Plastic (Not So) Fantastic

AS LEARNED commissions debate whether to declare a new humandominated era of geological time – the Anthropocene – we are already making facts on and under the ground.

Since plastics were widely introduced in the 1950s, we have dumped an estimated 4.9 billion tonnes into the environment. Most goes to landfill for future generations to unearth. But it is marine waste that has spurred public desire for action. Images from the BBC documentary Blue Planet II of marine wildlife snared by plastics are a visceral indictment of our throwaway culture. Claims that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, made at the World Economic Forum in 2016, have great power to shock.

The new focus is to be welcomed. It has caused many companies and individuals to reconsider their use of plastics, and empowered many to think that they can make a positive difference to the planet.

But we should be sober in adopting solutions (see page 25). Climate change and the loss of biodiversity remain our top environmental concerns, and we cannot afford to adopt plastic alternatives that increase, not decrease, our impact on the planet. A cotton tote bag or steel water bottle may generate higher carbon emissions over its lifetime. A rush to bio-derived plastics may, as with biofuels, increase land cleared for crops. Plastics that degrade faster risk increasing the scourge of microplastic in the environment if not partnered with better waste management.

Plastics exist for a reason: they cost comparatively little in terms of energy to produce, while providing big wins in hygiene, health and the reduction of food waste. If industry, government and consumers work together we can stamp out our waste problem. But let’s not throw the baby out with the plastic bath tub.***

New Scientist, Issue 3178 (2018): Plastic (Not So) Fantastic

AS LEARNED commissions debate whether to declare a new humandominated era of geological...

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Nature: Vol. 529. No. 7584, Januari 2016

A mid the pledges to exercise and to keep a tidier office or bench space, scientists who wish to get on in 2016 should make a simple resolution for the new year: broaden your horizons. Think beyond the conventional format of the academic paper and experiment with new ways to present data and results. Look past the historical boundaries between academic subjects to the emerging landscape of interdisciplinarity. And, perhaps most importantly, embrace the growing trend of international collaboration.

The benefits of international partnership are clear. Cross-border research receives more attention than does insular work and its publications attract more citations. The promise to global science is obvious, too: publicly funded research increasingly looks for impact and pay back, and many of the most immediate problems that science can help with are not defined by national borders.

Issues of sustainability, health, access to food and water, stable ecosystems — the ‘grand challenges’ — are the products of complex chains and relationships, natural causes and human effects, across diverse yet connected regions. Solutions, and the science to seek these solutions, must sprout from a similar network: diverse yet connected.

Nature: Vol. 529. No. 7584, Januari 2016
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A mid the pledges to exercise and to keep a tidier office or bench space, scientists...

Consumer Report: A Diet of Good Information

IT WAS ALMOST 100 years ago, in 1918, when Lulu Hunt Peters, M.D., told Americans that they could stay healthy by counting and capping their calorie intake, in what is widely considered the first best-selling nutrition book in U.S. history. In the century since, healthy eating advice has erupted into an enormously lucrative—and frequently confusing—industry, one populated not only by contradictory scientific claims but also by a host of charlatans and questionable corporate backers. As with so many areas of our lives today, healthy eating has become vexingly complex; consumers are inundated with marketplace noise that can leave us uncertain about whom we can trust when it comes to advice about cholesterol, “good” fats, and every other nutritional choice we make. Year after year, Americans have been instructed that the real key to health is to avoid sugar, dairy, meat, or gluten; to cut carbs or stick to seafood; to eat three square meals a day or many small ones; or to embark on an endless parade of juice cleanses and trendy diets.

This month, we’re bringing the full weight of our scientific expertise to your questions about nutrition so that you can make better-informed decisions. Our independent experts provide clarity on hidden sugars, stealthy sodium, and ways to minimize meat for a healthier diet. We’ll clarify whether foods such as eggs, soy, and honey are good for you—or not. And we’ll bring you up to speed on the ways that some food labels can be deceiving, while showcasing what to look for if you want meat and poultry that’s raised without antibiotics. At CR, we are working hard with consumers, businesses, and lawmakers to improve those labels and improve the quality of the food that gets brought to market, so you can focus on making smart, healthy choices.

Marta L. Tellado

Consumer Report: A Diet of Good Information. November 2017, Vol. 82 No. 11
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IT WAS ALMOST 100 years ago, in 1918, when Lulu Hunt Peters, M.D., told Americans...

Sky & Telescope Vol. 126, No. 4, October 2013

1000121This is going to sound strange, but I had a lot of fun at July’s Green Bank Star Quest even though the nights were clouded out. This star party is held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.

