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questions@ideasanddiscoveries.com www.facebook.com/ideasanddiscoveries


I’ve never encountered I was very happy to read about the story of the “School
a boring article in iD, Bus for the Jungle Children” in the November issue. Of
even if the subject matter course it is adorable to see so many orangutans in one
pertains to a topic that I wheelbarrow, but much more importantly, it gives me
wouldn’t ordinarily find great hope to know that there also people out there who
interesting. But once in care about these highly intelligent animals and who will
a while I read something work to help them instead of destroying their habitat and
that actually frightens me, and that was the case for last making them orphans. Truly, no matter which species is
issue’s article about the supervolcano under Yellowstone being considered, all creatures seem to want to attain
National Park, “The Day the U.S. Could Lose 20 States.” and preserve their autonomy, and a program that helps
I’d heard about this before, but learning about it in more animals get back to the nature that they would otherwise
Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and length.

detail has really made its repercussions hit home for me. be robbed of strikes me as the ideal conservation effort.
As if we didn’t have enough cataclysms to worry about! Laura Beaumont, Seattle, WA
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick, Prairie Village, KS
We too were most heartened by this wonderful story and are
This article struck a chord with many people because the pleased to have shared it with our readers. And we’re happy
disaster would affect the country so profoundly, and some to report that since the story was published we’ve received
suspect it is much closer than tens of thousands of years an email from a teacher who is interested in working with her
away. If it’s any consolation, scientists are working on a way students to set up a fundraiser to help International Animal
to circumvent such an eruption and even harness the super- Rescue purchase new wheelbarrows—an endeavor that
volcano’s geothermal energy by converting it to electricity. should be fulfilling for the recipients as well as the students.


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The pelican is a bird that defies expectations, both in Sociopaths can leave a swath of distress in their wake.
the air and underwater. The inspirational message for To protect yourself, learn how to spot them and what
us all: Nothing is impossible! PAGE 8 to do if you have to deal with one. PAGE 14


Better by far than a birds’-eye view: See what our planet Fear is an essential component of the human psyche.
looks like from hundreds of miles above the surface Although we are all susceptible to it, we can still live
and get a new view of life on Earth. PAGE 30 life fully despite it. PAGE 40


How does voice originate within the body? What makes Killer particles are constantly swirling around Earth.
each voice unique? And what do our voices reveal about But our planet is significantly more fortified than had
us that we may not even realize? PAGE 68 previously been suspected… PAGE 74

Jan 2018 4 ideasanddiscoveries.com

“Aninvestment in
knowledge pays the
best interest .”
—Benjamin Franklin

To our readers:
When we take a step back, we gain a wider perspective, from our view of our world
to our view of ourselves. This helps us discern the true nature of what’s in front of
us, whether it’s a person we’re just meeting or an influential person from the past,
a natural phenomenon in the world around us, or even our own selves. Perspective
also helps us get a handle on our fear. For though at times it may hobble us, we can
step back and place fear in a context that allows us to live our best lives despite it.

8 Nothing Is Impossible!
Why pelicans fly in the face of limitations


14 How to Recognize a Sociopath
The 7 best strategies for dealing with an antisocial personality type
40 Overcoming 100 Fears in 100 Days
How to face what you’re afraid of and come out on top
68 Can My Voice Give Me Away?
He is renowned for his masterworks in the field of art, Our voices say more about us than we suspect
but Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath whose genius 73 Smarter in 60 Seconds: Voice
also extended to the realm of science. PAGE 20
20 Da Vinci: The Man Who Reinvented Science
The genius’s notebooks reveal just how far ahead of his time he was
30 Why Satellites Now See the World Differently
Observing the world from an elevated perspective
38 Smarter in 60 Seconds: Satellites
58 500 Life Sentences
Inside the most secure prison in the world
74 The Earth’s Mysterious Protective Shield
How does our planet’s firewall function?
In a supermax prison, solitary confinement is the order 6 A Photo and Its Story
of the day. But does this continuous extreme isolation Fascinating pictures and the story behind them
help or harm society in the long run? PAGE 58
52 Questions & Answers
Marvels that can change our perception of the world
80 What Counts in the End
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A photo and its story

THE OCEAN It is one of Mother Nature’s most
gratifying spectacles : Off the coast
of Indonesia, local fishermen and
whale sharks have forged a magical
bond of friendship…

Jan 2018 6 ideasanddiscoveries.com

t’s still early in the morning when Gesang and his
fellow fishermen cast their nets into the turquoise
waters of the Pacific. The men practically grew
up on this bay. They know exactly the right time
of day to find exactly the fish they want. Three hours
later, the fishermen drag three bulging nets into their
wooden boats. It’s a good catch; once again the sea
has richly rewarded their labors. Suddenly a gigantic
black shadow appears beneath Gesang’s boat—but
there is nothing to fear: The shadow that most people
would find threatening is a visit from a friend…


The shadow in the water belongs to a whale shark
almost 40 feet long—a member of the world’s largest
fish species, which at the same time is also one of the
most puzzling. Little is known about the life of these
gray giants; no one knows where they are born or why
hundreds of them sometimes congregate in the same
area. While Gesang and the other fishermen look on,
the 20-ton giant, lured by the abundant table that has
been set for it, begins to feed at their nets. The shark
pulls hundreds of fish at a time into its big wide-open
mouth, which is large enough to park a tiny car inside.
But instead of attacking the thief with their spears or
pulling in their nets in a panic, the men in the boats do
something unexpected: They laugh and joke as they
calmly watch their hungry visitor eating its fill and then
begin handing it some of the fish already in the boat.
“To us, the whale shark is the soul of the sea—and a
good omen. Whenever we see one of these sharks,
we know we can count on good catches in the future,”
explains Gesang. The men’s attitude is all the more
amazing given that even just the fins of a whale shark
would be worth about $15,000 on the black market—
more than they earn altogether in an entire year.
But who would kill their lucky charm? In fact, whale
sharks are revered in many of our planet’s cultures,
just as they are among the fishermen of Indonesia.
The reason for this veneration: These animals have
a quality that humankind is still struggling to acquire:
PHOTO: Paul Cowell Photography/Flickr/Getty Images.

Despite their immense power, they are always gentle

and kind. The whale shark seems to understand its
bond of friendship with the fishermen. After feeding for
a short time, it turns away from the nets still bursting
with fish and raises its head to the water’s surface—
almost as if it wishes to thank Gesang and his friends.
Then it disappears into the blue depths of the Pacific,
to the home of the soul of the sea.
Pelicans challenge the understanding of
laymen and experts alike : How in the world
does such a heavy bird manage to take off?
How can it catch nimble, fleeing fish? And
doesn’t the giant pouch attached to its beak
ever get in its way? If pelicans could speak,
all the responses to these questions would
surely be the same : No problem!

taken to the extreme: Extended to its Such gymnastics are

NO FISH FALLS utmost, a pelican’s throat pouch can important because a
hold about three times the volume of pelican’s beak has
BY THE WAYSIDE its stomach. And we’re talking about a to be able to bear
tool that’s far more sophisticated than at least 10% of the
Does the pelican catch the fish? a mere hand net. The pelican deploys sizable bird’s weight in
Though this photo may suggest its impressive pouch by contracting its food every day—in addition
the contrary, the sizable seabird did tongue muscles and also controls the to nest-building materials and
indeed catch the fish it was thrown— pouch’s operation with its tongue. other items for meeting daily needs.
and in a way that only a pelican could. In addition, a pelican can also utilize And no: Contrary to rumor, pelicans do
A moment before only a very long beak its pouch to regulate its temperature: not store fish in their beak for a rainy
was visible; suddenly there appeared When things get too hot for the bird, day, though there is enough space in
a huge protuberance that substantially it can ripple the skin of its throat and there for a week’s worth of food. When
raised the bird’s chances of success: pouch up to 200 times per minute—in a bird catches more fish than it needs,
an elastic throat pouch. To be sure, a manner similar to how a dog pants. it can temporarily store the excess in
many of the bird species that rely on To keep their pouch elastic, pelicans its esophagus. And just what does it do
catching fish, such as cormorants and perform stretches reminiscent of yoga with its beak when it wants to sleep?
gannets, have something similar to it. poses—extending the neck skyward or It simply rotates its head 180 degrees
But in pelicans this feature has been stretching the pouch across the chest. and lets its beak rest on its back.


ideasanddiscoveries.com 9 Jan 2018

Does this photograph remind you
of anything? Perhaps a baleen
whale, which opens its giant mouth to
let in thousands of gallons of water
and strain it all through its sieve-like
baleen plate to capture plankton and
fish? The fact is: Neither pelicans nor
baleen whale species such as blue or
humpback whales have any interest in
chewing. Researchers have found that
in the course of evolution pelicans and
whales have developed a similar sort
of toothless feeding method to which
their anatomy has become adapted—
especially with regard to the stability
of the lower jaw. It has to hold a huge
quantity: The pouch of a large pelican
can hold up to 3.5 gallons of water—
along with fish caught up in the flow.
Before swallowing the fish whole, the
pelican drains excess water from its
pouch with its mouth closed—to keep
the fish from being able to jump out.
Then the expert fisherman raises its
beak and swallows its prey—and it
executes this move in such a way that
the fish slide down its throat head first.
There is another thing pelicans and
humpback whales have in common:
They like to hunt in groups. Humpback
whales gather in a circle that may be
up to 100 feet in diameter and blow a
pattern of air bubbles that surrounds
the school of fish they’re hunting like a
net while other whales swim upward
through the captive school, swallowing
thousands of fish at a time. Some of
the larger pelican species will swim in
groups of several dozen in a row or in
a U formation, slapping the water with
their wings to drive frightened fish
toward shallower water. Once there
they can easily scoop the fish up
in their beaks, as demonstrated
by this underwater photograph.
But when it comes to smaller
species such as the brown
pelican shown here, the
comparison with whales
comes to an end: They
can dive into the water
from 70 feet above the
surface to catch prey.
Found on every continent
except Antarctica, pelicans
live in colonies of several
hundred birds. A breeding
pair remains monogamous ATTACK FROM ABOVE
for the duration of a mating Having sighted their prey, two brown
season. Specific behaviors pelicans dive like arrows into the water.
and traits vary among the Thanks to adaptations such as inflatable air
eight species of pelicans. sacs to cushion the impact, the birds are
In general, pelicans in the able to penetrate the surface of the water at
wild live for 10 to 25 years. high speed without sustaining any injury.

Pelicans will often hunt cooperatively
and employ a number of strategies for
capturing their prey, which is generally
fish but can also include crustaceans,
frogs, and turtles. Pelicans also seem
to have no qualms about accepting a
handout from humans.
ideasanddiscoveries.com 11 Jan 2018
relationship: pelicans and flying— bird with a weight of 30 pounds and
WHAT DO which wouldn’t ordinarily be thought
of as fitting together. Theoretically,
a 6-foot-long body can nonetheless
rise into the sky. And once there, it is
YOU MEAN, even a small pelican taking off under
ideal wind conditions should not be
really in its element. Pelicans can fly
for 24 hours at a stretch, covering as

TOO HEAVY? able to stay aloft for more than a few

minutes. But of course, the pelicans
much as 600 miles without a break—
an amazing feat for a bird of any size.
could not care less about what they At altitudes of up to 10,000 feet and
Physicists and zoologists have theoretically could and could not do. speeds of almost 40 miles per hour,
long puzzled over a particular All appearances to the contrary, a the seabirds are in a prime position
to execute their most daring flight having hollow bones, pelicans also lower than one wingspan above the
maneuvers. The key: In order to be as have inflatable air sacs under their ground, it benefits from decreased
aerodynamic as possible while they skin. Both features ensure adequate drag and increased speed and lift—
keep themselves in the air, pelicans buoyancy in water, and the air sacs a boost that enables conservation of
bring their neck back between their improve the aerodynamics of flight. energy while flying. Only one thing
shoulders, which allows them to lay Pelicans are frequently seen flying effectively hinders the flight of a large
their heavy beak on their chest. dangerously close to water. When pelican: After swallowing a big fish,
However that still doesn’t explain they do so, they’re taking advantage the bird is “grounded” for a while,
their astonishing flying and diving of the aerodynamic principle known as a pelican that weighs much more
abilities. The real secret: Besides as ground effect: If a bird is flying than 30 pounds simply can’t take off.

PHOTOS: Ben Cranke; Mark Jones; Katarina Stefanovic; Rob Francis/Robert Harding; Werner Bollman; Mike Powles.

ideasanddiscoveries.com 13 Jan 2018

I’m not a
I’m a high-functioning
— Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the cult series Sherlock
Body & Mind

Do you ever have the feeling
you’re talking to someone…
...you should be cautious of?
A bit too charming, a bit too smooth—
simply too perfect to be real?

Be forewarned : Whenever you engage with a person, you may be dealing with a
sociopath— statistically speaking, it’s not even altogether that unlikely. Psychologist
Beate Handler has developed a checklist that will help to unmask such individuals.
Here she explains what makes a sociopath tick— and the best ways to deal with one…

ideasanddiscoveries.com 15 Jan 2018

infallible human beings who feel they
deserve to be treated especially well.
In order to achieve their goals, they
act in a highly manipulative manner,
and when thwarted they can become
aggressive; they may lie or push the
boundaries of legality, and they have
no qualms about harming someone.
Their “victims” may be systematically
misled, deceived, cheated, exploited,
or otherwise harmed.


The sociopath may be a workmate,
boss, relative, neighbor, or even your
own significant other. And as a rule
it takes us a while to figure out that
we are being used by such a person.
But, astonishingly, current research
shows that we are able to recognize
sociopaths intuitively. Or at least we
instinctively experience a disquieting
feeling whenever we encounter one.
he unvarnished truth of the matter: Psychologists J. Reid Meloy and M.J.
We are surrounded by considerably Meloy discovered that we even have
more sociopaths than we realize… a physical reaction to sociopaths and
Psychologist and behavioral neuro- to psychopaths. The pair interviewed
biologist Niels Birbaumer estimates doctors, psychologists, and criminal
there could be as many as 1 million justice professionals who had been
just in his home country of Germany involved in conversations with such
(population: about 83 million). If such
a proportion holds true for the rest
Everyone people, and 77% of the respondents
reported that their bodies exhibited
of Western society, the chances are a physical aversion to the individual:
nearly 100% that every one of us has
had to deal with one of them by now.
However Birbaumer is talking about
is bound Their skin tingled, their hearts began
to race, breathing became shallow…
In extreme cases, respondents had

to meet a
the “average sociopath,” not about felt an urgent need to leave the room.
people with the personality structure The bottom line: Always listen to your
of a serial killer or rapist—as in every gut feelings! Criminal psychologists
personality disorder, sociopathy can such as Robert D. Hare warn that all
manifest in a variety of ways. But the
fact is: Anyone who has an antisocial
personality disorder—which includes
sociopath types of sociopaths bring misfortune
and grief to the people around them.
That’s precisely why it’s so important
sociopathy—can be a danger, if only to recognize them and deal with them
minimally, to the social environment.
Why is that? Because everything
at some accordingly. Because the more we
know about the dangerous behavior
sociopaths do is done for their own of antisocial people, the better we can
personal benefit. Without exception.
They regard themselves as perfect, point. unmask them and avoid being taken
in by even the mildest of sociopaths.

Jan 2018 16 ideasanddiscoveries.com


There are plenty of psychopathy checklists on the Internet. Their
disadvantage is that they mostly describe full-blown psychopaths.
The following checklist is designed to help in identifying people
with mild sociopathic traits—those who are not afflicted to such
a degree that they engage in extreme behaviors such as murder,
but who are still able to do harm and cause a lot of suffering.

1. Sociopaths are able to present 8. They’re only interested in meeting 15. Sociopaths are not usually able
themselves as being very charming their own needs. But they do this in to maintain long-term relationships
and articulate. Oftentimes they have such a skillful way that the people because they are incapable of love.
the ability to twist another person’s who become disadvantaged by their yes no
words around. actions only notice after the fact.
yes no yes no 16. They will use every conceivable
means (legal or otherwise) to get or
2. They exhibit considerable self- 9. Sociopaths will often make other accomplish what they want.
confidence and an extremely strong people feel guilty. yes no
self-presentation. They are often the yes no
center of attention in a group. 17. They don’t think too much about
yes no 10. They outwit and dupe people— the negative consequences of their
and then they accuse those people behavior or actions.
3. Sociopaths can be conspicuously of the very same behavior. yes no
intelligent—but they’ll only use their yes no
intelligence to achieve a particular 18. Sociopaths won’t be helpful or
(usually self-centered) goal. 11. They see nothing wrong about cooperative, even when others are
yes no adjusting the “truth” to correspond clearly unable to protect themselves
with a particular situation. or tend to their own welfare.
4. Such individuals are not sensitive yes no yes no
or empathetic in the least—but they
can feign empathy as needed. 12. When they feel they have been 19. They assume no responsibility
yes no treated unjustly, they think they have for their own actions or behavior—
a right to use any means necessary and they never show remorse.
5. They try to control the people in to obtain what they believe rightfully yes no
their environment and exert power belongs to them.
over them. yes no 20. They view life as a battlefield:
yes no Only the strongest survive.
13. They generally consider people yes no
6. They say what they need to say other than themselves to be weak
in the moment, but they often fail to and powerless.
keep promises or meet obligations. yes no ANALYSIS
If even three of the statements above apply to
yes no a person in your environment, you can assume
14. They feel superior to others and that the person has symptoms of an antisocial
7. They find what other people think will therefore frequently treat people personality disorder. If that is the case, you
need to know how to deal with such a person
about them to be totally irrelevant. with condescension.
in order to adequately protect yourself. The
yes no yes no most important tips are on the following page.
No one wants to have an encounter A serious facial expression, a refusal
with a person who is self-interested to break off eye contact, an upright
to the point of deceiving or harming posture, and a determined, steady
others to get what he or she desires. stride—these all signal strength and
But we’re likely to at some point in life security, which are total turn-offs for
because a portion of the population a social predator on the prowl. Don’t
is affected by some form of antisocial forget: Sociopaths prefer easy marks.

