Heroes

15 scientific breakthroughs from 2015 that made our world a little better.

From rhino cameras to tiny molecules to space explorations, these 15 scientific discoveries were pretty earth-shattering.

15 scientific breakthroughs from 2015 that made our world a little better.

In 2015, science helped us learn a lot about the universe we’re living in.

From the tiniest molecules making up the building blocks of matter to gigantic planetary systems billions of light years away, we witnessed countless scientific discoveries, advancements, and inventions this year.

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Say hello to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, king of science.



Regular people created amazing inventions to save humans and animals. Scientists discovered new species and planets. And researchers even learned new things about parenting and children.


Here are just a few of the most amazing and world-changing breakthroughs you might remember reading about:

1. We finally got a close-up of Pluto.

For the past 10 years, a small probe has been hurtling through space toward the rock that was once the smallest planet in our solar system. (This is a true #tbt.)

(Pluto’s first selfie, from the NASA Instagram.)

This July, that little probe finally got close enough to snap some pics of Pluto’s surface. Since Pluto was discovered in 1930, scientists have proposed several flybys and exploration journeys to learn more about it. Now, those same scientists hope that New Horizons will be able to tell us a lot more about Pluto and our solar system’s history in the coming years.

2. We found a hairy-chested crab at the very bottom of the Antarctic Ocean.

Forget about outer space for a second — there are a lot of surprising and outer-space-like things on our home planet, too. For example, last year, scientists found a new species of hairy-chested crab.

This crab lives so far down in the Antarctic Ocean that it uses the heat given off by churning lava at the center of the Earth as its own space heater. Seriously.

3. An 18-year-old figured out how to help visually impaired people “see” with echolocation.

Usually, human eyes take in light waves, sending that information to the brain and creating what we know as vision. But for people who are visually impaired, sound waves could be an alternative to light waves.

That’s the science behind a Canadian teenager’s echolocation device, which could change navigation for people who are blind. Pretty darn impressive, especially for a high schooler.

4. Rhinos got their own security systems.

GoPros aren’t just for daredevils, nature enthusiasts, and kitten rescuers anymore. This year, conservationists began painlessly implanting cameras in the horns of rhinos, too.

A small camera in a rhino’s horn. Image used with permission by Protect.

If a poacher is threatening a rhino, an alarm goes off and the camera turns on to tip off nearby rangers. Rhino poaching in South Africa alone has increased by 9,000% in the past seven years, so if we want rhinos in our future, this is a pretty important invention.

5. (Almost) everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.

That is, as long as you learned how to be kind, resolve problems, and share. A study wrapped up this year showed how much those early behaviors shape our lives years later. It also showed that if you weren't the most cooperative kindergartener, it’s never too late to drop your bad habits.

6. A guy beat cancer by getting new 3D-printed bones.

A man in Spain needed to have a tumor in his chest removed. Surgeons were able to take out the infected bone and replace it with customized, titanium, 3D-printed ribs and sternum.

Photo by iStock/Anatomics. Used with permission.

You can expect to see more 3D printing in medicine in the future — it's an awesome trend that could truly change how we make things and cure illnesses.

7. We found out (again) that vaccines don’t cause autism.

An anti-vaccine group funded a study on the link between vaccines and autism. Spoiler alert: The study found no such link. Go get your shots, y’all.

8. Researchers confirmed the existence of a new subatomic particle called the pentaquark.

OK, in the first place, it’s pretty awesome that we have a giant machine (a supercollider) that slams atoms together so we can learn more about physics. And it’s even more awesome when that machine shows us things we’ve never seen before.

In July 2015, that supercollider showed us the pentaquark — four quarks (which live inside protons) stuck to one antiquark.

Pentaquark rendering by CERN.

Even though they've discovered the pentaquark, scientists still have no idea what it actually does. Here's to more research!

9. Chimpanzees are catching up to us.

Um, apparently we’re not the only ones making scientific discoveries. A report this year found that non-human primates are making crude tools — just like we were during the Stone Age. They haven’t exactly figured out how to make a wheel yet, but this report shows that chimp cultures are clearly more advanced than we previously thought.

10. We planned to put a huge floating structure in the ocean to clean up pollution.

This awesome structure will collect trash in the ocean that harms fish and plant life. And that’s pretty important, since 8 million pieces of trash end up in the water each year.

This thing is going to help preserve our oceans’ ecosystems. Photo from The Ocean Cleanup.

11. A diver had a conversation with a whale.

Maybe that’s oversimplifying what happened. But a beluga whale did imitate human speech patterns after hanging out with human trainers. We already know that whales can communicate with each other — maybe someday soon, they’ll be able to communicate with us!

12. We figured out how to save newborns’ lives by keeping them warm — for cheap.

When babies — especially preemies — are born, they need to stay warm. Embrace infant warmers are being used instead of incubators to keep babies cozy, comfy, and healthy. So far, they’ve saved 150,000 babies (which, by the way, is a LOT of babies).

This is what an Embrace infant warmer looks like. Do they make an adult size?!

13. A computer science student created an app to help autistic people communicate during panic attacks.

With Emergency Chat, a person with autism who is having a meltdown can just show their phone to someone to communicate that they need help. And because the app’s creator has autism, he was able to craft it to best suit the needs of people using it.

14. A fifth-grader figured out how to make stuffed animals safe for the operating room.

Yet another young person doing cool stuff: Preteen Gaby Zane figured out that simply washing stuffed animals eliminated most of the bacteria they carry. Previously, kids couldn’t take their stuffed animals into the O.R. because they were germy — but Gaby’s discovery means they can.

Pretty cool, huh?

15. Minneapolis opened a chlorine-free pool that naturally eliminates bad bacteria.

No chemicals in this pool. Photo courtesy of Angela Doheny.

The pool drains twice a day and gravel, limestone, and plants help filter it. No more burning eyes from chlorine!

What's even better than this whole list is that all these sweet discoveries are just a sample of the scientific work that was done this year.

Scientific discoveries encourage us to think bigger, push harder, and strengthen our imagination. Put simply, science is just really freaking cool.

So, as science accelerates into hyper-speed, we’re looking forward to 2016 blowing our minds as well. Off we go.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Wikiimages by Pixabay, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich/Twitter

The 1776 Report isn't just bad, it's historically bad, in every way possible.

When journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones published her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project for The New York Times, some backlash was inevitable. Instead of telling the story of America's creation through the eyes of the colonial architects of our system of government, Hannah-Jones retold it through the eyes of the enslaved Africans who were forced to help build the nation without reaping the benefits of democracy. Though a couple of historical inaccuracies have had to be clarified and corrected, the 1619 Project is groundbreaking, in that it helps give voice to a history that has long been overlooked and underrepresented in our education system.

The 1776 Report, in turn, is a blaring call to return to the whitewashed curriculums that silence that voice.

In September of last year, President Trump blasted the 1619 Project, which he called "toxic propaganda" and "ideological poison" that "will destroy our country." He subsequently created a commission to tell the story of America's founding the way he wanted it told—in the form of a "patriotic education" with all of the dog whistles that that phrase entails.

Mission accomplished, sort of.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.