Inspirational News StoriesExcerpts of Key Inspirational News Stories in Major Media
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Kindness is great to give, and especially nice to receive. But isn't something you can see, or touch. So how can science research it? There is a way, and it's concerned with how our brains are behaving when we're doing a good deed for someone else - behaviour that can be recorded and analysed. Have you ever done a selfless act for someone and felt great about it afterwards? That's because part of ... something called the reward pathway. Dr Dan Campbell-Meiklejohn, a senior psychology lecturer ... described that reaction as: "At the moment when you help someone, you donate to charity, etc, the processes that happen in your brain are quite similar to other positive experiences. It activates the reward processing areas of the brain." The brain rewards us for being kind - in the nucleus accumbens - but there is another part where we can learn to be good to others. In 2016, [Dr Patricia Lockwood] led a study at University of Oxford that uncovered a part of the brain which lights up when we help others, compared to when we help ourselves. In the experiment, volunteers made use of a series of symbols. One symbol rewarded them, while another only benefited others. The part of the brain that activated when people deliberately chose to help others is called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. When the study was published, it became known as the 'generosity centre'. Dr Lockwood said: "Put another way, the subgenual anterior cingulate seems to be especially tuned to benefiting other people."
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Kindness might once have been considered something of a soft topic, but it has begun to be taken seriously within academic research. When developmental psychologist Robin Banerjee ... surveyed past research, he found just 35 papers on kindness in psychology journals in the whole of the 1980s. In the past decade, there were more than 1,000. But there is still plenty to discover. One morning, people walking down a street in the Canadian city of Vancouver were asked to take part in an experiment. They were given an envelope containing either a $5 or $20 note. Half the people were instructed to spend the money on themselves. The other half were instructed to use the money to buy a present for someone else or to donate the money to charity. Whether they had $5 or $20 made no difference. The people who had spent it on someone else felt significantly happier than those who treated themselves. This is just one of many studies which has found that acting kindly can improve your wellbeing. In a meta-analysis, Oliver Scott Curry ... found that behaving kindly can have a small to medium effect on our wellbeing. On the BBC radio programme The Kindness Test ... neuroscientist Dan Campbell-Meiklejohn told me that this can seem counterintuitive. "Kindness can cost us, yet we experience a sense of reward in parts of our brain when we are kind to others, just as we do when eat yummy food or have a pleasant surprise. These parts of the brain become active and motivate us to do them again and again."
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MIT researchers have developed a portable desalination unit, weighing less than 10 kilograms, that can remove particles and salts to generate drinking water. The suitcase-sized device, which requires less power to operate than a cell phone charger, can also be driven by a small, portable solar panel, which can be purchased online for around $50. It automatically generates drinking water that exceeds World Health Organization quality standards. The technology is packaged into a user-friendly device that runs with the push of one button. Unlike other portable desalination units that require water to pass through filters, this device utilizes electrical power to remove particles from drinking water. Eliminating the need for replacement filters greatly reduces the long-term maintenance requirements. This could enable the unit to be deployed in remote and severely resource-limited areas, such as communities on small islands or aboard seafaring cargo ships. It could also be used to aid refugees fleeing natural disasters or by soldiers carrying out long-term military operations. "This is really the culmination of a 10-year journey that I and my group have been on. We worked for years on the physics behind individual desalination processes, but pushing all those advances into a box, building a system, and demonstrating it in the ocean, that was a really meaningful and rewarding experience for me," says senior author Jongyoon Han, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering.
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Kenton Lee was working at an orphanage in Kenya when he noticed a little girl with the ends of her shoes cut off and her toes sticking out. It was then that he came up with the idea for The Shoe That Grows. "For years the idea of these growing shoes wouldn't leave my mind," he told BuzzFeed News. Lee and his team at first tried to give the idea to companies like Nike, Crocs, and Toms, to no avail. Eventually they found a "shoe development company" called Proof of Concept who agreed to help them with the design. The shoe is made out of a high quality soft leather on top, and extremely durable rubber soles similar material to a tire, Lee said. They expand through a simple system of buckles, snaps, and pegs. The shoes are predicted to last a minimum of five years, and expand five sizes in that time. The small size will fit preschoolers through fifth graders, while the large will fit fifth through ninth graders. "I had no idea how important shoes were before I went to Kenya," Lee said. "But kids, especially in urban areas, can get infections from cuts and scrapes on their feet from going barefoot, and contract diseases that cause them to miss school." The 30-year-old ... said he wanted to put these kids in the best possible position to succeed in their lives. "If I can provide a kid with protection so they stay healthy and keep going to school, I'll have done my part." Donors can either buy shoes to distribute themselves, or buy a pair of shoes and choose one of five American nonprofit organizations to distribute them.
