Scientists Create Artificial Womb!

Dear Commons Community,

Scientists have created an “artificial womb” that has been successfully tested on fetal lambs.  The same scientists hope that a similar “womb” can be used on human fetuses within a decade.  As reported by various media:

“So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.

“We’ve been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model,” says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“They’ve had normal growth. They’ve had normal lung maturation. They’ve had normal brain maturation. They’ve had normal development in every way that we can measure it,” Flake says.

Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.

“What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible,” Flake says. “It’s basically an artificial womb.”

Inside an artificial womb

The device consists of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord to function like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide.

“The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation,” Flake says.

Other researchers praised the advance, saying it could help thousands of babies born very prematurely each year, if tests in humans were to prove successful.

Jay Greenspan, a pediatrician at Thomas Jefferson University, called the device a “technological miracle” that marks “a huge step to try to do something that we’ve been trying to do for many years.”

The device could also help scientists learn more about normal fetal development, says Thomas Shaffer a professor of physiology and pediatrics at Temple University.

“I think this is a major breakthrough,” Shaffer says.

The device in the fetal lamb experiment is kept in a dark, warm room where researchers can play the sounds of the mother’s heart for the lamb fetus and monitor the fetus with ultrasounds.

Previous research has shown that lamb fetuses are good models for human fetal development.

“If you can just use this device as a bridge for the fetus then you can have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of extremely premature infants,” Flake says. “This would be a huge deal.”

But others say the device raises ethical issues, including many questions about whether it would ever be acceptable to test it on humans.

“There are all kinds of possibilities for stress and pain with not, at the beginning, a whole lot of likelihood for success,” says Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University.

Flake says ethical concerns need to be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities babies often suffer when they are born very prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Only about half of such babies survive and, of those that do, about 90 percent suffer severe complications, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, seizures, paralysis, blindness and deafness, Flake says.

About 30,000 babies are born earlier than 26 weeks into pregnancy each year in the United States, according to the researchers.

Potential ethical concerns

Davis worries that the device is not necessarily a good solution for human fetuses.

“If it’s a difference between a baby dying rather peacefully and a baby dying under conditions of great stress and discomfort then, no, I don’t think it’s better,” Davis says.

“If it’s a question of a baby dying versus a baby being born who then needs to live its entire life in an institution, then I don’t think that’s better. Some parents might think that’s better, but many would not,” she says.

And even if it works, Davis also worries about whether this could blur the line between a fetus and a baby.hen

“Up to now, we’ve been either born or not born. This would be halfway born, or something like that. Think about that in terms of our abortion politics,” she says.

This sounds like an incredible biotechnological breakthrough but one that surely will have serious ethical ramifications when used with humans.


Frank Bruni Looks at USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative!

Dear Commons Community,

In his New York Times column today, Frank Bruni, writes about USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (N.A.I.) which has been the vehicle to a higher education for more than 900 students.  Here is an excerpt:

“If you go by the odds, Sierra Williams shouldn’t be in college, let alone at a highly selective school like the University of Southern California.

Many kids in her low-income neighborhood here don’t get to or through the 12th grade. Her single mother isn’t college-educated. Neither are Sierra’s two brothers, one of whom is in prison. Her sister has only a two-year associate degree.

But when Sierra was in the sixth grade, teachers spotted her potential and enrolled her in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, or N.A.I., a program through which U.S.C. prepares underprivileged kids who live relatively near its South Los Angeles campus for higher education. She repeatedly visited U.S.C., so she could envision herself in such an environment and reach for it. She took advanced classes. Her mother, like the parents or guardians of all students in the N.A.I., got counseling on turning college into a reality for her child.

Sierra, 20, just finished her junior year at U.S.C. An engineering major, she’s already enrolled in a master’s program. “My end goal is to get my Ph.D.,” she told me when I met her recently. She wants to be a professor and, through her example as a black woman in engineering, correct the paucity of minorities in the field.

It’s now some two decades since the first class of seniors in the N.A.I. graduated from high school and went on to college. More than 900 kids have used the N.A.I. as an on ramp to higher education — more than a third of them ended up at U.S.C. — and that number is growing quickly as the N.A.I. expands.

