science My day job

I’m a European correspondent for a weekly news magazine about molecules called Chemical & Engineering News, where I also co-host a video series about quirky science news called Speaking of Chemistry. I also edit a regular column called What’s That Stuff? about the molecular make-up of consumer products and food, including pumpkin spice flavor, trick candles, nitro-cold brew coffee, silly string and gluten-reduced beer.

I write often about research on art and artifacts, such as why Van Gogh’s pigments are fading as well as the conservation of photographs, plastics and spacesuits. I used to run a blog on this topic called Artful Science, which covered topics as varied as fake crystal Aztec skulls, radioactive artifacts, how long conservators should protect David Beckham’s football, how to authenticate pieces of the Berlin Wall, and ancient Roman cosmetics.

If I wasn’t a science journalist, I’d want to be a science historian. Here are some articles about Nazi chemistry, researchers who recreate ancient alchemical recipes, the dark history of chemical weapons and Galileo’s famous, failed debate about why ice floats.

I really like writing about food science, including the irresistible aroma of truffles, and why store-bought tomatoes often taste more like a tennis ball than a fruit.

Baked bread, roasted coffee & steak owe their awesome flavor, odor and color to the Maillard reaction, which was discovered 100 years ago. But the reaction also has a dark side: It produces carcinogenic molecules in our meals and in our bodies.

Counterfeiters of fake pharmaceutical pills have put everything from Viagra to ecstasy in bogus tablets, and they are up to a whole lot more. According to the WHO, an estimated 1% of drugs sold in the U.S., Canada and Europe are fakes while between 10-50% of medicines in developing nations are counterfeit.

There’s been much furor about the chemical bisphenol A — a potential hormone disrupter — which leaches from plastic bottles into the liquid inside. But bisphenol A is just one of tens of thousands of packaging chemicals that leach from wrappers into both food and pharmaceutical drugs. Ink in particular likes to sneak through packaging to end up in everything from breakfast cereal to injectable drugs.

Curious about what it was like to do science behind the Berlin Wall? In this article, I speak to scientists who escaped by foot to the west, were spied on by the Stasi secret police and who made it through the post-communist turmoil to be successful researchers today.

Ever wondered what it would take to build fake blood? It’s probably harder and more controversial than you expect.

Sometimes science is silly. I especially like wild turkeys that invade labs, pseudo sweat and bread science. Here’s my scientific review of the movie Snakes on a Plane.

Sometimes rules are silly, especially when innocent people get threatened with jail: I broke a story about scientists in Germany that were being criminally charged for impersonating a Dr. The story was picked up or blogged about by the Washington Post, Wired Magazine, Science, Nature, and Spiegel, among others.

I write alot about bacteria: I especially like the ones that chit chat using chemical words, those that live in clouds or blood-red waterfalls as well as the ones that love acid. Of course we can’t neglect the bugs that pull their own weight.

There’s a working particle accelerator and underground research labs beneath the Louvre museum in Paris. Conservation science is cool, but many researchers are taking a hands-off approach when studying artifacts.

Read here about what it’s like to be a nuclear forensic scientist and what happens when scientists go spelunking in old contaminated nuclear sites.

If the fact that humans and worms have about the same number of genes makes you feel intellectually insecure, find some solace in the spliceosome.

In case you were wondering, bees like foreign females but not pesticides. And I’m sure you’ve been giving a lot of thought to reptile odors and beaver sweat.

Or the chemicals detected by predatory plants.

If you’re wondering about where you misplaced all that lithium, can I suggest you look here?

You can find all my articles using this Google search.