It was a slow Thursday afternoon when IEEE Spectrum Senior Editor Jean Kumagai [above, left] popped into the cubicle of Photo Editor Randi Silberman [above, right] to ask if she’d like to come along on a trip to northeastern Mexico. The assignment was to cover the initial testing of an underwater robot in a deep sinkhole.
Silberman jumped at the chance. ”Normally I sit at my desk talking to photographers about the amazing things I’m sending them off to do,” she says. ”This time I’d get to do those things myself.”
And then she encountered Toilet Frog [right]. Arriving at the sprawling ranch where the robot team was based, she and Kumagai discovered an enterprising amphibian that had taken up residence in the ranch’s septic system, swimming back and forth between its bathrooms. ”Randi didn’t seem to mind the frog that much,” Kumagai says. ”But I felt like every time I turned around, there it was—in the shower, on the kitchen floor, even in the toilet bowl. Very weird.”
Despite those run-ins with the wildlife, they captured a great story. Says Silberman, ”I never thought I’d find myself climbing down a cliff holding on to just a rope, then getting into a kayak and paddling around to frame the perfect shot.” But she did all that, and more, to document the expedition. Her photos and Kumagai’s text come together in ”Swimming to Europa,” in this issue.
Back in New York City, the two found themselves reminiscing fondly about the characters they’d met in Mexico. Even Toilet Frog.