Best of CH 2022: Link About It

Edible sneakers, batteries powered by gravity, breakthroughs in physics and more inspiring articles from the year

Our Link About It section allows us to shout out fellow writers, publications and journalists whose reporting helps continue to shape us as readers, thinkers and listeners. In sharing their inspiring articles, we hope to create a helpful resource and reminder about the endlessly exciting research, design and movements happening in the world. From medical progress and ancient discoveries to life-saving inventions, community-minded endeavors and remarkable art, the following links are our favorite from the year.

Scientists Succeed in Growing New Bones Using Sound Waves

Using high-frequency sound waves, scientists at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia have managed to grow new bones out of stem cells. Having spent over a decade investigating how sound interacts with different materials, researchers developed a sound wave-generating device that can manipulate cells and fluids. “We can use the sound waves to apply just the right amount of pressure in the right places to the stem cells, to trigger the change process,” says co-lead researcher and professor Leslie Yeo. This innovative feat could crucially help patients who have lost bones to cancer or degenerative diseases—an imperative breakthrough as the current, experimental process requires extracting bone marrow which is expensive and painful. In contrast, this new approach is faster, simpler and more effective. “Our device is cheap and simple to use, so could easily be upscaled for treating large numbers of cells simultaneously,” continues Yeo. Now, the researchers are exploring how to scale their device to treat as many people as possible. Learn more about it at RMIT.

Image courtesy of RMIT

Lift Energy Storage System Turns Skyscrapers Into Gravity Energy Batteries

Sourcing and storing energy is often unsustainable and intermittent—a problem researchers from the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria seek to solve with the Lift Energy Storage System, which turns skyscrapers into giant gravity batteries. Researchers found that “excess renewable energy can be stored as potential energy by using it to lift something heavy up to a higher point,” according to New Atlas. “That energy can then be released by using gravity to drive some kind of generator.” Thus, existing skyscraper elevators could easily transform into the foundation for regenerative batteries. Not only does this solution operate with around 92% efficiency, it can also store tons of energy remarkably affordably. Read more about the simple science behind this innovative plan at New Atlas.

Image courtesy of Thyssenkrupp

Scientists Discover Ancient Cities in the Amazon

In the Llanos de Mojos region of the Bolivian Amazon, scientists recently discovered remnants of vast urban settlements, proving the existence of ancient Amazonian cities. Using a light-based remote sensing technology called lidar, scientists digitally deforested the canopy to survey the ruins beneath it. They found a stronghold of the socially complex Casarabe Culture (who existed from 500 to 1400 CE) who built urban centers, monumental platforms, pyramid architecture over 70 feet tall, raised causeways connecting suburban settlements, reservoirs, canals, a water control and distribution system and more. The highly developed structures prove that sophisticated societies existed there well before European intervention. “This is, in my mind, the clearest case of a fully urbanized Amazonian landscape,” says an anthropologist at the University of Florida, Michael Heckenberger. While scientists still do not know what happened to the Casarabe people, this striking discovery brings scientists much closer to understanding the Amazon. Learn more about it at Smithsonian Magazine.

Image courtesy of H. Prümers/DAI

James Webb’s First Image of a Distant World

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has taken its first direct image of a distant world: a planet lying outside our solar system. The image shows the exoplanet HIP 65426 b in varying infrared light, revealing that it is a gas giant, contains no rocky surface and is thus uninhabitable. From the image, astronomers were also able to discern that the exoplanet is about six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter and very young, estimated to be around 15 to 20 million years old. While this isn’t the first image of a distant world ever captured (the Hubble Space Telescope has also done so), taking images of exoplanets is extremely difficult since the brightness of stars often eclipses a clear view of planets. For the Webb to clearly capture HIP 65426 b is an indication of “future possibilities for studying distant worlds,” says NASA. Learn more about this development at their site.

Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/CSA/A Carter (UCSC)/the ERS 1386 team/A. Pagan (STScI)

The First Woman of Color to Complete a Solo Expedition in Antarctica, Preet Chandi

On Monday, 32-year-old British army officer and physiotherapist Preet Chandi became the first woman of color to complete an unsupported expedition to the South Pole. Chandi, who traveled 700 miles in 40 days, undertook the journey despite knowing little about Antarctica in order to inspire other women of color to pursue their goals. “This expedition was always about so much more than me. I want to encourage people to push their boundaries and to believe in themselves, and I want you to be able to do it without being labelled a rebel… I don’t want to just break the glass ceiling, I want to smash it into a million pieces,” she wrote on her blog. To further inspire others, Chandi set up a fundraiser to cover her medical and travel costs and create a yearly grant for adventurous women. Learn more about her historic accomplishment, how she prepared and what her trek looked like at NPR.

