Start your summer off strong with PopSci’s latest muscular issue

“I AM HANS. And I am Franz. And we want to pump you up.” 

Yes, that’s a three-decade-old reference to a Saturday Night Live sketch. I process most things through a lens of pop culture, with memories dislodged at random. Blame a childhood entertainment diet of Saturday-morning cartoons and rushing home to watch Alf with my brother on Sunday nights. So when the Popular Science editors started talking about a theme of “Muscle,” my mind shook out a snapshot of Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon beefing out in gray sweatsuits. 

The skit encapsulated an era of ripped-muscle obsession. A poster of Hans and Franz’s idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even hung in my elementary school gym with an intimidating message that read, “I want YOU! To Commit to Get Fit.” We took this narrow definition of what it meant to be strong and turned it into an entire culture. 

For the summer 2023 issue of PopSci, we stretched the concept of muscle to examine what being powerful means beyond the comically bulging biceps of a 1980s fitness ideal. Though we couldn’t find a falcon that can use the elliptical, Laura Baisas did investigate the birds of prey overpowering pizza-stealing gulls on Ocean City’s famous boardwalk. Ali Blumenthal guides us through the world of predators of the plant variety by zooming in on the brutal beauty of carnivorous greenery. Christopher Payne traveled to rural Ohio for an inside look at the guts of the massive plane engines that power air travel. In Arizona, Erica Gies explores the “slow-water movement,” which taps proven Indigenous techniques to tame floods and battle droughts. Kenneth Rosen weaves the story of how Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine might have derailed a Mars rover mission, if not for the determination of engineers at the European Space Agency. 

Finally, we do spend some time in the gym with Urmi Bhattacheryya as she powerlifts her way through living with fibromyalgia. All that comes with Rachel Feltman’s breakdown of bodacious booties and a dedicated Ask Us Anything section on exercising effectively and safely—from blending the perfect pre-workout beverage to healing your post-workout pains with pasta.  

Muscle was a fitting theme for my first issue as PopSci’s editor-in-chief. I witnessed the strength of a newsroom dedicated to flexing its storytelling skills with engaging reads. Now that I’m warmed up, I know you’ll be pumped up for what’s next, no sweating required.

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Annie Colbert


Annie Colbert is the editor-in-chief of Popular Science.