We've all heard stories about extraordinary climbers. These are people who defy the stakes in an attempt to beat the odds every time they summit a mountain that others have only seen in photos. Whereas the average hiker has seen upwards of only 10,000 feet, extreme athletes and professional alpinists have explored the summits of mountains towering well over 18,000 feet. For some, the ultimate summit sits at a harrowing height of 29,032 feet. It's unimaginable: A temperature so cold that few living organisms can survive its inhospitable conditions. A lack of oxygen at its highest peak, where not even a helicopter can reach those who might be stranded. Despite all of those dangers, one woman holds the world record for surviving this not once, but nine times. That remarkable woman is Lhakpa Sherpa, a Nepali native born in the small Himalayan village of Balakharka who is about to reset her own record this year. Lhakpa Sherpa currently holds the Guinness World Record for the female climber with the most successful ascents of Everest to date. This is a record that she has held consistently for more than two decades now. Lhakpa is one of 11 children, five of whom have summited Everest. It was here that her love began, and it would become a lifelong affair with the mountains that she grew up admiring every single day. As an adult, Lhakpa is a single parent of three children, with whom she also shares her love for mountain climbing and hiking.
In Rambouillet, a small French town around 30 miles (50km) south-west of Paris, a soft blue light emanated from a row of cylindrical tubes. Members of the public ... were invited to bathe in the glow for a few minutes. Soon, the same azure glow will illuminate the nearby, tree-lined Place AndrĂ© ThomĂ© et Jacqueline ThomĂ©-PatenĂ´tre, located just across from the aptly named La Lanterne performance hall, at night. These ethereal experiments are also underway across France. But unlike standard streetlamps, which often emit a harsh glare and need to be hooked up to the electricity grid, these otherworldly lights are powered by living organisms through a process known as bioluminescence. This phenomenon – where chemical reactions inside an organism's body produce light – can be observed in many places in nature. Organisms as diverse as fireflies, fungi and fish have the ability to glow through bioluminescence. The turquoise blue glow bathing the waiting room in Rambouillet ... comes from a marine bacterium gathered off the coast of France called Aliivibrio fischeri. The bacteria are stored inside saltwater-filled tubes, allowing them to circulate in a kind of luminous aquarium. Since the light is generated through internal biochemical processes that are part of the organism's normal metabolism, running it requires almost no energy. "Our goal is to change the way in which cities use light," says Sandra Rey, founder of the French start-up Glowee, which is behind the project in Rambouillet.
A Chilean start-up has been launched to open up some of the world's most iconic tourist attractions to disabled visitors. The idea for Wheel the World was borne out of an expedition three years ago to Chile's Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia by a group of friends from the University of California at Berkeley. The group crowd-funded a special wheelchair for their friend, Ălvaro Silberstein, who was left quadriplegic following a car accident when he was 18. They documented their trip [and] began investigating other bucket-list vacations that could be adapted for the disabled. Since its inception last year, Wheel the World's seven-man team has arranged trips for more 900 people, including to Chile's driest desert, San Pedro de Atacama, scuba diving off Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, ziplining in Costa Rica and a trek along the Inca Trail to Peru's Machu Picchu. Today, the group has 16 destinations both in Chile and four other countries on its online platform, and aims to increase that to 150 by 2020. Silberstein, the firm's chief executive, said the Patagonian trip had made him realize that nothing was impossible. "We realized that with the right equipment and the right information, we can help people with disabilities have these kind of experiences, to open their minds to see that we are capable of anything," he said. "There are many initiatives to make tourism more accessible ... but no one is doing it on a global level, matching tourism services with the specific needs of disabled people. That's what we do," he said.
