Pet your stress away

Life can be stressful. The list of responsibilities seems endless as work, children, bills and so many other things demand our constant attention. As a result, it's very easy to get lost in the jungle of a long to-do-list and end up burning out. Fortunately, studies show that pets are a good source of comfort and stress relief. 

According to Jenna Stregowski, an expert in the field, pets can improve one's mood, reduce blood pressure and provide social support, among other benefits. For those who don't really like to exercise or just need some motivation, having a pet will give you a reason to exercise. Dogs, for example, have to walk regularly. This means dog owners can exercise while walking their pets, thereby promoting stress management.

A walk in the park

Nature provides a place of inspiration, reflection and healing. Studies show that nature has the ability to affect the mind, body, and spirit positively.

The health benefits for kids are astounding: outdoor activities improve distance vision, increase physical fitness, reduce attention deficits and hyperactivity, and raise test scores.

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing is the act of walking and spending time in forests. It is a well known form of preventive health care in Japan. In Scandinavian countries, the essence of spending time outdoors is summed up in the word friluftsliv (free-loofts-liv), translating to “open air life.” These views show that life can be improved by spending time in forests.

Since most people now live in urban areas, green spaces are becoming essential to our health and well-being. Just taking a 30-minute walk along a path lined with trees is physically and psychologically beneficial.

The power of ChatGPT

A few months ago, major tech company OpenAI launched ChatGPT and it quickly became a viral chatbot tool. Since then, it has impressed everyone by creating original essays, short stories, instruction sets and even coding. Users can run it for free as long as they create a personal account. They can simply type their request, and ChatGPT will execute it for them.

Gazing at satellites

When I was a kid, my father would drag us out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to watch a rocket launch, on our fuzzy little 9" black-and-white TV. They were momentous occasions. When I was 7, the Apollo 11 mission took us to the moon. I saw that happen! It was awesome.

For years after that, my father would point out satellites as they traveled across the night sky. It was amazing to see them out there. But that was about 50 years ago. Today there are so many satellites that you almost always see one. And with the new mega-satellite arrays being developed, that number is going to explode. SpaceX alone plans to launch more than 30,000 in the near future. While this will make huge advances possible in various technologies, it will also add to a new problem—satellite pollution. 

Where art and science meet

When you hear the word "artist", you might not think at first of the person who drew the pictures in your science textbook, or created images of the coronavirus during the pandemic. But medical and scientific illustrators are definitely artists. The job requires equal amounts of scientific research and artistic skill. Just look at works by Cynthia Turner, or Bryan Christie. They're gorgeous enough to frame and hang on your wall.

Is biohacking a major concern?

Gene-editing technology known as CRISPR is becoming more and more widely available. CRISPR is the name of a family of DNA sequences, parts of which can be used like a pair of molecular scissors capable of cutting strands of DNA. However, many in the scientific community have sounded the alarm because doing this activity outside of professional laboratories could be quite dangerous.

In the near future, biohackers may be able to upgrade or optimize their physical and cognitive performance with gene editing. Some other biohacking techniques include implanting a small computer chip into your hand to use as ID, or taking "smart drugs" called nootropics.

But in California, where in Silicon Valley biohacking really took off, a new law is making it illegal to sell a do-it-yourself genetic engineering kit unless it comes with a warning that it’s not for self-administration.

Visuals: Researchers in the world

For years researchers argued about the "Nature vs Nurture" question. Is a person talented because they were born that way, or did people and circumstances in their environment cause them to develop certain skills?

While this question stays open, there is little doubt that living conditions do matter. Could Steve Jobs have created Apple if he was born in a village in Africa? How much new technology or how many groundbreaking discoveries are we losing because talented children in poor areas don't have access to adequate education?

Please have a look at the graph below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

The Himalayas—taller every year

The Himalayan mountain range is nearly 25 million years old, yet it is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. It was formed as a result of the collision of two tectonic plates over millions of years. The Indo-Australian plate is presently colliding against the Eurasian plate at a speed of 67 millimetres per year, which means that the Himalayan mountains, the tallest in the world, are getting even taller.

The Himalayas were named by joining two Sanskrit words that mean “Abode of Snow.” People in Nepal call Mount Everest Sagarmatha, which means “Goddess of the Universe.” Mount Everest derived its English name in honour of Sir George Everest, a 19th-century Surveyor General of India.

Video: Portals link the world

A public art installation makes it possible for people far apart to interact with each other. The ongoing project, "Portal—a Bridge to the United Planet", aims to create a sense of unity among people in different countries. 

Watch the short video below and listen for the answers to these questions:

  1. When did the project start?

  2. When the news of the portal "instantly went viral", how many people did it reach?

  3. How big is the portal?

  4. How does it work?

  5. Which two countries were connected first?

  6. How many countries do they hope to connect in the future?

Our changing perception of time

According to Vox, there's very little scientific evidence to suggest our perception of time changes as we age. However, people consistently report that the past felt longer.

There are a few different ways to study how we perceive time. Scientists can look at time estimation, for instance: people’s ability to estimate how long an activity took to complete. They can also look at time awareness: the feeling that time "flies" when we are having fun, but then slows to a crawl when we do something boring. Finally, there's time perspective: the sense of a past, present, and future as constructed by our memories.

