Keeping a finger on the pulse of science

altMatt Kaplan has been one of the voices behind science and technology stories in The Economist for years. His articles also frequently wind up in National Geographic, Scientific American, Nature, and New Scientist

He is the author behind the widely circulated article From Gollum to Avatar which explored how Hollywood made the technological leap from Yoda in the original Star Wars to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and ultimately to the Na’vi in Avatar. He was also the voice behind many other Economist stories of technological evolution, including Stealing The Heat, an analysis of the fast developing field of heat recycling, The Coming Wave, an exploration of how wave generators on the coastlines came to be, and Superstructures, the story of how bridges, tunnels and buildings learned to detect danger and take action.     

Fascinated by the weird and the wonderful, Matt has a long history of writing about how some of the less well respected members of the animal kingdom have made life better for humanity on the whole. In How Illuminating he explored how the humble jellyfish has made it possible for glowing proteins to be inserted into the human body and used to track the behaviours of cancer cells so they can be better caught and destroyed. In Glue Bones he described how the saliva of the sandcastle worm, which builds the structures that its name implies off the coast of California, has made it possible for researchers to develop a glue that can hold bits of bone together in salty environments, like those found on bloody operating room tables. And in Electrical Potential he presented the shocking revelation that science is on the verge of creating a biological battery modeled after the cells found in the bodies of electric eels.   

He has written about how certain female spiders ooze sticky slime to capture the sexual organs of males so that they can better catch and eat their partners after reproduction (Sexual Appetite), how bats that build tents together out of palm leaves build better social relationships (Bats Building Bonds), and how bomb sniffing dogs are thrown off by the preconceptions of their handlers (Clever Hounds).

Outside of his work for The Economist, Matt frequently writes about other strange things like the psychological effect that texting the number 5683 has* in Predictive Texting Alters Perceptions, the fact that animals might actually have something to tell us about seismology in When Animals Predict Earthquakes, and how recent physics research explains myths of evil sea spirits that stalled ships at sea in Evil Water. A paleontologist by training, if you have read about evolution, ecology or dinosaurs in Nature, National Geographic or Scientific American, you have probably read Matt’s work.  

When not at his desk, Matt makes a good effort at getting himself killed on expeditions in far flung regions of the world. He’s hacked his way through the Alaskan bush, fended off tiger snakes in the bogs of Tasmania, been stalked by mountain lions in Yellowstone, and got his scuba respirator hose snagged on the sunken wreck of a British minesweeper.

*It should make you feel a sense of love since 5683, when texted, generates the word “love” and is being shown to connect the number to the feeling.