Image courtesy of Polar Preet/Instagram

A Sneaker That Grows Edible Plants

From New York-based independent material designer Stella Harry Lee, the Mircogreen Shoe is a prototype sneaker that sprouts edible plants from its bacterial-grown synthetic material. The project consists of crocheted shoe uppers, which have successfully grown radishes and lettuce seeds through everyday use and exposure. While compelling and vibrant, the sneakers also conjure a dystopian future, where climate change has decimated factories and resources and people have to make their own products. In generating its own materials, the project critiques an industry of fashion brands that market themselves as sustainable without addressing—and actually perpetuating—issues of mass production. Though the Microgreen Shoe isn’t a complete solution to this, the prototype questions how materials are designed, championing a world that gets back to nature where people grow their own resources. Learn more about this project at MOLD.

Image courtesy of Stella Harry Lee/MOLD

New Portable Device Can Turn Saltwater Into Drinking Water

Only 0.5% of Earth’s 326 million trillion gallons of water is safe to drink. To make water more accessible and consumable, researchers at MIT developed a portable device that converts saltwater into drinking water with the touch of a button. The current prototype (which fits into a regular-sized suitcase) requires less power to operate than a cellphone charger, processes one liter of water per hour, charges itself via a solar panel on its exterior and removes the need of a filter by relying on electric fields. The entire device only has three buttons, granting the invention an ease of use that makes it a crucial tool for all types of use, from cargo ships to refugee camps. While the prototype is priced around $4,000 to $6,000 per unit, scientists believe the device can be developed down to around $1,500 and process 10 times the amount of water. Learn more about this life-saving tool at Fast Company.

Image courtesy of Junghyo Yoon/Unsplash

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Fusion Energy Breakthrough

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to produce a nuclear fusion reaction that generates a net energy gain. This is, according to the Washington Post, “a major milestone in the decades-long, multibillion-dollar quest to develop a technology that provides unlimited, cheap, clean power.” This scientific breakthrough—which could ultimately support impoverished areas with power, and contribute to the fight against climate change—is set to be announced by The Department of Energy, and was orchestrated by California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Read more about the milestone, which is still at least a decade away from commercial use, at the Washington Post.

Image courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/AP

Elevated Access Provides Private Planes for People Seeking Abortions

Founded before the fall of Roe v Wade, Elevated Access is a non-profit network of pilots who donate their time, resources, planes and skills to transport people seeking abortions or gender-affirming care to states where it is legal to do so. In many cases, people do not have the money or time to make it to their medical appointments, making the service Elevated Access provides crucial. While the idea of flying people privately to access abortions sounds complex and costly, many pilots have their own four-seater hobby planes which are small and off the radar. Further, as founder Mike (whose last name is withheld for protection) notes, there are airports in nearly all counties in the US so that makes getting to clinics by plane swift. Mike thoroughly vets all the pilots, from their licenses to flight-training hours and references that prove their views on reproductive rights. His operation attests to the power and necessity of collective, community organizing. Learn more about it at The Cut.

Image courtesy of Getty

An Underwater Art Gallery Protects Natural Climate Change Solutions

Meadows of seagrass once flourished alongside the shores of Talamone, Italy, but have since diminished in size due to bottom trawling, an illegal practice where chain-weighted nets scrape the seabed. This seagrass is crucial for fighting climate change as it captures more carbon dioxide than the Amazon rainforest. Further, a 2021 paper detailed that if seagrass is protected around the world, it could lower global carbon emissions each year by 1% by 2030—about half the output of the aviation industry. The lack of regulation to protect a potent, natural climate change solution led fisherman Paolo Fanciulli to found Casa dei Pesci, an underwater art gallery of 39 white carrara marble sculptures from leading artists including Emily Young. The sculptures are mesmerizing and also snag nets and trawlers to prevent them from destroying the seagrass, providing a habitat for plants and fish. Learn more about the project at Wired.

Image courtesy of Carlo Bonazza/Casa dei Pesci

Hero image courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/AP