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased. This “rural cemetery,” or “garden cemetery,” movement not only temporarily solved the problem of where to put the dead, but it also gave us the nation’s very first parks.

Over the decades, cemeteries fell out of vogue as cultural centers, but their fall from favor was not to be permanent. Today, the practice of using cemeteries for outdoor recreation is bubbling up once more, as urban dwellers seek out nature in the city.

 
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Washed Away

Beneath the water lie memories of vibrant villages. | Originally published in The Magazine

Sally Norcross stands outside what was once her childhood home, in the heart of Dana, Massachusetts. She and her family left town 76 years ago, but she has clear memories of throwing crabapples into the yard of her grouchy neighbor Mr. Vaughn. Across Main Street is where she used to sit in school and watch out the window as the men dug up all the graves in the cemetery.

The bodies and headstones were relocated and the town of Dana abandoned. Her family’s house is an empty stone cellar overgrown with brush, like the remains of all the other buildings that made up the town. Dana is one of four towns that once lay in the Swift River Valley. All four of them are gone. Dana is unique in that its town common is the only one of the four that’s still above water and accessible.

 
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Mad Scientist Club

In an otherwise unremarkable room at MIT, the published history of science fiction overflows. Originally published in The Magazine.

Decades before Guy Consolmagno had an asteroid named after him in honor of his contributions to planetary science, he was a directionless history major at Boston College. Then he saw what MIT was keeping in a room of the student center. He knew he had to transfer.

It wasn’t MIT’s research on meteoroids and asteroids, or its contributions to NASA lunar missions, or even the early stages of what would become the Internet, though all of this was happening on the Cambridge campus around 1970. Rather, it was a bunch of novels. Thousands and thousands of science fiction novels.

 
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Harnessing the Knowledge of Plants, Online

Botanical gardens are building the first online catalog of every known plant species in the world. | Originally published in American Forests Magazine. 

For more than 400 years, humans have been collecting bits of leaf and twig, pressing them flat and dry for safe-keeping and writing about them in journals and books, all to better understand the world’s plants and, more recently, to protect them.

Our knowledge has become exponentially more sophisticated over those years, but the information we’ve accumulated remains scattered all over the world and is often difficult to access. As biologists race to protect biodiversity, there’s an effort underway to change that, a global partnership to build World Flora Online — the first online catalog of the estimated 400,000 vascular plant species of the world.

 
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Eradication Nation

What Boston’s battle with the Asian longhorned beetle can teach us about stopping an invasive pest in its tracks. | Originally published in American Forests Magazine. 

Clint McFarland didn’t want to believe the pictures he was looking at on his smartphone.

Late on a Friday afternoon in July 2010, he was at a gathering in Worcester, Mass., to recognize federal and state staff who had been working long, hard hours for two years to wrangle the city’s runaway Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infestation, the country’s largest by far. By the time a homeowner reported it in 2008, the invasive beetles had already been boring their way across the heavily forested city in the center of the state, frighteningly close to the edge of contiguous forests that span New England and reach into Canada.

 
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Is There a Punk Aesthetic? 

Originally published in Souciant Magazine

The back cover and spine of Punk: An Aesthetic are almost entirely white, with a clean, black typeface. Seen from a distance on a bookshelf, it could be any modern art book. But the front cover — punk cartoonist Gary Panter’s illustration of the singer for The Screamers — is another matter, a large, low-quality print of a black-and-white face fixed in what looks like a scream of rage, befitting the book’s innards.

Look inside and you’ll see a riot of images: hand-scrawled political rants, shredded clothing, swastikas, pornography, violent photomontage and hundreds of others from the 1970s punk movement. That screaming face on the front cover gives you the feeling the content inside doesn’t want to be contained.

 
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From the Industrial Revolution to Modern Housing

Adaptive Reuse of Factories in Lowell, MA

The Boott Mills complex stretches along the Merrimack River like a fortress, a 179-year-old set of connected brick buildings that once housed roaring hydroelectric textile factories in the heart of Lowell, Mass. It's a remarkably intact representation of the mills that launched Lowell and other towns like it to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, and then left them in economic decline in the second half of the 20th century. But Lowell's factories—most recently, the iconic Boott Mills near downtown—are making a comeback.