The personality disorder. Therefore when

it comes to dealing with a sociopath, 5) DON’T

the best piece of advice is as simple
as it is effective: “Stay far away from
social predators.” Or at least, put as Never make a sociopath lose face—
much distance as you can between even when you have recognized the
yourself and such a predator when person for what he or she actually
you happen to meet one. is. That would only lead to hate and
aggression. It’s better to just smile—
2) TRUST and pretend to play along…

best Trust your own gut feelings. Always!
strategies Don’t let yourself be misled when an
for dealing with a interaction with another person tells Even though the quality of openness
you that you should protect yourself. is usually considered to be a virtue
sociopath, psychopath, If possible, avoid any further contact! in the course of social interactions,
or other antisocial it is never, under any circumstances,
personality type 3) DRAW CLEAR an appropriate quality to display in
the presence of a sociopath. Keep
BOUNDARIES your cards close to your chest. It is
One of the most important things always better to ask questions than
you can to do protect yourself from to reveal information about yourself—
danger is to clearly express your own even if you’re discussing a seemingly
needs, perceptions, and opinions. harmless topic like a recent vacation.
They should be presented in a firm,
distinct, and clearly audible voice. 7) GET
The thoughts should be formulated
with certainty and objectivity, and
underscored with an unambiguous, If you are in the position of having to
Beate Handler is a clinical brief explanation. Don’t try to justify work with an antisocial personality
psychologist with broad training yourself, as justification casts doubt type for an extended period of time,
in behavioral therapy, industrial- on your statement—and a sociopath get psychological coaching so you
organizational psychology, and

psychotherapy. Her focus also will respond with another argument. can recognize typical manipulation
includes children and adolescents. Always defend your legitimate rights! attempts and react accordingly.

Jan 2018 18 ideasanddiscoveries.com

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Jan 2018 20 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Vitruvian Man —
the works of Leonardo da Vinci are revolutionary
classics. But his true genius is revealed in his
notebooks: There Leonardo laid the foundations of
the modern world as we know it today and proved
why he was a true Renaissance man—a visionary
centuries ahead of his time in more than just art…
at the drawings his 65-year-old host other than Leonardo da Vinci. The
is showing him. The sketch of an old notebook marks a major milestone
man with a flowing beard gets under in the development of anatomy—a
the skin—in the most literal sense— discipline that had been all but lost
because it depicts the inner workings since the age of classical antiquity.
of the human body. “This noble spirit When the universal genius died in
has compiled a most unusual book France two years later, his work was
of anatomy, illustrated by means of still unknown to his contemporaries;
painting, showing the limbs, muscles, Belgian physician Andreas Vesalius
the nerves and veins, different parts ultimately published the first modern
of the intestine, a book which permits anatomy book. But historians agree:
the discovery of the human body… Leonardo’s work constitutes an early
which no other before him had yet and lasting contribution to medicine.
done,” writes de Beatis in his diary.
The year is 1517, and the draftsman
stands in a studio and stares intently responsible for the notebook is none

Jan 2018 22 ideasanddiscoveries.com

“Leonardo’s eye was ARTIST, RESEARCHER, Surely our technological knowledge
ANATOMIST, VISIONARY would be decades more advanced,
so keen that he could “People always think that Leonardo at the least—in the field of robotics

grasp connections da Vinci was an artist who had also

made a few anatomical drawings on
alone, the automatons that Leonardo
proposed roughly 500 years ago are
that wouldn’t be the side,” says the British art curator still considered pioneering models.
and Leonardo expert Martin Clayton. There are a number of reasons for
developed into “However, he was first and foremost Leonardo’s contributions to science
a scientist.” It’s hard to imagine what remaining largely unnoticed during
equations by other our world would look like today had his lifetime. For one thing, the word
scientists until Leonardo’s ideas been pursued and
developed during his lifetime. Could
“scientist” did not even exist yet. The
English polymath William Whewell
generations later.” we have been discussing self-driving coined the term in 1834—and, in any
cars 100 years ago? Would we have case, in the 16th century the Christian
MORTEZA GHARIB, had things like artificial heart valves faith was deemed significantly more
biophysicist and personal computers far sooner? important than scientific knowledge. >

Leonardo spent the first 30 years of
his life in Florence, Italy. With its iconic
Renaissance buildings, this capital city
of the region of Tuscany provided the
inspiration for Leonardo’s first pictures,
which he had painted in the workshop
of the respected sculptor and goldsmith
Andrea del Verrocchio.
Probably no other drawing embodies Leonardo da Vinci’s navel aligns with the center of a circle. The drawing illustrates
ideal of an all-encompassing mathematical order as well just how fascinated Leonardo was by the human physique and
as his famous depiction of the Vitruvian Man from the year 1490: its proportions, and at the same time it clearly demonstrates the
a superimposed image of a man with outstretched limbs whose principles upon which he based his work as a scientist…


“When people are short on good arguments, “Come and observe the wonders of Nature that
they tend to get louder. Wherever shouting rings viewing Her reveals. There is nothing in Nature
out in response to a controversy, there can be that does not spring from Science.”
no true science.”

“Whoever despises the high wisdom of
IS THE WORLD mathematics nourishes himself on delusion.”
Also: “No human investigation can be called
“Man is the ultimate model of the world. real science if it cannot be demonstrated
Proportions are not only found in numbers mathematically.”
and dimensions but also in tones, weights,
times, and places, just as they are in every
other force that exists.”
“Everything in the cosmos spreads out
“When writing about your ideas: in waves.” Also: “Every process in
First explain the benefits of the nature proceeds in as little time as
undertaking beforehand so the possible.” Furthermore: “Motion is
knowledge is not valueless.” the origin of all life.”

Jan 2018 24 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Leonardo encountered a vacuum in
this regard and was compelled to
keep his views, some of which were
heretical to the Catholic Church, to
himself if he did not want to end up
burned at the stake by the Inquisition.
Although he worked as an artist by
day, Leonardo spent his nights with
a bone saw in his hand in the morgue
of a Florentine hospital, risking his
life to do so. Other Italians had been
excommunicated and condemned
to death for their ideas, and so it is
perhaps not surprising that Leonardo
accepted an invitation to enter the
service and safety provided by King
Francis I of France in 1516.
Despite the controversial nature
of his drawings, Leonardo intended
to publish them as a book. However FORBIDDEN STUDIES and although this enabled Leonardo
his death in 1519 foiled this plan, thus During the Middle Ages, dissecting human to triumph as an inventor and artist,
corpses was considered to be a sacrilege.
the material has been handed down Medical students were allowed to do it for it al
in the form of individual sketches. learning purposes (above)—but only the da V
His favorite pupil, Francesco Melzi, corpses of criminals who’d been executed Stef
were approved for this purpose.
inherited 10,000 pages of his work, to b
but when he passed away in 1570, thu
the drawings were dispersed: Melzi’s of s
son Orazio sold off the manuscripts, L
and the texts and drawings would be disc
scattered throughout Europe. Many careful study of the human body and arou
of them are still missing to this day. its proportions, an effort that enabled Italy
the young artist to portray his human wor
“OTHERS PREFERRED subjects with amazing accuracy. and
TO BELIEVE, BUT HE Even at this relatively young age, kno
WANTED TO KNOW.” Leonardo’s most important character Sfor
He was born the illegitimate son of a trait came to the fore: He was driven but
notary and never received more than by an insatiable curiosity. A tireless con
an elementary level of education, but researcher, he wanted to understand cog
Leonardo managed to find his way everything he encountered—even if mou
to anatomy by way of painting. Even his discoveries at times contradicted
as a child he loved to draw, and when the teachings of classical scholars
he was 15 his father apprenticed him or the dogmas of the Church. “His
to the sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. desire to know everything about the
Every one of his portraits reflects a world was entirely unprecedented,


1490 –1499 1500 –1505 1506 –1513 1516 –1519
During the time he After returning to Leonardo comes back After three years in
spends in Milan, Florence, he occupies to the Court of Milan, Rome, he goes to A
Leonardo begins his himself with studying where he starts to to spend the twiligh
studies in anatomy, bird flight and building expand his secret life under the prote
optics, and mechanics. flying machines. anatomical studies. the French King Fra
By dissecting dozens of corpses, Leonardo was
able to make more than 750 sketches of the inner
workings of the human body, drawings that were more
precise than any created over the next several
centuries. This detailed drawing from the year
1509 unites all of Leonardo’s knowledge
about the human circulatory system.

Leonardo devoted much time to
studying the heart. He even
wrote instructions for creating
an artificial heart. In this
drawing he depicts the organ
with only two chambers
because he had not yet
discovered the atria.

The drawing includes elements from a dissection that
Leonardo had performed on a 100-year-old man several 7
years earlier. Here he presented, among other things,
the earliest depiction of cirrhosis of the liver in medical
history. He also noted that the old man had enlarged 3
blood vessels as a result of high blood pressure.

Leonardo drew the two largest veins in the body
from the opposite side in order to show how the
inferior vena cava travels along the spine. His
sketch is the first known depiction of the human
spine with its typical curvature and the correct
number of vertebrae. 8

4 4
Even a genius like Leonardo was not immune
to error. Thus, for instance, he presents the
seminal tubule as coming out of the spine,
guided as he was by the ancient notion that a
man’s fertility stems from his mental power.

Jan 2018 26 ideasanddiscoveries.com

5 armored vehicles, diving suits—even
robots. He inspired the astronomers
“Leonardo looked at
Leonardo was also interested in the process of
and mathematicians who came after
him, and he also anticipated many
all of the different
breathing. “It is not possible to swallow and
at the same time take a breath or utter words,”
inventions of subsequent centuries. layers. To this da
For unlike the extremely specialized
he noted during his studies of the trachea.
scientists of today, Leonardo sought
we’re still copying
to understand the interconnections
between all natural phenomena.
his illustrative
Take light, for example: Leonardo techniques.”
was the first to recognize that light
radiates uniformly in all directions, a GUS MCGROUTHER
6 fact that would only be scientifically former professor of plastic sur er

LUNGS addressed again in the 19th century. Manchester University

He also applied his insights to build
“The lungs are made of a material
that is stretchable and expandable. and use a primitive camera. Or take
They are located below the point botany, as yet another example: The
where the trachea branches,” genius discovered that it is possible HOW DO YOU CREATE AN ATLAS
wrote Leonardo. He compares
the workings of the human to determine the age of a tree and OF THE HUMAN ORGANISM?
breathing mechanism to a the climatic conditions under which Inevitably we’re always lead back to
candle: Just as a candle it had grown by studying its annual Leonardo’s favorite field of research:
cannot burn without air,
growth rings—400 years before this He was constantly drawing human
the lungs too cannot
breathe without it. was recognized as a scientific fact. beings—from the outside as well as
In addition, he realized plant growth the inside. But at some point mere
is dependent on Earth’s gravity and imagination no longer sufficed, so he
the Sun’s energy. started secretly dissecting corpses.
Leonardo was also the first person “He’d delved deeper and deeper into
to investigate fluid dynamics and to the bodies, revealing the innermost
develop a detailed description of how internal organs and making drawings
a whirlpool works. He then applied of lungs, stomachs, and even interior
his observations to fluids other than views of the brain,” says Klein. The
water, such as vorticular blood flow master’s goal: to create a complete
7 in the human heart. Da Vinci not only atlas of the human organism.

described the process correctly—he Thanks to many hours spent in the
also maintained that the vortices help company of dissected and disfigured
Da Vinci identified the spinal cord as the
“origin of all nerves that control the voluntary push the aortic valve closed so blood corpses, Leonardo was able to attain
movements of our limbs.” cannot flow back into the ventricle. the level of mastery that enabled him
He was able to make the discovery to perfectly portray the human body.
after filling a bull’s heart with wax, Before he created the famous smile
8 re-creating the heart in glass, and of the Mona Lisa, he’d spent years

UTERUS then pumping grass seed suspended

in water through the glass heart so
studying the position and functions
of every facial muscle, as well as the
Since the ancient notions of Aristotle the
uterus was believed to be divided into seven that he could make his observation. nerves and structure of the jawbone.
chambers. In his subsequent embryological “Leonardo’s exploration of the heart If he had succeeded in publishing all
sketches of a fetus, Leonardo was the first to sheds light on his thought process,” his notes, however controversial and
depict a fetus oriented in its proper position
in the uterus as well as to portray the uterus says da Vinci biographer Stefan Klein. dangerous that would have been in
as having only one chamber. “Instead of starting at the surface of his day, we might well view Leonardo
a problem and digging ever deeper, da Vinci not primarily as the divinely
it was more like climbing a building’s gifted artist he was, but above all as
facade and then moving across the a visionary scientific genius who was
balconies to reach another house.” born 500 years too soon.


Leonardo had made detailed Leonardo had been particularly Although Leonardo originally Although Leonardo was not an
sketches of the structure of fascinated by our visual organs. assumed that bodily movement astronomer, he showed great
the heart and recognized in the He dissected eyes to examine results from a life force called interest in what took place in
course of his animal studies how the lens, cornea, and retina the vital spirit, he suspected the heavens. He was convinced,
that the heart is a muscle that work. He followed the path of that there must be generally for example, that the Sun was
works in a fashion similar to the optic nerves and discovered applicable physical laws at work the celestial body with the
the functioning of a mechanical the location in the brain where as well. And so he spoke of greatest circumference in
pressure pump. In addition, they join to form the optic chiasm. power as the origin of movement addition to the greatest energy
he drew streamlines that were He also explored the concept of and was the first scientist to in the universe. In another of
meant to represent the flow stereoscopic vision to determine apply the laws of mechanics his contemplations about the
of blood through the heart. how it is possible for our two to the fundamental modes of cosmos, he also referred to the
However, he only hinted at the eyes to produce a single image human locomotion (walking, Sun as the source of all heat and
concept of a circulatory system. of an object. running, swimming). all life on Earth.


In 1628 the English physician The German mathematician and In 1604 the Italian polymath In the early 16th century, the
William Harvey published his astronomer Johannes Kepler was Galileo Galilei published what is astronomer and mathematician
unorthodox ideas about how the first person to compare the now called the theory of uniform Nicolaus Copernicus discovered
blood flows in a circuit, which human eye to a camera. In 1604 acceleration, suggesting that the Sun is the center of our solar
prompted a medical revolution. he proved that the eyes’ lenses, all bodies, regardless of their system and the planets revolve
Until that time the prevailing in conjunction with the corneas, weight, fall at an equal rate. He around it. Later Johannes Kepler
view was that of the Greco- ensure rays of light are curved had also conducted a series of took up this revolutionary thesis
Roman physician Galen, who and bundled so that images are experiments that enabled him to and added the aspect that the
believed food was transformed projected inverted and reversed calculate the acceleration of a Earth revolves around the Sun in
into blood in the liver. onto the retinas. body descending at an angle. an elliptical orbit.

Jan 2018 28 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Through decades of painstaking work, cardiac surgeons, a bird’s-eye perspective present a visionary view of the future
physicists, and engineers have managed to reassemble from that time period, which anticipated numerous inventions of
the fragments of Leonardo’s notebooks that were scattered across later periods. Historians are convinced that Leonardo inspired
Europe and North America. Leonardo’s depictions of the flow of many scientists of later generations, thus laying the groundwork
blood in the human heart, flying machines, and cities seen from for the eventual triumph of science…


Da Vinci was of the opinion Leonardo compared the way in By using glass balls as a visual On the basis of his numerous
that marine fossils could not which light moves to the circular aid, Leonardo was able to anatomical studies, Leonardo
be remnants from the biblical waves that form when a stone demonstrate the manner in came to the conclusion that the
Flood because they had been strikes the surface of a pond. which light rays become human body functions like a
found in different layers of rock. He came to the conclusion refracted or “deflected” mechanism. In his notes he
Instead of this biblical view, that everything in the universe when they pass through the wrote the following next to a
which was popular at a time spreads out in a wave-like atmosphere of the Earth. drawing of a skull: “Spectator
when religion superseded all manner, and therefore he In his notes he had written: of this human machine, do not
else in importance, he held became the first person in “See how the light is curving. sadden for having to make it
the belief that Earth must have history to recognize that light It is best to carry out a series of known through the death of
changed over time. His belief is a form of energy that travels such experiments for yourself others, but rejoice that our God
clashed with Roman Catholic by radiating uniformly in all and draw your own conclusions has devoted His intellect to the
dogma concerning the Creation. directions simultaneously. about the phenomenon.” perfection of this tool.”
PHOTOS: Fotolia (2); Shutterstock (3); Getty Images (3); Alamy (2); iStockphoto; PR (4); Bauer Stock (4); Wikipedia (3).


