Alex O'BrienAlex O’Brien is a freelance science and technology writer. She is a regular contributor for German-based Trademark Publishing and has written for Delayed Gratification and TheLong&Short, among other publications.

Alex previously wrote ‘How to mend a broken heart’ for Mosaic.

Twitter: @obrientweet

What is your feature about?

Cancer surgery - with a specific focus on a new drug derived from scorpion venom that highlights tumours to an unprecedented detail and could be a potential game changer in this field.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

During my week with the Olson research group at the Fred Hutch in Seattle I found that a significant amount of the team aren’t working in labs wearing white coats. In fact, a lot of the work happens in offices and on computers. These are computational biologists and chemists who try to find patterns, algorithms and analyse data – mostly before any typical lab experiments are done. I learned that today maths and computer science (bioinformatics) plays a huge role in research in general.

Read Alex’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 1 September 2015.

Mary-Rose AbrahamMary-Rose Abraham is a multimedia journalist, currently based in Bangalore, India. She was previously a staff producer for several years at ABC News in Los Angeles and New York City. Mary-Rose graduated with honors from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Twitter: @maryroseabraham

What is your story about?

The intersection of human health and canine health.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Having grown up in the US, I was familiar with the system of impounding dogs (and cats) and the subsequent euthanasia of millions of these animals every year. In Indian cities, there is no large-scale shelter system, which explains why dogs make their homes on the streets. However, I was surprised to learn that it is against Indian law to kill them. Perhaps in this one narrow measure, India fulfils the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Read Mary-Rose’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 25 August 2015.

KQKatharine Quarmby is a writer and journalist, and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. She has worked as a journalist for the BBC, including stints as Newsnight’s science and politics producer, and at The Economist, as well as contributing to newspapers. Her third non-fiction book, Hear My Cry, co-written with ‘honour’ violence survivor, Diana Kader, is published this year by Hachette Poland. Her previous books have won the AMIA International Literature Award and been shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Non-Fiction award, and her journalism has been shortlisted for the Paul Foot Prize. She finds the connection – and clash – between science and society on particular issues completely fascinating, and has written about or made films about genetic modification, the BSE crisis, adoption, genetics and identity, fertility and the nuclear industry.

Katharine previously wrote 'Sex, lives and disability' for Mosaic.

Twitter: @KatharineQ 

What is your feature about?

It’s about testing the case for medical cannabis to be introduced in the UK. I think it’s important to tell controversial stories ‘in the round’ – interview people with widely differing points of view about whether or not there should be reform of our cannabis laws, in this case. I felt it was crucial to hear the voices of scientists on the latest research (on how effective cannabis is a treatment) and of people, many of whom have disabling conditions, who feel that their access to a medicine that they feel is of use to them is denied.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I’m intrigued by the fact that cannabis still carries such a pariah status as a plant and drug. This means that advocates both for and against are very passionate about their positions. This makes for a good story but puts a lot of pressure on scientists, somewhere in the middle, trying to puzzle out the benefits and harms of cannabis.

Read Katharine's feature on Mosaic, publishing 18 August 2015.

Carrie ArnoldCarrie Arnold is a freelance science writer covering many aspects of health and the living world. Before that, she worked in the field of public health for many years. She has written for a wide variety of magazines and other publications, including Scientific American, Discover, Slate, Aeon, Nautilus and Women’s Health. Carrie lives in Virginia with her husband and cat.

Carrie previously wrote ‘Saved: How addicts gained the power to reverse overdoses’ for Mosaic.

Twitter: @edbites

What is your story about?

