Work in progress: Think of it as a kind of fitbit for whales


Before becoming a student again in 2011, I worked for PopCap Games. We made Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies, and I was COO for a while and ran worldwide game studios. When I turned forty, I decided to leave and do something different with my life.

My heart had always been in science.

I lived in Seattle, where there’s an endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. I kept thinking this would be an interesting career to have, to try and help with the conservation and recovery of populations like those.

A damaged and abandoned sailboat near Beaufort

Working for better outcomes in coastal North Carolina


Memorial Day 2020 and Carteret County was as mobbed by tourists as Liz DeMattia has ever seen it.

It was the eleventh week of North Carolina’s COVID-19 quarantine, and while the official line out of Raleigh was of measured, phased reopening, on Carteret County’s Crystal Coast, tourists brought a sense of “We don’t need to wear masks! We’re at the beach! We’re on vacation,” DeMattia says. The population swelled to twice or even thrice its usual, the influx of mask-less tourists elevating infection risk, sure, but that was not their only impact.

Pratt's Design Pod

In the First-Year Design program, Pratt freshmen are hands on


A cold rain falls on Durham. Per the laws of physics, when the water hits the ground it runs downhill. It follows the path of least resistance, carrying with it the detritus of American consumer culture—Pepsi bottles, potato chip bags, six-pack rings, Miller Lite cans. It flows along roadsides and into storm drains. It emerges from culverts, where Lilliputian cascades feed ditches and gullies. It washes a cornucopia of garbage into Ellerbe Creek.

To Create Something Better


I recently attended a panel discussion with three scholars debating life in the “Anthropocene era,” the idea that humans are now the dominant force in shaping the ecological and even geological fate of our planet. With talk about the destructive consequences of our carbon emissions, the devastation of industrial food systems, and the depletion of our natural resources, the discussion was pretty bleak.

How To Grow


Eleven years after I graduated from Duke, I completed a degree at MIT, where focusing on the future is so normal that few people at the institute question it. I was steeped in techno-futurism, in the belief that it’s often best to leave the past behind. But I’m a gardener. I dig. And I think about how living soil is made, and how plants have evolved to sustain themselves—and how, for millennia, growing food has been a political act.

The past is always stomping its muddy feet into my present. And, if you eat, yours, too.

Thoughts From An Optimist


For a guy who spends his time studying climate change, facing down the future of an Earth warming at an astonishing rate, under the management of a population that commonly resists even admitting its problems, Drew Shindell seems surprisingly optimistic.

Shindell, Nicholas Professor of earth science, has drawn recent attention as a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,” released this past fall. The report addressed the terrifying climate challenge humanity faces as it moves into an uncertain future.

The Land Is My Legacy


I am the little girl at the end of a dirt road seldom traveled on. The curious mind who watched her grandmother weave rugs for eight hours straight, never tiring. The young soul who never understood the land she walked on was crying for help.

Toward An Autonomous Lifestyle


“All right, take your hands off the wheel and pull your feet off the pedals,” the Mercedes-Benz salesperson said. His tone was confident, and his posture relaxed. I was excited to see this “self-driving” car in action. The Range Rover was good, the Tesla was better, but this Mercedes had “250 times more code than the primary flight software in NASA’s space shuttle.” How could it not be the best?