Giant puppet represents refugee children at COP26

November 10, 2021 by  
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Yesterday, Little Amal finally made it to  COP26  in Glasgow, just in time to lead a plenary session with Samoan activist Brianna Fruean on Gender Day. Little Amal arrived on foot, which is fitting for a giant puppet depicting a nine-year-old Syrian refugee. Like many refugees, the puppet traveled a long way — 4,970 miles after leaving Gaziantep, Turkey, on July 27. Gaziantep is near the Syrian border. The  Handspring Puppet Company  created Little Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic. The Capetown-based puppeteers wanted to raise awareness about the problems of unaccompanied  refugee  children. Little Amal’s backstory is that her mother went out to find them food one day but never came back. Related: SCAD artist turns recycled materials into giant puppets to revitalize a historic French village Operating the 11-foot-tall puppet is a complex operation. One puppeteer is inside Amal’s frame,  walking  on stilts and operating strings that control the refugee girl’s facial expressions. Three more puppeteers — one for each arm and another to support the puppet’s back — round out the team. “We are  artists , so we create emotion, empathy, to try and make things change,” said Claire Bejanin, who was responsible for Amal’s journey through France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, as reported by Reuters. Giant puppets entered the  political  arena in the 1960s. In 1963, New York City’s Bread and Puppet Theater took on landlords, police and the Vietnam War. The idea of using protest puppets large and small caught on and spread to other places, from the  San Diego Puppet Insurgency  confronting border issues to Brooklyn’s  Great Small Works  standing up for Black lives. Peter Schumann, founder of Bread and Puppet Theater, has written that since puppets aren’t taken seriously, they work well as lowbrow vehicles for political performance. At the Gender Day plenary, Amal and Fruean exchanged gifts. The Samoan activist gave Amal a flower to represent light and hope. The  Syrian  refugee puppet gave Fruean a bag of seeds. Alok Sharma, president of the climate talks, stated that climate and gender are “profoundly intertwined” and acknowledged that climate change disproportionately affects women and girls. Nine-year-old Alicia Minardi was visiting the protest site with her school class. “I’m happy and sad,” she said, as reported by Reuters. “Happy because for me and my classmates, everything is great, but I’m sad because there are a lot of  children  for whom it’s very hard to live like this.” Via Reuters Lead image via Walk with Amal

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Giant puppet represents refugee children at COP26

Study finds more microplastic in baby poop than in adult

September 24, 2021 by  
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In a recent  study  published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology Letters, scientists found 10 times more microplastic in babies’ feces than in adults’. Researchers discovered this in a pilot study that involved sifting through infants’ used diapers. The researchers established that each gram of infant poop contains an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is one of the most common polymers. Often called polyester in the clothing industry, it is also used in making plastic bottles. Previously, studies have indicated that plastic formula bottles shed off microplastics that children may swallow. A paper published last October in  Nature  revealed that plastic formula bottles could feed babies millions of microplastics per day, or almost a billion microplastics per year. Related: High PFAS levels associated with breastfeeding issues The surprising finding was that adults excrete fewer microplastics compared to babies. Researchers have several ideas as to why this might be the case. For instance, babies drink directly from plastic bottles. Secondly, babies put plenty of plastic products in their mouths, including toys and clothes.  In many cases, baby food is wrapped in single-use plastics that may also shed off a significant amount of microplastic. Besides clothing and feeding, babies also crawl on surfaces, some of which are made of polymers that shed microplastics. Kurunthachalam Kannan, an environmental health scientist at New York University School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors, said, “Unfortunately, with the modern lifestyle, babies are exposed to so many different things for which we don’t know what kind of effect they can have later in their life.” The researchers arrived at the results by collecting dirty diapers from six 1-year-olds and running the feces through filters to trap microplastics. They did the same with samples of a newborn’s first feces and still found some microplastics in the waste . For the adults, 10 stool samples were used and revealed that microplastic levels in adult feces were much lower than those in infants’ stool. These findings raise questions over the health threats children face. Although the health effects of microplastics aren’t fully understood yet, studies show that some of the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing are harmful to human health. A  study  done by researchers at ??ETH Zürich in Switzerland found that plastics contain over 10,000 chemicals, a quarter of which are potentially harmful. Via The Guardian and Wired Lead image via Pixabay

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New Day School by MMXVI makes use of existing residential building