Few of us think much about the world of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that surround us. Especially in the US, issues of so-called 'tropical' diseases like toxocariasis, Chagas disease, and neurocysticercosis seem like issues for other countries. With a new wave of these diseases on our doorstep, this complacency could be deadly.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

When I started reporting, I expected to find warning signs. But as I dug deeper and spoke with doctors and locals, especially those in South Texas, I realised that we were long past the time of warning signs. Plenty of people were already suffering from deadly diseases that few of us have heard of or can even pronounce. It's easy to make it an issue of "Them," of travellers bringing diseases back or immigrants arriving from other countries. The issue, though, has much more to do with poverty than anything else. Poverty, like many of these diseases, is already here.

Read Carrie’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 11 August 2015.

emma youngEmma Young is an award-winning science and health journalist. A former reporter and editor on New Scientist, working in London and Sydney, she now freelances from an attic in Sheffield. As E L Young (in the UK, Emma in the US), she is also the author of the STORM series of science-based thrillers for kids. 

Emma previously wrote ‘Can you supercharge your brain?’ and ‘Secrets of the strong-minded’ for Mosaic.

What's your feature about?

The fundamental, 'behind-the-scenes' influence of smell on our daily lives.

What did you learn that surprised you?

One: people are a lot better at smelling than I'd thought. Two: smells from other people can influence our judgements of not only their psychological state but their abilities.

Read Emma’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 4 August 2015.

Mike IvesMike Ives is a journalist based in Hanoi, Vietnam, and a regular contributor to the Economist, the New York Times and other publications. He has reported on business, politics, science, art, food, health, travel, architecture, real estate and the environment.

Twitter @mikeives

What is your feature about?

It explores the state of healthcare in Myanmar. The country is in the middle of a landmark political metamorphosis, and healthcare is one of several areas where the government is planning deep reforms. But Myanmar's healthcare infrastructure is rickety after decades of neglect, and some wonder if it has the capacity to absorb all the international aid it is receiving. There is also deep distrust lingering between the government and many rebel groups in the hinterlands -- and the distrust further complicates healthcare reform.

Many health experts are confident that Myanmar's healthcare system will improve. The question is how long significant reforms will take to succeed, who will benefit and what may hold progress back. In the meantime, the country's basic health indicators are among the world's lowest. Infectious diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS are also a major source of concern. And scientists worry that drug-resistant malaria along Myanmar's western border could spread to India and beyond.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I was especially interested in analysis of the links between political reconciliation and healthcare delivery in conflict-affected areas of Myanmar's countryside. The main takeaway is that healthcare reform is a potential dividend, but also a potential disruptor, of Myanmar's ongoing peace process. The actual results will depend on how the reforms are planned and implemented.

Read Mike’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 28 July 2015.

Packing a book for your holidays? How about an audiobook too?

The great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them whenever and wherever you like – on the beach, during never-ending car journeys or while relaxing at home.

We’ve put together a list of 10 of our favourite podcast episodes –five of our own and five from others – for your summer enjoyment. All are available for free on iTunes and wherever else good podcasts are found.

Case #3 Belt Buckle (Mystery Show)

“Every lost object comes with a mystery that seems hopelessly impossible to solve. The single glove found on the train. The wedding band found on the beach. But the belt buckle was different. It came with clues.”

In Mystery Show, Starlee Kine investigates mysteries – very personal mysteries, the kind that can’t be solved online. Mystery Show is one of the most innovative and well-crafted podcasts around and this is our favourite so far.

Voices in the dark (Mosaic)

“To me it’s not a broken brain; it’s more of a broken story. There’s a broken link between yourself and the story you should live.”

In Mosaic’s first audio documentary, Chris Chapman explores what its like to hear voices. He talks with people who hear voices and the researchers trying to understand them.

How to Become Batman (Invisibilia)

“Today, we’re going to tell you a story that, we think, is gonna make you believe something that you don’t currently believe.”

How do our expectations affect the people around us? Lulu Miller meets Daniel Kish, a blind man who says that others’ expectations have helped him learn to see like a bat.

 

The Alzheimer’s enigma (Mosaic)

“Alzheimer’s disease may well be a construct, but with no author to decide where the answer lies, we are essentially lost. We may be deep in the labyrinth or just round the corner from the exit.”

