Stories by Alison Snyder

Solving the plastic problem

An employee walks through plastic wastes waiting to be recycled at a sorting center in France
A sorting center in France. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Plastics are intertwined with our lives today — driving researchers to create plant-based versions and more efficient ways to recycle.

The big picture: From a science perspective, the biggest challenge is consumers and companies want materials that won’t degrade quickly while being used but will degrade quickly once disposed, says Andrew Dove, a professor of chemistry at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. “The world wants it both ways.”

The pandemic potential

Images of green H1N1 virus, responsible for the deadly Spanish Flue outbreak in 1918
The H1N1 virus, responsible for the deadly Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918. Photo: BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Another global threat — one that is a repeated refrain amongst the White House, Centers for Disease Control, former national security advisers and even Bill Gates — is a pandemic.

Between the lines: Influenza is of particular concern for health officials, even though there are more contagious viruses — for example, measles — and more deadly ones, like Ebola.

Special report: The future of forgetting

Illustration of hole floating in space shown through alternating green and black lines in a style of optical illusion.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

We are desperate to fight forgetting — it scares us, it annoys us, and it can cost us. Yet there are also memories we want to forget.

Why it matters: Rather than being a flip side or failure of memory, forgetting is now being studied by neuroscientists as a brain process in its own right. They're starting to understand how neurons forget information, in hopes of developing new treatments for degenerative diseases that cause debilitating forgetting and for helping those who need to forget.