The Danish scientist Nicolaus More than 100 years after In 1587 the Danish astronomer In his Discours de la Méthode,
Steno, whose interests included Leonardo’s death, the Dutch Tycho Brahe became the first which was published in 1637,
geology as well as anatomy, physicist Christiaan Huygens to measure the refraction of the French philosopher René
took up Leonardo’s idea and in was inspired by a manuscript light in the Earth’s atmosphere. Descartes described animals
1668 he became the first to that was written by the artist. It wasn’t until several decades as “automatons” whose bones,
develop a scientific theory that Huygens published his wave later, in 1656, that the director nerves, arteries, and veins
sedimentary rocks formed in theory of light before Sir Isaac of the Paris Observatory, function according to the rules
various phases of Earth’s history. Newton and developed it in Giovanni Domenico Cassini, of mechanics and logic. In the
He is regarded as a founder of ways that enabled him to build would study the atmospheric 18th century, this notion was
modern geology. better telescopes. aspects that create this effect. applied to human beings.
Red actually means green here: The vegetation in
this radar image of the Mississippi Delta at the Gulf
of Mexico makes the land look like blood vessels.
That maximizes the contrast with the blue water.
The white lines on the image, which was taken from
an altitude of 435 miles, represent buildings and roads.


Observing the way plants grow or how buildings breathe: Increasingly precise satellites
are transforming the surface of our planet into a gigantic matrix of data that is starting to
reveal hitherto unimagined secrets…

Jan 2018 30 ideasanddiscoveries.com

MISSISSIPPI DELTA Cut an inverted triangle from the center of a heads of cauliflower, a snowflake, a cracked
bigger triangle, then make the same cut in cell-phone display, or the Mississippi Delta.

IS THIS WHAT INFINIT the three new triangles. If you continue this
process for a long time, you will have what
Satellites are now able to photograph these
ramifications with unprecedented accuracy,

LOOKS LIKE? is known as a fractal, an infinitely complex

pattern that is self-similar across scales.
which can enable us to document changes
caused by the rising sea levels, for example.
Fractals are a kind of universal code that’s But fractals pose an insoluble problem even
used by Mother Nature, because they turn for the best cameras: Because ever-smaller
up everywhere: Our brains, lungs, and even parts of the coastline become visible as the
our circulatory system are based on such coastline is magnified, its length can only
patterns. Fractals can be found in treetops, be approximated—never measured exactly.

A radar satellite looking down on this ship that’s
traveling on the Hudson River along the west
side of Manhattan can detect not only the ship’s
presence but also its speed—and it can do so
day or night, even through heavy cloud cover.
It can even determine the flow rate of the water.

The image looks like the beginning of a hologram not all the satellites do: Because they’re constantly
MANHATTAN or a bird’s-eye view of an artist’s sketch—though it repeating this process as they fly overhead while

HOW DOES A actually depicts Manhattan as seen from an altitude

of 300 miles. The image has been calculated from
“looking” sideways, backward, and forward, they
can “view” Manhattan from various perspectives
radar waves. Two satellites that orbit Earth side by and combine the data to create a single image. That
SATELLITE SEE side at a typical distance of 650 to 1,650 feet apart makes it possible, as in this case, to detect details
send radar signals to Earth’s surface and receive that are not in the satellite’s direct line of sight—to
THROUGH WALLS? the echo about 0.003 seconds later—radar signals
are radiation moving at the speed of light. But that’s
essentially “see around the corner”: Here some of
the skyscrapers look like they’re almost transparent.
Steel and concrete expand as the temperature rises:
The red and yellow points indicate seasonal changes
in a building’s height, which span a few millimeters.
The changes are smaller where the dots are green,
blue, and violet. This 21-story hospital building in
Berlin towers over its surroundings. Consequently,
it “breathes” more than the other buildings.

Black areas indicate lack of change—or missing
data: The water of the Spree River is a relatively
flat surface. Therefore it does not have the tiny
irregularities that would reflect an oblique radar
signal back to a satellite at the proper angle—
it’s somewhat like standing at an angle to a mirror
and thus being unable to see your reflection.

If you stand right in front of Berlin’s Central Train The minimal fluctuations are generally harmless,
BERLIN Station (the yellow segments in the foreground), and architects take them into consideration. But

CAN RADAR the building looks massive and solid—when it’s

viewed from ground level, it looks the same each
in the case of skyscrapers, monitoring a building’s
shape from space is important: For example, San
day. But appearances are deceptive, as revealed Francisco’s Millennium Tower has sunk 17 inches
GAZE INTO by an exact survey from space: Like almost every and tilted since its construction began in 2005.
material, a train station expands a bit in response Tilting suggests a building was not constructed
THE FUTURE? to summer heat and “grows.” When the mercury
drops, the building’s steel and concrete contract.
on a stable foundation. In this regard, satellites
can provide early warning of a possible disaster.
ideasanddiscoveries.com 33 Jan 2018
This escarpment constitutes the edge
of a glacier: On the left, masses of ice
that have been deformed by their own
pressure are flowing down the slope
toward the Atlantic Ocean, while on the
right broken ice floes float on the sea.

Here mountains capped in snow (violet)
are holding back the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Wherever ice (green) breaks through the
barricade, it flows into the sea.

The palette of colors that spreads out before our signals with multiple types of polarization to Earth:
GREENLAND eyes does not exist for a radar satellite. All it sees Put simply, one wave might oscillate horizontally

HOW DO YOU is light and dark: The brighter a spot, the more it
has reflected the satellite’s radar signal. But the
while another is vertical, oscillating at a 90-degree
angle to the first. Whether it’s buildings, tree trunks,
“eyes” of a radar satellite do detect other details, leaves, rubble, snow, or ice: A material’s reflection
SCAN THE FACE such as the nature of a surface. While we only see pattern is like a fingerprint displayed in a variety of
white when we view Greenland’s Helheim Glacier colors. Researchers can use the data to monitor the
OF THE EARTH? (above), radar can tell the difference between snow
and ice, for example. To do so, the satellite sends
flow rate of hundreds of glaciers at the same time,
which safeguards ship traffic, among other things.
As a rule, the greener the plant, the healthier
it is: Infestation by pests, a lack of water,
insufficient nutrients— even the smallest
deviations from ideal conditions will make
these round fields appear to be a bit faded.
The satellites obtain their data by measuring
the thermal radiation of the fields, and so the
green of the plants appears red in the image.
The darkest circles are unplanted fields.

After a drought, it doesn’t take special gardening of the nutrient mixture—the plants are absorbing
SAUDI ARABIA skills or a “green thumb” to realize that a plant most of the red and blue wavelengths of light that

CAN A SATELLITE needs water: It looks withered. But is it possible

to monitor how the plants are doing on acres of
enable photosynthesis and reflecting the green
wavelengths. By observing the intensity of the
commercial fields? That’s where satellites come reflected green light (shown here in red), growers
PROTECT THE in: In these round irrigated fields near Tabarjal can see which plants are doing well and which
in Saudi Arabia, a rotating arm distributes water ones need their food and water supplies adjusted.
ENVIRONMENT? and fertilizer to the plants. The greener they are,
the better the amount of moisture and the quality
That reduces the need for precious water in the
desert as well as the dangers of over-fertilization.
ideasanddiscoveries.com 35 Jan 2018
Since 2010, radar satellites overlying ocean water is subjected
TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X to higher gravitational force, causing
have orbited the Earth at an a “dent” or depression in the globe
altitude of 300 miles and a typical (the blue area in the image at right).
distance of 650 to 1,650 feet apart. In contrast, a weaker gravitational
That enables them to have the kind field shows up as a “bump” in red.
of stereoscopic vision that people Flying over a blue region will slow a
have by looking through both eyes. satellite by a minimal but measurable
This entails a technical challenge amount because the higher gravity
because, contrary to intuition, the draws it closer to Earth and makes
gravity of Earth differs depending it fly faster; it flies higher and slower
on position: For those areas where over a red region. An algorithm later
Earth’s material is dense and heavy, balances out this roller coaster ride.

TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X circle the Earth in a heliosynchronous orbit. That means they
don’t ever fly on the dark side of the Earth, so their solar cells and thus their source of
energy are always turned toward the Sun. At an orbital speed of 15,500 miles per hour,
a satellite flying at an altitude of 320 miles takes 95 minutes to circle the Earth.

Transmitting at a speed of
300 megabits per second,
the antenna sends about
three times more data to the
ground stations than would
be possible through a super-
fast Internet connection on
Earth. The downlink antenna
extends away from the radar
antenna (blue band of light)
so as not to interfere with
the radar’s work.

The distance between the two radar
satellites typically varies between
650 and 1,650 feet—but in order
to obtain accurate measurements,
the distance must always be known
precisely. Given the satellites’ great
distance from the Earth, a variance
of even 1 millimeter could amount to
a deviation of 3 feet in the data.

Jan 2018 36 ideasanddiscoveries.com

t is garnering attention in a way “Satellites are now taking pictures weather station, detect the presence
that no world leader, no general, of a quality that almost reaches that of mineral resources, and even watch
and no great moment in history of conventional aerial photographs,” grass grow. The last example works
ever has before. Currently there reveals Klaus Greve, a professor of on the same principle as sonar: An
are roughly 1,500 artificial satellites remote sensing at Bonn University. antenna transmits radar waves to the
orbiting Earth, focusing their eyes and The WorldView-4 satellite is currently ground and then measures how long
ears on what we regard as the most taking the highest resolution photos it takes for Earth’s surface to reflect
exciting object in the entire universe: of Earth to be commercially available: them up to the satellite. By analyzing
the Earth itself. These devices may In the images it produces, one pixel the properties and intensity of the
be photographers, data collectors, corresponds with 1 foot of the Earth. echo, it is possible to determine the
spies—or simply hubs that connect The European Space Agency (ESA) properties of the reflected surface.
enormous streams of data. Each year is making available—free of charge— The wavelength will vary, depending
at least 200 more of them are added. the photos captured by its series of on the object being analyzed.
What they all have in common: They Sentinel Earth-observation satellites, The general rule of thumb: Short
closely monitor our planet 24 hours which began being launched in 2014. waves are reflected when they hit a
a day, 365 days a year… “Now anyone can be a cartographer,” canopy of leaves, for example, while
Of course, not all of these satellites observes Greve. “But we’re still quite long waves can penetrate the ground
are measuring Earth. Some of them a ways off from being able to explore to a depth of 3 miles. The two nearly
broadcast TV and radio programs, the Earth in its entirety.” Some of the identical satellites TerraSAR-X and
others handle communication, while poorest nations are just now getting TanDEM-X fly alongside each other
still others help us navigate through current city maps for the first time. and in this way achieve a previously
unfamiliar territory. But the greatest But optical recordings are only the unfeasible precision in the millimeter
progress is currently being made in beginning: Satellites can measure range. “That provides us with a kind
Earth observation, which in principle the Earth’s temperature far from any of stereoscopic vision,” says Michael
is nothing more than capturing ever- Eineder, head of the remote sensing
more accurate selfies of the planet. sector of the German Aerospace
In February 2017 an Indian rocket Center. “By adjusting the
set a new record by putting distance between the
104 “nanosatellites” into two twin satellites,
orbit at one time. A U.S.- we can determine
based company called the location of a
Planet Labs owns 88 point in space.”
of them, which brings The successor,
the number of devices Tandem-L, will
the company currently even be capable
has in orbit to 144. Each of perceiving the
PHOTOS: Alaska Satellite Facility; Airbus, ediundsepp/DLR (3); ESA (2); DPA - Picture Alliance.

of these “Doves” weighs three-dimensional

about 9 pounds, and together structures of vegetation
they can completely photograph as well as documenting the
the nearly 197 million square miles development of life. The age of the
of Earth’s surface every 24 hours. Earth selfie has only just begun…

Michael Eineder of the German
Aerospace Center and Richard
Bamler of the Technical University
of Munich developed the algorithms
that enable the TerraSAR-X and
TanDEM-X satellites to conduct
millimeter-precise surveys of Earth.
How often does
Can the Sun incinerate a satellite? an accident occu
How long a satellite remains in orbit largely depends on 15 Russia and the U.S. were involved in the most spectacular
the altitude at which it is orbiting: At 600 miles the range space crash so far: On February 10, 2009, Kosmos 2251
is between 1,000 and 10,000 years, but below 125 miles (deactivated Russian satellite) and Iridium 33 (active U.S.
it’s no more than a few months. The friction generated in the thin communications satellite) collided at a speed of more than 7 miles
but still present atmosphere of Earth causes a satellite to lose per second, releasing energy equivalent to 10 tons of TNT exploding.
speed and altitude until finally the friction burns it up completely. Given the roughly 17,850 artificial objects orbiting Earth—including
Even the International Space Station, which orbits at an average 1,419 active satellites and 170 million pieces of debris smaller than
altitude of 250 miles, needs a regular boost from its thrusters to 1 cm—space collisions are a fact of life: Since the first satellite launch
keep it from suffering the same fate. But the Earth’s atmosphere in 1957, around 200 explosions and collisions have been recorded.
can also expand—for example, when there is a lot of solar activity.
Then even higher-flying satellites in a “safe” orbit can encounter
more drag. That shortens their life span, leading them to burn up
earlier than they would have otherwise. What is the Black Knight satellite?
15 UFO hunters are certain: The so-called Black Knight
satellite proves the existence of extraterrestrials,
and the rulers of our world are engaged in a cover-up
to keep us from learning the truth. Eyewitnesses have allegedly
been sighting the Black Knight since 1954—three years before
Russia launched Sputnik 1, Earth’s first artificial satellite, into
orbit. On a NASA photo released in 1998, UFO conspiracists
even “identified” the object, which they say has orbited Earth
for the past 13,000 years. Astrophysicists say the “satellite”
is space junk—likely a thermal blanket lost during a spacewalk.

Does the U.S. military

have a secret Space Shuttle?
X-37B: Even the name of this craft Since 2010 the X-37B has spent a total of
makes it sound mysterious—and it nearly six years in orbit. The last flight, which
is. The vehicle has already fl own ended on May 7, 2017, had lasted 718 days.
into space several times for the U.S. Air From the outside the 29-foot-long vehicle
Force, but no information has been released resembles the legendary Space Shuttle, but
about its defi nitive mission or the results. it flies unmanned like a drone. Officially the
There must be quite a bit of data by now: X-37B only tests future space technologies…

Jan 2018 38 ideasanddiscoveries.com


Photo By: Peggy Sirota

I was one of our nation’s hungry kids growing up. Today, 1 in 6 children in
America struggle with hunger. But when they get breakfast, their days are
bigger and brighter. Learning, attention, memory and mood improve.
Together, we have the power to get breakfast to kids in your neighborhood—
let’s make it happen. Go to hungeris.org and lend your time or your voice.

Viola Davis, Hunger Is Ambassador

Hunger Is® is a joint initiative of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the
Entertainment Industry Foundation, which are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.

