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Teacher Appreciation Week: Animal (school)House

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For our final tribute to teachers, we're focusing on creatures -- today we visit the animal kingdom to see what learning looks like there.

Dolphins: Spongeworthy Under the Sea
Using tools was once thought to separate humans from primates, but now, it doesn't seem to distinguish us much from dolphins, either. Recently, scientists observed dolphins using sponges to protect their sensitive schnozzes while searching for food on the rough sea floor. Not only that, but they also appear to be especially shrewd in their choice of tools. They only select sponges that are conical, not flat, so their noseguards stay on even if they get jostled during use. Sponge use also appears to be a family tradition usually passed from mothers to daughters. Some researchers have even speculated that the behavior may have originated with one common ancestor (the "Sponging Eve," so to speak) that other dolphins copied.

Macaques: Monkeys that Wash and Learn
Scientists have long been impressed with the macaque, a type of monkey known to exhibit several unique learned behaviors, including wheat-washing, stone-handling, and group snowball-rolling. And if that's not enough to make you want to adopt one, consider this: It just might fix you dinner. Behavioral researchers on Koshima Island, off the coast of Japan, laid out sweet potatoes along the beach for a group of macaques, and one smart female monkey named Imo made sure to wash them in the ocean before eating. Pretty soon, other macaques had caught on, and the behavior has since been passed on to several new generations of macaques from Imo's troop.

Ants: An Apple for Your Teacher
While all the other entries on this list focus on animals that like to learn, it's far more difficult to find those that enjoy teaching (that arrogant, self-righteous calculus professor you had junior year included). On the whole, animals learn by imitation, not pedagogy. In fact, scientists know of only one exception to this rule, and that's the ant. In order to help the younger generation find the path to the grub, older ants utilize a technique called "tandem running." A professor ant takes the lead, but if it can't feel the eager limbs of the pupil on its posterior, the leader will slow down so the little learner can catch up. Though crude, this counts as teaching because the lead ants are willing to compromise their own bid for the ant buffet so their younger pals can catch up—and that's downright humanitarian, folks. At least for the ants.

You can read about seven more of those in Mark Peters' "10 Studious Animals to Cheat off off in School," found in our September/October issue. By the way, if you're a subscriber, you should be getting the November/December issue very soon... and if you're not, well, hey, get on that!

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.


A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.


Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.


Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.


The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.


Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.


Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]


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