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A lucky Frenchman has decided to dedicate most of his record-breaking $217 million lottery jackpot to a nature foundation he created. The winner, nicknamed "Guy" by French lottery group FranĂ§aises des Jeux (FDJ), won the sum in December 2020. "From my point of view, the priority today is saving the planet," Guy [said]. "We must act. It is an absolute emergency. If nothing is done in this regard, all other actions will be in vain. We will no longer exist." Revisiting the moment of his win, Guy [said] he could still remember his doubts and disbelief. After it became clear he was indeed the winner, he said, he made up his mind to put the money to good use. "The minute I found out I was the lucky winner of the EuroMillions, I had the will to share my luck," he said. He was already determined to create his own foundation at the time of his win. The result of Guy's determination is Anyama, a foundation named after a town in CĂ´te d'Ivoire where he spent several years during his childhood. "I have passed on most of my prize money and will gradually give away almost all of it," he said. The Anyama foundation website explained it was Guy's memory of watching trucks loaded with trees in CĂ´te d'Ivoire which motivated him to create an environmental foundation. "This procession of trucks left a deep impression on me and filled me with outrage," he said. The lottery group FDJ welcomed Guy's decision to donate most of his prize to saving the environment ... calling it an exceptional and generous gesture.
Evan, a middle-class Black man, doesn't come across as a psychedelic enthusiast. He's a 23-year-old quantitative economics graduate student who takes pride in steaming his sweater vests to maintain a studious appearance. In 2015, Evan's father was arrested for misdemeanor drug possession. A teenager at the time, he swore off drugs forever. But six years later, magic mushrooms have become Evan's remedy to cope with racial trauma. Like most Americans, Evan followed the widespread media coverage of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths in 2020. And like many Black Americans, he experienced traumatic-stress symptoms triggered by the constant exposure to cases of police brutality and racial discrimination. Debilitating panic attacks incapacitated him multiple times a day; insomnia drained his ... energy. After unsuccessfully trying three different anti-anxiety medications, he finally stumbled upon a study on psychedelics for racial trauma. He wondered: could psychedelic therapy be the solution? Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, has been found to mitigate acute anxiety among patients with life-threatening cancer. A state-sponsored study in Texas is investigating psychedelics as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. But one lesser-known benefit has been documented by researchers at the University of Ottawa: psychedelics may alleviate symptoms of race-based traumatic stress.
Nikola Tesla, father of modern methods of generation and distribution of electrical energy, who was 78 years old yesterday, announced a new invention, or inventions, which he said, he considered the most important of the 700 made by him so far. He has perfected a method and apparatus, Dr. Tesla said yesterday ... which will send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 250 miles from a defending nation's border and will cause armies of millions to drop dead in their tracks. This "death-beam," Dr. Tesla said, will operate silently but effectively at distances "as far as a telescope could see an object on the ground and as far as the curvature of the earth would permit it." It will be invisible and will leave no marks behind it beyond its evidence of destruction. An army of 1,000,000 dead, annihilated in an instant, he said, would not reveal even under the most powerful microscope just what catastrophe had caused its destruction. Dr. Tesla said this latest invention of his would make war impossible. It would make every nation impregnable against attack by airplanes or by large invading armies. But while it will make every nation safe against any attack by a would-be invader, Dr. Tesla added, the death-beam by its nature could not be employed similarly as a weapon for offense. For this death-beam, he explained, could be generated only from large, stationary and immovable power plants.
Scientists have discovered a way to capture solar energy and store it for nearly two decades, before releasing it when it is needed. Using a system called molecular solar thermal energy storage (MOST), researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China developed an ultra-thin chip to act as a thermoelectric generator. "This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy," said Kasper Moth-Poulsen, a professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers who led the research. "It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location." The MOST system uses a specially designed molecule that reacts to sunlight in order to capture the Sun's energy. After loading it with solar energy in Sweden, Chalmers University sent it to their colleagues in Shanghai where they were able to convert it into electricity. "Essentially, Swedish sunshine was sent to the other side of the world and converted into electricity in China," said a statement released by Chalmers University. The researchers hope the technology can lead to self-charging electronics that use stored solar energy on demand, as well as holding the potential to transform renewable and emissions-free energy production. More research and development is required before the system can be implemented at scale, thought Chalmers University said it has already attracted "great interest worldwide."
