James R. Riordon

Temporary Physics Writer

James Riordon is a freelance science writer who covers physics, math, astronomy and occasional lifestyle stories. He's an award-winning amateur playwright and songwriter, and his book Ghost Particle: In Search of the Elusive and Mysterious Neutrino, with coauthor Alan Chodos, is due out in February 2023 from MIT Press.

All Stories by James R. Riordon

  1. tiny animals from the Chinese zodiac, made in hydrogels of different colors. Top row from left: purple monkey, yellow and purple pig, yellow and purple snake, bluish gray dog, green rabbit. Bottom row from left: green tiger, yellow goat, orange horse, purple rooster, teal rat.
    Materials Science

    Want a ‘Shrinky Dinks’ approach to nano-sized devices? Try hydrogels

    Patterning hydrogels with a laser and then shrinking them down with chemicals offers a way to make nanoscopic structures out of many materials.
  2. An illustration of an exoplanet passing in front of a star.
    Planetary Science

     Methylated gases could be an unambiguous indicator of alien life

    On Earth, methylated gases are produced by organisms cleaning up their environment — and by little else. The same might be true on some exoplanets.
  3. A green laser beam travels through a lens and creates a 90 degree turn

     Here’s how to make a fiber-optic cable out of air using a laser

    A hollowed-out laser beam heats a tube of air that surrounds cooler air, providing a way to guide light much the way fiber optics do.
  4. In this image of an icicle, turned on its side, fluorescent green dye reveals where the contamination ends up.

     Tiny bubbles that make icicles hazy are filled with water, not air

    Like tree rings, layers of itty-bitty water pockets also preserve a record of an icicle’s growth.
  5. A photo of a jumping bean moth resting on a seed pod.

    Jumping beans’ random strategy always leads to shade — eventually

    Jumping beans use randomness to maximize their chances of getting out of the sun’s heat, a new study finds.
  6. An illustration of green and white dots that make up a wormhole tunnel with a spaceship heading into the middle

     We could get messages back from spacecraft sent through a wormhole

    A simulation of a probe sent to the other side of a wormhole shows it could send speedy messages back before the hole closes and the probe is lost.
  7. Apollo astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt collects moon samples

     Humans haven’t set foot on the moon in 50 years. That may soon change

    In 1972, the era of crewed missions to the moon came to an end. Fifty years later, a new one has begun.
  8. an illustration of a nuclear fusion experiment showing dozens of blue laser beams pointing at a capsule-shaped object with three red rings inside, and a white orb at the center

     In a breakthrough experiment, nuclear fusion finally makes more energy than it uses

    The sun creates energy through nuclear fusion. Now scientists have too, in a controlled lab experiment, raising hopes for developing clean energy.
  9. a snapshot of a computer simulation of the early universe, showing radiation as blue clouds emanating from dense filaments of stars and galaxies (shown as white specks)

     A new supercomputer simulation animates the evolution of the universe

    The detailed simulation shows the cosmos changing from a dark, featureless gas to a web of stars and galaxies radiating light.
  10. An underwater photo of a diver after entering the water with diving boards visible above the water line

     Physicists explain how to execute a nearly splashless dive

    A pocket of air lets elite divers pull off the rip entry, breaking through the water without sending it flying.
  11. 5 urinals, of different styles, mounted on a blue tiled wall

    How physics can improve the urinal

    Urinals built with curves like those in nautilus shells eliminate the splash-back common with conventional commodes.
  12. A young girl blows on a dandelion with the seeds scattering on the wind

     Why dandelion seeds are so good at spreading widely

    Individual seeds on a dandelion flower are programmed to let go for a specific wind direction, allowing them to spread widely as the wind shifts.