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How Seattle's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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Wikimedia Commons

Seattle’s modern history dates back to the Denny Party’s landing in 1851. Since its founding, the city has divided itself into neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality. But where did the names of those neighborhoods come from? The answers range from references to the area’s American Indian heritage to lost coin flips, American presidents to misidentified foliage. A vast (though not 100% exhaustive) list of these histories is below. If this sort of information piques your interest, be sure to check out the Washington State Online Encyclopedia and the Museum of History and Industry.

Alki Point

Image courtesy of Introvert, under Creative Commons license

Alki Point is the westernmost neighborhood in West Seattle (so you know it’s really far west) and is also the southern boundary of Elliot Bay. It was also the first landing point for the Denny Party, who were the first western settlers in Seattle. The area was originally named “New York Alki,” after the state that many in the party had originally called home, and the Chinook Jargon (a language used to bridge communications between natives and early western settlers in the Pacific Northwest) word Alki which means “eventually.” The name remains relevant today, as “eventually” is a succinct answer to the question, “If we leave now, when will we get to Alki?”

Ballard

Image courtesy of Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons license

Ballard is named after Capt. William Rankin Ballard who ran, among other enterprises, a feed store in Salmon Bay with fellow ship captain J.A. Hatfield. After the two men reluctantly accepted a deed to 160 acres of logged land north of Seattle as payment for a large hay bill, both Hatfield and Ballard decided they did not want to be responsible for the property. So they flipped a coin, with the loser getting the land. Ballard lost the coin flip, developed the land, and profited to the tune of $160,000. However, the neighborhood’s name remained Gilman Park until railroad conductors started calling the last stop on the Eastern Railroad line (which ended just south of the current Ballard locks) “Ballard Junction.” The area picked up the colloquial name Ballard, and when the town incorporated itself in 1890, the name was made official.

Beacon Hill

Image courtesy of Melissa Jonas, under Creative Commons license

Beacon Hill was originally named "Greenish-Yellow Spine" by the Duwamish Indian tribe, but that name did not stick. Instead, Beacon Hill got its moniker from M. Harwood Young, who named the hill after the neighborhood in his home town of Boston. Young may or may not also be the reason that Boston fans suddenly outnumber Mariners fans every time the Red Sox come to town.

Belltown

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Belltown is named after William Nathaniel Bell who was a member of the Denny Party which first settled Seattle. Bell not only named the neighborhood, which abuts downtown to the northwest, but also named two of the area’s major thoroughfares after two of his children (Virginia Street and Olive Way).

Bitter Lake

Image courtesy of Shawna Scott, under Creative Commons license

The Bitter Lake neighborhood in north Seattle is named after the small lake inside of it. That lake itself got its name because of the tannic acid that flowed into the lake from a local sawmill. The lake became so bitter that horses refused to drink from it, leading to the well-known phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but if it’s in a lake filled with acid then you won’t be able to get it to drink.”

Capitol Hill

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain

There are two origin stories for the name of Seattle’s oldest suburb and both are related to developer James Moore, who platted the area. The first is that he hoped to move the state capital north from Olympia. The other is that he was trying to make his wife feel more comfortable by naming the area after the neighborhood in Denver that she hailed from.

Central District

Image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, under Creative Commons license

The Central District contains a number of smaller neighborhoods, and it is named after its central location in Seattle. But you probably could have guessed that. Did you guess that the Central District is named because of its centrality in the city? I hope so.

Columbia City

Image courtesy of Mattgrundy via Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons license

This south Seattle neighborhood, which has been at the forefront of recent transit-related gentrification, was not named directly for Christopher Columbus, but instead was named after the song "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," which was popular in 1890 when developer J.K. Edminston established the neighborhood.

Crown Hill

Crown Hill, a neighborhood just north of Ballard, takes its name from the cemetery that was placed there when Ballard residents decided they needed more space for their dead after their young city’s population grew rapidly due to the emergence of the shingle industry. For a time Ballard was known as the “Shingle Capital Of The World.” Even though the Crown Hill Cemetery was founded in 1903, according to its website there is still plenty of space available.