August 5, 2021 by  
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School districts around the world face the battle of pairing the existing budget with the need to increase usable space for student and teacher use. When the topic inevitably came up for an elementary and middle school in Orpund, Switzerland, the team at MMXVI Architecture was pulled into the discussion. The result is a unique solution that serves a multitude of purposes for the campus and beyond. Known as the New Day School, the building was previously a residential building near the fringe of the school grounds. With the decision to use the aging building, the architects turned their focus on function. The planning team saw the opportunity to not only meet overflow needs of the school but to create a space that was flexible for the public, too. Related: Cranbrook School teaches environmental stewardship   The day school doesn’t require classrooms, so the space is open and flowing as a place where students can eat or meet for clubs or other extracurricular activities. The public can also access the spaces for gatherings, meetings and events. The original foundation from the 1950s wood home was kept to minimize costs, construction time and site impact . As the design took shape, the team said, “It became clear that this concrete structure would be ideal for accommodating ancillary rooms such as the kitchen, sanitary facilities, services, and storage.”  With these secondary spaces accounted for, the main rooms in the building were opened up with a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors. The entire building has direct access to the gardens. A large, curved roof brings a soft connection between the levels and provides passive design elements for cooling and ventilation. Automated louvre windows provide additional cooling at night and bring natural light into the space. Along with a passive earth-air heat exchanger, there is no need for air conditioning, which results in low energy usage. + MMXVI Architecture Via ArchDaily Photography by Oliver Dubuis via MMXVI Architecture

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How volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Alaska affected ancient Egyptians

October 24, 2017 by  
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Volcano eruptions could have helped precipitate unrest in ancient Egypt , according to a new study. An international team of researchers led by Joseph Manning of Yale University discovered volcanic eruptions in northern latitudes can impact the flow of the Nile River . Ancient peoples depended on Nile River flooding to irrigate crops, and if that flood didn’t happen, there could have been political or economic consequences. The researchers connected historical analysis with paleoclimatology – what Yale described as reconstruction of global climates in the past – to make the startling find. Volcanoes in Russia, Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska could have disrupted the daily lives of people in ancient Egypt. While volcanic eruptions weren’t the sole cause of unrest, the researchers think they did play a role. In years with volcanic eruptions, the Nile didn’t flood as much, which Manning said led to social stress. He told The Washington Post, “It’s a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact that’s what happened.” Related: The world’s mightiest river is dying Manning and colleagues took an interdisciplinary approach, scrutinizing ancient papyri and inscriptions for descriptions of Nile flooding, and combining that historical information with climate modeling of big 20th century volcanic eruptions and yearly Nile summer flood height measurements between 622 and 1902. Manning told The Washington Post, “It’s an indirect response, but because of atmospheric circulation and energy budgets, we find that large volcanic eruptions cause droughts .” He described the Nile and Egypt as sensitive instruments for climate change , and said the research was important in today’s debate on climate change. The study offers new insight into how climatic shocks impacted societies in history. Manning said in a statement, “There hasn’t been a large eruption affecting the global climate system since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991…Sooner or later we will experience a large volcanic eruption, and perhaps a cluster of them, that will act to exacerbate drought in sensitive parts of the world.” The journal Nature Communications published the study online this month. Five other researchers, from institutions in Ireland, California, and Switzerland, contributed to the work. Via Yale University and The Washington Post Images via Michael Gwyther-Jones on Flickr and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr

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New concrete roof includes thin-film PV cells to generate power

October 20, 2017 by  
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Digital design and fabrication techniques allowed researchers in Switzerland to create a curvy, super thin concrete roof that will one day help a residential unit produce more power than it consumes. Using the innovative methods, the researchers assembled the roof with much less materials than would otherwise be needed. The concrete roof is also equipped with thin-film photovoltaic cells to generate energy. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) recently unveiled the prototype for a sinuous, self-supporting concrete roof. The roof is comprised of multiple layers, including concrete , heating and cooling coils, insulation, and more concrete fitted with thin film solar cells. The prototype was around 25-feet-tall, with a surface area of around 1,722 feet squared. The average thickness of the concrete was around two inches; the support surfaces had a thickness of 4.7 inches and the edges of the roof were just around one inch thick. Related: The company that offered integrated solar roofs before Elon Musk A cable net supporting a polymer textile provided the formwork for the concrete roof. The researchers used a precise concrete mix, fluid enough to be sprayed but firm enough to not flow off. Professor of Architecture and Structures Philippe Block said in a statement, “We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction.” The prototype has already been dismantled to make room for other experiments, but in 2018, the roof will be erected atop materials science and technology research institute Empa ‘s HiLo Penthouse. Guest faculty will live and work in the penthouse, which is expected to produce more energy that it uses thanks to the concrete roof’s solar cells and what ETH Zurich described as an adaptive solar facade . Via ETH Zurich Images © Block Research Group, ETH Zurich/Michael Lyrenmann and © Block Research Group, ETH Zurich/Naida Iljazovic

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Transformable solar building changes shape to teach people how to live sustainably