Can a mystery really be solved if we gather enough clues? Particularly one that has been puzzling the science world’s best detectives for years.

The man who sleeps in Hitler’s bed (Guardian Long Read)

“When he was five years old, Kevin Wheatcroft received an unusual birthday present from his parents: a bullet-pocked SS stormtrooper’s helmet, lightning bolts on the ear-flaps.”

A tale of history and collecting. Meet Kevin Wheatcroft and tour his obsession: the largest collection of Nazi memorabilia in the world.

Homesick in the modern world (Mosaic)

“Homesickness often feels like unrequited love because we have such a connection with places we are fond of.”

Ten years ago, John Osborne experienced the most intense homesickness he has ever felt. Listen as he describes his return to Vienna and his search for a cure to homesickness.

Make Me a Match (Freakonomics)

“So what kind of work did Al Roth do to land a Nobel Prize in Economics? Well, it’s not the kind of work that typically wins a Nobel.”

Stephen Dubner, coauthor of the Freakonomics series of books, interviews Al Roth, an engineer by training and Economics Nobel Prizewinner, about his career. Roth and others discuss his work setting up organ exchange programs, which have led to 600 additional kidney donations a year in the US.

Why do we have blood types? (Mosaic)

“Why do 40 per cent of Caucasians have type A blood, while only 27 per cent of Asians do? Where do different blood types come from, and what do they do?”

Find the answer to these questions and more, exploring the mysterious and not yet fully understood science of blood types.

He’s Neutral (Criminal)

“He did something desperate, something that makes absolutely no sense to anyone, maybe least of all to Dan himself.”

Dan Stevenson says crime has been an issue in his neighbourhood for years – but he had never called the police about it. Phoebe Judge asks him when he reached breaking point, and the uplifting story of the action he took, with unexpected consequences.

Death in the Outback (Mosaic)

“What’s life without a heart? You can have your health, an education…but without your culture, you just simply aren’t you.”

The story of an Aboriginal girl fostered by a white family in the early 1970s, and the troubled history, and present, of healthcare in Australia’s aboriginal communities.

An audiobook a week: subscribe to the Mosaic podcast!
Available on iTunes, SoundCloud, RSS or wherever good podcasts are found. And if you like what you hear, leave a rating or review.

Calum Wiggins

Linda GeddesLinda Geddes is a Bristol-based freelance journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She spent nine years as an editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including winning the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism, and being shortlisted for the Paul Foot Award. Her book, Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be was published in 2013.

Twitter: @lindageddes

What’s your feature about?

The days of the traditional family with 2.4 children are gone. Today, there are umpteen ways to make a baby and the availability of donor eggs, sperm, and surrogate mothers means you don’t necessarily even need a mum and dad. Gay parents, single mothers by choice, Methuselah mums - my feature questions the impact of these new family forms on the kids they produce, and probes what really matters when it comes to parenting.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I was surprised to learn that your gender makes little difference to the way you parent – at least, if you are the child’s main carer. When men are handed sole-responsibility for a child’s upbringing, their brains adopt a more “maternal” pattern of response. Also, boys raised by two women are no more feminine in terms of their toy choices or behaviour, than those brought up by a conventional mum and dad.

I was also blown away by the gay couple I interviewed: Chris and Harry, and by the relationship they continue to maintain with their twins’ surrogate mother. These are two sensitive, loving fathers, forging a new path for the children they once believed they’d never have.

Read Linda’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 21 July 2015.

1 Comment

Longform-loving websites Digg and Mosaic are joining forces to commission a compelling, long story that will be published on both sites.

Digg is fascinated by internet culture, while Mosaic explores science, medicine and health. So we’re looking for a story from the intersection of these two realms.

Do you have the story for us? If so, send us a pitch of no more than three to four paragraphs to tell us:

  • What’s the story in a nutshell?
  • What are the main questions you’d be exploring?
  • Which places would you go to report it?
  • How would you tell the story?