Denny Regrade

Image courtesy of William Creswell, under Creative Commons license 

The Denny Regrade, also known as the Denny Triangle, was once Denny Hill, named after the Denny family which founded Seattle. However, the entire area between present day downtown and South Lake Union was flattened, buildings were moved, and the current area which is soon to be heavily developed by Amazon was created.

Eastlake

Image courtesy of arhytht, under Creative Commons license

Eastlake is the small neighborhood east of Lake Union. It is not east of Lake Washington. If you go east of Lake Washington, you’re in Bellevue.

Fauntleroy

Image courtesy of Rr Parker, under Creative Commons license

Fauntleroy, in West Seattle, was named by a US Coast Guard lieutenant in 1857 in honor of his fiancée’s family. More interesting is the sub-neighborhood contained within named Endolyne, which is centered around the spot where the Fauntleroy streetcar line once ended. “End of the line” became “Endolyne,” and the name stuck.

First Hill

Image courtesy of Ryan Healy, under Creative Commons license

First Hill was originally developed by mill owner Henry Yesler, who logged the hill and rolled timber down the slope. The skidding logs gave birth to the term “skid row,” and the relative importance of the grade to the economy of the city led to the coining of the name “First Hill.”

Fremont

Image courtesy of Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons license

Fremont considers itself the home of Seattle’s counterculture. The neighborhood boasts an only somewhat ironic statue of Vladimir Lenin, and the recording studio where Nirvana laid down Bleach. So naturally it is named after the hometown of two of the city’s founders: Fremont, Nebraska. What could be more countercultural to Seattle than a small town in Nebraska?

Georgetown

Image courtesy of Curtis Cronn, under Creative Commons license 

Developer Dexter Horton named Georgetown after the University, as his son had recently graduated from the medical school when the area was incorporated. This unfortunately braggy start did beget what was once the world’s sixth largest brewery (the source of Rainier Beer) as hops grew well in the fertile soil of the area that had once been covered by the Duwamish River.

Green Lake

Image courtesy of Maurice King, under Creative Commons

Green Lake is named for the glacial lake that abuts the southwestern border of this neighborhood. The lake itself was named for its propensity for algae blooms by surveyor David Phillips.

Greenwood

Image courtesy of Jmabel, under Creative Commons license 

Greenwood was initially called Woodland, and was little more than a bog that also housed a cemetery. However, once the Crown Hill cemetery was established, bodies interred at Woodland Cemetery were moved, and the area was developed as Greenwood by state governor Henry McBride.

Haller Lake

Image courtesy of Michael Hanscom, under Creative Commons license 

Haller Lake, which sits at the north end of Seattle proper, was named for Theodore N. Haller who platted the land in 1905. His father Granville Haller, one of Seattle’s early settlers, owned the land, but the lake is technically named after his son.

High Point

Image courtesy of Brett VA, under Creative Commons license

This community contained within the West Seattle neighborhood of Delridge is named because it has the highest elevation in the city limits of Seattle at 520 feet.

Hillman City

Hillman City in South Seattle was named after developer Clarence D. Hillman, who was frequently accused of fraud and selling the same plot of land to multiple consumers.

Interbay

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The valley between Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia was been called Interbay since 1892 when the postal service renamed the area which had previously been called Boulevard.

International District

The International District had long been a center for Chinese immigrant populations in Seattle, but did not receive an official designation until 1951 when Mayor William F. Devin named the area the “International Centre.” It now is the home to both Seattle’s Chinatown and Little Saigon.

Lake City

Image courtesy of Seattleye, under Creative Commons license

Lake City took its name from a sign that someone posted along the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad north of the Sand Point brick factory. The sign, tacked to a shed, said "Lake," in reference to Lake Washington, and the name Lake City eventually stuck.

Laurelhurst

This tony enclave adjacent to the University District was originally owned by the colorful "Uncle Joe" Surber, a settler known for his hunting and piledriving. Eventually, Henry Yesler bought the land, parceled it out, and sold it to developers including Joseph R. McLaughlin, Paul C. Murphy, and Frank F. Mead. They named one of their many developments in the area Laurelhurst. That name became codified in 1910 when Seattle officially annexed the area.

