Building the next big telescope to extend "astronomical research beyond its practitioners' imaginations":
"Astronomy is the ultimate observational science. Humans have probably always looked skyward, noting the passage and patterns of the sun, moon, and stars. The eye is the essential instrument, and the subject of study is readily available—overhead. Astronomers cannot manipulate a star in a laboratory, or examine a black hole under a ventilating hood. They observe from afar.
"The modern science of course embraces deep theoretical astrophysics, aimed at understanding, for example, how gas and dust became stars and galaxies distributed across space; Avi Loeb directs the CfA’s Institute for Theory and Computation. Closely allied are computer simulations to emulate how those processes might unfold under enormous pressures at extreme temperatures, with unfamiliar conditions of matter and energy and scale. But the theorizing and models remain tethered to data. 'Observations are crucial for stimulating the right ideas,' as Loeb puts it. The GMT will help confirm or refute theoretical work about the first galaxies, he says. 'If we’re surprised, it’s even for the better.'"
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3954 words)
A woman, deaf since birth, describes how she learned to lipread:
"Some people are all but impossible for me to lipread. People with thin lips; people who mumble; people who speak from the back of their throats; people with dead-fish, unexpressive faces; people who talk too fast; people who laugh a lot; tired people who slur their words; children with high, babyish voices; men with moustaches or beards; people with any sort of accent.
"Accents are a visible tang on people's lips. Witnessing someone with an accent is like taking a sip of clear water only to find it tainted with something else. I startle and leap to attention. As I explore the strange taste, my brain puzzles itself trying to pinpoint exactly what it is and how I should respond. I dive into the unfamiliar contortions of the lips, trying to push my way to some intelligible meaning. Accented words pull against the gravity of my experience; like slime-glossed fish, they wriggle and leap out of my hands. Staring down at my fingers' muddy residue, my only choice is to shrug and cast out my line again."
PUBLISHED: March 5, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3688 words)
A writer recalls his family's move to Dallas, and what he learned from his father about work and life:
"Because my dad had preached the importance of critical acumen in all areas, I couldn’t help but apply that principle to him. I studied his sales techniques and concluded that, although he seemed to have mastered complex economic matters, he had major limitations. I was not surprised that in the course of his 25-year career he did only moderately well. At a time when many of his colleagues became wealthy, wealth eluded him. He earned little more than a middle-class income and at times barely that. When he and my mother fought, which was often, she would ask the question that I believe haunted him until the end of his life. 'If you’re so smart, Milton,' she’d say, 'why aren’t you making more money?'
"The answer had to do with his style and the imperfect nature of his reinvention. My father was amiable. He was also charismatic. He bristled with energy and had his own distinct charm. He was gregarious and curious about people. He expressed interest in their stories and was sympathetic with their problems. He also believed in his own vision of the world. These are the qualities of a great salesman, and yet, by large measure, he missed that mark. The reason was obvious: in selling others, he was also attempting to sell himself. Because his self-doubts cut so deep, that process was exhausting. As a result, he overexplained and oversold."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 24, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4205 words)
[Sci-fi, Fiction] A man comes home from a war transformed:
"Her husband’s hands came home on a Friday. Rebecca had received word of the attack, which had claimed the lives of seven other soldiers in his unit and reduced three others to similar, minimal fractions of themselves: One man missing above the waist, another missing below, a third neatly halved, like a bisected man on display in an anatomy lab.
"The Veteran’s Administration had told her it could have been worse. The notification officer had reminded her of Tatum, the neighbor’s daughter so completely expunged by her own moment under fire that only a strip of skin and muscle remained: A section of her thigh, about the size and shape of a cigarette pack, returned to her parents in a box and now living in their upstairs room, where it made a living proofreading articles on the internet. That’s no life, the notification officer said."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5892 words)
An examination of prison policies and rehabilitation programs for criminal offenders that help keep them out of prison and help them transition back into society:
"'So many pieces have to come together' to set newly released prisoners on the path to a productive, stable life, says Caroline Burke ’13, a social studies concentrator who is one of Western’s research assistants. 'If someone isn’t on the right track after the first few weeks, there’s a snowball effect.'
"The few inmates who do reintegrate without much difficulty, who are best positioned to deal with the psychological effects of the transition, have the 'big three' in place: they have a job lined up or find one quickly (e.g., through a trade union they previously worked with); they have housing (often with a relative or through a social-service program); and they have access to healthcare and treatment for substance-abuse and mental-health issues as necessary. The most effective reentry programs address these factors, and Western recommends directing more resources their way."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4439 words)
Getting to the root of the rising C-section rate for births in the U.S.:
"One clue may lie in what some experts call 'cascading interventions'—medical actions that lead to other medical actions that evolve into more invasive steps, including C-sections. Inducing labor, for example—in which a provider tries to stimulate a pregnant woman’s contractions through synthetic hormones or by stripping part of the membrane from her uterine wall—has been found to increase the likelihood of cesareans in first-time mothers.