Modern humans hold ancient DNA

For a long time, we believed that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens (modern humans) were two separate species. With the advent of DNA sequencing, however, it was discovered that Sapiens interbred with Neanderthals as they migrated from Africa 60,000 years ago. Another previously unknown hominid species, known as Denisovans, was also discovered at that time, and it interbred with Sapiens and Neanderthals, too.

Gene sequencing shows that non-African genomes today contain about 2% Neanderthal DNA, and people from Papua, New Guinea, and Australia are about 3% Denisovan. Studies on modern African DNA are taking longer because climate, geography and politics make locating skeletons much more difficult.

Do trees talk to each other?

People generally think of trees as disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight, with winners shading out losers and sucking them dry. But evidence to the contrary is coming to light. Forest trees are, in fact, cooperative and live in interdependent relationships maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Unlike other organisms, most of the communication between trees happens underground, through a system known as the “Wood Wide Web”. “[Trees] in every forest that is not too damaged”, explains Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behaviour when they receive these messages.”

Diversity of research sources

According to PhysOrg, a scientific publication, scientific knowledge used in international studies is predominantly sourced from English-language documents, as it is assumed that all scientific knowledge is available in English. However, according to research scrutinizing over 400,000 peer-reviewed papers in 326 journals, published in 16 languages, scientific papers written in languages other than English may hold untapped information crucial to the conservation of global biodiversity.

These findings have important implications for global efforts tackling the biodiversity crisis, where lack of evidence is an issue commonly faced when trying to implement evidence-based conservation. The authors demonstrate that incorporating non-English-language studies can expand the availability of scientific evidence on species and ecosystems into 12%–25% more areas and 5%–32% more species.

Visuals: Vaccination inequality

Our world is unequal. The distribution of the vaccines shows that. Rich countries have more doses than they need, while poor countries can’t buy enough. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says that this situation is slowing global economic recovery. Economists predict that low-income countries will lose at least $38 billion of their GDP in 2021 because of low vaccination rates. 

Low vaccination rates also put a lot of pressure on the healthcare systems of poor countries. Hospitals can’t treat other illnesses because of Covid.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization said that “Vaccine inequity is the world's biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19”.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss it with your teacher.

The ancient giant shrimp

According to Shape of Life, an online resource on everything related to animals, the Anomalocaris (ah-NOM-ah-LAH-kariss), from the Greek meaning “unusual shrimp”, was a major predator of the ancient seas during the Cambrian Explosion 530 million years ago. 

It grew up to 182 centimetres (almost 6 feet) long and had eyes with thousands of lenses, which gave the Anomalocaris extremely sharp vision. It was a fast swimmer, and once it caught up to its prey, the creature could grab it using front limbs equipped with sharp spikes on each segment. This combination of excellent vision, speed and spiky front arms would have made it a formidable predator.

The Anomalocaris’ mouth was composed of 32 overlapping plates. Some scientists interpret this as meaning that it could easily crush prey.

Warp speed—"Make it so!"

"Prepare for warp speed." If you're a Trekkie or Star Wars fan, and maybe even if you're not, you've heard about warp drives and probably dreamed of being able to travel faster than the speed of light. It seemed like the stuff of fantasy—until now. Physicist Erik Lentz has come up with a theoretical model of a warp drive that would shorten a trip to the star Proxima Centauri, the closest star beyond our solar system, from 50,000–70,000 years using rocket fuel, or 100 years using nuclear fuel, to just 4 years and 3 months.

The Swiss Cheese model of defense

Human beings are flawed. So no system of defense that depends on human action is going to be able to protect us 100% of the time. But we can prevent most problems. In 1990, Professor James Reason came up with the "Swiss Cheese model" to create defenses that are hard to break through.

Think about Swiss cheese—it has lots of holes in it, right? Well, the Swiss Cheese defense model takes the "holes", or human flaws, into account by using several layers of defense. Each layer has holes, but not every layer has the same holes. So, put enough different layers together and there won't be a complete series of holes that line up to allow something through. Each human failure will be blocked by other successes.

Black holes support relativity

Albert Einstein spent nearly a decade developing his theory of general relativity, which he published in 1916. The theory asserts that gravity is matter warping space-time and so gravitational bends in space can alter the passage of time. While an appealing theory, it is yet unproven.

According to CNN, the first image of a black hole, captured in 2019, has revealed more support for Einstein's theory. The new finding has suggested his theory is now 500 times harder to disprove.

The black hole in this study is 6.5 billion times more massive than our sun. The research team measured the distortion in the black hole’s gravitational pull and found that the size of this black hole's shadow aligns with the theory of relativity, or matter warping space-time to create gravity.

While the theory of relativity has passed all of the tests thrown at it over the past century, further study is needed to confirm whether it continues to match up with astrophysical objects.

Flip-flops made from algae

Algae is used in lots of ways, from food to health supplements to fuel. Now we can add flip-flops to the list. Flip-flops, commonly made from rubber, foam or plastic, are hugely popular all over the world. When people lose theirs on the beach, which happens frequently, the flip-flops are swept into the ocean to join the rest of the plastic pollutants collecting there. 

To solve this problem, new biodegradable "plastics" are being developed using something else found on the beach: algae. A chemistry professor at University of California, San Diego, Mike Burkart, is spearheading a project to make flip-flops out of algae so that, instead of creating pollution, they decompose naturally. Major shoe manufacturers are talking with Burkart about using his material, as are producers of food storage containers and other plastic items.