Réunion, a departement of France, is a small island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and south-west of Mauritius. The island is famous for its vanilla. Called “bourbon” after the island’s former name, the vanilla comes from orchids’ pods which are sweetly scented and ideal for perfume and food spicing. Unfortunately, this particular variety of orchid is pollinated naturally only by a small bee, Melipona. And the bee lives only in its habitat of Central America.
Réunion has the perfect climate for vanilla orchids. But when the first rooted cuttings were shipped to the island, they failed to produce pods, because they had not been pollinated. A 12-year-old enslaved boy, Edmond Albius, developed a way to pollinate each orchid by hand. Edmond’s technique made vanilla profitable to grow outside of its native Mexico, and is still used around the world, including on Réunion. Which means you need to thank
a hard-working orchid pollinator
every time you taste or smell real vanilla.
This sculpture reacts to real-time communications between 30+ interplanetary spacecraft missions and the Deep Space Network. Communication sent to a spacecraft triggers streams of light upward. Information sent back to Earth triggers lights downward. The more activity in the lights, the more data is being transmitted.
With combustion engines seemingly on the ropes, it looked like the electric automobile was destined to become the industry standard.
Electric cars took a knockout blow when huge oil deposits were discovered in Texas in 1901. America’s suddenly giant oil supplies dropped the cost of fuel cars dramatically, which was more than enough to tip the scales their way.
Electric cars weren’t killed overnight – Edison and Ford were still trying to collaborate on a commercially viable model in 1914, and one company still produced up to 2,000 of them as late as 1920 – but the impact of plentiful, cheap oil kicked the electric car’s ass right to the margins of the industry, where they remain even today.