Leigh Cowart

Leigh Cowart


Leigh Cowart is a researcher and journalist with more than ten years of experience. They have been writing for Popular Science since 2021. They cover bodies, brains, and what science can teach us about our inner lives. 


  • Loves thinking about bodies and emotions, from the molecular level to the societal
  • Has probably eaten hotter peppers than you have 
  • Author of Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose


Cowart’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed News, Hazlitt, Wired, and other outlets. Their book, Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose, has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and others. Before becoming a journalist, Cowart was immersed academia, doing research on subjects like sexual dimorphism in leaf-nosed bats and resource allocation in flowers.

Currently, their principal area of interest involves the intersection of inner life and the practical existence of being a body. Cowart’s recent book is an exploration of all the ways humans engage in pain on purpose, why we do it, and what we get out of it. According to The Wall Street Journal, “[t]here’s possibly no one alive more qualified to write about pain than Leigh Cowart.”


Cowart attended New College of Florida and University of North Carolina at Asheville. During their time there, they were awarded several grants, including Sigma Xi grant-in-aid-of-research. They have presented their research at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting, and others. They have been published in the International Journal of Plant Sciences. Cowart got pregnant near the end of their degree program and never graduated.

Favorite weird science fact

Hot peppers burn not because they singe your tastebuds, but because the capsaicin tricks the temperature receptors inside your mouth into pulling the fire alarm.

Get latest from Leigh Cowart