October 5, 2017 by  
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How do you persuade people to adopt sustainable lifestyles? A team of Swiss architecture students believes in the power of demonstration—and they’ve designed and built the eco-friendly NeighborHub to prove their point. Conceived as a collaborative community space, the NeighborHub is a transformable, shared space that demonstrates innovative solutions, from renewable energy and water management to biodiversity and sustainable mobility. The NeighborHub is a community space that provides innovation solutions to the challenges of climate change and resource depletion. The building explores seven themes—renewable energy, water management, waste management, mobility, food, material choices, and biodiversity—within a transformable shell built of laminated veneer lumber. “The house is divided into two main spaces,” said the Swiss Team. “The center of the NeighborHub, the core, is a thermally controlled space. It is surrounded by the extended skin which is controlled by passive strategies.” The modular, prefabricated building envelope can adapt to different needs, from a private bedroom to a bicycle repair shop, and even expand its footprint to the outdoors thanks to movable walls and transforming furniture. The NeighborHub’s movable facade is clad in active solar panels and solar thermal panels on the east, south, and west sides. An edible garden grows atop the rainwater-harvesting roof. Two vertical greenhouses are installed to show off space-saving year-round farming techniques such as aquaponics . A zero-water “dry” toilet recycles waste and produces compost that can be used as fertilizer. The rainwater collected from the roof is treated with an on-site phytopurication system and reused for non-potable uses, such as laundry and irrigation. Related: Hurricane-resistant SURE HOUSE wins the 2015 Solar Decathlon The NeighborHub was designed and constructed by the Swiss Team, comprising students from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR), the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD) and the University of Fribourg (UNIFR). The Swiss Team’s solar prototype was developed for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon , an academic competition that challenges student teams to design and build full-size solar-powered homes; this year’s contest is held near Denver, Colorado. Following the competition, the NeighborHub will be brought back to the blueFactory in Fribourg, Switzerland for further research and development. + Solar Decathlon Images © Mike Chino

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Budapests tallest tower to follow the highest standards of sustainability

October 5, 2017 by  
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Foster + Partners designed a tower for Budapest that will not only be the city’s tallest—it’ll also be a beacon for sustainability. Designed as the new headquarters for the oil and gas company MOL Group , the mixed-use building named MOL Campus is wrapped in glazing to maximize natural daylight, views, and connection with the outdoors and urban fabric. MOL Campus will be powered by low and zero-carbon energy sources, such as photovoltaics, and saves on energy costs with cutting-edge technology that controls light levels and temperatures. Located in southern Budapest , MOL Campus is set to be the tallest building in the city and will comprise a 28-story tower with an integrated podium. In addition to offices, the campus will include a restaurant, gym, conference center, public sky garden, and other facilities. Glass clads the unified, curved volume to provide daylight and views. Greenery, including mature trees, travels through the heart of the building from the central atrium on the ground floor to the public garden at the top of the tower. The architects see the green spaces as a “social catalyst” that encourages collaboration, relaxation, and inspiration in the workplace. Related: New Budapest museum will feature a sweeping green roof resembling a skateboard ramp “As we see the nature of the workplace changing to a more collaborative vision, we have combined two buildings – a tower and a podium – into a singular form, bound by nature,” said Nigel Dancey, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners. “As the tower and the podium start to become one element, there is a sense of connectivity throughout the office spaces, with garden spaces linking each of the floors together.” The building’s location in a dense urban environment allows employees to walk or cycle to work. In addition to use of photovoltaics and energy-saving technologies, MOL Campus will also feature rainwater harvesting and storage facilities. + Foster + Partners Images via Foster + Partners

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First newly-developed chocolate in 80 years is made from Ruby cocoa beans

September 13, 2017 by  
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Chocolate aficionados rejoice! There’s a new version of your favorite velvety treat, and it’s ruby red in color. Made from the Ruby cocoa bean, the newly-invented variety of chocolate is the first to be developed in 80 years — since white chocolate was introduced to the world. And though we haven’t tried it ourselves, apparently it has a fruity and slightly sour flavor. The new chocolate was recently unveiled in Shanghai, China by Swiss chocolate producer Barry Callebaut . MNN reports the company spent 13 years developing the treat and describes it as a “tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.” It’s “an intense sensorial delight,” says the company. Part of the chocolate’s appeal is its unique color, a result of the Ruby cocoa bean’s pigment. The product is all natural and is made using an “innovative process” that unlocks the bean’s unique flavor and color. Barry Callebaut says no berries, berry flavor or any color is added to the chocolate. Related: HOW TO: Make delicious, raw chocolate pudding from avocados! This is the #rubychocolate that everyone is on about. Taste is like white choc w/ berry fruits – but all from bean… pic.twitter.com/NqGs90Lmda — Andrew Baker (@ccAndrewBaker) September 5, 2017 Unfortunately, it will be at least six months until you can try the ruby chocolate for yourself since Callebaut only makes the chocolate, and not the consumer products that would go with it. Raphael Warmth wrote on the company’s Facebook page : “So far you cannot buy the ruby chocolate. This very much depends on our customers when ruby chocolate will be available … as we are a B2B company and selling ruby chocolate to food manufacturers. Usually, it takes from 6 up to 18 months until an innovation from our side hits the retail shelves.” Judging by the gleeful reactions of people taste-testing the ruby chocolate in the video below, it will be worth the wait. + Barry Callebaut Via MNN Images via  Barry Callebaut