Lawton Park

Image courtesy of Wonderlane, under Creative Commons license

This neighborhood in Magnolia is named after Lawton Park, which sits on the site of the former Fort Lawton. Fort Lawton was named after Major General Henry Ware Lawton who captured Geronimo in 1886.

Leschi

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain

This neighborhood which lies just south of Madrona along Lake Washington is named after the Nisqually Indian Chief Leschi, who had an encampment in the area. Leschi was hanged by settlers in 1858, but his legacy remains. While a large number of the areas around Seattle have American Indian names, Leschi is one of the few areas within Seattle that still has a name that pays tribute to the area’s native heritage.

Licton Springs

This North Seattle neighborhood takes its name from the Salish word Liq'tid, which refers to the reddish mud that the springs of the area naturally produce.

Loyal Heights

Image courtesy of Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons license 

Loyal Heights was, and to a large degree still is, a bedroom community north of Ballard. It was named by developer Harry W. Treat who also named the beach along Puget Sound in the area, Loyal Beach.

Madison Park

Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund, under Creative Commons license

Madison Park takes its name from Madison Street, which was the earliest direct route from Puget Sound to Lake Washington by car. Madison Street was named for US President James Madison.

Madrona

Tucked between Leschi and Denny-Blaine along Lake Washington, Madrona was originally called “the Cascade Addition,” but the name was changed to Madrona by John Ayre in 1889. Madrona is another name for the arbutus trees that grew (relatively sparsely) in the area.

Magnolia

Image courtesy of snap turtle, under Creative Commons license

While Magnolia was named for the magnolia tree, it was done so erroneously. In 1857, Lt. George Davidson mistook the madrona trees on Magnolia Bluff (which were likely more plentiful than the growth of madronas in present-day Madrona) for magnolias. Despite Davidson’s error, the name for the bluff stuck, and the neighborhood there took the name.

Maple Leaf

Image courtesy of Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons license 

The name for the north Seattle community Maple Leaf either came from the Maple Saw Mill which operated nearby or the trees which once grew in the area. There is also an apocryphal story that Maple Leaf was so far north of downtown Seattle that it got its name for being near Canada.

Matthews Beach

Image courtesy of Chas Redmond, under Creative Commons license

A community within Lake City that sits on the shore of Lake Washington, Matthews Beach was named after John G. Matthews who established his homestead in the area in the 1880s.

Montlake

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Montlake, a community that sits in between Capitol Hill and the University District alongside the Lake Washington ship canal, got its name from real estate agents who wanted to evoke the beauty of both mountains and lakes in order to move land. Sorry Montlake, you’re just a marketing term.

Mount Baker

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This relatively affluent south Seattle community which stretches from Rainier Avenue to the shore of Lake Washington takes its name from its view of Mount Baker which can be seen by looking northeast from the area.

Northgate

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Northgate’s name was codified around the development of the Northgate Mall in 1950, which was the first indoor shopping center in America to be called a mall. So, yeah. It’s named after a mall.

Othello

A relatively newly-defined neighborhood in the Rainier Valley, Othello (which is also called Brighton or simply Southeast Rainer Valley) has experienced a recent boom of transit oriented development. The neighborhood is named after Othello Street, which runs through the area. Othello Street is named after the play; it was originally called Matthiesen Place, but was changed by a theater-loving developer.

Phinney Ridge

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Phinney takes its name from Guy Phinney, an immigrant from Nova Scotia who established his own menagerie in the area. That menagerie became the Woodland Park Zoo (which technically is south of Phinney Ridge), and the ridge north of it between Greenlake and Ballard took his name.

Pioneer Square

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Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood and original downtown. That said, the neighborhood has struggled through hard times, getting hit by the Great Fire of 1889, and falling into disrepair during the Great Depression when the neighborhood’s nickname “Skid Row” took on its modern connotation. The neighborhood was named for the importance the area held for pioneers in the Puget Sound area.

