|Still Learning From da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci willed himself to knowledge, pursuing it voraciously throughout a 46-year career. He sketched to make sense of the unknown, bounding from one discipline to the next – science, the arts, medicine, technology – while seeking the links between them. Today’s experts in the very fields he studied, from surgeons to scientists to musicians and engineers, continue to reap fresh insights from his work – 500 years after his death. His greatest gift was to make knowledge visible, and nowhere is this more evident than in his study of anatomy. Although his paintings are far better known, his wealth of manuscripts and drawings reveal the inner workings of his genius.

A design for a mechanical wing, as sketched by da Vinci.

Leonardo’s observations of birds and bats helped refine his attempts to engineer flying machines. This quest occupied him for more than two decades. Fascinated by the principles of engineering, he devised plans for bridges, buildings, and military equipment. In this sketch, his design for a mechanical wing.

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|Little Pieces, Big Problems

Plastic waste is washing into the oceans at an average rate of about nine million tons a year. While this very visible trash crisis has created a public outcry, sunlight, wind and waves are breaking down ocean plastic into bits that are barely visible to the naked eye – and baby fish are eating it. Plastic has been found in the stomach of a fish that was just a quarter inch long. The odds against young fish are long enough already, and if their first meal is plastic, they’re not consuming what they need to sustain them until their second. A single thread of plastic in the stomach of a larval fish is potentially a killer. If the baby fish die, that means fewer big fish. And that’s a big problem. Join now ›

A two-inch long filefish, about 50 days old, swims through plastic waste in the ocean.

The naturally oily surface slicks in which many ocean fish come of age are rich in plankton and other fish food—but now also in plastics. Here, a scribbled filefish, about 50 days old and two inches long, navigates a soup of plastic.


|On the Edge of Possible

Too often in the world of conservation, we hear only gloom and despair. The story of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park is a welcome exception. The elephant population, decimated during the country’s civil war, is rebounding, along with that of the lions, African buffalo, hippos and wildebeest.

This news is especially remarkable given the park’s history. Gorongosa was once a hunting reserve, but its remoteness became its undoing. During the country’s civil war, the park served as a refuge for rebel forces. Fighting on the ground and rocket shelling ultimately wrecked the park by the turn of the century.

But now, Gorongosa is thriving again, inspired in part by Nelson Mandela’s idea of “peace parks” for the conservation of wildlife and the benefit of local people. Join now ›

A dozen African wild dogs stand in grassland in Gorongosa National Park. Released there in 2018, they now help balance the ecosystem.

African wild dogs were lost entirely from Gorongosa during the war. A pack of 14 wild dogs from South Africa, released in 2018, now helps balance the ecosystem.


|Into the Fire

In the Alaskan interior—a region roughly the size of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana combined—the vast majority of land is accessible only by aircraft. Up to 40 percent of Alaska is boreal forest, populated mostly by highly flammable black spruce. Many remote fires are allowed to burn, but when a fire threatens lives and property, smokejumpers remain the frontline troops.

Their training is among the most demanding in the world. Of the up to 200 people who apply each year, roughly 10 are selected for rookie training. When called to a fire, they don’t know where they’re going or how long they’ll be gone. They don’t know how big the fire is or how dangerous the winds will be. They know only that they’re going into battle with one of nature’s most savage and unpredictable forces. Join now ›

A firefighter prepares to parachute in to the scene of a fire in the remote backcountry of Alaska.

With a camera mounted on his gear bag, a smokejumper drops in behind the rest of his team to a landing site near smoldering boreal forest.


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