Smithsonian Magazine

The Writer Who Built the World’s First Engine-Powered Submarine

A man cannot one day just decide to build a submarine, much less the first powered submarine, much less if that man is a writer. Yet that is just what Narcis Monturiol did.

As a young firebrand of the mid-19th century, Monturiol flirted with inflammatory subjects including feminism and Communism, placing him under the watchful eye of […]

January 3rd, 2014|Smithsonian Magazine|

Why I Like Science

No one can tell you for sure what the appendix does. No one knows how deep into the Earth life goes. No one knows how high into the sky life goes. No one is sure what the mites that live on human foreheads do, though they are there while you are reading.

Most species on Earth remain unnamed, not to mention totally unstudied. New species are easy to find in Manhattan, walking around alongside celebrities. No one can tell me what the species of bacteria living on my body, hundreds of species, are doing. No one can say for sure if there is another, yet to be discovered, domain of life. Parasites in my body might be affecting my behavior, and even the sorts of things I write late at night. […]

October 8th, 2011|Smithsonian Magazine|

The Mystery of Singing Mice

In late 1925, one J. L. Clark discovered an unusual mouse in a house in Detroit. It could sing. And so he did what anyone might have done: he captured the mouse and put it in a cage. There it produced a lyrical tune as if it were a bird. A musician named Martha Grim visited the mouse, commented on the impurity of its tones and left, musical standards being high in Detroit. Clark gave the mouse to scientists at the University of Michigan. The scientists confirmed that the mouse could sing and then bred it with laboratory house mice. Some offspring produced a faint “chitter,” but none inherited the father’s melodic chops. These observations were all noted in a scientific article in 1932 and mostly forgotten. […]

April 19th, 2011|Smithsonian Magazine|