Please also include a brief bio and links to other narrative-led, longform pieces (3000 words plus) you’ve written. We offer a competitive rate.

Send your pitch to pitch@digg.com no later than 7 August 2015.

 

About Digg

Every day, Digg finds the best written, most interesting, and most talked-about articles on the Internet and brings them together in one place, so you don’t have to go looking.

While our front page spans a wide variety of topics, from science to television to religion, our original content sits at the intersection of science, human nature, and Internet culture. Digg lives and breathes Internet – how it works, how different people interact with it, how it will shape our future – and our readers do too.

Our original long form content mines that interest, from an investigation into why audio rarely goes viral, to one of our editors’ experience with SMS-based Invisible Girlfriend service, to the experience of being mistakenly targeted by angry people on the Internet.

 

About Mosaic

Mosaic is all about exploring the science of life. Every Tuesday, we publish a narrative, non-fiction longform feature on an aspect of biology or medicine that affects our lives, our health or our society. We tell stories with real depth about the ideas, trends and people that drive contemporary life sciences.

The topics we cover are diverse: everything from the science of faecal transplants, to the people hacking their nervous systems, to asking why we have blood groups.

We publish under a Creative Commons licence, which means that all of Mosaic’s articles can be republished or distributed free of charge.

 

 

Geoff WattsGeoff Watts spent five years in academic biomedical research, realised he’d made a mistake in thinking he’d enjoy lab work, and dropped out with no plans for the future beyond staying in touch with science. Journalism eventually offered the ideal escape route, and he’s since divided his time between writing and radio broadcasting.

He’s presented countless programmes on science and medicine for BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service – but has not yet learned to like the sound of his own voice.

Geoff previously wrote In other words: inside the lives and minds of the simultaneous interpreters for Mosaic.

 What is your feature about?

It’s about our fear of radiation, or rather, as I see it, our excessive fear. Many natural phenomena - heat and cold, for example, or very high and very low pressure - are potentially damaging to health and well-being. By and large, though, we make sensible decisions about them. We recognise they can be dangerous, but we’re not frightened to use them.

Radiation is in a different category. Outside of its role in medicine the prevailing view is that the only good radiation is no radiation. The biggest casualty of this outlook is power generation. As the need for carbon-free sources of energy has grown more pressing, so too has public disdain for a key source of it: nuclear power. And when a nuclear power station develops a fault, or suffers damage leading to a radioactive leak, we panic beyond all reason.

Events ranging from the 1945 atomic bombs to the recent tsunami in Fukushima have given us the facts we need to make rational decisions about the risks of using radiation. The question is whether we’ll take notice of them.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I learned that if you enjoy lying on a wooden bench in the near dark at 40 degrees Centigrade and 100 per cent humidity while breathing air that’s mildly radioactive, there’s a disused gold mine in Austria that will be more that happy to accommodate you. Moreover, it’s claimed, you’ll be healthier when you emerge than when you entered. Irresistible…

Read Geoff’s feature in Mosaic, publishing 14 July 2015.

Rose GeorgeRose George studied modern languages at the University of Oxford, then international politics at the University of Pennsylvania. She became an intern at the Nation magazine in New York in 2004, in offices so scruffy they were chosen for the set of a Woody Allen film, and has been writing ever since. Her first book, A Life Removed, looked at the reality of refugee life. The Big Necessity, an exploration of sanitation, has been putting people off lunch since 2008, and Deep Sea and Foreign Going (2013), on merchant shipping, enabled her to run away to sea. She is now thinking seriously about blood.