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Swiss grocery store chain will be the first to sell insect burgers

August 16, 2017 by  
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Would you eat a burger made of mealworms? Coop , the second-largest supermarket chain in Switzerland , will start selling food made with insects . The country will be the first in Europe to allow sales of insect-based food for people, thanks to laws changed in May. Coop will sell insect burgers and balls from Switzerland-based startup Essento . Switzerland’s food safety laws allow sales of food made from mealworms, crickets , or grasshoppers. Coop will be selling Essento Insect Burgers and Essento Insect Balls, both made with mealworms. The burgers also contain rice, vegetables like leeks and celery, and spices like chili and oregano. The balls – which could be eaten inside pita bread, for example – are filled out with chickpeas, garlic, onions, parsley, and coriander. Related: BUG BUG cutlery set might just make you want to eat insects Coop Head of Category Management Silvio Baselgia said they’re Switzerland’s first retailer to sell Essento’s insect products, which the company has been developing for more than two years. Essento co-founder Christian Bärtsch said in a statement, “As food, insects are convincing in many respects: they have a high culinary potential, their production saves resources, and their nutritional profile is high quality. Thus insects are the perfect complement to a modern diet.” According to Essento’s website, mealworms don’t produce as many greenhouse gases as animal food sources like pigs or cows. 80 percent of insects are edible, as compared with 40 percent of cows, and raising insects requires less food and water. Insects are a good source of protein and also contain unsaturated fatty acids, the vitamins A, B, and B12, and minerals like zinc, potassium, calcium, and iron. Essento’s products will be on sale on August 21 in seven Coop stores to start, including branches in Zurich and Geneva. + Essento Via The Guardian and Coop Images via Essento Facebook and Coop

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This robotic "eel" hunts down the source of water pollution

July 27, 2017 by  
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Lake Geneva’s latest resident—all four feet of it—is neither man nor beast. Dubbed the Envirobot , the critter is a biomimetic robot designed by Swiss researchers to pinpoint the source of pollution in tainted waters. Bereft of fins or propellers, Envirobot slithers through water like an eel, leaving mud and aquatic life undisturbed. Just as stealthily, it uses sensors to gather data from various locations, which it transmits to a remote computer in near-instantaneous fashion. Even for an automaton, Envirobot is uncommonly clever. Besides its capacity to follow a preprogrammed path, it can also make its own decisions, independently sniffing out the origin of the contamination. Related: Fukushima robot finds lava-like deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel “There are many advantages to using swimming robots,” said Auke Ijspeert, head of biorobotics at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne , in a statement . “They can take measurements and send us data in real-time—much faster than if we had measurement stations set up around the lake.” The serpentine design, which is supported by a series of small electric motors, has several advantages, as well. “Compared with conventional propeller-driven underwater robots, they are less likely to get stuck in algae or branches as they move around,” Ijspeert said. “What’s more, they produce less of a wake, so they don’t disperse pollutants as much.” Funded through a grant from Switzerland’s Nano-Tera program, Envirobot comprises several modules. Some of these contain conductivity and temperature sensors; others have miniaturized biological sensors that harbor bacteria, small crustacean, or fish cells that respond to water toxicity in different ways. The modular tack also makes it easy for engineers to change Envirobot’s composition or vary its length when the occasion calls for it. “The robot can be easily taken apart, transported to a remote water reservoir, for example, and put back together to begin testing,” said Behzad Bayat, another biorobotics scientist at EPFL. Already, Envirobot has taken several dips in Lake Geneva. It recently underwent a test that simulated water pollution by diffusing salt into a tiny area just off the shore, changing the water’s conductivity. The ersatz eel, researchers said, performed swimmingly. Although the ultimate goal is for Envirobot to pick up heavy metals and other pollutants, field tests for the “eel’s” biological components are trickier to carry out. “We obviously can’t contaminate a lake like we do the test water in our lab,” said Jan Roelof van der Meer, project coordinator and head of the department of fundamental microbiology at the University of Lausanne . “For now, we will continue using salt as the contaminant until the robot can easily find the source of the contamination. Then we will add biological sensors to the robot and carry out tests with toxic compounds.” + École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne [Via Techcrunch ]

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