As we continue to swing for

the fences, we know that
any advancement can
have a life-changing impact.

it takes.
Stand up for the 16 million
people living with cancer
in the U.S. and Canada. Visit

Stand Up To Cancer is a division of the Entertainment Industry

Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)(3) organization.
Major League Baseball trademarks and copyrights are used with
permission of Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. Visit MLB.com
lt i m at e
T he U


Fear is arguably the oldest and most deeply rooted of the human emotional responses.
It’s as much a part of our psyche as hunger and thirst. Everyone must deal with fear,
from the tiniest of toddlers to the toughest and most combat-hardened elite soldiers.
Now an experiment shows how any of us can outsmart our personal fears.
Body & Mind

he dull explosion in the distance makes the men in the

small room sit up and take notice. Mortar attacks in the
central Iraqi city of Fallujah occur frequently, but they’re
mostly uncoordinated and seldom targeted. Lieutenant
Commander Eric Greitens is tightening the laces of his
boots when a second mortar lands much closer. A third
explosion shakes the walls of the improvised camp. Then
comes a burst of machine gun fire. Greitens’ face freezes
for a moment and his pupils widen almost unnoticeably:
There’s no doubt about it—the camp is being attacked.
Greitens is a Navy SEAL, so he belongs to the absolute
elite of the U.S. armed forces. As such he has taken part
in commando operations in the most dangerous crisis
regions in the world, including Afghanistan and Somalia.
He has been awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, the
Purple Heart, the Joint Service Commendation Medal,
and the Combat Action Ribbon. But at this moment he
feels the same emotion that would affect anyone else:
Fear inundates every blood vessel, every pore, every cell
of his body—and that’s a good thing…


Greitens’ fears are rational and understandable because
he is caught in an exceptional life-threatening situation.
On the other hand, it’s everyday fears that dominate the
life of a young New Yorker named Michelle Poler. Some
of them are more comprehensible, like her fear of spiders,
while others are a bit strange, like her fear of Indian food.
Each of us possesses a highly personalized “fear DNA”
that’s just as individual as a fingerprint. But the processes
that are triggered by fear in Eric Greitens’ body are no
different from those that are triggered in Michelle Poler.
The important point is: Like almost every other emotion,
fear only becomes destructive when it clouds our senses. >
ideasanddiscoveries.com 41 Jan 2018
walls and a ceiling. Greitens’ lungs burn as though a fire
were blazing inside them, and his eyes sting as though
they were covered in chili paste. Chlorine! The attackers
had mixed the toxic gas with their explosives. Greitens
feels an irrepressible urge to rush outdoors into the open.
Get out of here, into the fresh air! Once again, Greitens’
brain overrules his rising panic. If he were to head in the
wrong direction, he could run headlong into an attacker’s
gunfire. In a fraction of a second he reviews his training:
The 50-meter (164-foot) underwater swim is one of the
most dreaded tests that Navy SEALs have to pass. Most
people start to panic when they’re running out of oxygen,
FROM LIEUTENANT COMMANDER TO GOVERNOR even before their goal is in sight. Physical training alone
As a lieutenant commander in the Navy SEALs, Eric Greitens’ tours of
duty have included Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia—and he has been is not enough to endure this test; the recruits must also
wounded more than once while carrying out a life-threatening mission. learn to control their bodily functions. To do this, they
Since January 2017, the 43-year-old has been serving as the governor practice mentally “diving” into a situation that can trigger
of his home state of Missouri.
panic—far more often than they actually dive into a pool.
They learn how to slow down their heart rate by slowly
During the many months of his training, that realization breathing in and out. They learn how to consciously relax
became ingrained into every fiber of Eric Greitens’ being. any muscle that’s not needed for swimming underwater.
Instead of being paralyzed by fear, the Navy SEAL learns They simulate the entire underwater swimming process
to recognize it as a friend who makes people more alert, hundreds of times—until there is no longer any room left
focused, and motivated through the release of adrenaline in their brains for a panic attack.
in the body: “Fear can be switched off with medication. While Greitens is regaining control of the situation amid
But in reality, fear helps us. It can even amplify courage.” a thick cloud of caustic dust, he plays the biggest trump
This knowledge is about to save his life. In a split second card in a Navy SEAL’s deck. It is not the physical strength
he makes the right decision: He sits down cross-legged or the exceptional combat skills; Greitens’ greatest asset
on the ground and bends over with his mouth wide open is the speed with which he can deploy the OODA loop.
and his hands over his ears. That protects his abdomen, The phrase refers to the decision cycle that is the basis
lungs, and eardrums from the blast wave of an explosion. for every military operation: 1) Observe: Are there exits,
Moments later a suicide attack rips through the camp. voices, shots? 2) Orient: Where is the enemy, where are
Dust fills the air where only seconds before there were the friends? 3) Decide: Determine what direction to take.
4) Act: Now set out in that direction—and at this point, the
entire loop begins again. Greitens manages to get away
with only a few scrapes, a couple of weeks of coughing,
and a few days of ringing in his ears.
“Fear can be
switched off While the demons of fear cannot be totally vanquished,
they can be managed. “Don’t be afraid”—for Greitens,
with medication. this notion is senseless at best and in the worst case it
can even be harmful. “People are always worried about
But in reality, something, no matter how often they claim the contrary,”
says Greitens. “Subconsciously, this can even promote the
fear helps us. emergence of panic because worries thrive best in secret.”
This does not just apply to a life-threatening situation,

It can even such as battling a terrorist attack, for example. All of us

have our own demons, and these exert varying degrees

amplify of influence on our respective lives. Anyone who is afraid

likely has some excuses handy for why it would be a bad

courage.” idea to try this or that. But regardless of which fears an

individual has, giving in to them makes it impossible for
us to realize our full personal potential. The good news:
Former Navy SEAL LCDR Eric Greitens
Our mental strength can be trained just like our muscles.
Michelle Poler has stepped up to face this challenge…
they ruin all of the things that I might
actually enjoy doing because I just
avoid so many situations outright. In
some ways, it’s a rather comfortable
approach: There’s no risk. But it also
I’ve made one excuse means that there’s no fun. Living life
too many, thought to the fullest is simply not possible.
Michelle Poler— and (Even when I’m safely within my own
so she decided to try four walls I’m confronted by crippling
claustrophobia!). But I want to enjoy
an experiment: The
life—I absolutely want that!
young New Yorker
confronted a different “THEFEELING OF BEING
personal fear every STRONGER THAN FEAR”
It was high time that I did something
day for three months...
about it. So I asked myself: Do I really
want to continue living inside of this
miserable soap-bubble of fear—or,
should I finally do all the things that

other people don’t think twice about,
hey say there are situations because they are actually perfectly
in life that we simply have to normal things to do: Can I change
live through and endure. It the color of my hair color or try Indian
may be an incredibly tough food? Can I overcome my mania for
presentation. For me, once it was a being absolutely sure and safe and
hike with friends on a frighteningly finally relinquish my control—at least
steep mountain where I realized that giving it up to people who are very
with every foot I gained in altitude, likely to know what they’re doing; to
my acrophobia was gaining on me a helicopter pilot, for example, or to
just as fast. The typical advice: Close the guy who is anchored into the cliff
your eyes and keep going. Because and responsible for my safety line
once you’ve reached your goal—and as I climb up a mountain? Gradually
everyone seems to agree on this— these thoughts led to an idea taking
everything will have turned out fine. root in my mind—a totally crazy idea:
If only it could be that easy… I would face my fears for 100 days.
But wait, I haven’t even introduced And in that 100 days I’d confront all
myself: My name is Michelle Poler, of my demons.
and frankly, what I’m writing here is To be honest: The very thought of
based on pure theory. When you get overcoming 100 different fears made
right down to it, I’m not one of those me hyperventilate. Still, the prospect
people who “just keeps going” when of being able to say something like,
faced with a terrifying situation. I’m “Hey, you really did it!” at the end of
one of those people who will do all each day would make me incredibly
she can to avoid such a situation. At proud. I wanted to have that feeling!
all costs. Because, to put it simply, The feeling of being victorious and
I am afraid—of almost everything. stronger than I was. And deep inside,
I’m afraid to eat oysters because I I knew that was the only true answer
might get food poisoning. I’m afraid to the fundamental question that I
to haggle at an open market because would be asking myself on every one
I can’t be sure that I won’t get ripped of those 100 (most likely extremely)
off. I’m afraid of acupuncture, dogs, frightening days: “Why in the world
and even the subway. am I putting myself through this?!”—
My fears restrict virtually my entire “Because I can do it!” Or at least:
life and are part of everything I do— “Because I want to be able to!” Yes!

ideasanddiscoveries.com 43 Jan 2018

DAY 6 Go rollerblading in DAY 12 Go to a petting zoo and
Central Park feed the animals
Why was I afraid to try it? I have a fear of Why was I afraid to try it? See Day 3, “hold a
being out of control. This is actually the first cat on my lap,” for my concerns about animals.
DAY 1 Accept the challenge time in years that I’m trying to rollerblade. What was it really like? Harmless: The sheep
Why am I afraid? For 100 days, I want to What was it really like? Liberating! It was a and goats licked the food right off my hand.
overcome one fear per day—but what if I very pleasant surprise. My husband helped to
fail miserably at this endeavor and have to prop me up—of course I have full faith in DAY 13 Trust long-distance love
continue living my fear-dominated life? him. It was a lovely feeling. Why was I afraid to try it? I love my niece very
What was it really like? See Day 100… much, but I hadn’t seen her in four months. What
DAY 7 Watch a scary movie if she wasn’t glad to see me? How would I feel?
DAY 2 Eat at least 3 oysters Why was I afraid to try it? I thought I was What was it really like? Fantastic! Shira came
Why was I afraid to try it? Oysters are pretty paranoid enough already without intentionally running toward me and jumped up into my
much the most disgusting thing that I can exposing myself to something that is meant arms. Now I’m sure: Our love will last forever.
imagine! What was it really like? After I to frighten me. What was it really like?
gave the oysters a try I can say definitively Terrifying! And now I know for sure: Horror DAY 14 Drive alone at night
that they are not exactly delicious! However, films are really not my thing. Why was I afraid to try it? My concentration
I just chalk it up to adding one point to my and visual abilities are not the best at night,
experience account. DAY 8 Smoke pot which makes me a nervous driver. What was it
Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid of really like? I was tense the whole time and
DAY 3 Hold a cat on my lap losing my self-control while being under the realized I definitely prefer taking the train!
Why was I afraid to try it? Animals are influence. What was it really like? I don’t
unpredictable. They can scratch. And bite. really think I felt anything. Perhaps I’m not DAY 15 Get a Brazilian wax
And…do all kinds of things, in keeping with the grass type. That’s fine by me. Why was I afraid to try it? Once again: pain!
their mood and inclination! What was it What was it really like? Yep, it was painful!
really like? Fantastic! The cat was really DAY 9 Eat Harry Potter beans
friendly—and very soft and cuddly. Why was I afraid to try it? Jelly beans that DAY 16 Wear bold patterns
taste like earwax, earthworms, or vomit? Why was I afraid to try it? I don’t like to look
DAY 4 Get a piercing Need I say more? What was it really like? ridiculous when I’m out and about. What was it
Why was I afraid to try it? In a word: pain! Gross. But also somehow cool all the same. really like? Completely anticlimactic.
What was it really like? My earlobes were Because I had dared to try something new.
positively throbbing. But: I am proud to have DAY 17 Meditate
gone through it and been able to bear it. DAY 10 Spend a whole day I wanted to take a positive approach to my
Plus, now I have fantastic new earrings! without my cell phone fears, so I took a meditation course. I was a bit
Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid of concerned I’d have a hard time clearing my
DAY 5 Beg for money on missing something. What was it really like? mind, but after just one session I actually felt
the street Strange. I was so bored that I began noticing lighter and more optimistic.
Why was I afraid to try it? I sat down at a things about myself that I would never have
train station and begged for money. I was noticed otherwise. DAY 18 Ride a bike around NYC
afraid of the stigma and that people wouldn’t Why was I afraid to try it? Are you kidding?
even notice me. What was it really like? DAY 11 Eat street food Riding a bike—in New York City?! What was it
No one noticed me. But soon I was enjoying Why was I afraid to try it? Two words: poor really like? The chaotic traffic of Times Square
exactly that: being invisible. Watching people. hygiene. What was it really like? Actually… just about did me in—but eventually I did end
Thinking about them. it was delicious! up getting the hang of it. And it was really fun!
DAY 19 Ride a mechanical bull DAY 29 Go to a network event
Why was I afraid to try it? That thing really by myself, connect with peopl
is a beast! I feared I might fall off the crazy Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of loneliness!
contraption and hurt myself. What was it How was it? I was a bit overwhelmed by the
really like? Supercool! huge mass of people, but the longer I stayed,
the more I was able to talk to people. I felt self-
DAY 20 Go to a dog park confident—and not lonely at all!
DAY 36 Why was I afraid to try it? See Day 3, “hold
a cat on my lap.” And now I’d be surrounded DAY 30 Take a selfie with
by off-the-leash animals. What was it really 10 influential peo le in my field
like? The dogs just wanted to play. It really Why was I afraid to try it? The fear of being
made me smile! rejected is one of the biggest deterrents in life.
What was it really like? Everyone I asked said
DAY 21 Change my hair color yes. They all wanted to be part of my challenge.
Why was I afraid to try it? I don’t like Note: Only those who dare to ask have a chance
change. Even small changes can be daunting. of getting what they want…
What was it really like? It’s unbelievable—
I like myself much better as a blond! DAY 31 Photograph a stranger
and share the photo with him/her
DAY 22 Spend a whole day Why was I afraid to try it? The person could
wearing headphones have a negative reaction. Some people do not
Why was I afraid to try it? I dreaded the like being photographed and might get angry.
feeling of not being able to hear anything. What was it really like? I took a picture of a
What was it really like? I felt sort of stupid, man looking at the skyline and showed it to him.
but soon I was actually enjoying the loss of He was pleased!
control that I had been afraid of.
DAY 32 Travel by myself and
DAY 23 Go to a fortune teller enjoy it
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of negative Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of loneliness!
predictions had always kept me away from What was it really like? Fantastic! I read a
having my fortune told. What was it really good book, consumed copious amounts of
like? Samantha gave me courage, and she pizza—and got a lot of good sleep.
predicted nothing but good things. Great!
DAY 33 Change a soiled diaper
DAY 24 Continue the challenge Why was I afraid to try it? I hate to get my
during a retreat hands dirty! Especially when it comes to poop.
Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid that What was it really like? The smell was truly
DAY 46 the combination might be too much for me to disgusting! But the baby was so sweet, and it
handle. What was it really like? The week felt good to take care of someone besides myself.
was so action-packed that I faced my fear of
going a day without facing a fear. DAY 34 Watch a play by myself
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of loneliness!
DAY 25 Fry something What was it really like? I wasn’t afraid at all,
Why was I afraid to try it? I worried about and I wasn’t lonely, either—I simply discussed
getting burned by the hot oil. What was it the play with my own inner voice.
really like? Uneventful. Everything went
according to plan—and the recipe. DAY 35 Speak in front of a crowd
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of messing up!
DAY 26 Go on a helicopter ride Public speaking is daunting. What was it really
Why was I afraid to try it? If something went like? Preparation was the key: I practiced for
wrong, I could be horribly injured or even die. days until I knew every word, and my speech
What was it really like? What an incredible went off without a hitch. Boom!
view! Next time I’ll do it at night.
DAY 36 Try Indian food
Day 27 Use a porta-potty Why was I afraid to try it? I was not familiar
Why was I afraid to try it? It might be dirty with any of the dishes. What was it really like?
and smell bad. What was it really like? It Wow, it turns out I love Indian food!
was a tight fit. But there were no smells.
DAY 37 Feel proud of myself
DAY 28 Root for the Why was I afraid to try it? I’m afraid of not
opposite team being able to feel proud enough of myself, ever.
Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid that What was it really like? It was the day I got my
the fans would yell at me. What was it really master’s degree. I wore my cap and gown all day.
DAY 49 like? Most people found it rather amusing— Lots of people congratulated me, it felt amazing.
a funny experience! They made me feel proud and honored to graduate.
ideasanddiscoveries.com 45 Jan 2018
100 DAY 47 Eat something that’s
DAY 52
DAY extremely spicy
CHALLENGE Why was I afraid to try it? Pain. What was it
really like? I ate the hottest jalapeños that I
could find. My throat was burning, my eyes
DAY 38 Get drunk were tearing. But now I’m ready for Mexico!
Why was I afraid to try it? The loss of self-
control! What was it really like? I don’t like DAY 48 Endure criticism
the taste of alcohol or how it makes me feel. Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of rejection.
What was it really like? I read through all
DAY 39 Donate blood the negative comments about my challenge.
Why was I afraid to try it? Pain! Blood! That was tough. But it also showed me that
What was it really like? I was not permitted positive feedback is even more compelling.
to donate blood because I weigh less than
the minimum weight of 110 pounds. DAY 49 Dance like no one’s
DAY 40 Go to a bar alone Why was I afraid to try it? People would
at night think I’m insane! What was it really like?
Why was I afraid to try it? I’m afraid of It was one of the best experiences of my life!
drunks—and of not being able to defend Never before had I felt so self-assured.
myself. What was it really like? The night
was quite uneventful. I simply sat at the bar DAY 50 Help people in need DAY 54
and thought about things. Why was I afraid to try it? I wasn’t sure how
people would react to me. What was it really
DAY 41 Go by myself to a like? Fulfilling!
performance that involves a
lot of audience participation DAY 51 Sing in front of a
Why was I afraid to try it? Everything about crowd with a band
the prospect seemed unnerving. What was it Why was I afraid to try it? I can’t sing! What
really like? Very, very fun and memorable! was it really like? I really can’t sing.

DAY 42 Hand out flyers DAY 52 Hold a tarantula

Why was I afraid to try it? What if I look Why was I afraid to try it? Spiders, duh!
ridiculous? Or if people ignore me? What was What was it really like? The worst part was DAY 55
it really like? I don’t like to bother people on my fear—the spider seemed quite relaxed.
their way to work. But I did it with a sense of
humor—and even got asked out on a date!

DAY 43 Go viral
Today I described my 100-day challenge on
the Facebook pages of the bloggers whom I
follow—my posts were shared at lightning
speed! In a single day some 27,000 people
read my blog. And the greatest thing about it
is that I have motivated so many other people
to face their fears.

DAY 44 Spend less than $5

for the entire day
Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid that I
could not afford to eat. What was it really
like? I bought three bananas, a slice of pizza,
and a burger with fries. And I managed to
stay within my budget!

DAY 45 Watch the sunrise

by myself from the
Brooklyn Bridge
Why was I afraid to try it? Going out by
myself at such an early hour. What was it
really like? Breathtaking!