What is your feature about?
It's about many things. The cholera epidemic in Haiti, of course, and why that's still flourishing despite all the effort put into containing it. But it's also about the place of sanitation in the development agenda, and in popular consciousness, and why attention can be turned so quickly from one crisis to the next – from cholera to Ebola, for example – even when so many Haitians are still getting and dying from cholera.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?
I was surprised that cholera was still raging, and so murderous, yet Haitians are so savvy about public health messages, about hygiene and sanitation. They know what cholera is and what it does. The story showed me, yet again, the disconnect between what the development world calls "messaging" and actual behaviour change.

Read Rose's story on Mosaic from 7 July 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 13.15.46Jeremy Hsu is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He frequently writes about science and technology for Backchannel, IEEE Spectrum, Popular Science and Scientific American. One of his ongoing projects includes running the blog Lovesick Cyborg for Discover Magazine, where he examines the impact of technology on the human experience. His website is: http://sciencehsu.com/.

Twitter: @jeremyhsu

What is your feature about?

This is a story about one of the more puzzling diseases known to medical science. Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that can cause children to develop heart disease if they don't receive proper treatment. But researchers still don't know what causes the disease, decades after Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki first described it in 1967. Researchers have been chasing several different theories about what might cause the disease, including a windborne toxin, a virus, and even carpet cleaner.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

I knew that Kawasaki disease was mysterious, but I was surprised to discover just how much we don't know about it. For instance, the annual number of new cases has been steadily climbing in Japan, but has held steady in the USA. Nobody knows why.

Read Jeremy’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 30 June 2015.

Neil steinbergNeil Steinberg is a columnist on staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He has also written for Esquire, Granta, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News and many other publications. The author of seven books, his most recent, You Were Never in Chicago, was published by the University of Chicago Press, which is also publishing his next book, Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, written with Sara Bader and due out in the spring of 2016. He writes daily on his aptly named blog everygoddamnday.com.

Twitter: @neilsteinberg

What is your feature about?

It’s about the difficulties people who are disfigured must deal with as they confront the world. They are a truly marginalised group, and I wondered whether they were making the kind of progress that others have made at being better understood and accepted by society. I focus on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Craniofacial Center, and use my own unease as a kind of narrative arc, to show how the apprehension that many feel toward the disfigured evaporates with familiarity, as the humanity that each of us has shines through outward appearances.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I thought that plastic surgery was a relatively modern phenomenon, and was surprised to discover that it goes back many centuries. The care and effort required when creating even a simple facial prosthetic – an ear, for instance – was something I had never considered, and seemed truly extraordinary. I was impressed and humbled by the positive, often cheery, attitudes of the disfigured people I spoke with, how they accepted their situations and overcame them, to the best of their ability.

Read Neil's feature on Mosaic, publishing 23 June 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 11.55.00John Osborne writes books, poems and stories. He regularly performs at festivals including Latitude, Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe and has performed poetry on BBC Radio 1, Radio 3 and 6Music. He has written and performed six half-hour stories on Radio 4, most recently The New Blur Album and Don't Need the Sunshine, an adaptation of his non-fiction book of the same name. He co-wrote and created After Hours, a comedy drama for Sky One, directed by Craig Cash. He lives in Norwich and walks around with his shoelaces undone. Read more at www.johnosbornewriter.com

Twitter: @johnosradiohead

What is your feature about?
My feature is about homesickness. I hate being away from home and started to wonder if there was a cure. How bad a problem can it be? The more I researched the more fascinating the subject became. I was interested in the history of homesickness, the effects that the internet, specifically Facebook and Twitter, can have on homesickness, and how people, from students to refugees, cope around the world.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?
What I learnt that I hadn't expected was how hard it is to define the word homesickness, to the extent that some people claim it does not exist, whereas others can be seriously debilitated by it. I had no idea if there was a cure, but I think through the people I spoke to that I may have found one. Maybe.

Read John's feature on Mosaic, publishing 16 June 2015.