The public school that many N.A.I. enrollees attend, the Foshay Learning Center, was responsible for more new arrivals on the U.S.C. campus last fall than any other public or private high school in America. Nineteen N.A.I. alumni started as freshmen; 11 more transferred from other colleges.

And N.A.I. doesn’t even represent the whole of U.S.C.’s efforts to address inadequate socioeconomic diversity at the country’s most celebrated colleges. Although U.S.C. has often been caricatured as a rich kids’ playground — its nickname in some quarters is the University of Spoiled Children — it outpaces most of its peers in trying to lift disadvantaged kids to better lives. Those peers should learn from its example.

According to a recently published study whose data was just a few years old, 38 of America’s top colleges, including five from the Ivy League, had more students from families in the top 1 percent of income earners (about $630,000 annually and above) than from those in the bottom 60 percent ($65,000 and below). There are many reasons, principally a failure to identify and recruit disadvantaged kids whose abilities and accomplishments make them perfectly eligible for elite colleges with low acceptance rates. (U.S.C.’s is now about 16.5 percent.)”

Bruni comments that N.A.I.  is the type of program that should be emulated at other selective colleges and universities. I agree!


NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Proposes Free All-Day Preschool for 3-Year Olds!

Dear Commons Community,

Coming on the heels of New York State Governor Mario Cuomo’s free tuition policy passed earlier this month for all students (whose family incomes are less than $125,000.) attending a state public university, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed yesterday free preschool for all 3-year olds.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that New York City would offer free, full-day preschool to all 3-year-olds within four years, saying that he was building on the success of the city’s prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds and that it was time to go further.

New York would be one of few cities in the country to offer free preschool to every 3-year-old, including Washington. But New York’s program would dwarf that city’s effort, which enrolls only 5,700 3-year-olds. In New York, officials expect to serve 62,000 children a year.

Implementing the universal prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds was the centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s campaign for mayor four years ago and is considered to be one of the biggest accomplishments of his first term. So it is not surprising that, with his re-election effort starting, he is seeking to amplify the achievement….”

… In the often-divided world of education, the long-term benefit of early childhood education, particularly for low-income children, is one of the few things most experts agree on. Politicians on both the left and the right embrace the idea of expanding access to preschool, a rarity among educational initiatives. A number of states, including Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and West Virginia, offer universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.

Studies have found the biggest effect when low-income children are put in high-quality education programs soon after birth. A study by James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago and a Nobel laureate, followed participants in two randomized experiments conducted in North Carolina in the 1970s through age 35. It found that youngsters who attended a high-quality early childhood program completed more years of education and had higher incomes as adults than did children in the control group, who either did not go to preschool or were in lower-quality programs. The men were less likely to use drugs or have high blood pressure.

Mr. de Blasio’s new plan, which he called 3-K for All, comes with many challenges, not least that the mayor said the city would need $700 million from the state and the federal government to be able to reach all children.

“I assure you it will take very hard work,” Mr. de Blasio said on Monday at a public school in the Bronx. He said it would be “harder than pre-K.”

Congratulations to both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio for taking these extraordinary education initiatives for our state and city.


Homeless Student Population Growing in New York City Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) has just issued an update on an earlier report exploring the homeless student population in NYC public schools.  Both the original report and this update were  prepared by an alumna of our PhD Program in Urban Education, Liza Pappas.  Here is an excerpt from the update:

“The number of students in the city’s public schools who lived for some part of the school year in New York’s homeless shelters during school year 2015-2016 rose by more than 4,000, or 15 percent, over the preceding year to nearly 33,000. IBO recently explored  the multilayered impediments to classroom success faced by students living in the city’s shelter system, as well as the substantial challenges faced by schools serving large populations of shelter residents.