DAY 46 Hold a snake

Why was I afraid to try it? Well, what do you
think? What was it really like? Nothing to it!
DAY 63
DAY 53 Eat insects DAY 65 Grow up DAY 73 Bargain
Why was I afraid to try it? Getting sick! What When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a Why was I afraid to try it? Being turned down.
was it really like? Quite…crunchy. grown-up—independent and responsible. What was it really like? I heard “no” lots of
Now I’m about to turn 27—and suddenly times. But then I scored two real bargains, and
DAY 54 Walk around NYC all day I’m afraid of getting old. It makes me wonder: I was happy as a lark!
long in high heels Have I done all the things I wanted to do—
Why was I afraid to try it? Falling! What was it am I living the kind of life I imagined? DAY 74 Interview random folks
really like? I couldn’t cross a single intersection I thought about it. And then I realized: Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of rejection.
on a green light because I was simply too slow. All in all, things are good the way they are! What was it really like? I talked to so many
Truly tedious! Also: My feet ached. people—and had some great conversations.
DAY 66 Go skydiv ng
DAY 55 Ride a roller coaster Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of jumping! DAY 75 Live alone with my
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of feeling What was it really like? I was super nervous brother for 2 weeks
queasy. What was it really like? I distracted beforehand, but when the time came, I just Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of not being
myself by screaming—somehow, that seemed wanted to jump. And: It was indescribable! able to tolerate him after 2 hours. What was it
to help the situation. really like? We always disagree, and I end up
DAY 67 Not plan my birthday micromanaging him. I just tried to accept him
DAY 56 Go to a batting cage Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid of the way he is. It works—now we never argue.
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of being hit by disappointment. What was it really like?
the balls. What was it really like? A lot of fun! I spent a fantastic day with my closest DAY 76 Present my thesis
friends, we took a walk and had a great time. Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of failure.
DAY 57 Try acupuncture What was it really like? Fantastic! I realized
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of needles… DAY 68 Take a trapeze class that it was up to me to own the stage and the
What was it really like? It only hurt a little bit. Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of heights. moment. Words and thoughts started aligning,
What was it really like? Exciting, intoxicating! and I delivered my ideas the way I wanted to.
DAY 58 Disappoint people you
care about (non-intentionally) DAY 69 Get lost in Chinatown DAY 77 Pose nude for art class
I thought I could do it all at the same time: my Why was I afraid to try it? Being in an Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of exposing
job, the challenge, my master’s thesis. But no unknown place and not knowing the language. myself; judgment, embarrassment. What was
matter how I tried—I was either disappointing What was it really like? I intentionally left it really like? I couldn’t look the artists in the
my boss, my team, or my followers. my phone at home. I discovered incredible eyes. But later I realized I’d inspired them to
shops and got the best massage of all time! make really beautiful drawings. Yes—I did it!
DAY 59 Quit your job
Why was I afraid to try it? The unknown. What DAY 70 Try a self-defense class DAY 78 Body paint someone
was it really like? I’m grateful to my employer, Why was I afraid to try it? I was afraid that Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of being in an
but it was time to move on. To infinity and beyond! if push came to shove, I couldn’t defend awkward situation… What was it really like?
myself. What was it really like? I learned Strange. But I found that I can paint quite well.
DAY 60 Spend a few hours some moves that can even put my husband
blindfolded on the mat! I feel much safer now. DAY 79 Go job hunting in NYC
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of losing control. Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of not being
What was it really like? I very quickly noticed DAY 71 Cross in between good enough. What was it really like? I’m still
how much more attentive I had become to my subway cars waiting for some replies. But I won’t ever give up!
inner voice—that was impressive. Why was I afraid to try it? I really don’t know.
What was it really like? Shaky, but easy as pie. DAY 80 Teach a Zumba class
DAY 61 Play paintball Why was I afraid to try it? Making a fool of
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of injury. What DAY 72 Walk around NYC in myself. What was it really like? Around
was it really like? I got hit three times, and the my bikini 100 people were imitating my movements!
game seems pretty silly to me. Why was I afraid to try it? Feeling exposed. I could hardly believe it, it was just great.
What was it really like? I felt incredibly
DAY 62 Get hypnotized embarrassed, but people seemed to respect DAY 81 Allow random people
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of losing control. my daring. That made me feel really good. to plan my day
What was it really like? While in a trance, I Why was I afraid to try it? The fear of losing
had the feeling that I was mastering my fears. DAY 66 control. What was it really like? I used the
I have felt more self-confident ever since. Periscope app to talk with strangers. They told
me what to wear, how to do my makeup, what
DAY 63 Give out free hugs to eat. So I tried a drink I’d never have chosen
around NYC for myself—and I loved it! I was told to jump
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of the unknown. into a fountain at the end of the day. It was a
What was it really like? It was great! I hugged fitting conclusion to an exciting adventure!
15 people, and they all liked it. Love & peace!
DAY 82 Go hiking
DAY 64 Walk around in my PJs Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of the unknown
Why was I afraid to try it? Embarrassment. and being uncomfortable in nature. What was
What was it really like? Very embarrassing… it really like? I took it in with all my senses
until I realized that no one really cared! and was able to embrace it all and relax.
ideasanddiscoveries.com 47 Jan 2018
100 DAY 92 Give a talk at a mental DAY 95 Go cliff diving
DAY health institution Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of a belly-flop.
CHALLENGE Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of the What was it really like? One of the greatest
unknown and rejection. What was it really challenges up to now—it took lots of false starts.
like? Moving. My words about the journey I And then I landed on my butt. And that hurt a lot.
DAY 83 Explore a new city was taking via my challenge touched the
by myself patients—they opened up and talked about DAY 96 Go from 27 years old to
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of being their own fears. 87, and surprise my husband
alone. What was it really like? Lonely—until Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of aging, losing
I decided to simply have fun and visit half a DAY 93 Go zip-lining my beauty. What was it really like? My husband
dozen museums. And now, although I would Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of falling. realized how much he loved me by looking at me
rather do it with friends, I know that I can What was it really like? I felt extremely alive! at that age and vows he’ll love me for all our days.
have a great time by myself.
DAY 94 Write an honest letter DAY 97 Rappel down from a
DAY 84 Go to the Holocaus to my parents rocky cliff
Museum Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of losing my Why was I afraid to try it? The rope might break.
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of the horrors parents. What was it really like? I wrote What was it really like? When I got to the bottom
of the past. What was it really like? Very from the heart on my thoughts and feelings, of the cliff, I actually wanted to do it again!
distressing. I’m Jewish, and many members of all the things I had never told my parents
my family were murdered in concentration until now. I felt liberated. The letter brought DAY 98 Make an inspirational video
camps. I grew up with the fear that the home to me the importance of enjoying every based on another’s experience
Holocaust could happen again in another moment I spend with my parents and creating Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of being ignored.
form. I feel humble and grateful that I can as many memories with them as possible. What was it really like? As soon as I requested
lead my life the way I do—in freedom. videos of people discussing their fears, responses
poured in from around the world. I was thrilled!
DAY 85 Try crowd surfing at DAY 85
a concert DAY 99 Become an entrepreneur
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear that people Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of failure. What
might drop me. What was it really like? was it really like? I wanted to turn my project
Incredible! Everyone was screaming and into an online platform that would help other
dancing—and no one dropped me! people fight their fears. It’s off to a good start.

DAY 86 Go camping DAY 100 Speak at a conference

Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of bugs and Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of not inspiring
the dark. What was it really like? I lay awake people enough with my message and my journey.
for hours. The woods (at least I hope it was What was it really like? Standing there on stage,
just the woods!) made strange noises all night. I realized how fundamentally these past 100 days
have changed my life—and my personality. I just
DAY 87 Crash a wedding wanted to become braver, and in doing so I was
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of getting able to inspire so many people to confront their
caught. What was it really like? I simply own fears. I am proud, happy, and confident that
pretended to be there at the bride’s invitation. no fear in the world will ever stop me again.
No one threw me out. I danced and enjoyed it! DAY 88
DAY 88 Visit a beehive TWO YEARS LATER…
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of getting
stung. What was it really like? I was wearing “When I started my project, I was
a beekeeper’s outfit, and I had read that bees plagued by countless fears—but
are vegetarians. That helped a lot… over the course of 100 days I realized that
I actually had far fewer phobias than I had
DAY 89 Do stand-up comedy thought. In general, I was always playing
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of rejection! the same game—I simply didn’t want to
What was it really like? I opened with a joke DAY 90 step outside of my comfort zone. After
about poop—they all thought it was funny,
facing my fears, I realized that not one of
and it gave me the confidence to keep going!
the things I feared was as big as the fear
DAY 90 Dive with sharks itself. It wasn’t the snake around my neck,
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of sharks! or the shark in the water around me, or
What was it really like? Utterly fascinating! the sky above my head that was really
frightening—rather, it was a diffuse
DAY 91 Fly a plane feeling of being threatened. And that is
Why was I afraid to try it? Fear of crashing. precisely what I overcame. Fear no longer
What was it really like? An instructor showed paralyzes me. Because now I know:
me how to take off, fly, and land a small Whatever comes my way, I can deal with it.”
Piper. I can hardly believe I actually did it! DAY 94
“My life is
more important
than my fear.”
All of us are
afraid of This is
something— the seat of
it’s part of fear.
our lives.
But if we
focus only
on the fear itself, normal life Amygdala
An almond-shaped mass in
becomes almost impossible.
each hemisphere of the brain
So what can we do about it? is involved in the experience
Psychologist Dr. Nathali of emotions such as fear.
Klingen advises: Don’t do In the PET scan (at right) we
see a cross-section of a healthy
anything about it—instead,
human brain. When its owner
do something with it! In the views frightening images, the
interview below she explains two amygdalae are stimulated
what it means and how it works. and blood flow in their vicinity
increases (yellow and red).

How do you help your patients to term but in the long run they make it of our inner experience or for finding a
cast off their fears? increasingly difficult to escape fear. positive approach to handling fear.
I use what we call acceptance and The goal of the initial therapeutic phase
commitment therapy, or ACT. This form is to demonstrate this problem to the But how can we liberate ourselves from
of behavioral therapy takes a unique patient. It’s about creating a feeling of this cycle of fear in the long term; how
approach: “Live your life the way you “creative hopelessness”: Once the can we get on with our lives with—or
want, and do whatever is important to patient has understood that the control despite — our fears?
you—with your fear.” and repression mechanisms used in the The first prerequisite is a change of
past didn’t really work and will not work perspective. That can be achieved by
But isn’t that the very difficulty? in the future, the first step toward the answering such questions as: What is
We’re not equipped with a switch that turnaround has been taken. important to you in life, what are your
lets us turn our fear on and off. That’s values and goals, what do you want
not what I mean. ACT doesn’t “remove” That doesn’t sound easy… your life to represent, what motivates
or “repair” the fear; it’s not a form of Yes, leaving the old behavior behind is you, what interests you? This is a way
symptom management. Rather, it is a usually the most difficult part of ACT, of redirecting our attention at life
way of addressing the fear, allowing it in part because deeply rooted in our instead of at fear. The ultimate goal of
to exist, and learning to live a fulfilled society is an ethos of persistence that this type of therapy is to redirect the
life with the existing fears. is reflected in such phrases as: “Pull patients’ lives away from fear and toward
yourself together and everything will be a certainty of values: Their lives should
Does that mean we have to learn to stop all right,” and “Don’t think about it and not be dominated by a fear of fear itself
using the strategy of “avoidance, it won’t be as bad.” These slogans may but rather by values and goals that they
deflection, and suppression”? have made contributions to the success determine themselves. The result is a
Exactly, because those are ostensible of Western culture, but they are not list of things that genuinely matter to us,
solutions that may work in the short suitable for dealing with the processes our priorities in life. >
ideasanddiscoveries.com 49 Jan 2018
What is the purpose of working on What is the most important aspect
our values? of exposure?
It motivates us to become more capable It is having the experience of being able
and to expand our radius of action. And: to withstand fear. In the end, fear does
to find something that is so important not do us any real harm; at worst it is
to us that it automatically results in a simply unpleasant. But experience can
willingness to deal with fear. To give teach us that it is possible to interrupt
you a better idea, consider the analogy the irrational thought loop of “I’m afraid
of the two scales: Imagine that fear is to ride in an elevator,” for instance.
rated on a scale of zero to 10, like the Patients should accept their fear and
gradations on a thermometer. Zero concentrate on it completely, and live a techniques
represents complete fearlessness, life in every moment that’s in keeping
while 10 represents being completely with their values—whether it is with or

paralyzed by fear. What is the ideal without fear. Pursuing one’s life goals
state? Not at the bottom of the scale, with a sense of purpose and learning to
since fear is a natural and necessary accept fear as a companion teaches the
feeling. And not toward the top either,
because too much fear immobilizes us.
patient that it is not necessary to wait
until fear has been overcome. We can
In the exercises I described, patients live in the moment—and that is just
learn that they can’t adjust their position what most “fear patients” want most.
on the fear scale by themselves. Fear 1) RETRIEVING CONTROL
cannot be consciously controlled. But No matter how desperate your situation may
be: There are always things that you can

there is another scale: the “willingness
control—even if it’s only your own thoughts.
to be afraid” scale. It measures our Focus on aspects that you are able to
willingness to endure fear. This second influence instead of seeking excuses for
scale can certainly be adjusted by the why something isn’t working. Accept
patients themselves. responsibility for your own life.
What is ACT?
And that’s the reason we have to ACT is a form of action-oriented 2) INSIDE WRITING
cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is Write down in detail what frightens you. That
confront fear? useful for helping patients to live life
Yes. One method for accomplishing this actively, with and despite existing makes feelings more tangible, so you can
is exposure or confrontation, in which psychological problems such as fear. more clearly define a problem and therefore
the patient faces a fear-inducing approach it one step at a time. Also, make
What does ACT stand for? concrete plans for dealing with any aspect
situation, such as riding in an elevator, The acronym almost says more than that may occur as part of your fear. Failure
head on. Patients don’t avoid elevators the full title: “acceptance and
is normal; shake it off.
because they are afraid; it’s really commitment therapy.”
because they are unwilling to put up What does ACT do? 3) TASK SPLITTING
with the fear that the circumstances ACT helps people discover what is Building a house, climbing Pike’s Peak, or
generate. They are aware that the fear really important to them in life—to writing a book: Even the biggest tasks are
does not actively prevent them from ascertain their values. The therapy easier to approach if you break them down
helps people accept fear, for example,
taking the elevator; rather, it is their into a series of individual, comprehensible,
and learn to cope with it so they can
lack of willingness to be exposed to a do more important things. and realistic steps. That makes even giant
fear-inducing situation. projects seem manageable.
What kind of patient
What is the best way to deal with such benefits from ACT? 4) COMBAT BREATHING
ACT is suitable for all fear patients Special breathing exercises can help you
a situation? whose “fear of fear” is preventing
PHOTOS: WdW Grafik; Getty Images (2); Bauer Stock; Michelle Poler/You Tube (26); PR (2).

calm down when a panic attack strikes:

As a rule, it is better to work together them from living life fully. Breathe in deeply through your nose as you
with a therapist. He or she can help the count to four. (Inhale so deeply that your
patients to remain in the here and now abdomen expands.) Hold your breath and
and thus be entirely present in their For many years psychologist Nathali count to four. Breathe out slowly, counting
fear, to feel it, to allow it, to examine Klingen was a management coach. to four, and relax your abdomen. Then count
where it is located in the body—how She has worked as a psychotherapist to four again before taking another breath.
at the University of Munich and has Repeat the entire exercise three times.
it feels—and the experience it creates. operated a practice for psychotherapy
It’s really important for a patient to not and coaching since 2006. Her focus is
internally avoid the fear, for example by on treating fear and depression (and 5) SELF-TALKING
solving a crossword puzzle or using the related fields of stress, burnout, Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful
and life crises) as well as problems mental tools: The way we speak to ourselves
some other trick to distract oneself.
related to the intellectually gifted inwardly has a huge impact on our attitude.
This is the only way patients can see and, of course, the implementation of Just focus on the next step, like the next pull-up
for themselves that the excitation their ACT and other therapies. or test section, as small successes provide a
fear is causing can subside. sense of achievement to spur you along.
Jan 2018 50 ideasanddiscoveries.com

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Ask a simple question, get a simple answer? Think again! Scientists often have to work meticulously to come up with explanations
for basic processes—and sometimes they inadvertently discover marvels that can change our perception of the world.

The metal walls form a Faraday cage that
shields the ESA facility from all external
signals (TV broadcasts, aircraft radar,
mobile phone conversations). The foam
anechoic pyramids prevent reflections
and absorb noise.

Noordwijk is not just known for its beaches—

the small Dutch coastal town is also home to
the technical heart of the European Space Agency
(ESA). In addition to developing and coordinating
future missions, the European Space Research and
Technology Centre (ESTEC) tests new satellites and
spacecraft to ensure their proper operation in space.
The highly controlled clean-room environment in the
Hybrid European RF and Antenna Test Zone (HERTZ)
ensures the conditions for testing flight hardware are
optimal. In this enormous simulation room, scientists
conduct vibration-shock and thermal-vacuum tests
and check the electromagnetic viability of antennas.
If the satellites pass all of these tests in Noordwijk,
they are ready to orbit the Earth.

Jan 2018 52 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Just send us an email!

Ultramodern technology
REFLECTOR enables researchers to
The white mirrors test satellite antennas
with sharp-toothed up to 25 feet in diameter
edges against the in a frequency range of
blue background 0.4 to 50 gigahertz.
are reflectors.
They relay signals
to the antenna
being tested.


