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4 Scientific Breakthroughs Happening Right Now

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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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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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