Many students living in shelters are concentrated in a relatively small number of the city’s schools. Until last year’s addition of $10.3 million, schools did not receive additional funding to aid their homeless students. The Mayor’s recent initiative to move families out of hotels and cluster sites and into newly created shelters close to their prior communities may add to the concentration in some schools and reduce it at others. Two major highlights of this update:

  • In 2015-2016, over 40 percent (13,729) of students in the shelter system attended school in the Bronx. This represents a 44 percent increase in shelter residents attending schools in the Bronx since 2011-2012. 
  • The number of homeless students attending school rose 18 percent in Brooklyn, 21 percent in Manhattan, and 50 percent in Queens over the same five-year period. Staten Island, the borough with the fewest students living in shelters, saw their numbers double, an increase of 105 percent. 

The update makes clear that the homeless student population is growing and reaching historic proportions especially in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Good work, Liza, for bringing attention to this issue.




Kristina M. Johnson, an Engineer, to be Next Chancellor of SUNY!


Dear Commons Community,

Kristina M. Johnson, an engineer who served as undersecretary in the United States Energy Department before founding a hydroelectric company, will be appointed chancellor of the State University of New York.  She  will succeed Nancy L. Zimpher.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Kristina M. Johnson, an engineer who developed technology critical to 3-D movies and served as undersecretary in the United States Energy Department will be appointed chancellor of the State University of New York.

SUNY has 29 four-year colleges and universities and 30 community colleges, which serve a total of roughly 440,000 full- and part-time students. Assuming Dr. Johnson’s appointment is confirmed by the board of trustees on Monday afternoon, she will arrive at a time when state funding as a percentage of operating costs is down from a decade ago. At the same time, colleges are under pressure to increase access and graduation rates for low-income students.

Dr. Johnson, 59, said in an interview that, in addition to promoting excellence in research and teaching, she planned to focus on environmental sustainability and on creating an individualized model of education. That model would help students identify their interests early on in college and then take courses that would prepare them for their ideal career, she said.

 “What’s important is that we help our students find their purpose and their passion,” she said.

Dr. Johnson will succeed Nancy L. Zimpher, SUNY’s first female chancellor, who is credited with having elevated the system during her eight-year tenure. Dr. Zimpher, 70, will step down in June. Dr. Johnson will begin on Sept. 5. The SUNY board will appoint an interim leader to serve from June to September.

In addition to being an entrepreneur, Dr. Johnson is also a seasoned administrator. As dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University from 1999 to 2007, she raised the school’s prestige, expanding the size of the faculty and the number of graduate students, tripling research expenditures and building a 322,000-square-foot interdisciplinary teaching and research center. She attracted a $35 million gift from Edmund T. Pratt Jr., a 1947 graduate who had been the chairman and chief executive of Pfizer. At the time, it was the second-largest financial gift in the university’s history.

She reduced the number of undergraduates who dropped out of the engineering program, in part by overhauling the curriculum to give students earlier exposure to exciting topics in the field. She created a fellowship that allowed roughly a third of undergraduates to spend 18 months doing research in faculty members’ labs.

The fellowship, she said, grew out of a concern that many students were narrowly focused on a single career path and a desire to give them “more of an introduction to the joy of engineering.”

Surveying the students when they graduated, she found that the careers they were pursuing were richer than “a single one- or two-track, which is what they were on before,” she said.

Rob Clark, the provost and senior vice president for research at the University of Rochester, who served as Dr. Johnson’s senior associate dean at the Pratt School and then succeeded her as dean, described her as an inspirational leader. When she started, he said, the engineering school lagged the university as a whole in rankings and general stature. In addition to raising $250 million and tripling the school’s teaching and research space, he said, she fostered a culture in which faculty more often pursued grants as teams, rather than individually, and encouraged entrepreneurship.

 “We had many more faculty engaged in start-up activity,” Dr. Clark said. “That grew greatly when she was there and continues at the institution since her departure.”

He added, “All of the things you would have said couldn’t have been done in that length of time, she got them done.”

Dr. Johnson was born in St. Louis and grew up in Denver. An avid athlete, she wanted to play lacrosse in high school, but her school did not have a girls’ team, so she practiced with the boys. As an undergraduate at Stanford, she majored in electrical engineering, played varsity field hockey and started a women’s lacrosse club team that later became a varsity team. She also got her master’s degree and doctorate from Stanford.