That’s how much better a fox’s
sense of smell is compared

BECOME A WARM with that of a human. Foxes

can sniff out food stockpiles
even through a 3-foot-high

BLANKET? covering of snow.

A fox’s winter coat begins growing in as early as almost 70% of its winter coat, which helps it survive
October. It’s three times denser than the summer in temperatures as low as –60°F. Another effect:
coat and protects the fox’s skin from severe cold Because their fur is so dense, snow does not melt
and moisture. Underneath the outer layer of tough on foxes. Instead, it forms a kind of insulating layer:
guard hair is a dense layer of fine woolly underfur. The snow functions like a warm blanket. Less than
This thick soft underfur can keep a red fox warm at one-tenth of snow is made of cold snow crystals.
temperatures as low as – 5°F. And for the arctic fox The rest is air, which protects foxes from icy winds.
shown here, which like its red-haired cousin does Hare, deer, and mountain goats enjoy the benefits
not hibernate, this warm layer of underfur makes up of a built-in winter coat as well.

While many animals

hibernate in winter,
foxes remain active—
even in the snow.

Jan 2018 54 ideasanddiscoveries.com


For the first time, satellites have now documented the
10 hottest places on Earth. The output of these hot spots
can exceed the heat generated by power plants.

1 Kilauea, Hawaii
The world’s most active volcano, along with
four others, created the main island of Hawaii.
(Energy output: 97,724 terajoules* per year.)
How do you become a shadow?
2 Mount Nyiragongo, DR Congo The British company Surrey NanoSystems has developed a spray
This stratovolcano, which features one of
version of the blackest material on Earth—Vantablack, which was
the largest lava lakes in the world, emits
introduced in 2014. Developed for military and aerospace use, the
95,499 terajoules per year.
material is composed of carbon nanotubes and absorbs 99.96%
of incident light. When it is applied to a three-dimensional object
3 Nyamuragira, DR Congo it causes all contours to vanish, making the surface appear to be
This active shield volcano is located in
two-dimensional, as seen in this photo of a statue head sprayed
the middle of a chain of eight volcanoes.
(Energy output: 44,668 terajoules per year.) with Vantablack. This new spray-on form should play a vital role in
space-borne scientific instrumentation; for example, it can improve
telescope performance by minimizing disruptive reflections.
4 Mount Etna, Italy
This stratovolcano is the highest volcano
in Europe (10,990 feet) as well as one of the
most active (40,738 terajoules per year). Which
5 Bárðarbunga, Iceland birds take
The main crater of this active centrally
located stratovolcano lies beneath a glacier out the garbage?
(25,119 terajoules per year). To keep a household clean, someone has to
take out the garbage, and this also applies
6 Tolbachik, Russia
*For comparison: A medium-size nuclear power plant such as Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania has an annual output of about 50,200 terrajoules.

to birds: Dutch biologists examined a total of

The active volcanic complex consists of 417 species from 19 genera. The result: From
two peaks—a stratovolcano and a shield
the common buzzard to the western bluebird
volcano (19,498 terajoules total per year).

7 Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Russia

This stratovolcano—the highest active
volcano in Eurasia (height: 15,584 feet)—
produces 17,783 terajoules per year.

8 Piton de la Fournaise, Réunion

The 8,635-foot-high shield volcano in the
Indian Ocean produces 15,488 terajoules of
energy per year.

9 Shiveluch, Russia
The stratovolcano located on the Kamchatka
Peninsula is approximately 70,000 years old.
(photo)—around 95% of the species regularly
(Energy output: 10,471 terajoules per year.)
removed their offspring’s droppings. Reason:
Not only is waste a breeding ground for flies
10 Ambrym, Vanuatu
and bacteria, the stench also makes potential
This volcanic island lies about 1,250 miles
predators aware of the nest. By the way: Over
east of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean
(7,079 terajoules per year). 90% of parents take turns taking out the trash.
Since February 2017, a new kind of But AnBot can do much more: This
law-enforcement agent has been multitasking robot, which generally
patrolling the East Railway Station works the night shifts and is able to

WHICH TRAIN in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou:

AnBot weighs 172 pounds, stands
recharge itself, has special sensors
to monitor air quality, temperature,

STATION IS 5 feet tall, can move at a top speed

of 11 miles per hour—and it’s the
first robotic police officer to be put
and humidity in the station. AnBot
can even provide customer service:
It helps commuters in the station by

PATROLLED BY into service in China. Developed

by the Chinese Ministry of National
answering questions and pointing
passengers toward the right track.

“ROBOCOPS”? Defense, this “RoboCop” can report

crimes as well as scan the faces of
travelers to alert security forces to
These robots are just the start of a
new push: By 2020 the government
plans to make China the most highly
the presence of persons of interest. automated country in the world.

A police robot is
improving security
at a train station in
China. Another unit
has been in use at
one of the country’s
airports since 2016. 4
high-definition digital cameras
help the 5-foot-tall security robot
AnBot make its way around the train
station. The robotic police officer
is part of an initiative to increase
security as well as the level of
automation in China.

Jan 2018 56 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Can drones compete with selfie sticks?
The planet’s smallest flying camera should soon be buzzing
through the air everywhere: Weighing in at just over 2 ounces,
AirSelfie is smaller than some mobile phones, it can climb to a
height of 65 feet, and it be controlled from your smartphone.
Its 5-megapixel camera and anti-vibration shock absorber
ensure high-quality images. The drawback, apart from a price
tag of around $300: Battery life is only 3 minutes per charge. What makes sequoia trees grow?
The giant sequoias that grow on the slopes of California’s Sierra
Nevada mountains can reach a height of more than 300 feet,
making them the world’s largest single-stem trees. Given the
nutrient-poor soils in which these trees live, scientists had long
wondered how they get the nourishment they need for growth—
but now the puzzle has been solved: Isotope analysis shows that
the millions of tons of dust carried annually by storms and winds
from Central Asia’s Gobi Desert supply much-needed phosphorus.

The solution will appear in the next issue, on stands January 5, 2018.

A king wants to bequeath his property to the son who has

the slowest horse. His two sons start riding away as slowly
as possible on their horses, as neither wants to arrive first.
WHY DOES A GIANT OCTOPUS A wise man happens to come along by chance. He asks


the two men to descend from their horses and gives them
some advice. The brothers then swing back up into the
The seven-arm octopus (Haliphron atlanticus) has unusual saddle and gallop away. What did the wise man tell them?
culinary preferences: This octopod, which can grow to be Solution from the November 2017 issue:
over 13 feet long, has a taste for jellyfish—which seems a In order to position two lines across the
strange choice, given the victim’s meager nutritional value face of an analog clock in such a way that
the face is divided into three segments
relative to the amount of venom in its tentacles. But when and the sum of all the numbers in each
researchers filmed the octopus eating the more nutritious segment is the same, see the illustration at
parts of the jellyfish and carrying around the rest for some right. (The four numbers in each segment
time afterward, they realized why: The intelligent creatures add up to 26.)
use the jellyfish tentacles as a toxic net to capture other prey.

PHOTOS: ESA/Anneke Le Floch; Queensy Chan/Getty Images; PR (2); Kevin Cole/Wikipedia (2); Huber Images; Shutterstock (3); Alamy (4); DPA (2); Getty Images; AirSelfie/BusinessWire.
Current Events

In a number of U.S. high-security prisons,
solitary confinement has long been routine.
In Florence, Colorado, alone, many of the
approximately 400 male prisoners spend
up to 23 hours of each day in the isolation
of a cell measuring only 84 square feet—
in some cases, for decades at a time.
Welcome to the Alcatraz of the Rockies —officially known as the ADX Florence supermax
prison in Colorado, one of the most isolated places on the planet. Around 400 prisoners
are doing time in the world’s most secure prison, among them some of the most notorious
criminals in U.S. history. iD explains how the high-tech correctional facility functions.

or years now, this has been the highlight of his day: That’s how long Silverstein has been in solitary confinement.
For an entire hour Thomas Silverstein gets to leave First it was the high-security prison in Marion, Illinois, then
his prison cell, which measures only 7 by 12 feet. later Atlanta and Leavenworth, and then in 2005 he was
As soon as he reaches the exercise yard where the moved to ADX Florence, about two hours south of Denver,
concrete-paved courtyard is surrounded by a high Colorado. But from his soundproof cell Silverstein can’t
wall, he eagerly sucks in the fresh air and begins pacing back see the Rocky Mountains nor anything else in the outside
and forth relentlessly. Like a wild predator confined to a zoo, world apart from a tiny sliver of sky. “My head is always in
he seems driven. This is the only ray of light in the endlessly a fog,” he whispers. “I can’t recall certain words anymore.”
monotonous gray of prison days—and it’s extremely fleeting. The solitary confinement even haunts his dreams.
Almost before the 65-year-old has time to notice, the hour is
up and he’s back in his cell. There he is surrounded by an HOW DOES ONE SURVIVE 34 YEARS CONFINED ALONE
oppressive stillness that’s occasionally broken by the drip, IN 84 SQUARE FEET?
drip, drip of the cell’s faucet. This has been going on for more Isolated. Devoid of human contact. This is how Thomas
than 12,000 days. That’s more than 400 months. Or 34 years. Silverstein spends his days. A concrete bed, a concrete >

ideasanddiscoveries.com 59 Jan 2018

Some 3,200 people are currently
incarcerated within the 600-acre
Federal Correctional Complex in
Florence, which comprises four
federal facilities. One of these is
the ADX supermax prison, which
houses approximately 400 inmates.


The high-security ADX Florence supermax prison facility is home to more
than 400 dangerous criminals. Altogether they are serving a total of about
500 life sentences. More than 20% of the inmates have been convicted of
killing a fellow prisoner at another facility.


Around 100 miles south of Denver, in the semi-arid high unsettles many residents of the former mining town of Florence,
desert of Colorado, lies the ADX Florence supermax prison. they would not want the local prisons to move. More than 30%
At first glance the concrete facade seems rather unremarkable, of the local jobs depend on the prison industry, which has become
but along the neighboring roads, signs are posted to warn against a highly profitable sector of the U.S. economy. The good news:
picking up hitchhikers. And for good reason: This high-security So far no one has ever succeeded in breaking out of the supermax.
facility holds many of the most dangerous offenders in the U.S., And that’s hardly surprising: According to Guinness World Records,
including a number of Islamic terrorists. Although this thought ADX Florence is the most secure prison facility in the whole world.

The ADX Florence supermax prison is not only far from any
features of civilization—the inmates in their soundproof
cells are also completely isolated from one another. Even
during their hour of exercise, they’re confined to a courtyard
with a concrete floor that’s surrounded by a high wall.

stool and table, a shower, and a sink/toilet unit—that’s

all there is. Food comes through a slot in the steel door.
“Apart from haircuts, body searches, and medical exams,
my only human contact for decades now has been when
guards put me in handcuffs to take me somewhere,” says
Silverstein. The reason for this harsh level of punishment?
Back in 1983 Silverstein, who was 31 years old at the time,
managed to kill a prison guard despite being shackled
hand and foot. Since the death penalty did not apply to
such crimes at the time, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP),
the law enforcement agency responsible for the federal
prison system, opted to implement a comparably cruel

form of punishment: total isolation—and Silverstein was
placed in solitary confinement. “We can’t execute him,
so we have no choice but to turn his life into a living hell.
Otherwise other inmates would kill guards, too,” explains
a BOP official. And in fact, a second guard at the Marion
penitentiary was murdered the same day. The murders
inspired the design of a new prison in Colorado that was
to be the most secure facility in the world: ADX Florence
supermax, which became Silverstein’s home in 2005.
So, although he couldn’t know it at the time, Silverstein
had helped to create the monster that has been making
his life an unending torment for the past 12 years…


But in one sense, Thomas Silverstein is not alone: ADX

PRISONS Florence supermax houses more than 400 prisoners in

solitary confinement. The total number of U.S. prisoners
held in isolation at some point in any given year is around
In the area around Florence, Colorado, there
are four federal and nine state prisons with a 450,000—that’s about as many people as the number of
combined total of 8,000 inmates. Nowhere else residents in the city of Miami. To date, around 40 states
in the U.S. is the prisoner density as high as it have built high-security prisons to supermax standards.
is here. The ADX Florence supermax (above,
right) is the farthest away from any highways. The term supermax is short for super-maximum security, >

ideasanddiscoveries.com 61 Jan 2018

which denotes the highest level of security in the U.S.
penal system, and it essentially means the total isolation
of prisoners and around-the-clock video surveillance.
Officially, no one uses the term “solitary confinement.”
BOP officials would prefer to call such facilities “special
housing units” (SHU). The need for a euphemism is not “Supermax” is short for was the first facility of its kind.
particularly surprising, considering what the Republican super-maximum security, This graphic shows how the
Senator from Arizona, John McCain, had once written a prison standard that had been Alcatraz of the Rockies works in
about his two years of solitary confinement as a prisoner developed in 1994 as a reaction addition to the annual costs of
of war in North Vietnam: “It’s an awful thing, solitary. It to the murder of two guards on solitary confinement and the
the same day. The ADX Florence mental ramifications of this type
crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more
supermax prison in Colorado of high-security incarceration.
effectively than any other form of mistreatment.”
Solitary confinement is probably experienced at its
worst by inmates of the ADX Florence supermax. That
No one has ever escaped from
is, if you believe the testimony of former prisoners there. the ADX Florence supermax
“It’s just the harshest place you’ve ever seen,” says Travis prison, which was built at a cost
Dusenbury about the Alcatraz of the Rockies. “Nothing of $60 million.
7 acr
living, not so much as a blade of grass anywhere.” The
a: 3
now 47-year-old African American from North Carolina ar e
spent 10 years at ADX Florence. While imprisoned in the
maximum-security unit, he was in the company of some 1,400
of America’s most infamous: Notorious terrorists such controlled
as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is one of the two individuals steel doors
responsible for bombing the Boston Marathon in 2013,
and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui are also there,
awaiting execution in the case of Tsarnaev and serving
six life sentences without parole in Moussaoui’s case.
But what is life in a supermax prison really like?
Laser barriers, pressure-sensitive
STEEL, CONCRETE, AND LONELINESS flooring, and attack dogs are meant
Each prisoner spends up to 23 hours per day in his cell. to prevent anyone from escaping
from ADX Florence.
Everything in the room is made of steel and concrete.
The lights go on at 5 o’clock every morning and they get
All of the
turned off at 10 P.M. However, that rule does not apply to inmates
the feeble 7-watt lightbulb that remains on all the time. are serving
The guards perform a head count seven times a day, and a sentence
327 408 of at least
that’s pretty much the prisoners’ only diversion. For Travis
staff prisoners 25 years.
Dusenbury as well, the highlight of the day came when
the guards in flak jackets and safety goggles took him PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE INMATES
for his walk in the yard. “Two days a week there was no AT THE PELICAN BAY SUPERMAX PRISON
rec though, and sometimes they just canceled it for no
reason,” says Dusenbury. The only possibility of making
the hell of isolation easier to endure is by taking part in
the step-down program. A successful graduate is allowed 91% 70% 88% 83%
to possess a black-and-white TV set or another piece of showed were on the edge had feelings withdrew from
symptoms of a nervous of irrational applicable social
electronic equipment such as an MP3 player. Later he is of anxiety breakdown rage activities
allowed to use a larger exercise yard. Not only is it shared
with between two and seven other inmates, there is even
a view of the sky. After five years in Florence, Dusenbury
Around 450,000 U.S.
made it into the step-down program. But after getting into prisoners spend Cost of $75,000
an argument with another prisoner, he lost his privileges. some time each housing
one U.S. $25 ,000
“They told me that I had ‘failed to adjust.’ So they sent year in solitary
me back to solitary after only six months in the program.” > confinement— prisoner
this includes the for one supermax regular
25,000 inmates in prison prison
supermax facilities.
Jan 2018 62 ideasanddiscoveries.com
A supermax prison can be a INFAMOUS INMATES OF ADX FLORENCE
free-standing building or a
self-contained part of a larger Ted Kaczynski, Robert Hanssen, Raul Leon,
WHAT IS known as the former FBI agent a leader of the
A SUPERMAX prison complex. It has to meet
Unabomber and KGB spy Mexican Mafia
PRISON? the highest security criteria
because the prisoners confined
there are extremely dangerous.
Ramzi Yousef, Thomas
mastermind of the Silverstein,
Throughout the U.S., 1993 World Trade prison-guard
44 U.S. STATES there are at least Center bombing murderer
25,000 prisoners
STANDARDS. being held in solitary The entire prison complex
confinement under and all of its inmates are
supermax conditions. constantly monitored by The prison is
various motion detectors surrounded by
and video cameras. a 12-foot-high
razor-wire fence.
The complex
is laid out in a
way that prevents
the inmates from
knowing their Guards turn
exact location. the lights on and
off remotely and keep
the prisoners under
24-hour video

A SUPERMAX CELL Each cell has All meals
A 4-inch-wide slit a combined are served
affords the only view sink/toilet unit through a
outside the cell. and a shower slot in the
with a timer. steel door.

