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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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Sometimes, an idea can be so arresting that, for a time at least, we care more about the fascinating nature of the idea than we do about its feasibility or reality. This was how I felt when I discovered that one man (and a few others before and after him) firmly believed that the Earth is “hollow and habitable within.” The idea of a concave inner world that was as yet unexplored captivated me initially, but in the end, it was the man who believed this theory so doggedly who captured my attention.

John Cleves Symmes Jr. lived 200 years or so ago; I discovered a monument in his honor in a park in Hamilton, Ohio, a small city north of Cincinnati. I first learned of it when I was surfing Atlas Obscura and went to check out the monument.

The monument stands in a really run-down park; the monument itself has been defaced and a forbidding fence has been erected around it to prevent further vandalism. On its top is a bronze model of the “Hollow Earth,” with the openings a little scalloped, like you could easily walk down the slope from the icy areas of Siberia into the lush interior of the Earth. No one in Hamilton really cares about this guy, as far as I can tell; no one really celebrates him, but the monument still hasn’t come down even 150 years later. More… “Hollow Words”

Laura Leavitt is a writer and teacher living in Ohio. She has written a variety of pieces about travel, young adulthood, and food culture, including pieces at The Hairpin and Roads and Kingdoms. She blogs about living a disorganized life at Messy Mapmaker.

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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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A rising wall of snow-cloud and Canada geese flee the coming squall. From the sunroom at the back of my house I can track storms rolling in over the harbor. This winter, the impulse to step through that pane of glass hit me hard. There’s a magnetic force to Collingwood’s glinting harbor when it’s under ice. I figured that must be the appeal of ice fishing . . . why anglers are notorious for safeguarding their favorite spots. There was nothing for it but to trudge down to the Spit and enter that secret world.

The last few El Niño-warm Decembers, Nottawasaga Bay remained a stretch of midnight blue open water. This year, there’s a freeze-up. The wind off the bay has ground the pack ice, rounding off its edges to form giant lily-pads. Hank Barris, all-season fisherman from the age of ten, is jabbing at the ice with a four-foot chisel. More… “Field Notes”

Anne McGouran is an emerging writer and member of Collingwood Writers’ Collective. Anne McGouran’s nonfiction appears in Coachella Review, Journal of Wild Culture, GreenPrints and TRANSITION Magazine on mental health. Her short fiction won Special Mention in the 2016 Fabula Press Short Story Competition. Born in Toronto, she resides in Collingwood, Ontario where she has developed a fascination with ice huts and orchard picking ladders.

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dark forest with mysterious eyes
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As the first asteroid confirmed to have originated outside the Solar System whizzed by at roughly 85,000 mph, scientists scrambled unsuccessfully to figure out some way to catch up to it. Was it different from the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter? Was it even an asteroid? What if it was some kind of technology designed by an alien race?

The Breakthrough Initiatives program observed and gathered data from the asteroid, but found no evidence of life or signals indicative of technology. For all we’ve learned about space, the more we realize we don’t know, especially when it comes to aliens. More… “Should We Stop Looking for Intelligent Life?”

Joelle Renstrom‘s collection of essays, Closing the Book: Travels in Life, Loss, and Literature, was published in 2015. She’s the robot columnist for the Daily Beast and a staff writer for Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. Her essays have appeared in SlateAeonThe Guardian, and others. She teaches writing and research at Boston University with a focus on space exploration and artificial intelligence.

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The young woman beside me on an airliner ready to head to France was nipping at her nails. Bells had begun to ping. Carbon particulates from overhead vents were besieging us and rendering us hyperaware of the air. She gnawed and nipped and peered through the porthole.

From the seatback tray-table clasp, her pink jean jacket hung. Weighted by brass snaps, it slumped as a human torso might if all the bones were to dissolve except the spine. She turned again to the vast expanse of tarmac. Her neck, as if broken, fell to the porthole’s height. She was wearing a red football jersey, and when she swiveled to regard me her widened eyes blazed blue. More… “The Security of Dirt”

Paul Lindholdt’s writing has been recognized by the Academy of American Poets, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Washington Center for the Book. After studying with Annie Dillard, he is now Professor of English at Eastern Washington University. This year his literary nonfiction will appear in Crab Orchard Review and Kenyon Review. Also this year, the University of Washington Press is publishing The Spokane River, a bioregional study he edited and co-wrote.

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When I was a child I read poorly written Sunday-school books. They happened to be Catholic books because I read them in a Catholic Sunday school. My mother was a Congregationalist and she would have preferred I be reared to that austere faith, but she lacked the strength to battle the passionate alcoholics and living martyrs of my father’s side — Catholics to a man jack.

It was bad news for me but even worse for the nuns. There was hardly a moment when I wasn’t in their face, loaded with questions they weren’t answering: Why do humans have immortal souls and not animals? Why would God create people with free will if he knew ahead of time some of them would damn themselves to eternal agony? Was this some kind of self-loathing he was working out symbolically through us?

These were small-town nuns, not scholars, and so they brushed off all of my questions with, “It’s a holy mystery.”
More… “The Novelist as Anglerfish”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.

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Michael Lind’s call for the abolition of the social sciences and his vision of a future university in which the humanities and sciences are housed in separate facilities that turn their backs on each other is a sad indictment of the state of American education. That such a proposition could even be entertained demonstrates the failures of our discipline-based silos, our relentless competition for resources, and our ossified structures of knowledge. But this cleaving of science from humanities is based on a deep misunderstanding not only of the social sciences, but also of the sciences as a whole and their relation to the arts and humanities.
More… “Abolish the Walls”

Mimi Sheller, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and founding Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University. She is author and co-editor of nine books, including most recently Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity; The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities; and Mobility and Locative Media. She is currently President of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, founding co-editor of the journal Mobilities, and Associate Editor of Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies. E-mail her at mimi.sheller@drexel.edu.
Dan Schimmel, BFA (1989) University of California, Berkeley, MA (1996) and MFA (1997) University of Iowa, is an artist based in Philadelphia and born in Missouri. He has exhibited work at the Delaware Art Museum, Susquehanna Art Museum, Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, Allentown Art Museum, and State Museum of Pennsylvania. For ten years he was Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the Esther Klein Gallery in Philadelphia, and from 2010-2013 was the founding Director of Breadboard, an art, science and technology program at the University City Science Center. Email him at dan.schimmel@gmail.com.

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Transparent raked in the Emmys, Caitlyn Jenner continues to makes headlines, and it’s a big time for visibility in the trans community. The discussion of gender identity and neutral pronouns has left professor and author Melvin Jules Bukiet wondering how new pronouns will fit in with existing English grammar and social structure. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

We’re throwing away our lives — or at least our chives. Solving our international food waste problem is necessary to end the global hunger crisis and feed a growing population. One Canadian family dug into their trash bin for six months to see if they could cut back. (The Walrus)

Fifty years ago, 2015 may have been predicted to be more metallic-and-spandex than it turned out to be, but technology has come a long way. Claire Cameron spoke to five scientists about the biggest scientific surprises, triumphs, and disappointments of the past half-century. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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There’s a Steve Jobs movie coming out — yes, another. Here’s a review. And in case you missed them, here’s a list of (most of) the artistic depictions of the iCon.

Fans of JK Rowling rejoice! Humanity is getting closer to a scalable invisibility cloak, according to a study published in the journal Science.

In the age of the iPhone photographer, Wolfgang Tillman is leveraging technology to help him stand out from the crowd. His latest show, “PCR”, is full of photographs that “would not have been possible ten years ago.” •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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