With U.S. infrastructure crumbling, an honor oath summons engineers to do no harm

When graduating college this month, many North American engineering students will take a special pledge, with a history dating back to 1925.

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This spring, just like any other year, thousands of young North American engineers will graduate from their respective colleges ready to start erecting buildings, assembling machinery, and programming software, among other things. But before they take on these complex and important tasks, many of them will recite a special vow stating their ethical obligations to society, not unlike the physicians who take their Hippocratic Oath, affirming their ethos toward the patients they would treat. At the end of the ceremony, the engineers receive an iron ring, as a reminder of their promise to the millions of people their work will serve.

The ceremony isn’t just another graduation formality. As a profession, engineering has ethical weight. Moreover, engineering mistakes can be even more deadly than medical ones. A doctor’s error may cost a patient their life. But an engineering blunder may bring down a plane or crumble a building, resulting in many more fatalities. When larger projects—such as fracking, deep-sea mining or building nuclear reactors—malfunction and backfire, they can cause global disasters, afflicting millions. A vow that reminds an engineer that their work directly affects humankind and their planet is no less important than a medical oath that summons one to do no harm.

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Patrick Beach
Patrick Beach lives and writes in Cincinnati, Ohio, but he’s originally from Idaho, with stops between in New York, Vermont, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas. He earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Syracuse University. You can find him on Twitter @ThinkRunPat and Facebook as patrick.beach.98
Tech and the science of dogs’ olfactory receptors combat avalanche threats

Avalanche rescue dogs train to find and dig out people buried in snow slides

Sarah McLear

Two-and-a-half year-old Huckleberry, a blue merle Australian shepherd, pulls hard at her leash; her yelps can be heard by skiers and boarders high above on the chairlift that carries them over the ski patrol hut to the top of the mountain. Huckleberry is an avalanche rescue dog — or avy dog, for short. She lives and works with her owner and handler, a ski patroller at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. As she watches the trainer play a game of hide-and-seek with six-month-old Lume, a golden retriever and avy dog-in-training, Huckleberry continues to strain on her leash; she loves the game. Hide-and-seek is one of the key training methods for teaching avy dogs the rescue skills they need to find someone caught in an avalanche — skier, snowmobiler, hiker, climber.

Lume’s owner waves a T-shirt in front of the puppy. While another patroller holds him back, Lume’s owner runs away and hides. About a minute later — after a lot of barking — Lume is released and commanded to “search.” He springs free, running around the hut to find his owner who reacts with a great amount of excitement and fanfare. Lume’s scent training will continue for the rest of the ski season (Breckenridge plans operating through May or as long as weather permits) and through the off-season. “We make this game progressively harder by not allowing the dog watch the victim run away,” explains Dave Leffler, Breckenridge's ski patroller and head of the avy dog program, who has owned, trained and raised many of them. Eventually, the trainers “dig an open hole in the snow to duck out of sight and gradually turn the hole into a cave where the dog has to dig to get the victim,” explains Leffler.

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Cari Shane
Cari Shane is a freelance journalist (and Airbnb Superhost). Originally from Manhattan, Shane lives carless in Washington, DC and writes on a variety of subjects for a wide array of media outlets including, Scientific American, National Geographic, Discover, Business Insider, Fast Company, Fortune and Fodor’s.
These technologies may help more animals and plants survive climate change

As the climate changes, the ripples will reach everywhere. Better data is needed for both plants and animals, and scientists are looking for genes that could allow crops to survive.

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This article originally appeared inOne Health/One Planet, a single-issue magazine that explores how climate change and other environmental shifts are making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases by land and by sea - and how scientists are working on solutions.

Along the west coast of South Florida and the Keys, Florida Bay is a nursery for young Caribbean spiny lobsters, a favorite local delicacy. Growing up in small shallow basins, they are especially vulnerable to warmer, more saline water. Climate change has brought tidal floods, bleached coral reefs and toxic algal blooms to the state, and since the 1990s, the population of the Caribbean spiny lobster has dropped some 20 percent, diminishing an important food for snapper, grouper, and herons, as well as people. In 1999, marine ecologist Donald Behringer discovered the first known virus among lobsters, Panulirus argus virus—about a quarter of juveniles die from it before they mature.

“When the water is warm PaV1 progresses much more quickly,” says Behringer, who is based at the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

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Temma Ehrenfeld
Temma Ehrenfeld writes about health and psychology. In a previous life, she was a reporter and editor at Newsweek and Fortune. You can see more of her work at her writing portfolio (https://temmaehrenfeld.contently.com) and contact her through her Psychology Today blog.
New tech for prison reform spreads to 11 states

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, costing $182 billion per year, partly because its antiquated data systems often fail to identify people who should be released. A tech nonprofit is trying to change that.

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A new non-profit called Recidiviz is using data technology to reduce the size of the U.S. criminal justice system. The bi-coastal company (SF and NYC) is currently working with 11 states to improve their systems and, so far, has helped remove nearly 69,000 people — ones left floundering in jail or on parole when they should have been released.

“The root cause is fragmentation,” says Clementine Jacoby, 31, a software engineer who worked at Google before co-founding Recidiviz in 2019. In the 1970s and 80s, the U.S. built a series of disconnected data systems, and this patchwork is still being used by criminal justice authorities today. It requires parole officers to manually calculate release dates, leading to errors in many cases. “[They] have done everything they need to do to earn their release, but they're still stuck in the system,” Jacoby says.

