1. You can follow all of the tips that exist from here to the end of eternity and it won’t change the fact that what we’re being asked to do is impossibly hard. You can do everything right as much as possible and it will still feel impossible. It’s OK if it feels impossible. You’re not delusional; you’re experiencing reality pretty accurately.
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A team working on accessories for parents with visual impairments. (Photo courtesy of Ken Richardson/MIT)

Most breast pumps come in friendly pastel colors of plastic but still look like dystopian milking machines, which is what they are. The first time I tried to use one, I burst into tears. Our son was a week and a half old and every nursing session still hurt. But somehow what I really couldn’t stand was how humiliating the pump looked.

Pumping breast milk sucks. Breast pumps are clunky, loud, and uncomfortable, with lots of small parts that are hard to clean and easy to accidentally leave at home. …


Rain can rein in reindeer and other Arctic mammal populations

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Arctic fox in Langedrag Wildlife Park, Norway. Photo: Erik F. Brandsborg

A simple rain can hit Arctic animals hard in complicated ways. An Arctic fox often dives nose-first into the snow to catch a vole or lemming. When rain falls and creates a hard ice crust on top of the snow, that fox is out of luck. But the same ice crust can kill off weaker caribou and reindeer by cutting them off from their food supply, providing a carcass bonanza for the same fox.

These instances of rain — called “rain-on-snow events” — are happening more frequently in many parts of the Arctic because of climate change. Their effects on wildlife are undoubted but inadequately understood thanks to the vastness of the Arctic, the scarcity of weather stations, and the difficulty of determining whether there’s an ice crust from weather station data alone. But scientists have observed ice crusts cutting reindeer and caribou off from their food supplies, disrupting lemming population cycles, driving away snowy owls, and causing delayed crashes of Arctic fox populations in different parts of the Arctic. …


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The kidneys (left) and a tubule made by bioprinting (right), the subject of a paper that Jennifer Lewis and other researchers published last fall. (Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock; Scientific Reports)

Every day in the U.S., about 22 people die waiting for an organ transplant. If scientists could 3-D print organs like kidneys, livers and hearts, all those lives could be saved. For years, people have been touting personalized organ printing as the future.

But despite decades of promising work in bioengineered bladders and other kinds of human tissue, we’re not close to having more complicated organs made from scratch. Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis, a leader in advanced 3-D printing of biological tissue, has only recently developed the ability to print part of a nephron, an individual unit of a kidney. …


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Illustration by Gabriel Alcala

When a new drug is being tested in a controlled clinical trial, half the patients get the real drug and half get a placebo, something harmless like a sugar pill or a saline injection. But patients on the placebo often improve anyway, and that’s because they expect that they’re getting the real drug, right? Well, no. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk’s research has exploded that explanation.

Placebos have an astonishing value, according to Kaptchuk’s research. They work even when people know they’re placebos. They can give patients the same negative side effects as real drugs. They affect areas of the brain involved in pain reception (such as the anterior cingulate cortex), memory (including the prefrontal cortex), and anxiety (the amygdala and other spots). …

About

Anna Nowogrodzki

Science and tech journalist. Writing in Nature, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Neo.Life, & others.

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