Nic FlemingNic Fleming’s career on what used to be called Fleet Street began 18 years ago on the Daily Express. Through a bizarre series of confusing twists and turns, he progressed from being a hopeless showbusiness reporter and following Princess Diana around to a job as science and medical correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. He is now a freelance writer and editor, working for outlets including New Scientist, the Guardian, the Economist, Nature, BBC Future and Mosaic. 

Twitter: @NicFlem

What is your feature about?
Children with lazy eyes are treated only up to the age of seven or eight because it is assumed that the relevant brain circuits are too fixed for treatment to work beyond this point. Yet research over the last 20 years suggests the brain is more open to being re-moulded later in life than previously thought.

Several groups have reported promising results for video games designed to treat lazy eye by strengthening the signals being directed to patients' weaker eyes. Some study participants who tried early versions of these have given vivid descriptions of suddenly gaining true depth perception for the first time.

If ongoing larger studies confirm the preliminary findings, there are some tantalising prospects. Perhaps children with lazy eyes can be better treated, without the need to endure patching. Maybe adults could be treated, thereby reducing the risk of blindness in later life. Might this mean there are better ways to reverse other acquired cognitive deficits like those caused by stroke and traumatic brain injuries waiting to be discovered?

What did you learn that you didn't expect?
I underwent patching treatment for my lazy eye as a child. As with a large proportion of other patients, the playground mockery I endured was all for nothing as the patch didn't work. During the first interview I did for this piece, I learnt that I don't have true depth perception, which is only possible when the brain integrates the two slightly different signals it receives from two properly functioning eyes.

Learning that most other people see the world differently to how I do was initially quite startling, and speaking to individuals who have gone from seeing in 2D to developing some 3D vision abilities was fascinating. Having the opportunity to try briefly a couple of the experimental video-game-based therapies, and getting some small indications that one of them might have the potential to fix my lazy eye, was intriguing and exciting.

Read Nic's piece on Mosaic, from 9 June 2015.

Alex O'BrienAlex O’Brien is a freelance science and technology writer. She is a regular contributor for German-based Trademark Publishing and has written for Delayed Gratification and TheLong&Short, among other publications.

Twitter: @obrientweet

What is your feature about?

The history and development of the artificial heart. I traveled to the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Texas, to interview and shadow the world’s leading heart surgeons over a few days. There I met with 94-year-old Dr Denton Cooley, who implanted the world’s first artificial heart in 1969, scrubbed up and witnessed how the heart of a calf was cut out and replaced by a total artificial heart, got to visit the lab and meet the team of the most promising artificial heart device thus far, the BiVACOR.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Two things:

1) The offices of these surgeons were far from what the minimally designed, sleek, stark and modern layout I’d expected. Dr Bud Frazier’s office is essentially a huge library with several hundred history books, including a copy of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’. Dr Billy Cohn has a little sign on his desk that captures the essence of his office: “A cluttered desk is a sign of GENIUS”. There is a mini toy Einstein that stands right next to it. The desk isn’t the only thing that is cluttered – his office has everything from stacks of playing cards (his card tricks are mind-boggling), snow globes, a mini remote-controlled helicopter, a lamp with a woman’s leg in fishnet stockings as a base and even a transformer. His walls aren’t organized either – and randomly filled with several awards, clippings of profiles of him, drawings from his kids, pictures of his family, pictures of him on stage with his band (he is an excellent musician who can play various instruments), various heart devices and a wood cut giraffe’s head.

2) We don’t need a pulse to live.

Read Alex’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 2 June 2015.

3 Comments

Gaia VinceGaia Vince is a writer and broadcaster specialising in science and the environment. She has been the front editor of the journal Nature Climate Change, the news editor of Nature and online editor of New Scientist. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines in the UK, US and Australia, including The Guardian, Science, Scientific American and Australian Geographic. She writes for BBC Online and devises and presents science programmes for BBC radio. Her first book, Adventures In The Anthropocene: A journey to the heart of the planet we made, is out now. She lives in London and blogs at WanderingGaia.com

Twitter: @WanderingGaia

What is your feature about?