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Cari Shane
Cari Shane is a freelance journalist (and Airbnb Superhost). Originally from Manhattan, Shane lives carless in Washington, DC and writes on a variety of subjects for a wide array of media outlets including, Scientific American, National Geographic, Discover, Business Insider, Fast Company, Fortune and Fodor’s.
Last minute holiday gifts for the bio-inspired

The process of finding the right gift for your favorite life science lover can be daunting. Here's a roundup of the coolest bio-products related to health, nutrition, gaming, lifestyle and more.

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“Merry Christmas! Isn’t it fun to say Merry Christmas to everyone? Time for a party and presents and things that make children happy and give their hearts wings!” go the lyrics of the popular Christmas poem. But adults (of various religions) need their gifts this time of year, too. For the biologically inspired big children, the process of finding the right fit can be daunting. To inform your choices in both conventional and unconventional ways, Leaps.org is presenting a roundup of the coolest bio-products related to health, nutrition, gaming, lifestyle and more.

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Stav Dimitropoulos
Stav Dimitropoulos's features have appeared in major outlets such as the BBC, National Geographic, Scientific American, Nature, Popular Mechanics, Science, Runner’s World, and more. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @TheyCallMeStav.
Your phone could show if a bridge is about to collapse

Researchers have tested a new smartphone app that could gather data about whether bridges are "structurally deficient" —a low-cost citizen-scientist alternative to current methods that are expensive and complex.

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In summer 2017, Thomas Matarazzo, then a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, landed in San Francisco with a colleague. They rented two cars, drove up to the Golden Gate bridge, timing it to the city’s rush hour, and rode over to the other side in heavy traffic. Once they reached the other end, they turned around and did it again. And again. And again.

“I drove over that bridge 100 times over five days, back and forth,” says Matarazzo, now an associate director of High-Performance Computing in the Center for Innovation in Engineering at the United States Military Academy, West Point. “It was surprisingly stressful, I never anticipated that. I had to maintain the speed of about 30 miles an hour when the speed limit is 45. I felt bad for everybody behind me.”

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Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich has written about science, medicine and technology for Popular Science, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, the New York Times and other major national and international publications. A Columbia J-School alumna, she has won several awards for her stories, including the ASJA Crisis Coverage Award for Covid reporting, and has been a contributing editor at Nautilus Magazine. In 2021, Zeldovich released her first book, The Other Dark Matter, published by the University of Chicago Press, about the science and business of turning waste into wealth and health. You can find her on http://linazeldovich.com/ and @linazeldovich.

Will religious people reject organ transplants from pigs?

Scientists are getting better at transplanting pig organs into humans. But religious followers of prohibitions on consuming pork may reject these organs, even if their bodies could accept them.

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The first successful recipient of a human heart transplant lived 18 days. The first artificial heart recipient lived just over 100.

Their brief post-transplant lives paved the way toward vastly greater successes. Former Vice President Dick Cheney relied on an artificial heart for nearly two years before receiving a human heart transplant. It still beats in his chest more than a decade later.

Organ transplantation recently reached its next phase with David Bennett. He survived for two months after becoming the first recipient of a pig’s heart genetically modified to function in a human body in February. Known as a xenotransplant, the procedure could pave the way for greatly expanding the use of transplanted vital organs to extend human lives.

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Ron Shinkman
Ron Shinkman is a veteran journalist whose work has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine publication Catalyst, California Health Report, Fierce Healthcare, and many other publications. He has been a finalist for the prestigious NIHCM Foundation print journalism award twice in the past five years. Shinkman also served as Los Angeles Bureau Chief for Modern Healthcare and as a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal. He has an M.A. in English from California State University and a B.A. in English from UCLA.
A Stomach Implant Saved Me. When Your Organs Fail, You Could Become a Cyborg, Too

Ordinary people are living better with chronic conditions thanks to a recent explosion of developments in medical implants.

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Beware, cyborgs walk among us. They’re mostly indistinguishable from regular humans and are infiltrating every nook and cranny of society. For full disclosure, I’m one myself. No, we’re not deadly intergalactic conquerors like the Borg race of Star Trek fame, just ordinary people living better with chronic conditions thanks to medical implants.

In recent years there has been an explosion of developments in implantable devices that merge multiple technologies into gadgets that work in concert with human physiology for the treatment of serious diseases. Pacemakers for the heart are the best-known implants, as well as other cardiac devices like LVADs (left-ventricular assist devices) and implanted defibrillators. Next-generation devices address an array of organ failures, and many are intended as permanent. The driving need behind this technology: a critical, persistent shortage of implantable biological organs.

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Eve Herold

Eve Herold is a science writer specializing in issues at the intersection of science and society. She has written and spoken extensively about stem cell research and regenerative medicine and the social and bioethical aspects of leading-edge medicine. Her 2007 book, Stem Cell Wars, was awarded a Commendation in Popular Medicine by the British Medical Association. Her 2016 book, Beyond Human, has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction, and a forthcoming book, Robots and the Women Who Love Them, will be released in 2019.