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 / Science
Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine July-August 2018

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

United States
Smithsonian Institute
Read More
11 Issues


2 min.

Jeff Maysh “I write mainly about impostors, people in disguise or pretending to be someone they’re not, whether that’s an undercover cop or a spy or a smuggler,” says the British-American author of The Spy With No Name, about an identity-stealing Czech in the Cold War, and Handsome Devil, about an Austro-Hungarian con artist. The crime writer, who now lives in Los Angeles, explores perhaps the strangest case of identify theft in American music in “The Counterfeit Queen of Soul” (p. 84), about a singer who was forced to impersonate Aretha Franklin in the late 1960s. Jo Marchant The award-winning science writer, who has written books about subjects as varied as microbiology and Egyptian archaeology, delves into the Herculaneum papyri, famous scrolls damaged by Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 (p. 40). “Computer scientist…

2 min.
from the editors

READERS HAD A VORACIOUS APPETITE for June’s cover story about a venomous but tasty invader. “Lionfish ’n’ chips, anyone?” Alex A. Marin suggested on Facebook. Frances Argo took the bait: “Great article about how to save the reefs and fill our tummies at the same time.” Readers recommended other edible invasive species, including Asian carp from the Great Lakes and blue catfish from Chesapeake Bay. Our column about the professional baseball player Betsy Jochum (“League of Her Own”) jolted Nancy Vitali of Palm Beach, Florida: “She was my gym teacher in South Bend, Indiana, back in the ’50s. What a talented, special woman athlete!” And Diana Prince added her voice to our timely tribute to Fred Rogers (“The Reality of Make-Believe”): “The kindness I learned from Mister Rogers impacts every…

3 min.
american icon

Full Circle A loopy 60-year-old toy comes back around THE WOMEN IN the black-and-white videos wear Breton striped shirts, like those favored by Audrey Hepburn, and knee-high socks. Each has a hula hoop, or many of them. They swing them around their waists, but also around their wrists and elbows, shoulders and knees. A brunette in a bob rotates a hoop around her thighs, then does it while balancing on one leg before climbing the circle up her torso and into the air—a move called the “pizza toss.” This could be a scene from 1958, the year the United States went dizzy for hula hoops, except for the thousands of Instagram followers and the hashtags that accompany the videos: #hoop #tricks #skillz. The acrobats are Marawa’s Majorettes, a troupe of hyper hoopers…

2 min.
hula girl

When did you first spot the hoop? It was 1957. I was visiting my family in Sydney, Australia, and while I was at my sister’s house, I heard people in the back room laughing and carrying on. I said, “What’s this all about?” and my sister said, “It’s a new kind of toy called the hoop.” People all over were doing it. It looked like fun, but it was really hard. I couldn’t do it at first. Did you bring one home to Los Angeles? It wasn’t possible to bring one on the plane, but I told my husband about it. He had dabbled in the toy business and thought it might be something he’d be interested in producing, so I wrote to my mother and asked her to send me…

1 min.
birds in hand

MEANDERING MORE THAN 200 miles through southern England, the River Thames has been the setting for history both momentous and quirky. Take, for example, swan upping. “It’s a purely British thing,” explains the London-based photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten, who reimagined the centuries-old practice as part of her series Old Father Thames. In medieval England, swans were valuable articles of trade. By law, the beautiful birds belonged to the crown—all except those marked by other official swan owners during the annual swan upping (or census). The custom still takes place each July, although now only to count the fowl and check their health. For her cinematic composite image, Fullerton-Batten consulted with a retired swan upper, recreated 1950s-era uniforms, gathered authentic tools—and hired a trained swan, which was more likely to behave. “The…

9 min.
the american crusade

JOSEPH A. AUTERI raises his sword and brings it down through a layer of yellow icing, cutting a large birthday cake in half. A couple of hundred people cheer. The crowd is mostly dressed in business attire, but Auteri is wearing medieval-style armor: a shirt of steel-link mail, a mail coif on his head, plate armor on his shoulders and white linen robes emblazoned with a red cross. The outfit weighs 65 pounds and can cause problems for airline baggage handlers. His sword, modeled on one from the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven, is not battle sharp, but it cuts sponge cake easily enough. By day Joe Auteri, 49, is a partner in a financial planning company based in Pennsylvania. This evening, though, he is Hugh de Payns, a French knight who…