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“The Messy Issue” of Popular Science is available now

Ben Lankford
Digital Magazine

“Reveling in all that dirt, gunk, and funk is good for us (literally: It’s called the hygiene hypothesis, and we get into that too), so why sweep it under the proverbial rug? We can clean up messes—we should and we will—but that doesn’t mean we can’t find out what our spills and stains have to tell us first.”

—Corinne Iozzio, Editor-in-Chief

The Messy Issue of Popular Science is available now. 

Meet the Scientists Mapping Dust’s Deadly Spread Across the Southwest

A team of meteorologists, geologists, and other scientists are joining forces to better understand and predict dangerous dust storms kicking up off of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Due to drought and increased activity on the shrinking lake, storms that were virtually nonexistent 15 years ago now occur some 15 times per year. The tempests can create dangerous travel conditions—which pose their own threat—but the more insidious effects lie in what the dust is made of: particulate matter small enough to be inhaled and damage the lungs. These particles have been linked to increased cancer risk and shorter lifespans. The Dust Squared project seeks to solve this new mess of a phenomenon.

Dirty Work: Science’s Smelliest, Stickiest, Slimiest Jobs

Join PopSci on a tour of the 10 most disgusting—and essential—careers in science. From stomach-churning jobs like maggot farming to psychologically icky roles such as content moderation, Leigh Cowart explores just how good most of us really have it when it comes to clocking in.

A Colorado Cave so Extreme It Could Contain Precious Medicine

PopSci contributor Sarah Scoles spends time with David Steinmann, an environmental consultant and research associate in Denver, CO, to learn more about the medical and chemical treasures that hide within the DNA of extremophiles—microorganisms that thrive in inhospitable areas like the bottom of the ocean or in caves filled with poisonous air. “The fruits of extremophiles’ quiet, evolutionary labor now go into everything from detergent to medicine. But exotic wrigglers in particular seem to be promising sources of antibiotics, ones that might even work against drug-resistant pathogens. Having lived with colonies of bacteria that they both need and need to fight, the critters may have developed biochemical coping mechanisms that could find their way into pills you buy at the pharmacy,” writes Scoles.

Stuck in the Past: Amber Specimens Reveal Stories Frozen in Time

Popular Science editor Charlotte Hu guides readers through stunning photos of insects frozen in time. Their unfortunate deaths, which trapped them in amber some 100 million years ago or more, continue to provide a treasure trove of evolutionary information for modern entomologists.

PLUS: Six Projects, from Radical to Practical, to Banish Space JunkThe Tufted Dish Scrubber at the Center of Marine BiologyReinventing the Humble Traffic Light to Open Up City StreetsFrom the Archive: How US Labs Came to Love Furry White Rats; and more.