All inmates must wear handcuffs, integrated

7 feet concrete shelf
waist chains, and shackles on their
ankles any time they’re taken out of
their solitary cells.
All of the
Prisoners concrete
are allowed bed
is made
to spend of either
one hour poured The inmates spend
per day in concrete about 23 hours a day
an outdoor or steel. in solitary confinement.
44% 41% 27% cage to get
had a sensory experienced reported exercise and
or perceptual some level of suicidal fresh air. 12 feet
disorder hallucination thoughts

California 2010 –2011 Construction cost per cell

$77,740 Holding prisoners Pelican Maryland ADX Wisconsin

$70,641 Bay State Correctional Florence Secure
$58,324 in solitary
confinement Prison, Adjustment supermax, Program
generates California: Center: Colorado: Facility:
per prisoner per prisoner per prisoner in approximately $21,703 $72,000 $122,000 $95,000
housed in in a high- 24/7 monitored $130 million in
a standard security solitary additional costs
facility facility confinement each year.
Whenever an inmate has
to leave his cell—for
example, for exercise—
he must stretch out his
arms behind his back and
through the food slot. The
guards first handcuff him
and then shackle his feet.

The prison complex is
surrounded by 12 guard
towers and several rows
of electric fencing.
Thousands of motion
detectors and infrared
cameras help ensure
the guards will thwart
any attempt at escape.

In some supermax prisons,
the inmates can participate
in group therapy sessions.
They sit inside of individual
escape-proof plexiglass
booths and are connected
via a monitor.

On average, the prisoners of the ADX Florence supermax
prison in Colorado spend 8.2 years in solitary confinement.
Amnesty International considers that to be a violation of
international law. The physical and mental health of the
prisoners is often only checked by telephone.

But from time to time Travis Dusenbury did receive a

visit in his cell—whenever he had broken a rule. Then the
prison sent in a unit the prisoners call the Goon Squad.
“They’d come in with tear gas, nightsticks, steel boots,
and riot gear,” he recalls. But for some prisoners this
All of the furnishings in the cell are excessive use of force is not even the worst thing about
made of steel or concrete and are prison life; rather, it’s the insomnia: “I just couldn’t sleep.
anchored to the floor so they can’t I’d lie there all night, for ten years, not being able to sleep.
be moved. The shower has a timer to
prevent the cell from being flooded. I just could not get out of my cell—not even into sleep.”
Dusenbury has since been released, but his 10 years in
the supermax continue to haunt him: “You can’t take for
granted that you’re a human. When you get to the ADX,
you realize that being human isn’t a birthright.”


It’s not just prisoners like Travis Dusenbury and Thomas
Silverstein who complain about the inhumane conditions
in supermax prisons. For years now, organizations such
as Amnesty International and the United Nations have
been critical of conditions in American prisons. According
to legal experts, they run counter to the Eighth Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual
punishment. The prisoners develop anxiety, depression,
high blood pressure, paranoia, delusions, and psychoses.
Nonetheless, isolation is routine at high-security prisons.
“Such harsh treatment is happening as a daily practice in
the U.S., and it is in breach of international law,” says Erika
Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director.
The United Nations’ top expert on torture, Juan Méndez,
has spoken even more clearly about solitary confinement
that lasts longer than 15 days: “Considering the severe
mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause,
it can amount to torture.” In 2012, 11 inmates filed a federal
class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and
the officials who run ADX Florence, alleging chronic abuse.
A settlement could impact the use of solitary confinement.
Yet few eyebrows have been raised about this practice, >

ideasanddiscoveries.com 65 Jan 2018

At the supermax in the high desert there are 408 prisoners But like Tsarnaev, most inmates at ADX Florence are U.S. citizens,
who are classified as the most dangerous offenders in recent including serial killers and former KGB spies. Many of them are
U.S. history, among them 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, serving multiple life sentences with no chance of leaving Florence
shoe bomber Richard Reid, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar alive. Any communication among prisoners is strictly forbidden.
Tsarnaev. The inmate list is like a who’s who of international crime. The only social contact these extreme criminals have is with guards.


110 years
16 letter-bomb attacks (killed In 2001 the Al-Qaeda terrorist Carried out a bomb attack at the Participated in planning the
3 people and wounded 23) from tried to destroy an airliner with 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta terror attacks of September
1978 to 1995. explosives hidden in his shoes. (killed 2, injured 111). 11, 2001.


161 life sentences ces 50 years 240 years
The 1995 bombing of the Alfred The l-Qaeda supporter tried to Conspirator in the 1993 World The gang leader was convicted
P. Murrah Federal Building in blow up an airliner with plastic Trade Center bombing (6 deaths, of murder, drug conspiracy, and
Oklahoma City (168 deaths). explosives in his underwear. more than 1,000 injured). money laundering.




3 life sentences Florence has brought together not only some of the
CRIMINAL CHARGE CRIMINAL CHARGE most prominent figures of global Jihad—it is also
The doctor admitted poisoning Bombing of the Boston Marathon home to New York Mafia chieftains, serial killers,
4 patients but is suspected of on April 15, 2013 (3 deaths, at Colombian rebels, and high-ranking members of the
as many as 60 other murders. least 264 injured). white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood.
In a regular prison, cells are arranged in a way that
affords inmates a view of a common area. However
in a supermax prison there is no common area, and
cells are designed in a way that prevents inmates
from seeing and interacting with one another. All of
the doors are opened and closed by remote control.

which is routine practice at ADX Florence—neither under of Corrections, who understands the critics who say the
President Obama nor under his successor, Donald Trump. prison system creates monsters. He got the job after his
Not surprising: The most restrictive prison in America is predecessor was murdered at his home by a parolee who
also the only supermax facility that the U.S. government had just been released after eight years of incarceration,
itself operates in a system that to a large extent has been most of it in solitary confinement. After he had voluntarily
privatized. The only one for now, at least: There are already experienced 20 hours in a supermax cell, Raemisch began
plans for a new prison in Illinois modeled on ADX Florence. to push for reform. With success: Apart from ADX Florence,
“Instead of respecting international law, the government Colorado now has 160 prisoners in solitary confinement;
evidently plans to expand solitary confinement in federal in 2011 the figure was 1,500. And, counterintuitively, the
prisons,” says an Amnesty International spokesman. number of violent crimes has sharply declined since then.
Strangely: When Raemisch started opening cell doors,
DO THESE PRISONS CREATE TICKING TIME BOMBS? many inmates refused to come out. They were no longer
According to experts, the practice of solitary confinement used to social interaction and afraid of potentially violent
is largely being ignored by U.S. politicians because since fellow inmates. On the other hand, others have been sent
the 1980s the justice system has focused more on revenge right from solitary confinement into freedom—in 2014 alone,
than on the notion that offenders should be rehabilitated. at least 10,000 such prisoners were released in 24 states.
So what happens to inmates who are released back into That was the situation a year earlier of the man who killed
PHOTOS: Getty Images (3); IG Supermax; DPA (2); Laif; PR (12).

society after being held in small cages for years on end? Raemisch’s predecessor. Colorado has learned from that,
“By the time I get out of here, I will be almost 75. I have and today it’s one of the few states that does not send ex-
no intention of becoming reintegrated—I want revenge. prisoners directly from solitary confinement to the streets.
That’s all I have,” says Ty Evans, who has been in solitary Raemisch launched a rehabilitation program that includes
confinement for the past three years. behavioral therapy, vocational preparation, and education,
But a movement is under way to oppose longer prison and this has reduced the rate of recidivism by 40%. “Our
terms and the increased use of solitary confinement. And mission is to maintain public safety,” explains Raemisch.
it is led by a very high-ranking criminal justice official: Rick “And it’s our duty to ensure when we send someone out,
Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department he is better than when he came in.”

ideasanddiscoveries.com 67 Jan 2018


Body & Mind

he unknown caller is on the But it’s the reverberation in the vocal
phone once again: His voice tract, which consists of the pharynx,
has been disguised, and he larynx, and both the nasal and oral
is threatening to set fire to a cavities that transforms this scraping
tire store owned by Juan Mendoza* noise into the characteristic sound of
unless Mendoza pays him $100,000. our voice—just as the buzzing sound
But the FBI agents who are listening made by the mouth of a trumpeter or
in to the call will be able to identify trombonist is modified and improved
him–even though the extortionist is by the instrument’s long tube.
speaking in a foreign language. They Every sound we make is the result
filter out the extraneous noise in the of extremely rapid interruption of our
30-second recording and use some exhaled breath, and each of the two
3,000 distinct speech characteristics vocal cords that stretches across the
to produce the equivalent of a vocal larynx oscillates by about 1 millimeter
fingerprint. “No two people on Earth in the process. But this can add up
sound exactly the same,” explains to about 3 million movements a day,
phoniatrics expert Dr. Markus Hess. which covers a distance of between
The data provide investigators with 2.5 and 3.75 miles. And people who
Researchers decisive information about the caller. use their voice a lot can double that.
reveal the secret But how can a brief conversation be No other muscles in the body have
codes of speech used to identify a suspect? What do more nerves serving them than the
we reveal about ourselves with each 14 intrinsic muscles of the larynx,
It can unmask a word we utter? To answer questions the “voice box” that helps shape the
criminal, indicate the such as these, we must explore how sound of our voice. When we speak
voice originates in the human body… in a high voice, vocal cords contract.
presence of a disease, or This makes them flutter faster in the
even decide presidential HOW DOES VIBRATION stream of air, and the voice sounds
elections : The human BECOME A TONE? higher. To sound deeper, the vocal
Vocal cords open and close rapidly cords relax and vibrate more slowly.
voice is one of our most when we speak, sing, or make any The result is unique, because no other
powerful instruments. vocal noise—around 110 times per mammal can create a range of sound
second for normal speech. If you’re comparable to the tones we are able
Soon it may even serve
a woman and your voice is an octave to make, which are pitched anywhere
as a form of personal higher, this motion takes place about from 80 hertz (low) to 12,000 hertz
identification, because twice as fast. Hundreds of times per (high). And a trained tenor singing at
second, the opening and closing of a volume of 120 decibels surpasses
a single sentence can our vocal cords creates pressure in even a roaring lion or a jackhammer.
disclose more about us the larynx equivalent to the pressure The amazing thing is that our vocal
found 4 inches underwater, which is cords manage all this despite their
than we’d suspect…
immediately released prior to every soft and supple structure; they don’t
instance of closing—a trained singer function the same way a rigid guitar
can generate pressure equivalent to string does. “From the outside, they

a depth of 3 feet. The vibration that are as soft as the tissue that contains
ensues in our vocal cords—two folds the eyeball,” explains Hess.
of tissue each about 1 inch long—is
the same pitch we would make if we CAN 20 HERTZ DECIDE

could clap our hands 110 times per AN ELECTION?
second (men) or 220 times (women). Even small changes in the body are
“On its own, that would sound like reflected in the voice. Here we’re not
dragging a shovel across asphalt, speaking of the changes that occur

the kind of horrible noise that might in our voices when we have a cold.
be made by an accident victim with Various studies, including one from
an injury to the trachea,” says Hess. Leiden University in the Netherlands, >

*Name has been changed by the editors. ideasanddiscoveries.com 69 Jan 2018

have shown that people around the while waiting for a representative to
world can listen to a voice and not
HOW DOES respond can be heard somewhere?

only reliably determine the person’s Or if your level of frustration has any
age or mood but even his or her body influence on how long you must wait
size or physical stature. Even having
a sprained ankle affects the voice, PRODUCE A for your call to be answered? Since
2014 Deutsche Telekom, the parent
because it causes a minimal change
in the body’s resonance.
SOUND? company of T-Mobile US, has been
registering how irritated customers
The sound of the human voice can In the resting state, the vocal cords sound—the more irritated they are,
influence our perception even more are relaxed and lie next to each other. the faster their calls are relayed by a
than the content of the speech being When we breathe in deeply, they pull computer to a call-center employee.
produced: Studies have shown that apart and open wide in order to clear Another example: The British multi-
men and women with a deeper voice the way for air moving to the lungs. national bank Barclays no longer asks
are considered to be more dominant, And when we exhale, our vocal cords for identification from customers who
competent, and trustworthy. However completely close off the windpipe for bank by phone, because a 10-second
a brief moment and then open again—
if a person who has a high or squeaky conversation with an agent replaces
in men this occurs about 110 times a
voice speaks the exact same words, pin numbers and security questions.
second, and in women it’s about 220.
the listener’s attention starts to flag— But our voices can reveal so much
This extremely fast fluttering motion
perhaps because of the association is the origin of every sound we make. more—including some of the body’s
with children’s chatter. An experiment well-guarded secrets. And this often
conducted by Canadian psychologist happens faster than the conscious
David Feinberg showed that lowering mind can think: Computer algorithms
the pitch of a person’s speaking voice utilize minimal fluctuations in volume,
by just 20 hertz considerably raised tempo, rhythm, melody, and timbre
the chances that the person would be on the fly, for example by recording to diagnose neurological disorders
perceived as a better candidate in a a voice from the Internet or a phone such as Parkinson’s—even before any
U.S. presidential election. It’s possible conversation. “We could compile an symptoms emerge. “These features
Margaret Thatcher was aided in her entire database of terrorists similar to can be objectively described through
effort to become Britain’s first female what already exists for fingerprints,” mathematical methods, allowing little
prime minister by training herself to says Tillenburg. And theoretically, this opportunity for patient manipulation,”
speak half an octave lower. could encompass millions of people explains psychotherapist and voice
without their knowledge or consent. researcher Dr. Michael Colla. Now
CAN MY VOICE HELP ME That’s why sociologist David Lyon of scientists have even more powerful
GET AHEAD? Canada’s Queen’s University fears we tools in their quest to analyze sound:
On one hand, every voice is unique; may be on the verge of an “acoustic Computers have become advanced
on the other hand, each voice is also surveillance state.” Some intelligence enough to simultaneously analyze the
extremely versatile. For researchers agencies are already relying on the 6,000 or so acoustic characteristics
seeking to use speech traits for vocal telltale traits of voices: Vocal analysis of a single sentence. This is a huge
analysis, this poses a big challenge— has been used not only to identify the step forward: “Until a few years ago,
especially for criminal investigators. authenticity of video messages from we were only able to assess a voice
Unlike a DNA sample or a fingerprint, Osama bin Laden, for instance; it is subjectively, based on impressions,”
there are differences among multiple also an important tool for identifying says psychologist Jarek Krajewski.
recordings of the voice of one person. other perpetrators of serious crimes We now have smartphone apps that
“We have to work with the similarity who, like the terrorists of the Islamic use the same technology on a smaller
values of the biometric features, and State, wear a mask when committing scale to identify what song is playing. >
these have to be as high as possible a crime such as murder, for example,
to yield a good match,” says Gereon while a camera is recording.
Tillenburg, the managing director of However that’s just the beginning: A TENOR CAN
Twinsoft Biometrics and an expert in For comprehensive voice analysis is
forensic prosecution based on voice already more integrated into our daily
identification. The advantage: While
analyzing a DNA sample or fingerprint
lives than many of us realize… When
you call a customer-service hotline,
requires physical evidence, a voice do you ever wonder if things you say CAN ROAR.
sample can be collected more or less to the automated voice menu system

houting, screaming—even frequent
coughing is quite hard on the voice.
“Clearing your throat is coughing’s
little brother, and you should avoid both
of them because of the strain they exert
on the larynx,” explains Dr. Markus Hess.
“It’s better to just take a sip of water. In
general, it’s best to avoid anything that
could cause the stomach acid to rise,
such as alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and
food that is extremely spicy or acidic.”
Also, morning vocal exercises are good
for the voice. Another tip from Hess: “If
your voice is hoarse for more than three
weeks, you should consult a specialist.”

ideasanddiscoveries.com 71 Jan 2018

resonant cavity
Normally, the vocal cords only make a noise as
we exhale, when the outward flow of our breath
sound wave sets them vibrating and producing sound. To do
so, the muscles in the larynx contract to tighten
lips the two vocal cords in the stream of air—and
the air flow causes them to vibrate. If the cords
vocal cords do not close completely, the voice sounds hoarse
or croaky. The more frequently the cords vibrate,
the higher the pitch. The greater the pressure
of the air flowing from the lungs, the louder the
voice. Altering the amount of the tension in the
laryngeal muscles changes the pitch. The final
larynx result—speaking a sentence, for instance—
occurs when the mouth and pharynx (the space
between the mouth and the esophagus) amplify
and modulate the sound coming from the larynx.
The entire body is involved in the formation of
trachea the voice—and each person has an individual
anatomy that creates a unique vocal sound.


The algorithms that can identify a voice
are still being improved. “At the moment,
human capabilities are on par with those
of a computer. But in a few years we will
have systems that can perform analysis
much better and more precisely than we
can,” says psychologist Jarek Krajewski.
At that point a computer may be able to
scan the audience at a big event to detect
potential trouble, for example, or identify
drunk drivers on the basis of their voice—
a computer in the car could turn off the
engine if the driver is drunk. “Everything
that occurs in the brain influences speech
production,” reveals mathematician Jörg
PHOTOS: Getty Images; Olaf Ballnus; PR. ILLUSTRATION: Aleida Wilson.

