Best of CH 2020: Link About It

Space news, sonic time capsules, shapeshifting material, people-powered initiatives and more

As we publish original articles throughout the day, we also share insightful, thoughtful and important stories, research, videos and photo essays from publications we respect and creators we admire. Each of these supports our own growth as writers, readers, viewers and listeners, and serves as a useful resource for our audience, who return to our ever-growing Link About It section. Below we have selected several of these stories, which cover everything from discoveries in space to sonic time capsules, innovations in wellness and people-powered initiatives.

Online Musical Time Capsule, 2020 Is A Song

Motivated by a feeling of numbness that was only remedied by music, interdisciplinary writer and editor Marisa Aveling created 2020 Is A Song—an online time capsule centered on “personal yet collective remembering.” A people-powered counterpoint to Spotify’s data-driven Wrapped, 2020 Is A Song calls for individuals all over the world to contribute a track that helped them through the year that was. An even sweeter and human touch, there’s a field to select the emotion you’d like your song filed under—be it rage, joy, hope, insanity, anxiety, sadness or love. Aveling teamed up with Naomi Abel and Chris Allick (friends and former colleagues) who designed and built the site, respectively. “The idea came about because after feeling numb for most of 2020, in the space of 24 hours two songs made me actually feel something,” Aveling tells us. “I thought surely this is a shared experience, and it seems like it has been.” Take a look and add your song at 2020 Is A Song.

Image courtesy of 2020 Is A Song

NASA Discovers Evidence of Possible Parallel Universe

NASA research scientists conducting experiments in Antarctica have discovered high-energy particles coming from the ice that may be evidence of a parallel universe also born from the Big Bang. Even more fascinating, it’s believed that the alternate realm is a true mirror of our own—with time going backward, left being right, positive being negative. “Not everyone was comfortable with the hypothesis,” says Peter Gorham, an experimental particle physicist and lead investigator for NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna. While it sounds wild, this explanation is actually the simplest, though it has been met with skepticism. Researcher Ibrahim Safa explains plainly, “We’re left with the most exciting or most boring possibilities.” Read more at New Scientist.

Image by Graham Carter

New York Public Library + Gothamist’s Love Letter to NYC

Online publication Gothamist is collaborating with the New York Public Library for a love letter to NYC and now requests contributions from those who inhabit the city. “The heart and soul of the city has always been the New Yorkers who populate it,” writes Jen Carlson, “And this year, as some publications focused on those fleeing the city, we spoke to New Yorkers who stayed.” For the month of December, Gothamist will publish photos, essays, poems and more submissions from readers along with an NYC-centric item from the NYPL’s collection. Simply send your entry to tips@gothamist.com (using DEAR NYC as the subject line) to add to this collective love letter to the weird and wonderful New York City. Read more at Gothamist.

Image “Washington Square Park” by Anthony Velonis, courtesy of NYPL

Psychological Specifications Around Successful Work-From-Home Breaks

For everyone who’s shifted to working from home this year, and for the continued foreseeable future, taking regular—scheduled—breaks is crucial to productivity. Otherwise, your brain continues to say, “I know I need to take a break at some point. Why not now?” explains Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World. Checking email is not a break—in fact, it creates a “cognitive disaster,” according to Newport. Read more about the author’s findings and guidance at Fast Company.

Image courtesy of Foundr

MIT Scientists’ “4D Materials” Shape-Shift into Human Face

Nicknamed “active origami,” and referred to as a shape-morphing system, an MIT-developed “4D material” begins flat but can blossom into something more complicated when its surrounding conditions change. Specifically, its 3D-printed lattice structure, which mimics mesh, expands through temperature variation and actually turns into the face of scientist Carl Friedrich Gauss. The visual was reverse engineered and Gauss was selected as the sculptural result to honor his 1828 “Therema Egregium,” which helped many scientists believe that the universe is flat. Read more about the future-forward material at Ars Technica.

Image by Lori K Sanders

Scaled’s Flexible Body Cast Helps Prevent Athletic Injuries

A graduate of Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, Natalie Kerres developed her Scaled prototype to protect and support athletes’ body parts most susceptible to injury. The “pangolin scale-like” system interlocks to form a sleeve or a strip that bends with the wearer, preventing pinches or compromised range of motion. Particularly suited for wrists and backs, Scaled creates a protective layer in case of hyperextension, collision or typical wear and tear. Whether the concept could be used in contact sports remains up for discussion, but Kerres has received financial support from MedTech SuperConnector and plans to push production to a commercial scale. Read more at Dezeen.