NRAO generously allows GBSQ attendees to tour inside the security gate for close-up views of the antennas. NRAO also permits the use of many of its facilities. GBSQ organizer Roy Jaworski of the Central Appalachian Astronomy Club lined up impressive speakers, including Jimmy Carroll, one of the “Rocket Boys” who inspired the movie October Sky. You can watch my talk on amateur contributions to exoplanet research at

Alas, the weather gods refused to cooperate. During the evenings I hung out with a bunch of organizers and attendees in the Drake Room, located in the dormitory where visiting scientists sleep. This is where Frank Drake unveiled his famous equation in 1961 for estimating the number of communicating civilizations in our galaxy. While bemoaning the clouds, we shot the breeze about a wide range of topics. One night featured a spirited discussion about the lack of direction in the space program, which some felt to be symptomatic of the U.S. losing its edge.

As one attendee pointed out, NASA currently relies on Russia to ferry American astronauts to a space station built with billions of American taxpayer dollars.

A lot of frustration was expressed that our nation is being held back by a bitterly partisan Congress and a political system beholden to special interests. Several folks expressed the view that U.S. society has become overly litigious and risk-averse. As an example, one participant excoriated former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe’s decision to cease Hubble servicing missions because of safety concerns.

After discussing private initiatives, there was consensus that we need bold, visionary leadership to outline a compelling long-term plan for both human and robotic spacefl ight. But we all recognized that any major expansion in the space program will generate opposition, with the familiar refrain, “Why spend all this money up there when we have all these problems down here?” Retired NASA engineer (and amateur astronomer) Robert Dutilly passionately voiced a response: “All the money is spent down here.” As he explained, it’s spent training scientists and engineers, creating jobs, and developing technologies that eventually fi lter back into society, for everyone’s benefi t. If the U.S. is indeed losing its edge, this sounds like a way to reverse course.

Robert Naeye

National Geographic, March 2015

1303000The Refugee’s Voice

Botol lives in Şanlıurfa, a dusty town in southern Turkey that is the reputed birthplace of Abraham. Urfa, as it is known, had been famed for drawing thousands of religious pilgrims to the cave where the prophet was supposedly born. Now the town is filled with 150,000 people who, like Botol, are seeking salvation of a different sort.

Botol is from Syria. Her husband fought against the Bashar al Assad regime in that country’s ongoing civil war. More than a year ago he disappeared. Maybe the government arrested him, she says. Maybe it was the Islamic State (IS) militants.

She believes he is dead. She fears for her children back home, especially her eldest son, 19. “They are cutting heads in the streets,” she said recently, through a translator. This is why Botol and about a million and a half other Syrian refugees have scattered across Turkey, fleeing the horrors of a bloody war and IS terrorists. As I write this, more people surge across the border every day and are crammed into refugee camps and Turkish cities, where their growing numbers cause resentment and unease among locals.

“There is no Syria anymore,” Botol said. “No husband, no house.” She will stay here. “Safety and security are most important.” She shares three spotless rooms with 15 other Syrian refugees, seven of them children. There is no furniture. Mattresses and rugs serve as seats. The kitchen consists of a sink, a hot plate, and a large electric pan to make flatbread. We retreated there to talk because Botol, out of modesty, would not speak in front of my colleague, Paul Salopek.

Paul is on a seven-year journey on foot. He literally walked smack into this humanitarian crisis. Turkey has been so flooded by Syrian refugees that he and photographer John Stanmeyer stopped to chronicle the diaspora for this issue. Botol won’t talk to Paul, but the other women in the house—Aklas, Reem, and Hella—will. Their words spill out in a chaos of conflicting emotions, unimaginable losses, and palpable relief.

Botol speaks for them all. “Thank God I am here,” she said. “Syria is not a good place anymore. But this is an unbearable life. Very difficult. Very hard. And it won’t get better, because once you lose something, you can’t get it back.’’

There were 51 million forcibly displaced people around the world in 2013, a UN report says—the largest number since the end of World War II. They are, like Botol, refugees of conflict. It is important that we hear their stories.

Susan Goldberg
National Geographic, March 2015

National Geographic, March 2015

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Scientific American Mind, Volume 25, Number 2, April 2014

1302000Shaping Young Minds

It just may be one of the most underappreciated health problems in the U.S. today: As many as one in five children experience a mental disorder in a given year. The effects can be lasting, reducing their life satisfaction and productivity for years if their symp­toms go undiagnosed and untreated.

