1. Riley Black
• Megalodon, a 50-foot shark known as the T. rex of the seas, almost certainly ceased to exist around 3 million years ago. But on page 46, writer and amateur paleontologist Riley Black poses the question: What if this toothy beast is still around? It’s the kind of topic she’s been considering since middle school, when she became obsessed with dinosaurs. In college Black poured that passion into a blog and eventually a career reporting magazine articles and books, the latest of which is Skeleton Keys. She now spends her summers wandering the desert, digging up fossils: “It’s a way to time travel,” she reflects.
2. Tomi Um
• It took four years for the career of Brooklyn-based illustrator Tomi Um to take off, but when it did, it was as big-time as it gets. Her drawings took over Grand Central Station and subway cars in New York City as part of a mattress ad campaign. “My mom finally understood what I did for a living!” she laughs. Sketching has always been her preferred practice; she went pro after graduating from Parsons School of Design. Deeply influenced by traditional Korean art and silkscreen printing, her illustrations (on pages 102 to 104 of this issue) generally feature crowded scenes, simple lines, and bright colors.
3. Rob Verger
• When Popular Science associate editor Rob Verger was earning an MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia University, a funny thing happened: He ran out of material. His essays had centered on travel experiences in places like Nepal and Micronesia, but the well ran dry. “I realized that if I became a reporter, I’d have unlimited things to learn and write about,” he says. Since diving into journalism, he’s explored complex fields, from artificial intelligence to military aviation. On page 20, he investigates the tricky but essential question of how the United States should prepare for the next pandemic.
4. Robbie Shone
• Photographer Robbie Shone has visited more than 50 countries to explore their caves, a surprising tally for someone who never wanted to venture into one in the first place. In 1999, while working on his painting skills at the University of Sheffield, England, Shone agreed to accompany a friend underground. He knew bringing a canvas wouldn’t be practical, so decided to take a camera instead. The trip sparked a lifelong pursuit. “There was such a rush of adrenaline,” he recalls. His work on these hidden chambers has since been featured in many outlets, and now in this issue, beginning on page 66.