From 1985 to 1999, she was an assistant professor and then a full professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and from 1994 to 1998, she directed a National Science Foundation-supported research center at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. During this period, she also started two companies. She holds 42 United States patents. Among other things, she invented a camera that can pick up cancerous or precancerous cells on a cervical smear and technology that for the first time allowed for high contrast and faithful color in 3-D films, contributing to movies like “Chicken Little” and “Avatar.”

From 2007 to 2009, she was the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University. In 2009, she was confirmed as under secretary of energy, overseeing a $10.5 billion program that included nuclear energy, fossil fuels, renewable energy and waste management. She stepped down at the end of 2010 and started a company that builds and modernizes hydroelectric plants.

While overseeing the design of the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences at Duke, Dr. Johnson said, she conducted research on how to create a culture that leads to cross-disciplinary breakthroughs.

Besides vision and financial resources, she said, “the most important thing is you’ve got to have a place with really good coffee and food.”

Dr. Johnson sounds like a winner.  Good luck to her!


Bernie Sanders Defends Ann Coulter’s Right to Speak at Berkeley!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past week, a major free speech controversy has been brewing at the University of California, Berkeley, after the University administration informed Berkeley’s College Republicans, who invited Coulter to speak, that an April 27 event would need to be rescheduled due to concerns that her speech would set off violent protests and make it difficult to maintain campus security.   Bernie Sanders strongly criticized the University administration for its decision.  Here is an excerpt of Sanders’ comments as reported by various media including The Huffington Post:

 “I don’t like this. I don’t like it,” Sanders told The Huffington Post after speaking at a rally for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello on Thursday night. “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.”

Campus police have learned that groups responsible for recent clashes during demonstrations on campus and throughout the city planned to target Coulter’s event, according to the university.

Although on Thursday the university offered to host the speech in the afternoon on May 2, Coulter and the College Republicans have rejected the proposal, arguing that students are less likely to be able to attend an afternoon speech. In insisting on the original speaking date, they also note that May 2 is during a period when classes have ended and students are studying for finals.

Coulter has said that she still plans to speak on April 27 in the evening. She and the College Republicans are threatening litigation against the university.

The controversy over Coulter’s speech follows violent clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and left-wing Trump critics at a pro-Trump rally in a park in the city of Berkeley. UC Berkeley also canceled a speech by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February amid violent protests by some 1,500 people.

The events at UC Berkeley and protests against conservative speakers, which sometimes turned violent at other college campuses, have ignited a debate among progressives about the boundaries of free speech with some on the left insisting that racial demagoguery deserves to be countered as aggressively as possible.

Many other liberals argue that disruptions that effectively veto certain points of view are wrongheaded and counterproductive no matter how repugnant the speaker’s views.

Sanders made clear he is firmly in the latter camp.

“To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness,” he said. “If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”

“What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions,” he concluded. “Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”

I am no fan of Ann Coulter but I agree fully with Sanders.  We need not be afraid of ideas but of attempts on the part of persons or organizations that prevent ideas from being expressed.



Analyzing the Worsening Teacher Shortage!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year, I posted about the steps that California was considering to stem its teacher shortage.  In the Teachers College Record, Christopher Holland reviews the teacher shortage issue that is looming for many other states.  He attributes the growing “crisis” to a combination of poor working conditions and past education policies that foster teacher attrition.  He proposes several solutions but laments that many states will be reluctant to fund such programs.  Here is an excerpt:

“The Learning Policy Institute’s report, A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. projects a rather grim image of teacher shortage crises for every state across the nation (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). National enrollment levels in teacher-education programs have declined by 35% between 2009 and 2014 (691,000 to 451,000) (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Moreover, a high national rate of teacher attrition (8%) continues to plague American school districts. Compared to nations like Finland and Singapore, the rate of attrition in the U.S. is double the rate of these nations (Heim, 2016; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Among those who leave the profession, the vast majority of educators decide to exit voluntarily before they reach retirement. For example, 43% exit as a result of family or personal reasons and 57% cite job dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of administrative support, testing or accountability pressures, and difficult working conditions as the major reasons for leaving (Haynes, 2014; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

