Contributors to the May 2024 issue of Scientific American | Trending Viral hub

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Collaborators of American scientistMay 2024 Edition

Writers, artists, photographers and researchers share the stories behind the stories.

Image of Kevin Cooley wearing sunglasses

Stephen Pyne
Life in the pyrocene

The summer after graduating high school, Stephen Pyne filled an empty spot on the Grand Canyon North Rim fire crew. The opportunity came through “complete chance,” he says, and he spent a total of 15 summers on the team, 12 of them as boss. On a fire crew, “you quickly discover that fire organizes your life,” he says, just as it organizes all life on Earth.

For this issue, Pyne, an environmental historian, tells the story of the so-called Pyrocene, a term he coined in 2015 in “an attempt to summarize everything I have learned” about fire’s intimate relationship with humanity. He has written nearly 30 books on the subject, but throughout his career he has struggled to find an academic home for his fire-focused work, which did not fit neatly into a single department. The subject “was never taught, even less so in the places where I went to school.” However, for his part, Pyne sees fire as an aspect of biology: “a creation of the living world and dependent on the living world.”


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Kevin Cooley
Life in the pyrocene

In the 1960s, Kevin Cooley’s mother lost her Los Angeles home in a wildfire. “She talked about ‘before the fire’ and ‘after the fire,’” Cooley recalls (above). In this way, fire has always been present in his life; Furthermore, when he was a child he was “a bit of a pyromaniac.” Now a Los Angeles-based photographer, he has made fire one of his central themes. He started out shooting wildfires and then, in 2013, he was inspired by smoke signals from the Vatican enclave to create his own fires in controlled environments. His work can involve explosions, flares, drones, lasers and large amounts of smoke.

Cooley is a “big fan” of Stephen Pyne’s books on the relationship of fire to humanity. so when American scientist When he asked Cooley if he would be interested in creating a paper for Pyne’s paper on the pyrocene, he thought, “Are you kidding me? Is there something that interests me more? For the project, Cooley worked with a first-time fire breather, a military veteran named Kavan O’Toole. The experience made him want to incorporate people with this rare skill in future projects. “I thought, wow, this is a completely different conversation. “I’m going to work with (the fire breathers) a little more.”

Joanne Silberner
A healthy dose of peace of mind

Until recently, Joanne Silberner lived near a freeway in Seattle. “When we bought the house, (the road) wasn’t that noisy,” she says. But as its surface deteriorated, it became “noisy enough that we couldn’t have a conversation in the backyard.” So Silberner, a multimedia journalist who covers medicine and health policy, crossed Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, where it’s quiet enough to hear coyotes and seals calling at night. “It’s made a huge difference in my quality of life,” she says. “I didn’t realize how anxious the sound was making me.”

In his article, Silberner addresses the harmful and understudied effects that noise can have on our health. Despite clear evidence of the harms of excessive noise, which are borne primarily by disadvantaged communities, noise pollution is barely regulated, leaving people “suffering without any form of government intervention,” she says.

Throughout his career, Silberner has been guided by a quote from journalist Amy Goodman: “Go where the silence is and say something.” For this story, Silberner found the directive particularly appropriate: “There is not much public awareness of the health effects of noise.”

Amanda Montanez
Graphic Science

Amanda Montañez has always preferred to create observational art based on the world around her rather than drawing solely from her imagination. As a studio art student in college, “I was always more into figure drawing,” she says. After working in the art world for a few years, Montañez decided to pursue a graduate degree in medical illustration. During her master’s research project, which communicated to pregnant people how to navigate midwifery care, she “was a little surprised by how important data visualization is,” especially for helping people understand their health care options. . That finally led Montañez to American scientist, where she has been graphic editor for the last nine years.

In this issue’s Graphic Science column, Montañez shows how family sizes are shrinking around the world. The story “hit me pretty close,” he says. Montañez grew up with her grandparents, who lived on the other side of her family’s duplex, as “built-in babysitters.” Now that she has a young son, she finds herself without family around to help her with daycare. In the coming decades, she says, “many more people will be where I am.”

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