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Ten years ago I exchanged a career in biochemistry for one in journalism. Since then I’ve written about Europe’s hypocritical history of cannibalism for Smithsonian, the strange molecules found in platypus venom for Scientific American, about the Mona Lisa’s perfect complexion for the Economist, and how an octogenarian beat poet has teamed up with conservators to save vintage video in Newscientist. Here’s a select sample of my written work…

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.
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Sweat history, science and culture

 

Creating the fear of stink in America in The Smithsonian

    A hundred years ago, deodorants and antiperspirants were obscure products that few people used–or even knew about. Now they are an $18 billion industry worldwide. Find out how a traveling Bible salesman and high school entrepreneur helped launched our fear of sweat.

    The article was picked up by Boing Boing, Andrew Sullivan, and others. The story was also republished on Jezebel.

The history of sweat on NPR-WBUR’s Here and Now show

    I talk about the science and history of sweat, including what the ancient Egyptians used to do to control B.O.

The truth about pheromones in The Smithsonian Magazine

    Any bodily fluid is a possible source of human pheromones… not just sweat.

What exactly are deodorants and antiperspirants made of? in What’s That Stuff?

    Find out what makes these anti-sweat products work.

Criminal body odor in Newscripts

    Using sweat to identify perpetrators.

Pontificating on Perspiration

Do humans have pheromones? A stinky investigation…

The secret to the Mona Lisa’s perfect face

Economist – July 22, 2010
The Mona Lisa’s lure is so strong that Louvre Museum officials find it wise to keep her safely stowed behind bulletproof glass. She is let out of her protective cage once a year, for a whiff of fresh air. And this is when many a researcher would love to get their hands on Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous muse, in order to find out more about how she was painted.

Read more here…

How green is your Viagra?

NewScientist — March 13, 2010
Humans rely on the chemical industry for a majority of the stuff we use on a daily basis: shampoo, medications, cell phones, jeans, sofas, paint, decaf coffee, to name just a few.

Many of these products are made using ingredients or processes that are potentially harmful to the environment, human health or both. Yet the chemical industry’s redemption route comes through a 12-step program established over a decade ago called the Principles of Green Chemistry.

Find out more about how these principles are greening up pharmaceuticals, electronics, fashion, food, cosmetics and your home.

Canada’s spy agency criticized

Canadian Press wire service — July 12, 2004
This Access to Information (Canada’s Freedom of Information mechanism) article was picked up by 12 newspapers across Canada including the Toronto Star, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun, La Presse, among others.

Canada’s spy agency is still asking about homeland ties and sexual practices when vetting Canadians pursuing a top-level career in the government – questions some critics consider relics of the Cold War and contrary to multicultural policy.
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The genetics behind a great bottle of wine

Maclean’s Magazine — August 30, 2004

Tasting the fruits of laboratory labour is not a typical perk for most scientists. But when Steven Lund sips a delightful cabernet sauvignon, he is, in fact, doing research.
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The biting black dog of Guatemala

Globe and Mail – November 5, 2005
Let me say off the top, I do not have rabies. I don’t foam at the mouth (regularly) and I have no urge to bite anybody. But I wasn’t always sure.

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Creeping around the Mayan underworld

National Post — October 18, 2003

If the skeletons in your closet aren’t creepy enough for you this Halloween, the skulls in Actun Tunichil Muknal cave probably are. Thousand-year-old Mayan food and human-sacrifice remains are attracting archeologists and tourists alike to a creepy cave wonder near San Ignacio, Belize.
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A matter of taste

Catalyst — Spring 2005
If Brussels sprouts on your plate make you miserable, your DNA just might be at fault. Read the rest of this page »

Secret surveillance at a conference

Science Writers — Fall 2008

Last July, amid tapas and cocktails at a Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) conference mixer in Barcelona, I was served something far less appetizing: The news that for five days, unbeknownst to me, a radio frequency infrared device (RFID) hidden in my name tag had been reporting my conference attendance habits to organizers. Ditto for the rest of the conference’s nearly 5000 participants, many of whom were science journalists.
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