My feature is about the vagus nerve - a vibrant connection between the brain and the body's major organs. Recently, scientists have discovered that the vagus plays a vital role in the immune system and are attempting to control disease by hacking the nerve (as an alternative to administering drugs). I've written about these attempts and the patients undergoing pioneering treatments.

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

I didn't expect such inspirational stories from the researchers and their patients, all of whose outcomes revolved around a hitherto unappreciated nerve. I think in the future, we'll be hearing a lot more about the vagus and other nervous-system treatments for common conditions.

Read Gaia’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 26 May 2015.

10 Comments

Rose EvelethRose Eveleth is a producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn. She's dabbled in everything from research on pelagic invertebrates to animations about beer to podcasts about fake tumbleweed farms. These days, she explores how humans tangle with science and technology.

Currently Rose is a columnist for BBC Future, the host and producer of the Gizmodo podcast Meanwhile in the Future, and the editor of Smithsonian’s Smart News blog. She’s also the founder and curator for Science Studio, the place to find the very best multimedia about science on the internet. In her spare time she makes paper automata and day dreams about hanging out with a pack of foxes. You can see more of her work at her website, and get in touch with her on Twitter, especially if you have a fox thing to show her.

Twitter: @roseveleth

What is your feature about?

My feature is about Brian Bartlett, an amputee who developed his very own prosthetic knee to get back on the slopes after everybody told him he couldn't. It’s also about the special insights that amputees have when it comes to designing prosthetics—they know what they want, and know what doesn’t work for them in a way that an able-bodied person simply can never fully understand. Brian is one in a long line of amputees who have invented incredibly innovative prosthetics, and I’m sure he won’t be the last to say “hey, wait a minute, I have a better idea.”

What did you learn that you didn’t expect?

Brian’s story is full of unexpected twists and turns, and I don’t want to give any of them away here! But I think the thing that most surprised me was how far back this kind of innovation goes. Some of the first prosthetics were developed and improved upon by amputees who had no training in engineering or medicine, but who knew that what they had simply wasn’t working for them. Looking through the early history of prosthetics, and some of the earliest patents, I found a whole trove of fascinating ideas about how to replace missing body parts. Some of them never came to be, but some of them totally changed the way we think about prosthetic devices even today.

Read Rose’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 19 May 2015.

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IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell3
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

Illustrating the decay of dead bodies without being too gruesome is a challenge, one met with gusto and originality by set designers Lightning + Kinglyface. We asked them how they came up with their ideas for the shoot.

When asked to be involved with the visuals for Mosaic's piece on the descriptive stages of decomposition, the passages of the human body through bloating, chemical reactions of gases, liquids and salts stood out to us: the fermenting sugars that produce gaseous by-products, the inflation and eventual deflation of the human body. This passing of chemicals and reactions between the body and the earth are all incredibly visually stimulating.

By taking something that is omnipresent and most human beings use daily – toilet paper – we wanted to represent the body and its ability to decompose entirely into the earth, enriching the earth and completing a cycle. The aim was to create sculptures that represent this transition using the toilet paper.

IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell1
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

We did this by combining salt crystals and leaving them to soak up coloured dyes in liquids before exposing them to various conditions including tanks of water on the day of the shoot. This way we could visually represent their decomposition over a period of time.

 

We worked with photographer Jess Bonham to develop our ideas and to make sure the final images were not only visually strong but also contextualized.

 

Shot 1 - Death

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham1
Sketches © Jess Bonham and Process photos: © Lightning + Kinglyface

The toilet roll is a visual aid to illustrate the human body leaving the complex pattern of the living. Falling from the infrastructure of this precious thing we call life. Death is a tumble that happens to us all.

Shot 2 - Bloating

IMG_2524_BTS_Decomp_PetaBell2
Credit: @shedefeatsyou

The body will change form and shape as it decomposes. One of the first processes is bloating, the liquids in the body rise to the surface and start to leak out.

