Today’s Solutions: November 29, 2021

Italian garden installation shows us how much CO2 trees store

in Arts & Culture

Trees are the lungs of our planet—we know that trees are needed because they sequester dangerous CO2 emissions, but do we really know how much we depend on them to clean the air we breathe? We don’t see trees and plants absorbing emissions as we trek through the forest or sit in our gardens, so it may be difficult for us to fully comprehend just how much trees do for us, and how important it is for us to save, conserve, and cultivate them.

To illustrate this, design office Carol Ratti Associati (CRA) and energy company Eni have erected Natural Capital in the historical botanical garden Orto Botanico di Brera in Milan. The impressive installation allows guests to see, in a beautiful way, exactly how much CO2 the plants in the garden capture and store.

Each of the tree species featured in the garden is coupled with a floating sphere displaying how much CO2 the trees absorb. The installation expands over upwards of 500 square meters of garden, making it appear as though the air is full of gigantic bubbles.

The aim is to make people understand just how much we owe to forests for decarbonizing our atmosphere to drive home the importance of protecting what trees we have left. To enter the garden, guests are greeted by a giant sphere that sits on the ground that shows the amount of CO2 the average human body produces annually, to further emphasize how much human beings need nature to survive on this planet.

Source image: Carol Ratti Associati/Marco Beck Peccoz

Go Cubs: The inspiring story of California’s undefeated deaf football team

in Education

The California School for the Deaf in Riverside had never won a division championship football game in its 68-year history, but that all changed this year when the team not only won a championship game but also went 11-0 for an undefeated season.

The success of the Cubs’ varsity football team is a huge accomplishment not only for the team but for the entire city and the deaf community as a whole. The team and coaches once considered underdogs, use American Sign Language to communicate on and off the field. Quarterback Phillip Castaneda credits the team’s success to the amazing chemistry between the players.

“It’s inspiring for the deaf community quite honestly. 11 and 0 we’ve never experienced this being this far in playoffs,” Coach Keith Adams told ABC News. “The community is so excited, the morale has been uplifted, the self-esteem of our players – you can see a major difference.”

The players hope their success will encourage more deaf students to pursue their passions, regardless of expectations. “We can do anything. Deaf people can do anything,” said running back Enos Zornoza. “We’re not this stereotype that’s out there.”

The team is now gearing up for the state championship game.

Image source: ABC News, Amelia Ortiz/CSDR Student Yearbook Committee

New biomarker for Alzheimer’s discovered

in Health

Alzheimer’s is a complex neurological disease, with scientists still trying to piece together the complete puzzle of factors that contribute to its development. A number of different genetic and environmental risks have been determinedthough more than 99 percent of cases are not inherited. Some of the external influences already identified are exposure to pollution, diet, and previous infections.

A new study, published in Nature Aging, dives deeper into another one of these risk factors: education level. The link between dementia and this environmental factor has been well documented, although the molecular mechanism behind it has been a mystery for decades.

What links education and dementia?

“We used education levels as an indicator of an individual’s environment because it represents things such as access to resources and health behaviors; although it is a coarse measure, it predicts a lot of important life outcomes,” said Micaela Chan, a postdoctoral scientist who worked on this study. Basically, the team is using education levels as an implication for many other types of environmental experiences.

So how does education link to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s? Dr. Gagan Wig and his team displayed that further education means a more expansive brain network organization. This is how effective the brain is at conserving energy, alongside its ability to adapt and fight off pathological disease.

The research team analyzed individuals between ages 40 and 80 over a 10 year period. Five MRI scans and multiple clinical visits were undertaken, with the data gathered used to track changes to brain network organization over time. This study is groundbreaking, as they were able to clearly distinguish differences in the network with the progression of the disease, meaning it can be used as a biomarker.

How can we use this information clinically?

“What’s exciting about this study is we’ve identified a measure of brain function that seems to be sensitive to an individual’s past and present environmental exposures during adulthood,” stated Wig. Understanding the relationship between these environmental exposures and Alzheimer’s is an important step into how we can prevent the disease. As the team has also identified a significant biomarker, this could be incorporated into diagnosis protocols in a clinical setting.

Source study: Nature AgingLong-term prognosis and educational determinants of brain network decline in older adult individuals

Bread and Roses uses floristry to empower refugee women in London

in Arts & Culture

Rebuilding a life in a foreign country as a refugee is not an easy task. This is especially true for women, who often face more barriers than men as they are less likely to have had formal work experience and are not able to consistently attend language classes because of child-rearing obligations at home. On top of that, many are probably dealing with emotional and physical trauma.

Hackney-based social enterprise Bread and Roses uses floristry as a tool to support women refugees looking to start again in the UK through a nine-week floristry training program along with English language classes.

