Contributors to Scientific American’s April 2024 Issue


Contributors to Scientific American’s April 2024 Issue

Writers, artists, photographers and researchers share the stories behind the stories

Image of Gioncarlo Valentine
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Gioncarlo Valentine

Gioncarlo Valentine, Families Under Attack

For this issue’s story by journalist Marla Broadfoot on families threatened by anti-LGBTQ legislation, photographer Gioncarlo Valentine (above) took a drive down the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida. “I do a lot of road trips,” he says. “I think I enjoy processing [these experiences] in between the stops.” In the car, he and his assistant read Broadfoot’s article aloud as they prepared to meet and photograph the people who had shared their stories. The families were “really remarkable and kind”—the mother of the first family they met welcomed them with a pot pie and has remained in touch. “Nobody was just there to be photographed. Everybody talked; everybody told us their stories.”

It was a heavy, emotional process, says Valentine, a queer photographer and writer based between New York City and Philadelphia. For his work, he draws on experiences from his previous career—Valentine served as a case manager for seven years, inspired by the social workers who changed his life when he was in foster care or chronically unhoused. “Holding people’s stories is the foundation of my work as an artist,” he says. “It’s difficult to make images about really somber and sad stories when you are personally indicted in them,” but it’s necessary work in the face of such injustice.


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Tomas Weber, The Race to Decode an Ancient Scroll

When Tomas Weber first heard about a competition to use artificial intelligence to decipher scrolls from the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum near Pompeii, “my alarm bells started ringing that this could be a cool story,” he says. Weber, a London-based journalist who unspooled the competition’s stunning results for this issue’s special report on AI, is especially interested in people who have been captivated by powerful technology. “I’ve always had really deep but fleeting interests,” he says, making long-form journalism the perfect job for him. “I just sort of plunge myself into these worlds.”

With all the fear and fervor surrounding the future of AI and humanity, there’s something particularly poignant about using these technologies to decipher text from an extinct civilization and learn about “a society that’s already succumbed to disaster in the form of a volcano,” he says.

And even beyond that, these attempts to uncover literature from a long-lost civilization are “a great, almost kind of meta subject for a writer,” Weber says, whose work will one day surely be lost to time.

Alexis Marie Adams, Last Stand

At a party in Missoula, Mont., last year, one of Alexis Marie Adams’s friends whipped out an eye-catching guitar. It had been fashioned from an old-growth spruce tree, and “I was really quite taken by it,” Adams says. The guitar led her to Montana’s Yaak region, and she reports on threats to its irreplaceable ecosystem in her feature story on old-growth forests. Adams was already well acquainted with these majestic biomes; as a child, she lived on the edge of redwood forests in California. “I would spend a lot of time there exploring alone. I think that left an imprint.”

Growing up, Adams also lived in Michigan, England, Greece and Montana. Her mother is adventurous and “just wanted to have these experiences and share them with me,” Adams says. She now splits her time between two small towns, one on the coast of Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula and the other in south-central Montana. In these quiet, rural places, resource extraction is “a big part of the culture and the economy,” she says.

Communities from the Balkans to the Amazon to the Yaak have long faced difficult questions of how to preserve these ancient forests. “This is a really universal story,” Adams says.

Matthew Twombly, The Race to Decode an Ancient Scroll

As a child, Matthew Twombly painstakingly copied panels from comic books into his sketchbook. Today much of his work as a Pennsylvania-based illustrator and graphic designer still echoes that sequential style of visual storytelling. For this issue, Twombly made an infographic to explain how AI has helped researchers decipher charred ancient scrolls. Although he has spent his career translating complex science into illustrations, visualizing the inner workings of AI poses unique challenges. “No one really knows how it works, just that it does,” he says. “It’s this foreign concept to wrap your head around.”

There’s a lot of hype around the dangers and promises of AI, but there are also serious and immediate questions about protecting people’s copyright and likenesses, Twombly says. “We’ve kind of just unleashed this thing and hoped for the best.”



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