Category Archives: Features

Credit: Daniel Romero

Wild bees: Lone rangers

In a green field outside Madrid, at the foot of the snow-covered Guadarrama mountain range, lies a sun-faded snail shell. Its opening sealed with a cap of dried mud, the shell contains the larva of a wild, solitary bee, together with its first meal of bee bread — a mixture of pollen and nectar. Entomology graduate student Daniel Romero picks up the shell and, concluding that it contains the nest of a mason bee, stores it in a clear plastic tube, labels the red cap with a marker, and closes it.

Back at the Complutense University of Madrid, Romero sets ten tubes of the nesting bees he collected on his professor’s desk. They are just a fraction of the hundreds of samples that he and his colleagues will gather during a four-year Spanish government-funded study of how artificial chemicals are affecting the biodiversity of wild pollinators and their immune and reproductive systems. In the warmth of the office, some of the young adults twitch and scratch at their now-crumbly mud doors. Researchers watch the young adult bees slowly emerge into their new world. When the air cools and the humans leave the room, the bees return to their pollen pillows. Unlike honeybees, solitary bees buzz to their own drum.

See an album of photos I took while reporting this story.

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How Nicaraguan Villagers Built Their Own Electric Grid

On a dirt road high in Nicaragua’s northern mountains, a small knot of men and two precocious young boys uncoil electrical cable from the back of a pickup truck. Other workers swing machetes at overhanging tree branches. Along the cleared shoulder of the road, another crew tightens a cable on a freshly planted utility pole. Continue reading

Remote Mexican Villages Build Their Own Cell Networks

The sound of a mobile phone is routine in much of the world. But it’s a recent arrival here in Talea de Castro, a mountain town in the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

This radio report first aired on NPR’s Here and Now in partnership with IEEE Spectrum: [html] [mp3]. See also a related news story for The Economist’s Tech Quarterly: [html].

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Recyclers in Ixtlán de Juárez, Mexico, learn how to separate plastic bottles for recycling into much more valuable 3D printer filament.

3D printing takes off in Oaxaca

A busy street climbs a hill on the edge of Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Up one flight of stairs in a fresh-painted white residential  building you’ll find the FabLab community fabrication center and Oaxaca’s first locally-produced 3D printer and plastic extruder.

This radio report first aired on Deutsche Welle in English: [html] [mp3]. The photos here are mine and first published here.

See also my magazine feature on this project for PBS NOVA Next: “Building a New Economy on Soda Bottles and a 3D Printer.”