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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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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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science
Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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iStock

The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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