Image courtesy of Scaled

Decades of Video Game Console Design

With the arrival of the so-called ninth-generation of video game consoles, Wired created a list of devices that have debuted over the past 40 years. The article traces the industry’s earliest consoles (the Atari 2600) through to contemporary iterations (the Xbox X Series and the Playstation 5) and offers plenty of insight into how and why they look the way they do—from cultural influences and advertising campaigns to technological advancements and abject failures. Writer Dia Lacina likens the new Xbox X Series to rectangular bookshelf speakers and the new Playstation to “a tacky casino-hotel in miniature,” despite its heft when compared to competitor products. Though the piece ends with further criticism (“Regardless of what we think of how the current generation looks, it has nothing pleasant to tell us about ourselves,” Lacina writes), it’s an altogether fascinating look at the evolution of gaming consoles. Read more at Wired.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

24 Potentially “Superhabitable” Planets Discovered

A recently published study titled In Search for a Planet Better than Earth: Top Contenders for a Superhabitable World has revealed astronomers have identified 24 planets that may not only be habitable for humans, but possibly “even better for life than our Earth.” These planets could support more biodiversity and biomass (aka organisms) than the planet we currently call home and were found by researchers examining Kepler Objects of Interest which tracks potential Exoplanets. The discovery supports the Copernican Principle, “a centuries-old assumption that Earth does not occupy a special place in the universe”—meaning Earth is the only planet we are certain supports life (or life as we know it) but that it surely can’t be the only one. The “favorite” planet orbits a star 3,000 light years away. Leading the research team, scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch tells VICE, “We are so focused on finding a mirror image of Earth that we may overlook a planet that is even more well-suited for life.” Visit VICE to find out more.

Image courtesy of NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

The Sonic Pulse of the Ocean

“You need to know what the habitat sounds like when it’s healthy. When the soundscape has changed, the habitat may have changed, too,” Chong Chen, a deep-sea biologist at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, tells The New York Times. This statement informs a burgeoning field of aquatic research wherein acousticians catalogue deep-sea soundscapes in order to understand and track issues in various ecosystems. The study could provide much-needed insight regarding diversity in the deep sea, a place untouched by high-quality cameras and unreachable by human divers. Hydrophones (underwater recorders) can delve into the darkness to capture the snaps, cracks, groans, grunts, clicks and meeps the sea-floor population makes. From these recordings, estimations can be made about what types of creatures inhabit the area, how many there may be and more. This information will prove especially pertinent as deep-sea mining expeditions often occur near populated areas. Read more at The New York Times.

Image courtesy of NOAA

30 Years of Photos From the Hubble Telescope

Fresh off a celebration for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th birthday, National Geographic took time to peruse and publish select photos from the remarkable research tool’s past three decades. Living well beyond its initial 10-year term, the telescope has helped agencies answer long-held questions and inspire generations to continue searching. From “How old is the universe?” (13.8 billion years old) to “Do black holes actually exist? (yes, with frightening ferocity),” plenty of the foundational equations and discoveries used to inform space research today came courtesy of Hubble. “One of Hubble’s lasting achievements will be how it showed the public the wonders of the universe,” Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, tells NatGeo. See some of the incredible images there.

Image courtesy of NASA

France’s Environmentally Friendly Insect Farm

In Amiens (a town just north of Paris), a company called Ÿnsect is building a vertical farm that will be home to hundreds of millions of insects. Set to begin production in 2022, the farm will house an automated system for growing and processing “beetle larvae for use in products such as pet food, fertilizer and fish feed, as a way to dramatically shrink their environmental footprints.” A more environmentally sound option to land-clearing for other types of farming, this approach by Ÿnsect exists in their already-operating facility where robots do most of the work. The company was founded back in 2011 and co-founder, president and CEO Antoine Hubert says, “We know that with a growing population, and the limited resources we have on Earth, limited arable land, the maximum greenhouse gas emissions that we can afford with climate change, and biodiversity loss, there’s so much to do.” Find out more at Fast Company.

Image courtesy of Ÿnsect

Hero image courtesy of NASA