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Awaking aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must dress for a long day of research, maintenance, exercise, and other tasks. They don their “icon shirts,” custom-tailored garments with interchangeable “swatches.” Some swatches allow them to map their positions within the ISS, allow them to communicate with ground control, and others record and transmit their vital signs. After fixing the swatches appropriate for the day’s agenda to their icon shirts, the astronauts are prepared for work onboard the space station. Of course, when they venture outside of the ISS for experiments or repairs, they must also wear special equipment, like a spacesuit and a “personal warning harness,” which alerts them to any danger of being struck by stray debris.

As innovative as that wardrobe sounds, it’s far from the current reality. Aboard the ISS, crew members typically wear polos and cargo pants. In space, they wear suits similar to the ones worn by their predecessors in the 1960s.

But NASA has been trying to upgrade its astronauts’ wardrobes — particularly through collaboration with designers and researchers. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, one such collaborator, is a professor of industrial and fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where her students worked on prototypes for NASA, sewing and soldering their ideas for what astronauts’ clothes should be. We spoke about the challenges they faced, as well as their proposed solutions. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More… “Dressing for Success . . . in Space”

Arvind Dilawar is an independent journalist. His articles, interviews, and essays on everything from the spacesuits of the future to love in the time of visas have appeared in NewsweekThe GuardianVice, and elsewhere

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Oron Catts’s most recent exhibition, Biomess, features a unique work of art. It’s a deconstructed incubator, inside of which live hybridoma cells — cells from distinct organisms that have been fused together by Catts and his longtime collaborator Ionat Zurr. The cells come from two different mice and, once fused, can only exist within the confines of the incubator. Outside, they will die. If Catts’s exhibit is reminiscent of Frankenstein, it’s no accident: Biomess was timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel. It is also only the latest instance in which Catts, an artist and researcher who works predominantly with tissue engineering as his medium, has forced uncomfortable questions about biology, technology, and the intersection of the two. I spoke with Catts about the challenges of tissue engineering, the false promises of ventures looking to commercialize lab-grown meat and leather, and how so much of this has to do with Silicon Valley’s unwillingness to come to terms with mortality. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

More… “In Vitro Impossible”

Arvind Dilawar is an independent journalist. His articles, interviews, and essays on everything from the spacesuits of the future to love in the time of visas have appeared in NewsweekThe GuardianVice, and elsewhere

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Carrie Rickey is a feminist art and film critic, raised in Los Angeles before attending the University of California, San Diego. Rickey’s work history spans from writing art criticism for Artforum and Art in America, to being a columnist for the now-defunct Mademoiselle. She often contributes to publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Village Voice. Rickey has been featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, MSNBC, and CNN. She also teaches at various institutions, including Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College, where she recently taught a course called “Mars and Venus at the Movies.” The course offered a perspective to students regarding the differences between male and female directors and the products they create. In this course, Rickey mentioned an exchange she shared with the infamous Harvey Weinstein. Curious for some elaboration, I reached out to Rickey for an interview. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “The Mirror has Two Gazes”

Sana Vora is a fourth-year psychology major at Drexel University and a current writer for The Smart Set.

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In early November, I received an event notification in my email: “Presidential Hair: A Close Shave with History.” Speaker Robert McCracken Peck, Academy Curator of Art and Artifacts and Senior Fellow, was going to provide insight into the hair collection of Peter A. Browne, the subject of his book Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne. I couldn’t click fast enough to RSVP.A lawyer, Browne became interested in wool and fur, tracking the differences between animals and species across various geographic locales. The next step was human hair. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Browne actively collected human hair samples, including 13 of the first US presidents, famous authors like James Fenimore Cooper, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Browne devoted his life to this project. Before DNA, Browne knew hair was a significant indicator of our identity and that through hair, we could know more about ourselves, as individuals, in addition to the human species. His immense collection, however, would have been tossed in the 1970s had it not been for Peck who stumbled upon the scrapbooks in the hallway of the Academy bound for the trash.

