Articles: Science and Health

Contact Kristin Ohlson for readings, talks, writing projects, etc.

A Soil Nerd Walks into a Room of Futurists…

Over 97,000 people convened in Dubai this December for the twenty-eighth Congress of Parties (COP)—the United Nations’ annual conference on climate change. A much smaller segment of the world’s eyes were on Dubai for a gathering which preceded the COP by a few days and involved at least a handful of the same people: the Dubai Future Forum, billed as “the world’s largest gathering of futurists.”

More Than Dirt

Science is showing how healthy soil can help save the planet—and how we can all help improve what lies beneath our feet.

Everything Worth Knowing About ... Microbiomes

Invisible worlds, ultimate partners. A crescendo of evidence points to the central role of microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, fungi and algae — in the health of oceans, forests, soils, plants, humans and other animals. 

A Time of Desperation

Research in Belizean caves has revealed paleoclimate data indicating the Maya suffered a series of droughts from the seventh through tenth centuries. The research also shows how the Maya beseeched their gods to end the droughts, the latest of which coincided with their collapse.

Dirt First

Rick Haney, gangly and garrulous, paces in front of a congregation of government conservationists, working the room for laughs before he gets to the hard data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist points to an aerial photograph of research plots outside his facility in Temple, Texas. “Our drones took this shot,” he says, then shakes his head. “Kidding. We don’t have any drones.”

Science in America's National Parks

A century ago, Congress created the national park system — and ended up preserving some of the best research sites in the world.

Figuring Out The Lake

Research by geologist Gerald Matisoff and colleagues assists efforts to improve water quality in Lake Erie.

The Bug Whisperer

Mark Sturges doesn’t advertise and clients have to find him by word of mouth, but find him they do. He’s become a master of an agricultural art as old as agriculture itself: basic compost.

The great forgetting

Our first three years are usually a blur and we don’t remember much before age seven. What are we hiding from ourselves?

Healing Herbs

Herbs were our first wonder drugs, and they remain powerful medicine to this day. Here are health-promoting plants to know now.

This Is Your Body on Ibuprofen

How NSAIDS — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin — can cause more pain than they relieve.

The Other Bees

There are thousands and thousands of bees that are not honeybees out there, pollinating our flowers and helping plants produce food. Who knew?

Unravelling man

Bipolar disorder can rage through life like a hurricane. So why does the US healthcare system leave us to cope alone?

Whole-Body Psychiatry

Mental health is not all in our heads. Nutrition is an oft-ignored — yet incredibly effective — way to manage mental illness, including schizophrenia.

The Cooperation Instinct

In a dog-eat-dog world, people still cooperate, collaborate, and help each other out. Our species’ urge to work together has remained an evolutionary paradox, seemingly at odds with Darwinian theory—until now.

Secret Ingredients

Most of the processed foods we eat are studded with mysterious additives. They extend shelf life. They create exciting flavors, colors and textures. But they don’t do great things for our health. Find out which ones to avoid, and why.

The Vexing Mental Tug-of-War Called Morality

Would you kill a crying baby to save yourself and others from hostile soldiers outside? Neuroscience offers new ways to approach such moral questions, allowing logic to triumph over deep-rooted instinct.

The Loneliest Fight

A person with a rare disease is doubly isolated: He or she lives with serious illness as well as uncertainty about treatment options. There is no choice for a patient but to become an expert and advocate extraordinaire.

Making the Best of Invasive Species

Garlic mustard and Asian carp can wreak havoc on their ecosystems, but do they have a future on your dinner plate?

Sleep It Off

New research shows that sleep significantly influences metabolism, appetite and weight management. Could getting more shuteye help you ward off excess pounds?

Just a Memory Before You Sleep Forever

In tasteful black-and-white photos, the nonprofit Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep captures the bittersweet farewell of parents and their lost babies.

Earth on Fire

Thousands of hidden fires smolder and rage through the world’s coal deposits, quietly releasing gases that can ruin health, devastate communities, and heat the planet.

Included in Best American Science Writing 2011

Can Archaeology Save the Environment?

Archaeologists are in the unique position of studying the relationship between humans and their environments over millennia. Consequently, a number of them believe their work should inform current environmental debates.

Break the Fast-Food Habit

Not only does fast food tend to be unhealthy, but some of its ingredients are downright addictive. Here's how to kick the habit.

Poor Substitutes

Low-calorie food replacements have promised to make our weight-loss dreams come true, but research indicates that these pseudo-foods rarely deliver. In fact, they may set our weight-loss efforts back.

America's Appetite for Olive Oil Ripens

From his tasting room on the hilly outskirts of Oroville, Calif., Jamie Johannson can hear the workers picking his olives. Even when they are too far away for him to hear their voices, he can still detect the wind-chime-like clamor of them at work.

Burst of Energy

Making ethanol from skunk beer? Forward-thinking entrepreneurs and their innovations  in the field of renewable clean energy. 

Big Words

No one was making predictions about this child's capabilities. Twenty-seven years later, his mother still gets caught off guard.

Nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Included among the notable essays in Best American Essays 2005.

Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

Patients with the same condition may require different treatments.

It Takes Two

Studying twins is still a vital tool for 21st century geneticists, even with the human genome map at their fingertips. Kristin Ohlson gets stuck into the nature-nurture debate.

The Tough Get Glowing

How do you spot minute traces of chemicals in drinking water? Simple—build a fish that lights up when it swallows the poison.

Rocket Science and Art Restoration

Art Conservator Ellen Baxter was baffled. The morning after a gala exhibition opening at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum, she discovered someone had planted a kiss on a vintage Warhol painting— "Bathtub"— and left behind a full-lipped imprint of bright red lipstick.

Biker Run Reveals Heart Beneath Leather and Chrome

PAINESVILLE, OH—His hands held high over his head, Michael Warren jabbed at his thumb with a knife as bright and shiny as the phalanx of motorcycles that surrounded him. Some people in the crowd winced and turned away, but when they looked back again, Mr. Warren still had not managed to tease out the drop of ritual blood.

Farmer Turns Geneticist in Quest for Black Kernel

MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—Maybe this will be the summer for black corn. In a barn as clean as a clinic and as richly arrayed as a curio shop, Dean Strand pried the lid off an old plastic bucket labeled “black by dark red” and sank his hand into the liver-colored kernels inside.