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4 Scientific Breakthroughs Happening Right Now

I'm a writer because I'm bad at math and science (not to perpetuate 'boy subject' stereotypes). OK, there are more reasons than that, but suffice it to say that sixth period chemistry was not my favorite class in high school (sorry, Mr. Rathe). It's not that I don't find it interesting; I just don't quite grasp it. Thankfully, Cassandra Galante, a junior at Colgate, knows her stuff. Read on as she runs through four recent scientific breakthroughs in terms even I can understand. "“ Stacy Conradt

4 Scientific Breakthroughs Happening Right Now
by Cassandra Galante

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1. When hypothermia is a good thing

EverettThe scenario: Kick-off returns are a coach's nightmare "“ they are the most dangerous play in football, with both teams running head-on at full speed. It's rare if these plays don't end in some seriously painful tackles. Usually the players get up and keep hitting each other, but just a few months ago, Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett's tackle drove his helmet straight into another player's shoulder, crushing his spine and paralyzing him from the neck down. Football injuries can be nasty, so team doctors and trainers are ready on the sidelines, prepared to perform some serious medicine at any given moment. It was the Buffalo Bills' orthopedic surgeon who had Everett in the ambulance within 15 minutes and injected cold saline into Everett's femoral artery to induce "moderate hypothermia" and reduce swelling.

The breakthrough: Everett's diagnosis went from life-threatening to miracle when he started walking again just two months later, possibly due to his spine being chilled. It prevented the damage from spreading from the injured area. This has sparked a lot of interest and discussion in the medical community "“ if induced hypothermia can help minimize spinal cord injuries, a serious medical breakthrough may be in reach.

2. Medical breakthrough or musical breakthrough?

arm
The scenario: Roadside bombs in war-torn areas are unfortunately pretty commonplace. Military-issue body armor can protect the torso, but bulky arm and leg guards can bog a soldier down and be just as deadly. The trade-off is when a humvee rolls over one of these hidden mines, this new protection allows soldiers to survive, but they still lose entire arms or legs.

The breakthrough: Science has developed increasingly high-tech prosthetics. Those made of silicone and PVC are incredibly lifelike. Researchers are also working on a process called targeted muscle re-innervation, which reroutes the nerves previously connected to the missing limb to a different muscle on the body (i.e. the chest) and then uses that motion as a trigger for moving the prosthetic a certain way. Pretty impressive "“ but there's also a $55 million dollar project to develop a prosthetic arm with goals so ambitious that they claim a person could play the piano with their "mind-controlled" arm. Which gives new meaning to the old joke:

"Doctor, doctor, will I be able to play the violin after the operation?"
"Yes, of course..."
"Funny! I never could before!"

3. ...How about this global warming?

treeThe scenario: The climate controversy has spawned the "hockey stick" graph, the glitterati's new obsession with living green, and the tendency for every socially awkward person to joke "how about this global warming?" whenever it's unseasonably hot outside. It's why you're constantly seeing the words "carbon offset" in advertisements lately, and why people can't stop talking about hybrids. Environmentalism has always been a common political concern, but it didn't become the epitome of cool to be green until the release of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

The breakthrough: One scientist has invented a synthetic "tree" that looks nothing like a tree but does its most valuable job—that of cleaning the air of carbon dioxide. The creator claims that it could even be improved to do the job of 1,000 trees, which would go a long way towards getting rid of the 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans produce every year.

4. Outsmarting Mother Nature

tsunamiThe scenario: Humans may be damaging the earth, but she returns the punch every now and then. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami (AKA the Asian Tsunami, AKA the Great Sumatra-Andaman Tsunami) hit land early in the morning on December 26, reaching up to 100 feet high and killing 225,000 people, making it the deadliest tsunami ever recorded. There was quite a bit of outcry at the lack of any sort of tsunami warning system. Only those who recognized the receding bubbly water as a sign of an approaching tsunami would know to run immediately. Other methods exist, but none effective enough to give enough warning time for an evacuation.

The breakthrough: At a U.N. conference months later, an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System was created, with intentions of expansion into an International system in the future. But until then, those who live where tsunamis hit will have to live in constant worry, unless they pick up on some other way to detect the killer waves.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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