How Extinction Rebellion put the world on red alert

The radical group has galvanised young and old. But in the year since it formed, what has life been like inside the movement? In the last week alone, members of Extinction Rebellion have been described as ecoradicals ignoring our economic doom (Times), a bloody mess (Daily Telegraph). They have been accused of tried to paint the Treasury red using 1,800 litres of fake blood and an old fire engine with a sign reading stop funding climate death. While its actions may seem controversial in some quarters, Extinction Rebellions rise and influence have undoubtedly been extraordinary, galvanising young and old across party lines. Last October, the journalist and activist George Monbiot introduced the group in the national press, a homegrown movement …

Lets Build a Global Skyscraper Network to Save the Planet

When New York City passed an aggressive set of greenhouse-gas-limiting laws in April, the buzz was, rightly, about the ambition of America’s biggest city putting a lid on its climate-changing ways. New York state has picked up the banner, too, putting into law this week a downslope to zero carbon emissions by 2050—the only other state to have a goal like that on the books is (you can guess) California. The Oregon legislature is dancing with the idea, too, assuming the governor can coax back to the capitol all the Republican legislators who are literally hiding so they don’t have to vote. Arguably the most interesting part of the New York City package isn’t the cap. It’s the trade—or, rather, …

Fertility Treatment Gets Less Clinical, More Grammable

The first time Ashley Binder went through a surgical procedure to retrieve her eggs for in vitro fertilization, she got some cramps and a bill from her fertility clinic she had to sort out with her insurer. The second time was no less uncomfortable, but instead of a bill, what showed up on her doorstep was a bouquet of flowers and a note of encouragement from her fertility coach, Nicole. Like a growing number of Americans eager to conceive, Binder is choosing to navigate the complicated, costly, and emotionally charged world of contemporary reproductive medicine with the help of a company specializing in concierge fertility services. With curated networks of preferred clinics, personalized financing plans, breezy beach relaxation retreats, and …

Everyone Needs a Good PillowEven Astronauts Bound for Mars

By all accounts sleeping in space is a dream. After a long day of running experiments and rigorous exercise, astronauts on the International Space Station retire to their padded sleep pods, which have just enough room to fit the astronaut, a laptop mounted to a wall, and a few practical items. To prevent themselves from drifting through the station while catching some zero-g z’s, astronauts snuggle into a sleeping bag mounted to the wall of their sleep pod. As they start to slumber, their bodies relax and their arms drift out in front of them, making them look like floating zombies. Absent from astronauts’ bedrooms, though, are pillows. In microgravity you don’t need one—you don’t even need to hold your …

Italy’s new ruins: heritage sites being lost to neglect and looting

Overgrown and weathered, many historical monuments are disappearing as public funds for culture fail to match modern Italys inheritance Legend has it that the grotto hidden among the craggy cliffs on San Marco hill in Sutera in the heart of Sicily holds a treasure chest full of gold coins. In order to find it, three men must dream simultaneously about the precise place to dig. Treasure or no treasure, the grotto itself is an archaeological gem, its walls adorned with a multi-coloured Byzantine-esque 16th-century fresco depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saints Paulinus, Luke, Mark and Matthew. One of the first mountain oratories in the world, it was built by Basilian monks in the 9th century. But time has weathered …

The Quest to Make a Bot That Can Smell as Well as a Dog

Unfortunately, the other reason we don’t have robots that can smell is that olfaction remains a stubborn biological enigma. Scientists are still piecing together the basics of how we sense all those volatile compounds and how our brains classify that information. “There are more unknowns than knowns,” says Hiroaki Matsunami, a researcher at Duke University. Mershin, however, believes that we don’t really have to understand how mammals smell to build an artificial nose. He’s betting that things will work the other way around: To understand the nose, we have to build one first. In his efforts with a brilliant mentor named Shuguang Zhang, Mershin has built a device that can just begin to give dogs—his panting adversaries—a run for their …

A Bizarre Form of Water May Exist All Over the Universe

Recently at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Brighton, New York, one of the world’s most powerful lasers blasted a droplet of water, creating a shock wave that raised the water’s pressure to millions of atmospheres and its temperature to thousands of degrees. X-rays that beamed through the droplet in the same fraction of a second offered humanity’s first glimpse of water under those extreme conditions. The X-rays revealed that the water inside the shock wave didn’t become a superheated liquid or gas. Paradoxically—but just as physicists squinting at screens in an adjacent room had expected—the atoms froze solid, forming crystalline ice. “You hear the shot,” said Marius Millot of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and “right away you …

How to Build, and Keep Building, a Cathedral Like Notre-Dame

The roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral wasn’t just a roof. Sure, it kept the rain out. But what burned away in Paris in April was a technical marvel, the height—literally—of 12th- and 13th-century engineering. “If one imagines the stresses on a large sail of timber and lead rising over 100 feet from the ground, one can only marvel at the ingenuity and skill of these early builders,” as the historian Lynn Courtenay writes in an essay for the Society of Antiquaries of London. The wooden trusses—made of trees cut down in 1160 or so—were specially braced with an extra plate linking them to the walls, and clasps to keep them from sagging across the span. The wood was in tension, helping …