China and India have planted so many trees that the world is now greener than it was 20 years ago, a counterintuitive new study claims. The superpowers are two of the world's top three most polluting nations and the increase in foliage is mostly a result of 'ambitious tree planting programs'. NASA research discovered there is five per cent more greenery every year compared to the 2000s, resulting in more than two million square miles of extra greenery - the equivalent of more than the Amazon rainforest. Chi Chen from Boston University, who led the research, said China and India 'account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9 percent of the planet's land area covered in vegetation'. The greening on the planet was first detected in the mid-1990s and from images provided by NASA'S MODIS tool which orbits the Earth on two satellites and provides high resolution images of Earth's surface. China is responsible for a quarter of the overall increase in green leaf area but has only 6.6 per cent of all the world's foliage. India has contributed a further 6.8 per cent rise in green leaf area. Scientists say it is important to factor in this latest finding into future climate change prediction models. 'This long-term data lets us dig deeper,' said Rama Nemani, a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, and a co-author of the work. The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
The Human Library challenges stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. In the Human Library, people, instead of traditional books, are on loan to readers. Founder, Ronni Abergel says the Human Library was started to create a space "where you can walk in, borrow a human being and talk to them about a very challenging topic. Ideally, we wanted people to talk about issues that they normally would not talk about, or potentially don't like to talk about, but that we need to talk about." These human "books" are volunteers that come from diverse backgrounds and have experiences that they are willing to share with their human readers. Just like traditional books, the human books have titles that describe their experiences like Black Activist, Chronic Depression, Survivor of Trafficking, Muslim, Latino, Transgender and many more. Sometimes one-on-one and sometimes in small groups, the Human Library creates a safe space where people can engage with someone different from themselves. When the library aids in corporate diversity and inclusion efforts, the readers are the organization's employees who are encouraged to ask difficult questions of the human books–things they always wanted to know but never had the opportunity to ask."It's easy to hate a group of people, but it's harder to hate an individual, particularly if that person is trying to be friendly and open and accommodating and totally non-threatening," says Bill Carney, a volunteer book in the Human Library.
Giraffe numbers have increased across Africa, new research shows, a rare spot of good news in the conservation world. According to a recent analysis of survey data from across the African continent, the total giraffe population is now around 117,000, approximately 20 percent higher than it was thought to be in 2015, when the last major survey was published. This rise is a result of genuine growth in some areas, but also stems from more accurate census data, says Julian Fennessy, executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, based in Namibia. "It's great to see these numbers increasing," says Fennessy, a co-author of the new research. Giraffes were once considered a single species. But recent genetic evidence shows there are likely four species of giraffe, three of which have increased considerably in number: northern, reticulated, and Masai giraffes. The fourth, southern giraffes, have remained relatively stable. Data were collected during the last few years across 21 countries, by governments, researchers, nonprofits, and even citizen scientists. Fennessy and six co-authors then analyzed this vast trove of information and published the results ... in the peer-reviewed research volume Imperiled: The Encyclopedia of Conservation. Northern giraffes, the most threatened species, live in isolated populations across Central and West Africa, as well as Uganda and parts of Kenya. The new paper estimates there are more than 5,900 of this species, a significant increase from 2015, when there were 4,780.
The deep-ocean floor is teeming with undiscovered life-forms that help to regulate Earth's climate, a new study finds. Researchers sequenced DNA from deep-sea sediments around the world and found that there is at least three times more life on the seafloor than there is higher up in the ocean. What's more, nearly two-thirds of that life has not been formally identified yet. "It's been known since the 1960s that species diversity is very high in the deep sea, so very high numbers of species," co-author Andrew Gooday [said]. "What was new about this study was that there was a lot of novel diversity at the higher taxonomic level." In other words, there are a lot of unknown evolutionary lineages – like whole families of species – waiting to be discovered. The deep-ocean floor covers more than half of Earth's surface but is home to some of the least-studied ecosystems, according to the study. Previous research analyzed DNA collected through the water column, from above the ocean floor up to the surface, so this latest study sought to complete the picture and give a global view of biodiversity in the ocean by looking at seafloor DNA within deep-sea sediments. The researchers also learned more about the role the deep ocean plays in the so-called biological pump, the process by which ocean organisms such as phytoplankton absorb carbon from the atmosphere near the surface and sink to the deep sea, where the carbon is sequestered in the sediments.
As universities across the United States face steep enrollment declines, New Mexico's government is embarking on a pioneering experiment to fight that trend: tuition-free higher education for all state residents. After President Biden's plan for universal free community college failed to gain traction in Congress, New Mexico, one of the nation's poorest states, has emerged with perhaps the most ambitious plans. A new state law approved in a rare show of bipartisanship allocates almost 1 percent of the state's budget toward covering tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, community colleges and tribal colleges. All state residents from new high school graduates to adults enrolling part-time will be eligible regardless of family income. The program is also open to immigrants regardless of their immigration status. Some legislators and other critics question whether there should have been income caps, and whether the state, newly flush with oil and gas revenue, can secure long-term funding to support the program beyond its first year. The legislation, which seeks to treat college as a public resource similar to primary and secondary education, takes effect in July. Although nearly half the states have embraced similar initiatives that seek to cover at least some tuition expenses for some students, New Mexico's law goes further by covering tuition and fees before other scholarships and sources of financial aid are applied, enabling students to use those other funds for expenses such as lodging, food or child care.