For these reasons, in this issue’s special report, “Calming a Child’s Mind,” we high­light emerging therapies for the three most prevalent childhood disorders—anxiety, behavior or conduct disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Psychologist Jerry Bubrick leads off the section on page 46 with his account of helping several young patients overcome anxiety in “Fear Not, Child.” In “Behave!” begin­ning on page 54, staff editor Ingrid Wickelgren drops in on a parent-training program that helps moms and dads build healthier relationships with their recalcitrant off­spring. And contributing editor Emily Laber-Warren explores a growing trend to treat signs of ADHD at ages four or five, before the disorder can be officially diagnosed. Turn to page 61 for more.

Rough patches in childhood can become defining moments, helping to shape many aspects of personality. One such facet is how strongly you strive to either stand out or fit in. Psychologist Hans-Peter Erb and biologist Susanne Gebert explore the forces at work in forging character in “Uniquely You,” starting on page 26. To make the most of your special traits, you must be able to think critically about who you are—a skill that psychologist John D. Mayer calls “personal intelligence.” In “Thinking about To­morrow,” beginning on page 34, Mayer describes the role of personal intelligence in setting realistic goals and feeling in tune with your future self.

The adage to “know thyself” is as relevant today as it was in the time of ancient Greece, but the tools we can use for that discovery are changing rapidly. We possess stronger, more effective methods for improving well-being than ever before—and that is welcome news for all of us.

Sandra Upson

Scientific American Mind
Volume 25, Number 2, March/April 2014

Entrepreneur: It’s OK to be Ggreat

1301000Why? Because you have chosen the path less taken, the path less understood and the path most pockmarked with pain. Much of the time that path is a complete slog, and your job, on occasion, is simply to slog it out.

My god, it sounds brutal. And sometimes it is.

It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. It’s lonely and scary and … mostly lonely and scary. We, in the press, paint a picture of the aspiration and glories you bring to the world, the jobs you create, the ideas you spread and the impact you have on the future. And it’s misleading, because the reality is, you are working your ass off to make something, to fight for something and simply to see your vision to the next stage. And it doesn’t always work. But that’s OK.

I get a lot of phone calls. Pitches mainly. The conversations are not always rosy; sometimes, they are tough and brutally honest: “I can’t make payroll” or “I have a pit in my stomach, and I think it may be a heart attack or possibly a stroke” or “I don’t know how to pivot—and I don’t want to anyway.” Or, “Screw this, I’m getting a job.”

It’s strong medicine. The reality of what you are doing is harsh. It’s not always rainbows and bunny rabbits. In fact, it rarely is. Being an entrepreneur is more than being the boss.

You are the leader—not only the leader of your destiny, but a leader to the people who believe in you: employees, investors, customers and evangelists.

This makes you vulnerable. You are the one who will herald the next generation of … something. And you are the one who will keep the lights on. Being vulnerable and keeping that sense of honesty is what makes you an entrepreneur. It separates you from the corporate world and makes you fallible—and also, heroic.

Fear, although you may feel it, is not an option. And when you worry, well, that is a form of fear, so stop doing it. In the Nordic countries there is a deeply held principle about standing out from the crowd. It’s called the Law of Jante, and it essentially states that if you call too much attention to yourself, you will be denounced, and you must retreat. Everyone is equal. So stop being so excellent.

Nope. This idea flies in the face of reason and the very philosophy of entrepreneurship. And even in the countries that hold this idea true, things are changing. I was in Copenhagen recently at the Creative Business Cup, a business competition for entrepreneurs that strives to toss the Law of Jante out the window (especially where business is concerned). And it’s working on the cultural level. Things are slowly changing.

Entrepreneurship is being embraced and encouraged. It’s becoming OK to stand out. It’s OK to call attention to yourself. It’s OK to be great. It’s OK to have a passion that no one understands. It’s OK to be an entrepreneur.

These ideas are not only inspiring, they bring with them economic and cultural impact. But you already know that, even on the days when you’re slogging it out.

Amy C. Cosper
Editor in Chief


  • It’s OK to be great
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    Why? Because you have chosen the path less taken, the path less understood and the...

Tour the Night Sky

1000161The staff of Astronomy magazine decided to produce its first star atlas in 2006. Although we hoped our readers would enjoy it and use it, we didn’t anticipate how popular it would be. Only a few months after it appeared, we were out of copies. A reprint was in order.

A simple redo, however, would not do. As we discussed the project, we decided to keep what worked — the layout, explanations, lists, and great images — and add to the excellent maps. Maps in Atlas of the Stars: New Edition, therefore, contain some 42,000 additional stars.

We didn’t arrive at that number by accident. We chose to include stars down to magnitude 8.5, a full half-magnitude gain over our first atlas, which displayed 45,000 stars as faint as magnitude 8.0. The extra stars will help binocular observers and amateur astronomers who use telescopes with low-power, wide fields of view.