Portage Bay

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The small neighborhood that sits north of Capitol Hill on the bay that sits between Lake Union and Lake Washington got its name from the time before the two lakes were connected by water. In 1861, Harvey Pike cut a ditch in order to connect the two lakes, but was unable to do so with the necessary depth to bring ships through. The neighborhood of Portage Bay sits where a rail line used for portaging goods between lakes used to operate. While the lakes were connected before the turn of the century, the name stuck.

Queen Anne

Wikimedia Commons

Queen Anne is named after the glacial hill on which it sits. Queen Anne Hill was originally named Eden Hill by the Denny Party, but it did not develop quickly. When it did start to develop, a number of the first houses on the hill were of the Queen Anne style, leading Rev. Daniel Bagley to ask as a joke whether the area would become Queen Anne Town. Sometimes jokes become real, and in this case the name stuck.

Rainier Valley

Rainier Valley, both a major geographical feature of South Seattle and a neighborhood, takes its name from the area's views of Mount Rainier. The mountain was named by George Vancouver for his friend Peter Rainier, as a reference to Rainier’s size.

Ravenna

Ravenna in 1893, via Wikimedia Commons

This residential community, which is just north of the University District, sits next to one of the oldest parks in the city. Though the land was originally owned by the Bells, it wound up in the hands of George and Oltilde Dorffel. They named the park, which sits in a ravine, Ravenna Springs Park, inspired by the ravine town of Ravenna, Italy.

Roosevelt

The area between Ravenna and Lake City became Roosevelt after a naming contest held in 1927 by the Commercial Club decided to honor President Theodore Roosevelt.

Sand Point

Sand Point, the neighborhood that contains and surrounds Magnuson Park and the former Naval Air Station, got its name from its beach, which juts into Lake Washington. It represents the easternmost point of North Seattle.

SoDo

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SoDo stands for South of Downtown, and it represents the mostly industrial space just south of Pioneer Square. It also contains Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field; many learned the term SoDo as part of the 2001 Mariners’ slogan “SoDo Mojo,” which translates roughly to “the potato south of downtown.”

South Lake Union

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This neighborhood sits south of Lake Union. It must not be confused with the southern portion of Lake Union itself—much like Amazon.com, which is headquartered in South Lake Union, should not be confused with the Amazon River.

University District

Wikimedia Commons

Originally called Brooklyn (still the name of one of the area’s main avenues), the University District took its name when the territorial university, which became the University of Washington, was moved from downtown to allow for expansion.

Victory Heights

Victory Heights, a neighborhood contained within Lake City, disappointingly has never won anything. It takes its name from Lake City Way NE, which in 1924 was named the Victory Highway. At other times the road has been called the Gerhart Erickson Road and Bothell Road.

Wallingford

Wikimedia Commons

The North Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford takes its name from John Wallingford, who moved from Maine in 1888 and purchased a great deal of the land that sits to the north of Lake Union. While present day Wallingford has clear borders, for a while, the area was amorphous, bleeding into both the University District to the east and Green Lake to the north.

West Seattle

Wikimedia Commons

West Seattle is the peninsula that sits southwest of Seattle. Notably, it was on this peninsula where the Denny Party first met the Duwamish Chief Sealth, after whom Seattle as a whole takes its name.

We're slowly working our way across the country. See how the neighborhoods in other cities got their names.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

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crime
4 Suspect Historical Theories for Predicting Criminality

When was the last time you looked a stranger in the face and made a snap judgment about how they behave? If you've graduated kindergarten, you know you're not supposed to. But for centuries, scientists and philosophers believed that physical traits corresponded to personality. Even Aristotle thought there was a connection between the book and its cover.

Today, physiognomy—as the study of facial features linked to personality became known—is considered a pseudoscience, but it was the first application of any science at all to criminology. Some argue that it helped pave the way for the development of forensics and tools like psychological profiling; others point out that attempts to link biology to criminal behavior are often deeply problematic, and have been used to justify discrimination against various ethnic and religious groups.

Controversial though they may be, theories linking biology to criminal behavior have not gone away. From skull shape to body types, here are some of the ways we've tried to use what's on the surface to unearth the monsters underneath.