This teacher shortage issue is especially evident in California, a state that educates over 10% of America’s K–12 students. Here, attrition and teacher education recruitment rates reflect a problematic trend. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined over 70% during the period between the academic years 2001–02 to 2014–15 (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Furthermore, although attrition rates in California (6.1%) are lower than the national average (8%), they are still well above the 4% experienced by top educational systems around the world (Camera, 2016). As a result of these trends, California schools became increasingly reliant on hiring educators with substandard credentialing. During the period 2012–13 to 2015–16, emergency-style provisional and short-term teaching permits increased by over 200% (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). According to the Learning Policy Institute (2017), 55% of California school districts reported that they hired teachers with substandard credentials. Moreover, shortages continue to be worst in STEM, bilingual education, and special education classrooms throughout the state (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Finally, schools with higher rates of minority students and lower income students continue to feel the pains of teacher shortages at disproportionate rates compared to those districts with Caucasian students and higher income students (California Department of Education, 2015).

Besides issuing substandard credentials, state and local officials implemented other ineffective strategies to fill the gaps that have been caused by teacher shortages. These strategies include hiring substitute teachers, assigning teachers outside of their credentialed field, leaving positions vacant, increasing class sizes, and canceling courses (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). Although these policies were originally intended to be temporary solutions for the teacher shortage crisis, they exacerbate larger issues of subpar instruction and diminished student achievement (Learning Policy Institute, 2017).

Three proposed bills currently in the state legislature would maintain grant programs, loan forgiveness programs, and tax credit programs that aim to increase recruitment and retention rates for teachers. Although each piece of proposed legislation considers the financial realities that teachers face, they do little to fix the core issues associated with California’s teacher shortage problems. First, AB 169, introduced in the State Assembly on January 17, 2017, would reauthorize the Golden State Teacher Grant Program to provide up to $20,000 in grant money to teacher education students to complete certification requirements as long as they taught a high needs subject for at least four years after completing a degree or certification (2017). Second, AB 463, introduced in the State Assembly on February 13, 2017, would reauthorize the state’s Assumption Program of Loans for Educators incentive. This would earmark $5 million for a teacher recruitment program that provides high-achieving postsecondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the necessary financial resources to complete a degree and teach in rural low-income schools across the state for at least four years (2017). Third, SB 807, or the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017, introduced in the State Senate on February 17, 2017, would provide educators with tax relief through two efforts (2017). First, it would offer credit for money spent on earning teaching credentials. Second, it would allow teachers who remain in the profession for more than five years to be free of paying any state tax on income earned from their profession.

Each of these three bills shares a significant budgetary focus and provides pre-service and full-time educators with major incentives to enter and stay in the classroom. Despite this, they do not address the major reasons behind teacher shortage. As was stated earlier, the vast majority of educators who decide to leave the profession do so voluntarily before retirement (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Personal life events and employment dissatisfaction overwhelmingly rank as the most cited reasons for leaving teaching early (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

Moreover, many educators like Stephen Mucher link high percentages of disgruntled teachers to an undesirable educational system that negatively impacts recruitment efforts (Strauss, 2015). Although not a full empirical investigation, Mucher’s reflection on his efforts to find and recruit pre-service educators highlights connections among college students’ lack of enthusiasm for entering the teaching profession and growing efforts to standardize K–12 curricula, eliminate tenure and seniority, maximize school choice, and further advance efforts to expand high-stakes accountability through standardized assessments (Strauss, 2015). In this respect, state officials should conceptualize the issues of attrition and teacher recruitment as entwined and use innovative solutions in structuring proper interventions that can resolve both of these problems.”

This is “crisis”that will get worse before it gets better. It will also lead policymakers to consider greater use of online learning technology to alleviate the teacher shortages that will plague many public schools.



Scientists Make Major Breakthrough in Developing a “Pacemaker” for the Brain!

Dear Commons Community,

A team of scientists from multiple universities and clinics have been collaborating on new technology to develop a sort of “pacemaker” for the brain.  The technique — called direct neural recording – is based on the clinical placement of electrodes and is fast becoming  the leading edge of research into the biology of human memory.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article describing the latest development  in using this technology

“Well-timed pulses from electrodes implanted in the brain can enhance memory in some people, scientists reported on Thursday, in the most rigorous demonstration to date of how a pacemaker-like approach might help reduce symptoms of dementia, head injuries and other conditions.

