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Design Concept Imagines an Illuminated Cemetery of the Future

The question of how to care for a body postmortem is a weighty one, perhaps even more people in cities, where prices are high and options are limited. As space shrinks, the problem grows, and one Columbia University team is working to develop solutions for New Yorkers, as well as the increasingly urban world at large.

DeathLab is a research and design group comprised of academics across disciplines (architects, scientists, theologians, etc.) who work together to develop practical solutions to the problem of where to put the dead in metropolitan areas. Traditional American methods like embalmment and burial or cremation are bad for the environment, and the former is problematic as cemetery space dwindles. So DeathLab is developing ideas like Constellation Park: a concept in which human remains are used to power lanterns that would hang from the Big Apple’s Manhattan Bridge.

If that sounds a little unbelievable, let’s backtrack. The idea at the heart of Constellation Park has to do with anaerobic digestion—a process in which microorganisms feed on a body in the absence of oxygen. As Columbia Magazine reports, this is helpful for pure disposal purposes, but also for its incredible byproduct: energy. Energy that can theoretically be used to generate light.

The biomass energy could power light pods that would be suspended from the bridge—a convenient way to incorporate the memorial sites into existing city infrastructure, with platforms and walkways to allow visitors. The remains will naturally decompose until they extinguish (or are retrieved by loved ones) and the pods would be replaced with new remains.

DeathLab director Karla Rothstein told Columbia Magazine: “People are so moved by the possibility that the corpse of a loved one could create light. We don’t talk about death; we don’t think about it. But to feel like your grief would be part of a larger community, and this person whose life is being honored remains part of this enduring constellation — it’s something people respond to really positively.”

The idea is still far from becoming a reality, and the collaborative is currently at work trying to create an organic material to test it. They are also simultaneously delving into other methods of bodily disposal and memorial, like “Sylvan Constellation,” which fuses a sort of traditional cemetery space with the organic energy-powered lights concept.

For more on DeathLab and Constellation Park, check out the project’s website.

[h/t Columbia Magazine]

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Space
Look Up! The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

October is always a great month for skywatching. If you missed the Draconids, the first meteor shower of the month, don't despair: the Orionids peak this weekend. It should be an especially stunning show this year, as the Moon will offer virtually no interference. If you've ever wanted to get into skywatching, this is your chance.

The Orionids is the second of two meteor showers caused by the debris field left by the comet Halley. (The other is the Eta Aquarids, which appear in May.) The showers are named for the constellation Orion, from which they seem to originate.

All the stars are lining up (so to speak) for this show. First, it's on the weekend, which means you can stay up late without feeling the burn at work the next day. Tonight, October 20, you'll be able to spot many meteors, and the shower peaks just after midnight tomorrow, October 21, leading into Sunday morning. Make a late-night picnic of the occasion, because it takes about an hour for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, lay out and take in the open skies, and let nature do the rest.

Second, the Moon, which was new only yesterday, is but a sliver in the evening sky, lacking the wattage to wash out the sky or conceal the faintest of meteors. If your skies are clear and light pollution low, this year you should be able to catch about 20 meteors an hour, which isn't a bad way to spend a date night.

If clouds interfere with your Orionids experience, don't fret. There will be two more meteor showers in November and the greatest of them all in December: the Geminids.

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science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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