Olivia Head, Sneh Jani-Patel, and Liv Wilson co-founded Bread and Roses in 2016, with the goal of “restor[ing] a sense of dignity and wellbeing for people from refugee backgrounds after all they have endured.”

Participation in the program allows women to boost their confidence, practice their English skills, and build networks, all while reaping the therapeutic benefits of working with nature.

At the end of this year’s first program, all the women involved said that they felt more confident accessing services and reported improvements in their sense of wellbeing, while all but one said that their confidence in speaking English had improved.

“Building my knowledge and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them has made me realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” said one of the participants.

So far, 17 asylum-seeking and refugee women from across the globe have participated. The Bread and Roses team hopes that many more will be able to take advantage of their program, and plan to begin funding organizations outside of London so that they are equipped to host Bread and Roses floristry programs in the coming year.

Study: Schools of fish operate like a superorganism

in Artificial Intelligence

The world under the waves is still a mystery, with 95 percent of oceans yet to be explored. Scientists are always uncovering many new and exciting aspects of this ecosystem; from the importance of fish poop, to new species of whale, and even how fish use sharks like a day spa!

Teams from the University of Florida and the University of Virginia recently dove into the powerful inner workings of fish schools. Scientists know so far that dozens to millions of fish assemble in these formations as predator deterrents. Schools also allow for speedy and streamlined movement. The research groups reproduced a group of trout-like swimmers, using a fluid dynamics computer program. Their aim was to further uncover why fish have evolved this interesting phenomenon.

The machine learning simulation found that when fish come together in a shoal, they act as one superorganism. Each individual plays their part, being perfectly optimized for their job to work as a group. Somehow every fish knows the exact moment to beat their tails, allowing for perfect speed and energy conservation for the overall collective. More research is needed to uncover how the fish know the right timing, but the scientists who worked on the project guessed it involves local water pressure depending on the individual’s position in the school.

Another benefit of fish moving as a school is that they can act as surveillance machines. The creation of low-amplitude sound waves allows for stimuli and threats, such as dolphins, to be monitored. “It’s important to understand how fish can transmit or reflect sound underwater, as this can lead to improvements in similar technologies such as radars,” said Yanni Giannareas, a student who helped with the project.

These findings were reported at the 74th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics in November 2021. The collective behavior discovery has the possibility to be applied to the group movement of underwater fish robots. The better we can simulate natural occurrences of these creatures, the more we can understand their environment and inner workings. Conservation efforts can be hugely helped by this information, therefore allowing the preservation of more beautiful marine life.

New biodegradable glitter lets you sparkle guilt-free

in Environment

As sparkly and magical as it is, glitter is actually a form of microplastic, and even products that claim to contain biodegradable glitter rarely actually are. This is a difficult issue to tackle because countries would need to reach an international consensus about regulating it, but fortunately, the end of harmful glitter may be insight with a new, fully-biodegradable glitter from researchers at the University of Cambridge. 

To come up with the new glitter, the scientists used plant-based cellulose nanocrystals. These naturally form “photonic films,” which when ground up, give the appearance of colorful, shimmery glitter.

What sets this glitter apart from previous sustainable versions is that it can be easily and affordably scaled up to truly replace microplastics in the cosmetic industry. The researchers are optimistic that they could distribute their product widely within just a few years.

Source study: Nature MaterialsLarge-scale fabrication of structurally colored cellulose nanocrystal films and effect pigments

Wireless sensor embedded into bone to monitor bone health in real-time

in Health

It’s difficult for doctors to monitor the health of a patient’s bones, or to observe how broken or fractured bones heal. However, this may soon change thanks to researchers at the University of Arizona, who have developed a device that holds fast to the bone and sends data wirelessly in real-time.

The device, which is called osseosurface electronics, is about the size of a penny, as thin as a piece of paper, and is impressively packed with several sensors that send the data about the bone straight to a smartphone or another kind of device. The osseosurface electronics don’t even need to be powered by a battery because they can be charged from the outside via near-field communication (NFC).

To ensure that the device remains attached to the bone long-term, the team produced an adhesive comprised of calcium phosphate ceramic particles that allow the bone to grow around it. This means that the device won’t come loose when the outer layers are shed over time and prevents it from irritating the muscles that move on top of the bone.

“Being able to monitor the health of the musculoskeletal system is super important,” explains Philipp Gutruf, co-senior author of the study. “With this interface, you basically have a computer on the bone. This technology platform allows us to create investigative tools for scientists to discover how the musculoskeletal system works and to use the information gathered to benefit recovery and therapy.”

So far, the device has been tested successfully on animals, both big and small, but there is still more research to be done before human trials can commence.