The report is the result of decades of work decoding brain signals, helped along in recent years by large Department of Defense grants intended to develop novel treatments for people with traumatic brain injuries, a signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The research, led by a team at the University of Pennsylvania, is published in the journal Current Biology.

Previous attempts to stimulate human memory with implanted electrodes had produced mixed results: Some experiments seemed to sharpen memory, but others muddled it. The new paper resolves this confusion by demonstrating that the timing of the stimulation is crucial.

Zapping memory areas when they are functioning poorly improves the brain’s encoding of new information. But doing so when those areas are operating well — as they do for stretches of the day in most everyone, including those with deficits — impairs the process.

“We all have good days and bad days, times when we’re foggy, or when we’re sharp,” said Michael Kahana, who with Youssef Ezzyat led the research team. “We found that jostling the system when it’s in a low-functioning state can jump it to a high-functioning one.”

Researchers cautioned that implantation is a delicate procedure and that the reported improvements may not apply broadly. The study was of epilepsy patients; scientists still have much work to do to determine whether this approach has the same potential in people with other conditions, and if so how best to apply it. But in establishing the importance of timing, the field seems to have turned a corner, experts said.

Experts said the new report gives scientists a needed blueprint for so-called closed-loop cognitive stimulation: implanted electrodes that both monitor the functional state of memory areas, moment to moment, and deliver pulses only in the very microseconds when they’re helpful. The hope is that such sensitive, timed implants could bolster thinking and memory in a range of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, as well as deficits from brain injury.”

This is indeed an important breakthrough and a glimpse into the future of man-machine interfaces that overcome diseases and injuries to the brain and other human organs.


Giant Iceberg Runs Aground In Newfoundland:  Captivating Videos!



Dear Commons Community,

A fifteen-story high iceberg ran aground earlier this week off New Foundland that is providing a photo shoot for people in the area.  It is a majestic chunk of the Arctic Sea that is captivating locals and tourists alike. Here is its story as reported by the Associated Press and the New York Times:

“An iceberg ran aground over Easter weekend just off the small Newfoundland town of Ferryland, population 465, drawing knots of tourists eager to catch a glimpse.

Some are locals or travelers who happened to be nearby, but many are a special Canadian breed, the iceberg chaser — people who flock to the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland at this time of year hoping to see the huge frozen chunks of broken glacier that drift by on a stretch of sea known as Iceberg Alley.

The berg at Ferryland rises about 15 stories above the waterline — and that is only about 10 percent of its mass. Some of the submerged ice comes into view when the berg is seen from above.

“Most folks can’t wrap their heads around how big it is,” Barry Rogers, the owner of Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours, a Newfoundland tour operator, said in an interview on Thursday.

Iceberg season starts in April, and there has been a bumper crop this year. More than 600 bergs have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes so far, a count not usually reached until late May or early June, according to the International Ice Patrol of the United States Coast Guard in New London, Conn. The typical amount for April is closer to 80.

Heavy winds have blown several icebergs close to shore — a boon for iceberg chasers, but a nuisance for the local fishing industry. The entrance to the harbor in St. John’s, the provincial capital, is “plugged solid,” Mr. Rogers said. “A lot of our fisher folks are just tied onto the wharf, waiting for the ice to move offshore.”

The stunning view that is causing traffic jams of onlookers on the coast road is actually a snapshot of the iceberg’s death throes, 15,000 years in the making. What began as snowflakes falling on Greenland during the last ice age has crept to the sea in a glacier and then broken off, probably sometime in the last three years, to float slowly out into Baffin Bay. Bumped and nudged by one another and by melting pack ice, the bergs eventually get caught up in the southbound Labrador Current and sail down Iceberg Alley.

Exposed to the warmer sun of spring and summer in lower latitudes, the bergs begin to shrink and to develop large crevices that channel floods of meltwater. If they come near shore, the bergs may bottom out on the ocean floor and come under immense pressure as the seawater stops supporting their weight. Falling tides are often the final straw, causing the grounded iceberg to break up suddenly into the waves.”

Incredible sight!