1. PHRENOLOGY

As a young man in late 18th-century Vienna, physician Franz Josef Gall wondered why his classmates were so good at memorization while he struggled. And why did he surpass them in other areas? After noticing that those who were particularly skilled at memorization had prominent eyes, he spent years searching for a biological explanation for differences in mental characteristics. Eventually, he landed on a theory that aimed to explain all human behavior.

Gall based his theory, soon to be known as phrenology, on the notion that the brain was composed of 27 separate “faculties,” or organs, each responsible for a behavioral trait—benevolence, covetousness, arrogance, and wit, just to name a few. He believed that the size of an organ was correlated to its power and that the skull took its shape from the brain. As such, by examining the shape of the skull one could determine personality. Eventually, Gall's followers introduced the idea that people were born with their faculties in balance and were essentially good, but under- or over- development, diseases of, or damage to any of these faculties could cause an imbalance that would lead to a particular behavior.

Phrenology soon took off in Europe and then in North America. It wasn't long until Gall's acolytes were applying his principles to the study of criminality, examining the skulls of criminals for clues about their personality and publishing books and treatises that showed others how to do the same. For phrenologists, crime was a result of an overgrowth or other anomaly in a particular faculty—say, destructiveness.

By attributing behavior to a brain defect, phrenology broke with existing notions of deviant behavior. Pre-Enlightenment theory had held that such behavior was the result of “evil” or supernatural forces. During the Enlightenment, free will reigned supreme, and criminality was seen as an exercise of that will, the only deterrent for which was severe punishment. Phrenology removed free will from the equation. While those with “normal” faculties could commit crimes based on free will and should be punished accordingly, the habitually criminal were not necessarily responsible for their actions—they behaved the way they did because of mental disorder, one which could be addressed and treated. It's no coincidence that phrenologists were among the most vocal opponents of capital and corporal punishment and major proponents of rehabilitation in the middle of the 19th century.

Phrenology declined in popularity in the second half of the 19th century, although it persisted into the 20th century in some areas. For a brief moment, it was the first and most comprehensive scientific approach we had to criminology.

2. DEGENERATION

A page from Cesare Lombroso's book l'Uomo Delinquente, 1889
A page from Cesare Lombroso's book l'Uomo Delinquente, 1889

Sometimes called the “father of criminology,” Italian physician Cesare Lombroso spent much of his career examining the bodies (both dead and alive) of convicted criminals and the mentally ill. The army doctor and professor of psychiatry was struck by both Darwin's theories and the work of Italian evolutionists during the 1860s, and evolution greatly influenced his later work.

Like Gall, Lombroso experienced a “eureka” moment while making a minute examination of a human head—only in his case, it was the skull of the recently deceased thief and arsonist Giuseppe Villella. Villella had a small indentation at the back of his skull; unusual for a human, but common in some primates. Lombroso noticed the trait in a few other crooks, and theorized that criminals were in fact some evolutionary throwback to primitive humans. He began to argue that deviance was inherited in many of these “born delinquents,” and they could be differentiated from the masses by physical characteristics that he claimed resembled our primate ancestors: large jaws, jug ears, high cheekbones, bloodshot eyes, to name a few attributes. Behavioral traits like idleness and non-biological features like tattoos could also be a sign.

Lombroso ran experiments on prisoners, the insane, and even low-lifes he wrangled from Italian alleyways. He took measurements of their bodies and features and tested their blood pressure, pain resistance, and reaction to other stimuli. Over the years, he established a set of features associated with different types of crime. His theory, known as degeneration, laid the foundation for a systematic approach to crime and even punishment. Like the phrenologists, Lombroso and his acolytes argued against capital punishment for those whose degeneration was not particularly advanced but triggered by an environmental factor—they were to be treated rather than locked up.

While wildly popular during his lifetime (he even argued the merits of his theory with Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy while visiting the writer's home), Lombroso's ideas faded from prominence as sociological theories of crime became more popular at the turn of the 20th century. Besides his emphasis on a scientific approach to criminology, his legacy consists of a museum in Turin stocked with the skulls and other ephemera he collected throughout his career ... along with the good doctor's own head, preserved in a jar.