Langner. But our speech can be attacked:

CAN A DISEASE BE AUDIBLE? Voice hackers are already hard at work

developing synthetic voices and copying
others to gain access to voice-activated
Whether it’s cancer of the larynx, drug speaker’s sound curve (images above
systems. Online-security specialist Yuval
addiction, or depression—being sick at right). In the visual representations,
changes the sound of the voice. Vocal specific diseases reveal themselves Ben-Itzhak cautions: “So far we have not
analysis can determine the volume and in the form of characteristic patterns. seen voice hacking on a large scale. But
speed of speech, for example, however Doctors are confident that monitoring it’s actually quite simple to do.” That is a
it can also measure the details of the changes in the voice can save lives. nightmare for investigators: A threatening
call using a copied voice could land just
about anyone on a case’s suspect list…

Why do our own voices sound strange to us?

15 Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon: You hear your own
voice on a recording and can hardly recognize it. The reason:
The sound waves that you produce when you speak are also
transmitted within your body. This inner sound is different from the one
you project because muscles and other tissues dampen the vibrations,
changing the timbre. When you speak, you are always hearing a mixture
of the internal and external sound of your voice.

Can babies breathe and

swallow at the same time?
15 When adults are swallowing
food, their vocal cords close
to prevent food from entering
their airway. Their larynx rises and their
How does helium epiglottis closes it so food can enter
the esophagus and travel to the
change your voice? stomach. But in infants the larynx
is even higher, which leaves their
15 Whenever we speak, we’re emitting sound waves that are airway and esophagus open at
produced by the vocal cords in the larynx and which travel the same time. And so, in their
through the air we exhale. These sound waves move at a first three months babies can
speed of about 1,100 feet per second, resulting in the perception swallow and breathe at the
of a certain level of pitch. But sound waves traveling through helium same time. This complex
move at a much higher speed because this gas is lighter than air. anatomy changes as they
Sound waves travel in helium almost three times faster, at around grow and develop, which
3,200 feet per second. Because of that faster speed, we perceive enables them to speak—an
a higher frequency—and thus a higher (and funnier) tone of voice. ability that’s uniquely human.

How do elephants
15 The tones that elephants
use to communicate are
among the lowest in the
animal kingdom. Scientists have
discovered that the pachyderms
can produce infrasonic sounds
passively with their breath, rather
than by actively using vocal cords
in the way cats do when they purr.
In principle, elephants utilize the
same means of sound production
as humans. And although when
they produce such deep sounds
PHOTOS: Agentur Focus; Shutterstock; Getty Images.

(below 20 hertz) their output is

nearly inaudible to us, elephants
use the sounds to communicate
over a distance of several miles—
to warn of danger, for example.

ideasanddiscoveries.com 73 Jan 2018

There are minute cosmic projectiles constantly racing
toward the Earth at a speed approaching that of light :
These killer electrons destroy every living cell they hit.
But most of them will never get near a human being.
Now scientists have discovered why that is : In addition
to its magnetic field, our planet is defended by a second
protective shield. How does it work? And what would
happen if we lost it? Physicists consider that a nightmare
scenario, but one that is nonetheless possible…

Earth is surrounded by two
Van Allen radiation belts (green
and blue) that are swarming with
dangerous particles. Between
them, like an invisible wall, lies
a defense system that shields
us from killer electrons.

ideasanddiscoveries.com 75 Jan 2018

A sea of chaos swirls all around the Earth: Aggressive particles
from the solar winds are hurtling toward us while other particles
are constantly whirling in orbit around our planet. They are driven
by heat, magnetic fields, and the mutual attraction of various
WHAT KEEPS charges. The most important elements of this system are the
inner magnetosphere (plasmasphere) and the Earth’s invisible

CHAOS AT magnetic field (see the computer simulation at right): The dense
heart of the magnetic field lies in the Earth’s core. The magnetic
field lines emanate from the north and south magnetic poles:
ARM’S The blues ones point toward Earth’s center and the red ones point
away from it—the magnetic field lines run from south to north.

LENGTH? The attractive force of the Earth’s magnetic field holds the inner
magnetosphere in its position.

upwelling from
heated regions

ou ion winds

ion heating in the magnetosphere

solar winds

extreme ultraviolet

plasmasphere plasma plume

ionospheric low
ion drift waves
electric particle
current streams
magnetic tunnel wind currents

gravitational waves
neutral wind currents
pulling particles mag
downward c cu
gas bubbles


The plasmasphere envelopes Earth. plasma plume
It consists of cool plasma, an ionized
state of matter that’s similar to a gas.
In response to the various forces, the
particles move in different directions. Ions: positively or negatively charged particles
Part of the plasmasphere also blocks
the onslaught of killer electrons. Neutral particles: photons, neutrons, neutrinos
The U.S. astronaut is a veteran
of two spaceflights. In March
2015, he returned from a six-
month mission aboard the ISS.

helium). Most of them are extremely

high energy with significantly greater
penetrating power than the energy
of a medical X-ray, which is why they
can penetrate almost every surface:
astronauts’ spacesuits, shielding of
the ISS, the outer shell of satellites…
The same particles that destroy cells
in the human body can also totally
a new docking adapter. At the same paralyze electronic components of
time, he is under fire. He doesn’t feel equipment. Engineers believe that
anything, but he is being bombarded these killer particles are responsible
by so-called killer electrons moving for numerous technical malfunctions:
ionospheric at an incredible velocity. In his body For example, in 2009, all three of the
the minute particles leave behind a Russian flight computers aboard the
swath of destruction: Every cell they ISS crashed. Fortunately, the Space
hit dies instantly—they can never be Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the
repaired. Wilmore is on a spacewalk station at the time and took control
just outside the International Space until the computers were back online.
Station (ISS). However, under these If that had failed, the ISS crew would
circumstances the astronaut is quite have had to evacuate and return to
lucky: The concentration of the killer Earth with Atlantis. But where do killer
electrons would be much higher if it electrons come from? What can stop
weren’t for the mysterious force that them? And how safe are we really?
electric blocks most of the deadly particles— Astrophysicists believe that some
current the same force that protects us from of the particles originate in the Earth
them here on Earth… itself and become deadly projectiles
only once they leave the atmosphere:
magnetic tunnel HOW AGGRESSIVE IS Free electrons are generated by the
A KILLER ELECTRON? radioactive decay of substances in
Space is like a battlefield. And that the Earth’s crust or through the use
is especially true of the zone around of devices such as mobile phones,
our planet: The Earth is surrounded radios, microwave ovens—even light-
by a ring of chaos. The inner Van Allen bulbs. Most of the negatively charged
radiation belt lies between 400 and particles move away from Earth in
4,000 miles above the surface of the the direction of space. But suddenly
Earth, while the outer belt usually lies they are prevented from going any
neutral wind currents
pulling particles at an altitude of between 8,000 and farther: Earth’s magnetic field pulls
downward 12,000 miles. Here millions of various them back and holds them captive.
particles per square inch are zipping And so these particles continuously
around, many of them at nearly the circle the Earth—until they suddenly
speed of light. They include protons, encounter another unexpected force:
electrons, and “heavy” ions (ionized Electromagnetic waves of unusually
atoms that are usually heavier than low frequency will sometimes collide >

ideasanddiscoveries.com 77 Jan 2018



Altitude in miles
To find out how many killer particles are near Earth
and how they can be blocked out, NASA and the 30
Department of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth blue jet
College dispatched 20 balloons to an altitude of
between 18 and 22 miles. The attached instruments
collected data for one month. One of the findings:
Many particles are blocked by plasma waves while
others are deflected because of fluctuations in the
Earth’s magnetic field.

with an otherwise harmless electron, Initially physicists thought it was the “The really amazing thing about
accelerate it to almost the speed of Earth’s magnetic field, which extends this cosmic protective wall is that it
light, and turn the particle into a killer. about 600 to 37,000 miles into space. is extremely dense and it also has a
However Earth’s magnetic field also However, many killer electrons are clearly defined edge: That is exactly
holds other particles captive, such much closer to our planet than that. the place in the inner magnetosphere
as aggressive protons as well as the “Instead we have discovered a new that prevents the killer particles from
heavy ions that have resulted from phenomenon that still puzzles us: An penetrating—from either direction.
exploding stars and solar eruptions. invisible wall between the Van Allen Such firm, impenetrable boundaries
And so, many millions of years later, radiation belts blocks the particles,” are unusual in nature,” says Baker.
innumerable deadly particles are in says Daniel Baker, an astrophysicist
orbit around the Earth, creating the at the Laboratory for Atmospheric
aforementioned Van Allen radiation
belts. But what is keeping them from
and Space Physics at the University
of Colorado. “It functions somewhat
We discovered a
crashing back into the Earth? like the protective shield of the USS new phenomenon
Enterprise in Star Trek: No enemy
WHY DOES THE EARTH projectiles can penetrate it…” This
surrounding the
NEED WHITE NOISE? mysterious barrier is approximately Earth that is not
The latest scientific findings provide 7,000 miles above Earth’s surface.
the answer: There is something out So far there are only theories about
usually found in
in space that blocks these deadly its composition and how it works. nature: a very dense
particles—which can penetrate just “The most probable assessment is
about anything, from reaching Earth. that the inner magnetosphere forms and impenetrable
a protective shield, and our planet protective barrier
is surrounded by it,” explains Baker.
“It’s a dense cloud of cold electrically with a clearly
With the help of two weather
charged particles, and it extends for
thousands of miles into space.” The
defined edge.
satellites, the astrophysicist
discovered Earth’s second shield’s power is particularly strong DANIEL BAKER, astrophysicist
protective shield. near its outer edge, where physicists at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and
have detected an unusual noise… Space Physics at the University of Colorado
approx. 200 mi

approx. 25–50 mi
ELVES thermosphere
red sprite mesosphere Spectacular storms take place dozens of miles above Earth
during electrical discharges that can be enormous (see left).
The ionosphere is full of extremely high-energy positively
charged particles. These killer protons attach themselves to
red jellyfish sprite carrot sprite other particles and speed toward Earth’s surface. Along the
way they pass through zones where the positive charge is
weaker— this creates a difference in electric potential and
causes particles to discharge. The result is 100 million volts
flowing through Earth’s atmosphere at an incredible speed.
electrical storm

“Normally such structures possess COULD THE SUN DESTROY

a uniform permeable boundary, such OUR PROTECTIVE SHIELD? JAMES VAN ALLEN
as a layer of soil that permits some The strength of the electromagnetic The American astro-
physicist discovered
mineral substances to pass through waves is not consistent; it constantly killer electrons in the
it but not others. Thus we expected fluctuates. But the really big problem upper atmosphere of
some electrons would pass through is posed by an external attack. “The our planet.
this barrier. But they simply don’t.” plasmasphere—the cloud of charged
The reason is likely attributable to a particles—is controlled by the Earth’s
unique phenomenon: Scientists have magnetic field. It holds the barrier in
detected noise called plasmaspheric position,” explains Baker. “However, That could result in a total collapse
hiss at the particle barrier. (The inner the magnetic field is very unstable: of our defense system, and what that
magnetosphere is also known as the Powerful solar storms cause serious would mean for us becomes clear by
plasmasphere.) When it is amplified, disturbances. At times it can virtually way of a simple comparison: Here on
the sound is like the white noise from collapse.” That happened during the Earth a person is hit by very few killer
a TV when no signal is being received. Halloween solar storms of late 2003, particles—on average, no more than
It consists of electromagnetic waves which created the largest solar flare 0.36 millisieverts of radiation a year.
with extremely low frequencies (from ever measured. Two satellites were During his six-month stay at the ISS,
200 hertz to 2 kilohertz maximum)— knocked out and 28 more damaged, Barry Wilmore was exposed to about
the same frequencies that create the Sweden lost electrical power for an 160 millisieverts, and people traveling
killer electrons. But here the process hour, and the ISS astronauts had to to Mars and back would be exposed
works in reverse: Electrons strike the take cover multiple times. In addition, to 1,200 millisieverts each—a dose
electromagnetic waves head on and the gigantic shock wave significantly that would cause health problems like
bounce off, like an extremely fast- disrupted the Earth’s magnetic field. organ damage and cancer, and some
moving squash ball striking a wall. “I fear that such severe solar storms would not survive the trip. This proves
PHOTOS: NASA (3); AGU, S. Nielsen; PR (3).

“More measurements will be needed could also damage Earth’s second how crucial our protective shield is.
before we know for sure whether this protective shield,” says Baker. And But it will take more research before
‘plasmaspheric hiss’ is what blocks scientists are warning that our Sun we understand how it works in detail.
the killer particles,” says Baker. “But is capable of emitting tremendous
we do already know that this particle superflares up to 1,000 times more
defense system is not indestructible.” powerful than anything we’ve seen.
@ http://bit.ly/radiationbelts

ideasanddiscoveries.com 79 Jan 2018

What really counts in the end…

Jan 2018 80 ideasanddiscoveries.com

A green humphead parrotfish lives life according to a simple plan: Eat coral and,
after a brief digestive process, return it, finely ground, to the water. The ultimate
result of its productive jaws : the most beautiful beaches in the South Seas…

What really counts in the end…


school of clownfish darts playfully
among the colorful tentacles of the
sea anemones, a seahorse is floating
along majestically and purposefully,
and the picturesque coral landscape
is silent apart from the respiration of
a diver’s mask. But all of a sudden:
Sand poses a classification challenge for scientists: It’s not a gas,
of course, and while dry sand flows in an hourglass, it’s not a liquid.
Science has decided that while one grain of sand is a solid, a lot of grains
taken together constitute a “granular material” that’s created by a variety
of physical processes, such as the erosion of stone. But components of
sand can also be produced by the metabolic processes of
various sea creatures, such as oysters, sponges,
and marine worms—however the most
productive of them all is the
humphead parrotfish.

Chomp! Crack! Crunch! A horde of

oversize sea creatures casts a deep
shadow over all this natural beauty
and begins vigorously attacking the
coral with their teeth. The name given
to these rapacious creatures, whose
actions seem as if they’d provoke a
response from a fleet of Greenpeace
protest ships: humphead parrotfish.
With a weight of up to 100 pounds
and a length of 5 feet, these massive
blue-green fish inhabit the reefs of
the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well
as the Red Sea. Over the millennia,
the teeth, which were once separate,
have fused into two thick razor-sharp
plates reminiscent of a beak.
Bolbometopon muricatum must
have decided early on: “I don’t care
about having a sophisticated hunting
strategy, or about the great culinary
diversity of the reef’s pantry—I’m just DILIGENT
going to eat coral.” The advantages: Coral reefs are made up of
Composed mostly of calcium, coral billions of tiny polyps that are
is not poisonous, it’s unable to flee, constantly striving to enlarge the
reef. The reef structure represents
and it takes no great effort to locate
unique cooperation between the polyps,
and eat. But the biggest advantage which are the architects, and photosynthetic
enjoyed by members of the largest algae, which bind everything together to yield
parrotfish species lies in their hump. structures that are home to countless creatures.
It can be used as a battering ram to
break off pieces of the reef for food.

Jan 2018 82 ideasanddiscoveries.com

Green humphead parrotfish are found throughout
the Indian Ocean as well as in parts of the Pacific,
such as along the Great Barrier Reef, for instance.
They also inhabit the coral reefs of the Red Sea.

In addition, the males of the species dispersal method, just as birds feed
can use that same battering ram in on fruit and then disperse the seeds.”
a head-bumping contest that ends And so the gross motor skills that the
when one of the fish concedes and creatures employ while dining enable
abandons its claim to the contested a kind of redistribution in many cases:
territory. But the question remains: These fish bring about change where
Are humphead parrotfish a threat to little modification might otherwise be
the coral reefs—many of which are possible, and in some instances they
already damaged and endangered? actually benefit the reef by saving it
The answer: yes and no. Each of from overpopulation.
these “reef elephants,” as UC Santa Another benefi t provided by the
Barbara marine biology professor humphead parrotfish: Because they
Douglas McCauley refers to them, can’t digest everything, part of their
destroys tons of coral every year. meals works its way through their
But: “The fish break off many pieces digestive tract before being released
VAULT OF LIFE that they don’t eat—those pieces are into the water as a cloud of sand.
A coral reef is an
extremely valuable alive, and we believe that acts as a Some of this material stabilizes the
ecosystem: It prevents local coral reef while another portion
floods and can accommodate is borne along by the currents. Thus,
1,000 plant and animal species
in an area of only 10 square feet. A sin le for example, a large part of the sand
of the beaches of Hawaii consists of


humphead material that parrotfish have ground
up and passed through their bodies.
Zooxanthellae are photosynthetic algae that
are found living in coral tissue, where they
produce oxygen and food for the coral. The
parrotfish can Here we’re talking about enormous
quantities of sand, because each fish
PHOTOS: Biosphoto; SeaTops; Getty Images (2).

coral polyps in turn provide the algae with a produces hundreds of pounds a year.
protected environment and the compounds
they need for photosynthesis. The polyps also
produce several To be sure: There is a limit to what
even a healthy reef can endure in the
capture plankton with their tentacles. Calcium
carbonate secreted by the polyps gives rise to
a protective skeleton—and the reef grows.
hundred pounds face of a parrotfish feeding frenzy—
but to balance things out, from time

of sand a year. to time a hungry shark comes along

to have a feeding frenzy of its own…
res imite
po d t
nd o t
ers he
to firs
thi t 2
s a 100

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