In this troubled time of war and pandemic, the World Happiness Report 2022 shows a bright light in dark times. According to the team of international researchers, including McGill University Professor Christopher Barrington-Leigh, the pandemic brought not only pain and suffering but also an increase in social support and benevolence. "COVID-19 is the biggest health crisis we've seen in more than a century," says Professor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia. "Now that we have two years of evidence, we are able to assess not just the importance of benevolence and trust, but to see how they have contributed to well-being during the pandemic." Helliwell adds "We found during 2021 remarkable worldwide growth in all three acts of kindness monitored in the Gallup World Poll. Helping strangers, volunteering, and donations in 2021 were strongly up in every part of the world, reaching levels almost 25% above their pre-pandemic prevalence. This surge of benevolence, which was especially great for the helping of strangers, provides powerful evidence that people respond to help others in need, creating in the process more happiness for the beneficiaries, good examples for others to follow, and better lives for themselves." For the fifth year in a row Finland takes the top spot as the happiest in the world. This year its score was significantly ahead of other countries in the top ten. Denmark continues to occupy second place, with Iceland up from 4th place last year to 3rd this year.
Trees are "social creatures" that communicate with each other in cooperative ways that hold lessons for humans, too, ecologist Suzanne Simard says. Trees are linked to neighboring trees by an underground network of fungi that resembles the neural networks in the brain, she explains. In one study, Simard watched as a Douglas fir that had been injured by insects appeared to send chemical warning signals to a ponderosa pine growing nearby. The pine tree then produced defense enzymes to protect against the insect. "This was a breakthrough," Simard says. The trees were sharing "information that actually is important to the health of the whole forest." In addition to warning each other of danger, Simard says that trees have been known to share nutrients at critical times to keep each other healthy. She says the trees in a forest are often linked to each other via an older tree she calls a "mother" or "hub" tree. The study of trees took on a new resonance for Simard when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the course of her treatment, she learned that one of the chemotherapy medicines she relied on was actually derived from a substance some trees make for their own mutual defense. "One of the main chemotherapy medicines that was administered to me was paclitaxel [also called Taxol]," [she said]. "Paclitaxel is a defense agent – actually a defense chemical – that is produced by the Pacific yew tree, or all yews around the world, actually. It was essential to my recovery."
Note: Watch a great TED Talk by this intrepid scientist showing how forests are much more interconnected than we might imagine. Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
Researchers have developed a solar paint that can absorb water vapour and split it to generate hydrogen - the cleanest source of energy. The paint contains a newly developed compound that acts like silica gel, which is used in sachets to absorb moisture and keep food, medicines and electronics fresh and dry. But unlike silica gel, the new material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, also acts as a semi-conductor and catalyses the splitting of water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen. Lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: "We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air. "Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate. "Our new development has a big range of advantages," he said. "There's no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapour in the air ... can produce fuel." His colleague ... Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, said hydrogen was the cleanest source of energy and could be used in fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines as an alternative to fossil fuels. "This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel.
What is it, exactly, that makes us kind? Why are some of us kinder than others – and what stops us from being kinder? The Kindness Test, a major new study involving more than 60,000 people from 144 different countries, has been looking into these and other questions. It is believed to be the largest public study of kindness ever carried out in the world. The results, which are currently the subject of a three-part Radio 4 documentary The Anatomy of Kindness, suggest that people who receive, give or even just notice more acts of kindness tend to experience higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction. Other encouraging findings are that as many as two-thirds of people think the pandemic has made people kinder and nearly 60% of participants in the study claimed to have received an act of kindness in the previous 24 hours. Luke Cameron, dubbed the "nicest man in Britain", once spent a year doing a good deed every day. It taught him that sometimes offering some help, reassurance or a kind word can make a huge difference. "It's made me more aware of things that happen in front of me. If someone falls over in the street, there's always going to be people who go and help and others who stand back. It's made me one of those people who go and help. Consciously, I now just do it." He became that person, he says, after a "mindset shift" where he realised: "Actually, if it was me, I'd want somebody to help me. That makes you think differently about how you are with people."
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