NASA
NASA

11 Places Where Wonderful Things Are Happening

NASA
NASA

A casual perusal of the newspaper, or fifteen minutes watching cable news, could cause even the most relaxed person to reach for the Xanax and a bottle of whiskey. But it’s not all bad news out there. Here are 11 places where wonderful things are happening.

1. Space

Two hundred fifty miles up, two astronauts went on a space walk to prepare the International Space Station for a new Russian repair module. That’s a lot of mind-blowing stuff for one sentence. Humanity crawled from the oceans and found a way to space. The U.S. and Russia managed not only to survive the Cold War without using the nuclear launch codes, but also to then team up and build an orbiting space laboratory. That laboratory is so awesome that we can plug in Lego-like compartments and expand its capabilities, and thus expand human knowledge and understanding. One of the astronauts, Luca Parmitano, is now the first Italian to walk in space. They had tiramisu to mark the occasion. Humans are eating tiramisu in space! And, oh yeah, astronauts. That’s a job that people have. 

2. Antarctica

Scientists believe they have discovered “a complex web of organisms, zones and habitats that have developed over the tens of millions of years” in a lake four kilometers below Antarctica. That area has been sealed off from the atmosphere fifty times longer than anatomically modern humans have existed, so there’s a lot to be learned about the Earth of the past. And here’s the crazy thing—we’re learning it! Want to get even crazier? The conditions of Lake Vostok, where ancient fish might be swimming around, are a lot like the conditions on moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. Space fish? Coming soon.

3. The Arctic Circle

Meanwhile, engineering students who visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have managed to build an autonomous robot tank with ground penetrating radar that’s able to operate in harshest terrain of the Arctic Circle. This is really great news because humans don’t do so well at 50-below-zero-Celsius. Sending in robots will open vast new areas to constant research. Also, we’re living in an age where I can write “sending in robots” outside of science fiction. (Here’s a blog from NASA Earth Observatory describing life at Summit Camp, Greenland, where the robot is operating.) 

4. Pennsylvania

Thirty years ago, there were only three bald eagle nesting pairs left in Pennsylvania. Today there are 252. Pollution and poaching nearly annihilated the raptors, but conservation efforts have been so successful that after a two-century absence, a nesting pair has even returned to Philadelphia.

5. Mars

After six months of exploring Yellowknife Bay on Mars, the rover Curiosity has set a course for Aeolis Mons in the Gale Crater. The peak, informally called Mount Sharp, developed over a period of two billion years and stands 18,000 over the crater floor. From base to peak, that’s about the height of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. (Mount Sharp is nicknamed after geologist Robert Sharp. Geologists do some surprisingly thrilling work.) During the yearlong trek to the peak, Curiosity and NASA will continue analyzing Martian soil for biosignatures, minerals, and surface radiation.

6. Canada

Ann Makosinski of British Columbia, Canada, has created a “hollow flashlight” powered only by the heat of one’s hand. The energy is harvested using something called Peltier tiles. As she explains, the tiles “take the temperature difference between your hand and the ambient air, and they produce power.” Oh yeah, Makosinski is only 15, and the flashlight is her entry in the Google Science Fair. She cobbled together the necessary parts from eBay. Said the young researcher of science fairs, “You learn so much about the topic you are studying—I learned so much from it. It’s a really good experience for people, too. So often we don’t do anything with our hands but text, so here’s a chance to do something.”

7. New Jersey

In New Jersey, another teenager is getting attention for his inventiveness. Justin Beckerman, a high school junior, has built a fully functional, homemade submarine capable of reaching depths of 30 feet. The project isn’t his first submarine, but it’s his most ambitious. It took five months to build and cost $2000. The restless inventor is also working on a jet engine.

8. Sydney

Over a three-year period, the City of Sydney upgraded its lighting, air conditioning, and power management systems, reducing energy consumption by 20 percent. It’s not stopping there. The government is now working on an efficiency plan for the entirety of Sydney, with a 2030 goal of reducing the city’s carbon emissions by 70 percent. By that year, government buildings will be entirely powered by renewable energy. 

9. California and Scotland

Steve Bate of Moray, Scotland has become the first blind person to climb El Capitan in Yosemite. The vertical granite formation is 3000 feet high. He climbed it over a period of six days, while carrying 220 pounds of gear. "I fell twice on the climb,” he said, “and it was so hot out there, I became tired a lot quicker than I had accounted for... It was really tough and when I finished I couldn't really understand where all my strength had come from.” He says of the pretty-much-impossible achievement, "I just hope it helps to inspire people, especially with disabilities, to believe that anything is possible if they set their minds to it. If I can do it, anyone can." He even did it without Spock’s help.

10. New York

Physicists at Cornell University have managed to directly measure the torque of DNA coils. To achieve this, they built something called an angular optical trap. Their measurements are accurate to the piconewton-nanometer. (Pretty accurate, in other words.) According to physicist Michelle Wang, whose lab spent ten years developing the necessary technology, “To measure very, very small twists and torques on biomolecules is very challenging. It’s easier to twist something than to measure how much twist you’re exerting. Our instrument lets us do both.” According to “Transcription Under Torsion,” the paper she coauthored for Nature with physicists Jie Ma and Lu Bai, the research helps us better understand how DNA supercoiling regulates gene transcription.

11. Istanbul

This list of good news could have consisted entirely of ambitious teenagers ready to change the world and working to make it happen. Elif Bilgin, a sixteen-year-old from Istanbul, is just such a person. She recognized an ongoing environmental crisis in plastics, and spent two years working on her own bio-plastic—a kind of plastic derived from a renewable source as opposed to the traditional petroleum base. She chose banana peels as her source, and set a goal of devising a bio-plastic production method so safe and elegant than anyone could manufacture it in his or her own home. (Banana peels were chosen because they are “a material which is thrown away every day,” according to her proposal.)

After two years of work and ten failed trials, she finally succeeded. She then went on to find the best applications for her new kind of plastic. Her findings suggested cosmetic prostheses and cable insulation, for starters. Her banana-based bio-plastic won the 2013 Science in Action Award, and has earned her a place as a finalist in the Google Science Fair. Asked about her success and the science fair to come, she replied, “For me, this means that my project actually has a potential to be a solution to the increasing pollution problem caused by petroleum-based plastic. It also means that I have started the process of changing the world, which makes me feel like a winner already.”

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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iStock

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ
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20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer
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iStock

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]

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