Heroes

One teen found a genius way to make airplane air up to 55 times cleaner.

3 billion people fly on a plane each year. That's a lot of germs.

One teen found a genius way to make airplane air up to 55 times cleaner.
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Gates Foundation

Been sneezed on recently? Of course you have.

Whether you realize it or not, those suckers can travel. All of those coughs, sneezes, and sniffles that are constantly happening around you (or that you're doing yourself!) don't care much for boundaries. Your immune system is always fair game.



Even birds sneeze. And ruin perfectly good popcorn. GIF via "Angry Birds Movie" trailer.

When Raymond Wang was 15 years old, he got to thinking about how those kinds of germs travel.

The teen from Vancouver didn't have much of a choice; in late 2014, the news was covered in germs.

"I remember sitting on the couch and listening to the news and people constantly talking about two things: airplanes and the Ebola outbreak," Raymond recalled over the phone.

We can all relate to that. The 24-hour news cycle was obsessed with Ebola: the graphic scenes, the lives lost, the explanations of just how contagious it was, and basically anything else that scared the living bejeezus out of people.

The fear of air travel is what really struck a chord with Raymond.

"After hearing Ebola news time and time again, I thought maybe I should try to do something to look into the problem. Searching online, it turns out you come across various statistics of people getting sick on airplanes."

Disease transmission on planes can have a big effect. Like with H1N1...

All images via TED/YouTube, unless noted.

...and SARS.

Oftentimes, people might not even know they are sick when they are contaminating others!

That's a serious problem – especially when it comes to keeping disease and sickness contained.

Not being your average teenager, Raymond got to work on how to find a solution to reduce the spread of germs on planes.

And he succeeded.

"I didn't have money to go out and buy a plane, so I decided to build a computer instead," he said in his TED Youth talk. (I told you he's not your average teenager.)

He created simulations of how air currently flows and mixes around in an airplane. This is what he discovered happens when someone sneezes:


In. Your. Face.

Yes, you can take a minute to reflect on how gross and in-your-face that is. And then you can see how much better a teenager can make it.

He invented a small, fin-shaped device that can reduce pathogen inhalation by up to 55 times and improve fresh air delivery by 190%.

It could change the way we breathe on planes forever by changing airflow for the entire cabin.

It's what he calls a "patent-pending global inlet director," and it's a super-simple concept when you see how it works.

The device can be installed into existing spots in the overhead area of an airplane cabin, so it's easy. And it's cheap too. It works by creating personalized breathing zones from above by pushing air down instead of out, like the current system does.

So whereas a sneeze before would have spread out from head level, a sneeze with the director in place would be pushed down and filtered out before it could reach seat neighbors.

"A lot of the focus on planes is geared toward optimizing the exterior of airplanes," he says. "I wanted to optimize the cabin experience for passengers and flight crew. For people who are working on flights every day, this is a health and safety issue for them."

Raymond hopes to get the device on the market soon and has been busy pitching it at science and aviation conferences. He's seen a lot of positive feedback on it. And honestly, what's not to like?

Photo via Raymond Wang, used with permission.

As we've seen, disease outbreaks can come on very quickly and unexpectedly. Every little bit helps in the fight against them, and it's inspiring to see simple solutions that can make a big impact on our health and safety.

It just happens to be even cooler when the solutions come from people who haven't even graduated high school yet. Nice work, Raymond!

You can see more on his efforts in this great TED Talk:

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."