3. SOMATOTYPES

Body type is blamed for a lot these days—a propensity for obesity, jeans that don't fit quite right. But in the early 20th century, an American psychologist named William Sheldon looked a little deeper.

Sheldon examined some 4000 photographs of college students and distilled their bodies into three categories, or somatotypes: endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs. Endomorphs were soft, round, and put on fat easily; they were also amiable, relaxed, and extroverted. Mesomorphs were hard, muscular, and broad-chested; they were also assertive, aggressive, and insensitive. Finally, ectomorphs were long, narrow, and fragile-looking; they were also more introverted and anxious. Bodies fell into a spectrum defined by the degree to which they exhibited each of these three traits.

In a study of 200 delinquent youths, Sheldon concluded that mesomorphs had the greatest predisposition for impulsive (and thus perhaps criminal) behavior. While his work was criticized for its methodology, Sheldon did attract more than a few students, some of whom modified his theory to include social pressures; for example, it was possible that society treated people with certain physical characteristics a certain way, thereby encouraging delinquency.

4. XYY SYNDROME

XYY syndrome karyotype
An XYY syndrome karyotype

In 1961, a 44-year-old man underwent genetic testing after discovering his child had Down syndrome. The test results surprised his doctor—the man had an extra Y chromosome. Over the following decades, further testing revealed that XYY syndrome, as it became known, was rather common, appearing in men at a rate of 1 in 1000.

In 1965, when a study from a Scottish institution for people with dangerous, violent, or criminal propensities reported a high frequency of XYY syndrome among its population, scientists and the media alike began to wonder if that extra chromosome somehow caused violence and aggression in men. XYY was used as a defense in the trial of a French murderer, and has been brought up in regard to the case of Richard Speck, the student nurse killer of Chicago, though he turned out not to have the extra Y. Books and TV shows featured XYY killers even into the 1990s.

But what does the science say? While men with XYY syndrome tend to be taller, more active, and have a greater chance of having learning or behavioral problems, there's been no evidence showing a decrease in intelligence or a higher propensity for violence or aggression. In fact, most XYY men are unaware of their genetic quirk and blend perfectly well into the rest of the population. While two Dutch studies did show an increase in criminal convictions among XYY men, researchers have posited that this could be explained away based on socioeconomic variables that have also been linked to the chromosome aberrations.

For now, the XYY theory remains just a theory—as well as a convenient plot device.

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Space
Astronauts on the ISS to Teach Christa McAuliffe's Lost Science Lessons
NASA
NASA

Christa McAuliffe was set to become the first private citizen to travel to space when she boarded the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. That dream was cut tragically short when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven passengers onboard. Now, 32 years later, part of McAuliffe's mission will finally be realized. As SFGate reports, two NASA astronauts are teaching her lost science lessons in space.

Before she was selected to join the Challenger crew, McAuliffe taught social studies at a Concord, New Hampshire high school. Her astronaut status was awarded as part of NASA's Teacher in Space Project, a program designed to inspire student interest in math, science, and space exploration. McAuliffe was chosen out of an applicant pool of more than 11,000.

Once in orbit, McAuliffe had planned to conduct live and taped lessons in microgravity for her students and the world to see. Though that never happened, she left behind enough notes and practice videos for astronauts to carry through with her legacy 32 years later. On Friday, January 19, astronaut Joe Acaba announced that he and his colleague Ricky Arnold will be sharing her lessons from the International Space Station over the upcoming months. The news was shared during a TV linkup with students at Framingham State University where McAuliffe studied.

McAuliffe's lost lesson plan includes experiments with Newton's laws of motion, bubbles, chromatography, and liquids in space, all of which will be recorded by Acaba and Arnold and shared online through the Challenger Center, a nonprofit promoting space science education.

It will be the first time students will get to see the lessons performed in space, but it won't be the only footage of the lessons available on the internet. Before the doomed Challenger flight, McAuliffe was able to practice her experiments in NASA's famous Vomit Comet. You can watch one of her demonstrations below.

[h/t SFGate]

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