We also added some 150 deep-sky objects. As with the original batch, you can view most of them through a 6-inch telescope from a dark site.

This atlas presents the sky in five areas. Maps 1 through 3 show the far northern sky (North Polar), and Maps 22 through 24 display the far southern sky (South Polar). Between these extremes lie the North Equatorial (Maps 4 through 9), Equatorial (Maps 10 through 15), and South Equatorial (Maps 16 through 21) regions. Each group of maps progresses in right ascension, and adjoining maps have some overlap so you won’t miss anything.

As I stated in my original editorial, to those of you just starting out on your lifelong love affair with astronomy, view this atlas as a beginning, not an end. Let its information and images start you on a tour of the night sky’s highlights. Along the way you’ll experience our fabulous universe.

Michael E. Bakich
Astronomy Special Issue
Atlas of the Stars: New Edition (ISBN 978-0-89024-795-2) is published by Kalmbach Publishing

Tour the Night Sky

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Popular Photography, November 2015. Vol. 79. No. 11

13010000Coming Soon? On the outside, it looks like a simple black box, the front dominated by a lensmount and the back festooned with control buttons, ports, jacks, and other connectors. But it’s what’s inside Canon’s ME20F-SH that’s causing all the buzz.

Announced in late July and due out by the end of the year, this $30,000 camera holds a near-full-frame (20x36mm) CMOS sensor that shoots Full HD (1080p) video at up to ISO 4 million. It wasn’t until I saw a preproduction version of this camera at the Canon Expo 2015 in September that I fully appreciated the implications. Simply put, it not only shoots in the dark—it captures recognizable colors and a surprising amount of detail. A demo designed to mimic a hat shop blew me away: With the light dimmed well past the point at which I could even make out shapes, a monitor attached to the camera revealed the scene down to the logos on the baseball caps.

Perfect? No. The footage looked mighty grainy, and the sensor’s lightgathering gifts come from huge yet relatively few (2.26MP) pixels. But this camera isn’t about producing big, sharp prints. It’s meant to provide video accurate enough for law-enforcement applications such as facial recognition. Who else will benefit? Documentary makers chronicling anything from nocturnal animals to deep-ocean life. TV producers catching people at unguarded moments in very little available light. Any company, government agency, or individual filming what happens when the lights are off.

We should have seen this coming: Canon announced it was developing the sensor in 2013. And while this camera was the closest to market that Canon showed off at its quinquennial expo, my colleagues and I saw some prototypes that pave the way for other astonishing feats. A 600mm f/4 DO BR lens uses the latest optics to shave 30% off the weight of the current model.

An 8K video camera and production monitor seem ready to transform the way movies are shot. A new 120MP APS-H-format (1.3X crop factor) sensor, shown in a body based on the EOS 5Ds, produces a level of fine detail we’ve seen only from medium-format cameras. And, on the truly experimental side, a 250MP APS-H sensor (you read that right) in a mystery-box of a camera was paired with a mega-telephoto lens to shoot video in Paris of someone standing on the Eiffel Tower and waving—at a distance of several miles.
Visit our Facebook page to watch our video interviews with Canon USA’s Chuck Westfall at the expo. And write to us at about how you would use new tools like this to reshape your own photography.

November 2015. Vol. 79. No. 11

Sky at Night, October 2013

Your astro images inspire as much awe as Gaia’s mission

Gaia is a mission full of superlatives: its aim, to make the largest precision map of our Galaxy; its target, more than a billion stars in  the Milky Way; and its applications, which span almost every branch of astronomy.

Humankind has been on an astrometrical quest to measure the positions, brightness and movements of our Galaxy’s stars since antiquity, and Gaia follows the Hipparcos satellite, whose three and a half year mission began in 1989. While the Hipparcos Catalogue of stellar positions was 200 times more accurate than prior celestial cartography, Gaia’s three-dimensional map is expected to be up to 10 times more precise still.

Ahead of its November launch, read more about this exciting ESA mission in Govert Schilling’s article starting on page 32. From its observing location in deep space, Gaia will have a clear view of the stars, but the view of the cosmos from Earth can be just as awe-inspiring, as you’ll see this month on page 40, where we present the winning images from Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013.

Now in its fifth year, the competition received a record number of submissions from around the world, and the standard of entries was better than ever. I’d like to thank the astro imagers who entered this year – it was a pleasure and an honour to be able to study such accomplished photographs. And talking of imaging, don’t forget to book your tickets for our second Astrophotography Masterclass in November before they sell out. You’ll find all the details on page 25.

Enjoy the issue.
ISSUE OCT 2013. BBC Sky at Night Magazine, Immediate Media Co Bristol Ltd.