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UCLA Optimists

Earlier this year, a Swiss startup began removing CO2 from the atmosphere using a large vacuum-like machine.

Their ultimate goal is to start reversing the damaging effects of climate change by reducing CO2 — a major component of atmospheric pollution — on a global scale.

While the machine's development is a huge step forward, one little problem remains — where does all that collected CO2 go?


Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, has one solution: turn it into cement.

(And we're not just talking about any old cement.)

Gaurav Sant. Photo via UCLA.

Sant has figured out how to make a stronger, more lightweight, more structurally sound cement out of — wait for it — CO2.

Believe it or not, the regular construction of cement is responsible for 9% of the world's CO2 emissions. And it is widely accepted that CO2 emissions play a huge role in global warming and, by effect, climate change.

Sant, along with his team at UCLA, decided to try to turn two negatives into a positive. They found a way to integrate CO2 into the production of cement, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere and upcycling it into something useful and even profitable.  

It all started from tiny cement cylinders created by Sant's 3D printer.

Sant with his 3D printer. Photo via UCLA.

Well, that and a pretty important discovery of how CO2 can help accelerate the cement-making process.

In simplest terms, Sant's team discovered that the CO2 in flue gas streams from coal and natural gas power plants accelerates the mineral-making processes that can be used to create cementing agents. They decided to use CO2 to produce a new type of concrete that they've named CO2NCRETETM.

Curious how they did that? Here's the breakdown.

When a mineral called portlandite absorbs CO2, it turns into limestone, which is a cementing agent. While this process normally takes years to happen naturally, Sant's team figured out how to make it happen quickly — 450 pounds of CO2 into several tons of CO2NCRETETM quickly — and efficiently using their 3D printer.

Unlike traditional cement-making on a construction site, 3D technologies allow them to create basic construction pieces out of their new CO2-based concrete that fit together perfectly.

This means they can make cement pieces that are stronger, more lightweight, and more structurally sound.

Sant with a fellow researcher creating cones of CO2NCRETETM. Photo via UCLA.

"As a child that played with Legos, I have long recognized that the idea of constructing buildings and infrastructure like a large Lego set is (a) fast, (b) intuitive, and, (c) offers improved quality control since 'factory made' pieces are simply assembled on site," Sant explains in an email.  

What sort of impact could this have on reducing global CO2 emissions? Turns out, a pretty big one.

[rebelmouse-image 19475646 dam="1" original_size="600x338" caption="Traditional concrete being poured. Photo by Circe Denyer/PublicDomainPictures.net." expand=1]Traditional concrete being poured. Photo by Circe Denyer/PublicDomainPictures.net.

According to Sant and his team, if CO2NCRETETM were to be mass-produced globally, it could reduce CO2 emissions from traditionally made cement by 50%. And since those emissions currently make up 9% of all CO2 emissions on the planet, that's no small amount.

What's more, since there's been little change made in the construction industry over the last two centuries, it's primed for an efficiency makeover.

"CO2NCRETETM has the potential to serve as an example of how CO2 emissions — even those associated with dilute CO2 streams — can be repurposed to create value and minimize environmental impact," writes Sant.

[rebelmouse-image 19475647 dam="1" original_size="1280x854" caption="Photo by Robert Jones/Pixabay." expand=1]Photo by Robert Jones/Pixabay.

And it's not like this goal is a faraway dream. They've made incredible progress on this new cement and are starting to shop it around.

They've figured out how to streamline the cement-making process so it takes much less time and energy than it did initially. They've also done an analysis of the construction market and see huge potential for such a sustainable product.

"This is especially significant as jurisdictions, globally, including states and nations, seek to limit CO2 emissions and impose CO2 penalties on industrial processes," writes Sant.

And in terms of progress with CO2 capture, Sant's work could offer an economically viable alternative to storing the CO2 underground, which can get pretty expensive.

If the world recognizes the economic value of upcycled cement along with the environmental impact, this discovery could revolutionize the future of construction.

[rebelmouse-image 19475648 dam="1" original_size="1280x720" caption="Photo by Pexels/Pixabay." expand=1]Photo by Pexels/Pixabay.

Engineering solutions like this can offer a way to mitigate climate change and be profitable at the same time. Now it's just about keeping an open mind and seeing the enormous potential in a small, concrete cylinder.

As for Sant and his associates, they're just thrilled to be on the precipice of real, necessary change.

"As humans, we all want to make positive impact," says Sant. "To be a part of the solution is a very empowering accomplishment that we wish to socialize."

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Police arrest man suspected of scamming an elderly woman.

There has been a rise in scams against the elderly during the pandemic. According to the FBI, American seniors were scammed for $1 billion dollars in 2020, up $300 million from the previous year.

To stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic, more seniors joined social media, opening them up to new avenues for fraud.

“The combination of online shopping and social media creates easy venues for scammers to post false advertisements,” the FBI report said. “Many victims report ordering items from links advertised on social media and either receiving nothing at all or receiving something completely unlike the advertised item.”

But when scammers came after 73-year-old Jean Ebbert in Long Island, New York, they had no idea they were dealing with a law enforcement veteran. Ebbert is a former 911 dispatcher, so she knows exactly what a scam looks like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

A group of around 20 moms gathered at a Boston area high school to vent their frustrations loudly.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but there are certain groups of people who have faced particularly intense challenges these past two years. Healthcare workers? For sure. Teachers? Definitely. Parents? Um, yes.

Moms specifically? Yesssss.

It's hard to describe how hard navigating the pandemic with kids has been. Figuring out childcare when schools and daycare centers shut down, managing kids' remote or hybrid schooling, constantly making decisions about what's safe and what's not, dealing with the inconsistency and chaos of it all, weighing risks with who is vaccinated and who isn't—none of it has been easy. Many parents are also raising kids with mental, emotional, behavioral or physical challenges that have only been made harder by pandemic life.

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This article originally appeared on November 5, 2013


When I saw these incredible photos Angelo Merendino took of his wife, Jennifer, as she battled breast cancer, I felt that I shouldn't be seeing this snapshot of their intimate, private lives.





















The photos humanize the face of cancer and capture the difficulty, fear, and pain that they experienced during the difficult time.

But as Angelo commented: "These photographs do not define us, but they are us."

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