Source study: Nature CommunicationsOsseosurface electronics – thin, wireless, battery-free and multimodal musculoskeletal biointerfaces

8 Ways to use avocado oil in your skincare routine

in Health

Avocado oil is a great addition to your kitchen as it is a healthy fat full of vitamins and minerals, but did you know this versatile oil is also great for your skin? Today we share eight ways to use avocado oil in your skincare routine.

Makeup remover

A couple of drops of avocado oil on a cotton round will melt away stubborn makeup while cleansing your skin. After cleansing, wipe away excess oil with a warm washcloth.

Face mask

Did you know you can make a great face mask with ingredients you probably already have laying around the house? Mash half an avocado and add half a teaspoon of avocado oil. Leave on the face for 20 minutes and then rinse off with warm water. For an exfoliating effect, add in a tablespoon of ground oats.

Sugar scrub

Combine one cup of sugar and one cup of avocado oil in a jar with a few drops of your favorite essential oil for a delicious body scrub. Store it in the shower for easy exfoliating.

Bath oil

Adding a few tablespoons of avocado oil to your bath will help keep skin smooth and hydrated.

Lip scrub

Like a body scrub, adding avocado oil will make your concoction extra moisturizing. Combine two tablespoons of superfine sugar, 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon honey, and two teaspoons avocado oil and store in a small, clean jar.

Sun exposure treatment

Rich in vitamins E and D, avocado oil is great for treating sun exposure. Mix a tablespoon in with cooling aloe vera gel and apply to sunburns.

Cuticle softener

Rub a drop of avocado oil into cuticles for softer and malleable cuticles.

Softening oil

Do you have extra dry or rough elbows, heels, and knees? Massaging a small amount of avocado oil into these dry areas will help to hydrate and soften.

Feeling inspired? If you want to incorporate avocado oil into your beauty routine, opt for cold-pressed, unrefined, extra-virgin avocado oil.

The formerly incarcerated find employment and community at Down North Pizza

in Business

Philadelphia’s Down North Pizza is famous for its Detroit-style square pies and secret, smoky tomato sauce, but back in the kitchen, the restaurant is doing more than just churning out great pizza. It’s also offering employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. 

Philadelphia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, with Down North’s neighborhood specifically seeing 1,000 people returning from prison. Unfortunately, employment restrictions and hesitation from businesses mean that many individuals have a tough time finding jobs and getting back on their feet.

Seeing this issue, Down North owner Muhammad Abdul-Hadi made it his mission to not only employ formerly-incarcerated individuals but also encourage other businesses to do the same. “We have over 60 years of jail time in the kitchen,” he told NPR. “We are all living proof that you can build a business around the formerly incarcerated.”

Down North Pizza starts all workers at a $15 per hour wage and also has two apartments available above the restaurant for staff who have trouble finding housing. The restaurant also hires a pro bono attorney to help employees with parole issues and agreements.

On top of the tangible resources for employees, the pizza shop also gives workers the freedom to accept their past and not feel the need to hide their history from fellow workers or the shop. For many who have had to lie about incarceration to find employment in the past, the sense of acceptance is freeing.

Image source: Down North Pizza

Study brings us one step closer to sustainable pharmaceuticals

in Circularity

On average, the pharmaceutical industry creates 100kg of waste for every 1kg of small-molecule drug synthesized. Making this process highly inefficient and creating a lot of toxic waste. Nitrogen-containing chemicals called primary amines are the sought-after chemicals from these processes, being used in the majority of all pharmaceuticals. Although this is far from ideal in our current climate, people need the life-saving medications produced through the process.

A research team from the University of Bath has come up with an ingenious idea to cut this waste down dramatically. Dr. Cresswell, the leader of the laboratory stated: “Making pharmaceuticals can be a wasteful process, with most of that waste being incinerated… People don’t really think about the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to carbon emissions, but some studies have calculated that big pharma emits more than the automotive industry.”

So how does it work?

The method uses a blue light-sensitive catalyst as the key player in the process. This molecule is able to capture energy from the light source, then channel it back into the reaction. The outcome? Dramatic acceleration of the drug-making process and the cutting out of many in-between steps. Scientists have been stumped trying to efficiently produce primary amines for decades, making the work published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) an urgently needed discovery.

Applying the method to industry

The method was tested by synthesizing Fingolimod, a widely popular drug for multiple sclerosis (MS), which had worldwide sales in 2020 of €3 billion. The drug was able to be produced successfully, showing the huge potential of this method to revolutionize the industry.

“We’re really excited that our group is the first in the world to achieve this breakthrough, and hope that it could in the future lead to much more sustainable pharmaceutical manufacturing processes,” said Cresswell. In the meantime, whilst we wait for the industry to catch up, the discovery and development of drugs can be made easier and more environmentally friendly using this method.

Source study: Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS)Photocatalytic Hydroaminoalkylation of Styrenes with Unprotected Primary Alkylamines