Shot 3 - Bursting

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham2

The body slowly releases an intricate mixture of gases and liquids. Whilst remaining whole still, the outer layers of skin and delicate, fragile elements of the body peel away.

Shot 4 - Unravelling

Making of the rolls_Lightning+Kinglyface and Jess Bonham3
Sketches © Jess Bonham and Process photos: © Lightning + Kinglyface

 

The body is left to completely unravel giving itself to the earth and this is the point when colonisation can happen. The body is completely open to the elements.

Shot 5 - New life

New life begins from the nutrients left behind after a body completely decomposes. This shot represents the way the dead are still a part of the living through vital nutrients and much more.

See the final images in the Mosaic piece 'This is what happens after you die'.

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Will StorrWill Storr is a novelist and longform journalist. His stories appear in broadsheet newspaper supplements such as The Observer MagazineSeven Magazine (Sunday Telegraph), The Sunday Times Magazine and The Guardian Weekend. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and GQ Australia. His award-winning radio documentaries have been broadcast on BBC World.

He has reported from the refugee camps of Africa, the war-torn departments of rural Colombia and the remote Aboriginal communities of Australia.

He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2010, his investigation into the kangaroo meat industry won the Australian Food Media award for Best Investigative Journalism and, in 2012, he was presented with the One World Press award and the Amnesty International award for his work for The Observer on sexual violence against men. In 2013, his BBC radio series ‘An Unspeakable Act’ won the AIB award for best investigative documentary.

He is also a widely published photographer, whose portraits of LRA survivors have been the subject of an exhibition at the Coin Street Gallery in London’s Oxo Tower.

Twitter: @wstorr

What is your feature about?

My story asks why so many men kill themselves compared to women, but what it’s really about is something called ‘social perfectionism.’ That’s different from the kind of perfectionism in which everything we do has to be of an incredibly high standard. Social perfectionism is when we fail to be the people that we believe other people expect us to be. That’s a slightly complicated notion so you might have to read that sentence again! It’s basically when we feel we’ve failed in the eyes of other people. Of course, we can be (and often are) wildly wrong about what we believe other people think of us, which is why social perfectionism can be so toxic. We can easily convince ourselves that, in the eyes of bosses and loved ones, we’ve failed in a thousand ways. But we’re often completely wrong.

This made a lot of sense to me, as contemporary thinking about the nature of the self is highly influenced by sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s notion of ‘the looking glass self.’ This is the idea that we are what we think other people think we are. If Cooley was right, you can begin to understand just how powerful social perfectionism can be. If we actually are what we THINK other people think we are, and if we think they consider us to be a loser, then the belief that we actually ARE a loser becomes perhaps irresistible (you might have to read that last bit three times). 

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Mainly, that my masculinity means something to me. That’s been such a surprise. I’ve never been a lad, I hated all the laddiness at school, and the ‘banter’ at some of the offices (and supermarkets) I’ve worked in. I don’t like sports and have always felt ambivalent about having the biceps of a seven year old. I’ve shrugged off the fact my wife out-earns me considerably and that I do 97 per cent of the housework. I always believed that this ‘crisis in masculinity’ was a bit ridiculous. Who cares if Dapper Laughs has a crisis? I want him to have a crisis. But the more you learn, the more you learn. Masculinity isn’t just weightlifting on a beach. Identity is crucial to psychological well-being and our culture tells us that, to even be considered man, you have to be a powerful, charismatic winner. Culture will shift, in time, but we’re in a period of great flux, with one foot in 1950s notions of masculinity and the other not knowing what it’s about to land on. For me, part of the fight of gender equality is accepting the idea that men can be vulnerable and in need of help. We’ve a way to go before society at large accepts this notion without a tut or a snigger.

Read Will’s feature on Mosaic, publishing 12 May 2015.