"Continuous electronic fetal monitoring (CFM), which tracks a baby’s heart rate throughout labor, is also associated with higher cesarean rates. 'It was hypothesized,' Ecker explains, 'that [CFM, developed in the late 1960s] would reduce rates of cerebral palsy.' Based on this hypothesis, the technology became widely used. In the great majority of U.S. hospitals, CFM is standard care; a 2005 study found that 87 percent of laboring American women were attached to monitors most or all of the time. Meanwhile, Ecker adds, studies found that CFM had not reduced the incidence of cerebral palsy. But CFM did seem to increase C-section rates, he says: doctors were 'seeing these wiggles and squiggles'—changes in fetal heart rate—'that they weren’t seeing before.' They would get nervous and conclude, 'We’ve got to do something about it. Let’s do a C-section.'"
PUBLISHED: Nov. 27, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4323 words)
Can you make a firearm using 3D-printed parts? People are trying:
"In May 2011, a year before Defense Distributed began, a mechanical engineer and amateur gunsmith named Michael Guslick successfully fabricated the lower receiver of an AR-15 rifle (the same weapon that was purchased legally by the Aurora, Colorado shooter) with the help of an industrial Stratasys FDM1600 printer that he bought on the secondary market. The receiver is the element of the gun that houses the trigger mechanism and magazine, without which it wouldn’t function. As such, the receiver alone is officially classified as a firearm under U.S. law and is strictly controlled. The part usually holds the weapon’s serial number, which Guslick’s certainly lacked.
"Guslick, whose mild voice and intensely technical internet persona is far more suited to a father tinkering in his garage than a terrorist, assembled the full rifle with parts that can be purchased online and fired it on July 1, 2012. The resulting shooting session was likely the first time a DIY gun with 3D-printed elements was successfully fired. Blogger Turomar at Ambulatory Armament Depot posted this video of a shooting session using his own AR-15 with a 3D-printed lower receiver in August."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 12, 2012
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2157 words)
Inside the life and work of Oliver Sacks, whose newest book is Hallucinations
"He has been in psychoanalysis, continuously and with the same Freudian interlocutor, for 46 years—remarkable for a materialist neurologist. 'We were both young men, and now we’re old men. There’s a longitudinal study for you,' he says. The two remain on formal terms: 'He’s still Dr. Shengold, and I am still Dr. Sacks,' he says. 'I think that a patient can become a friend, but that one shouldn’t be a doctor to a friend—there is a distance, which paradoxically allows closeness, as I feel with my own patients.'"
"Sacks says his shyness simply 'doesn’t occur' in those interactions, which may be one reason he is so good with his patients and another reason he so loves them. In his work as a physician, the social landscape is unusually even-planed, for him and for them, and he has an uncanny ability to put his patients at ease—with sustained attention; curiosity and empathy; and a physician’s bag, stuffed with balls, a reflex hammer, and magazines, that could serve a clown. 'Among other things, I’m a good and sometimes involuntary imitator,' Sacks says a little mischievously."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 9, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4487 words)
A profile of Rhonda Roby, a forensic scientist who has identified the bodies of victims of 9/11, victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Vietnam and Korean War MIAs, bodies of the Romanov family, victims buried in Chilean mass graves, and more:
"Standing there in the middle of the smoking apocalypse of the Twin Towers, she pushed aside emotion and forced the scientist part of her brain to click. 'I kept thinking, "These people are walking on my crime scene."' She checks herself. '"Well, not my crime scene, but the crime scene. Of course, I wanted to identify as many remains as possible."
"While firemen and policemen all around her desperately searched for signs of life, Roby was doing math. At the time, she was the forensic manager for Applied Biosystems, a private biotech company. She stepped into the scene at 9/11 as one of the world’s leading experts in mitochondrial DNA, with hard-core experience identifying victims of mass disasters from tiny fragments of bone. There were thousands of dead. It would be necessary to sequence about 1,000 bases of DNA information on each sample of human remains, the painstaking process required to order the building blocks of a person’s unique DNA.
"In the end, Roby led a team that processed 21,000 DNA samples dug from the rubble of the World Trade Center. She will go down in history as one of the scientists who rushed to Ground Zero, including superstar biologist Craig Venter, famous for his work deciphering the human genetic code. Venter, instrumental in tapping her expertise for 9/11, became a friend through the experience."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 24, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4634 words)