Peck’s book, Specimens of Hair, accounts for the collection through Rosamond Purcell’s stunning photographs and Peck’s rich text. Full of history and analysis, the book is more than just a glance into what many might consider a frivolous oddity, something to ogle and judge. Peck makes the irrefutable case of Browne’s collection being emblematic of 19th-century science, curiosity, and the adventurous spirit of scientific exploration. A week after his talk, Peck was gracious enough to host me in his office at the Academy of Natural Sciences where we discussed Browne’s mission, science literacy and advocacy, and the implications of collecting hair samples. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Out of Thin Hair”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Philadelphia’s Passyunk Avenue appears from nowhere, cutting diagonally from Queen’s Village through South Philadelphia. Following it, you get a cross-section of old and new Philadelphia. Historical row houses bump shoulders with condos. Family businesses coexist with hot new restaurants, boutiques, and local markets. Regardless of changes to the community is the neighborhood feel of Passyunk Square. One thing, however, was missing: a bookstore. While Philadelphia has an assortment of independent and box store bookstores, local couple Christina Rosso-Schneider and Alex Schneider, saw a gap. At the start of December, their store, A Novel Idea, opened on 1726 E. Passyunk, preparing their community for a new year full of literary treatures, local art, and events aimed to bring the community together. On a brisk but beautiful day, we sat in their store talking about some of our favorite things: Scholastic book sales, cozy spaces, and the joys of loitering.

More… “An Open Bookstore”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Olivia Gatwood is a poet, performer, and educator. A Brave New Voices, Women of the World, and National Poetry Slam finalist, her poetry has been featured on HBO, Huffington Post, MTV, VH1, and BBC. Her latest book, New American Best Friend, reflects her experiences growing up in both New Mexico and Trinidad, navigating girlhood, relationships, class, and sexuality. Olivia is also a Title IX Compliant educator in sexual assault prevention and recovery and has performed internationally at over 200 schools and universities.
Ever since discovering Olivia’s poetry on Youtube at 16, her words have become a constant in my life. They’ve made their way into sleepovers, my irrational horror at the doctor’s office, and early-morning bus rides. They’ve helped me in times of uncertainty, encouraging me to take pride in the things I was once ashamed of. Olivia was kind enough to speak with me about her work and experience as a poet, Title IX educator, and her upcoming book, set to release with The Dial Press/Random House in 2019.

More… “Ode to Olivia”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.

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Rolanda D. Bell is an actress and singer from Oakland. Recently, she was featured as Nak in the film Blindspotting (created by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs). Outside of being very excited about this film, I was pleasantly shocked to see Bell, a plus-sized black woman, in an industry that tends to favor standard size, fair-skinned women of color. I had the opportunity to speak with Bell about what inspired her to start acting, the difference between working in theater verses working in film, and presentations of plus-sized black women in film. She will also appear in the Netflix film, All Day and a Night (created by the cowriter of Black Panther, Joe Robert Cole) coming Summer 2019. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Resonating Roles”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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Michael Andreasen’s first book, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, is one part Twilight Zone, a hint of Twin Peaks, with a dash of Booshian surrealism. Anchoring his short stories is one of my favorite sensibilities in film and literature: the extraordinary in the ordinary, whether that is making the banal fantastic or normalcy perverse. Below, Andreasen, graciously addresses some of the questions I had about Sea Beast, gearing up for his first book, and his inspiration.

More… “Sailing with Michael Andreasen”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City is a ground-breaking look at American cities in many ways. It takes a deep and richly textured view into places that make up what we call cities and stretches the boundaries of that understanding beyond the often one-dimensional historical, economic, sociological, or political interpretations that try to explain urban environments. The authors do this by re-imagining, recreating, and retelling Philadelphia as a complicated story from the industrial past to the post-industrial present. They view the city through “layers” of the past that both speak to a bygone era, but also the possibilities for the future, seeing Philadelphia in a very nuanced way that challenges all of us to think differently of cities in the American context. On January 19, 2018, I had a chance to sit down with one of the authors, Nathaniel Popkin, to talk about the book and the broader attempt to interpret cities in the 21st century. It was a pleasure to take time to talk about their creative intellectual endeavor. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City

Daniel Dougherty is a political scientist who spends his time teaching, researching, experiencing, pondering, and talking about cities. He is Associate Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Director of the Honors Program at Drexel University.

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A feverish, drug-addled musician huddles on the floor of his room in Berlin, pecking out his first novel on a typewriter. He’s tormented by the protagonist he’s creating: a mute, misunderstood creature who expresses in violence what he’s unable to communicate in speech. At the same time, this Australian musician is inspired by the artful anarchy of the German bands around him. He abandons his own band, the influential post-punk group The Birthday Party. He seems intent on blowing up his life.

These are just a few of the scenes in Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, published September 19, 2017, in the U.S. A 300-page, black-and-white graphic novel about Nick Cave was never going to be a light read, but this is gripping stuff. More… “Have Mercy on Me

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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