Learning Under Fire
Mariam Hammad
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Mariam Hammad often studies by candlelight in Aleppo, Syria. 

CREDIT: Courtesy of  Mariam Hammad

Millions of young people worldwide have no access to higher education because of wars, disasters, or poverty. But a California-based online school is trying to help change that. The nonprofit University of the People serves about 6,000 students in 180 countries, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Rwanda and Haiti. Tuition is free and volunteer professors teach courses in business, computer science, and health. Mariam Hammad, 22, was a student at the University of Aleppo last year when it was hit by rockets in Syria’s brutal civil war, killing dozens. She enrolled at the University of the People to pursue a business degree; with electricity scarce, she goes to a local cafe with a gas-powered generator to charge her computer. “It will help me to rebuild my country and everything that’s been destroyed,” Hammad told the BBC. The University has 500 Syrian students and has committed to teaching 1,000 more. Says school founder Shai Reshef: “We are an alternative for those who have no other alternative.”

Prehistoric Painkillers
caveman dressed as doctor
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CREDIT: Cro Magnon/Alamy Stock Photo (caveman); stockyimages/ (stethoscope)

They’re often portrayed as primitive cavemen with limited intelligence. But it turns out that Neanderthals—a species related to early humans that went extinct about 40,000 years ago—may have been smart enough to take prehistoric versions of antibiotics and aspirin. Australian researchers analyzed the teeth of a Neanderthal in Spain from 50,000 years ago. His fossilized dental tartar showed that he’d eaten the fungus that’s the source of penicillin and popped some aspirin (in the form of salicylic acid, found in tree bark). The Neanderthal seemed to have been suffering from tooth decay and digestive ailments, and the researchers think he was trying to relieve his pain. The findings suggest that Neanderthals were more advanced than previously thought and that medicine has a longer history than we’ve realized. “People thought understanding the medicinal properties of plants was . . . recent in origin,” says John Shea, a professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York. “This discovery suggests that that knowledge is ancient.”


    • 20,000

      NUMBER of teeth a great white shark can go through in its lifetime. Its jaw contains 300 teeth that often fall out or break when it’s eating prey. New teeth quickly grow in to replace them.

    • 500 pounds

      WEIGHT of an American-made World War II bomb recently discovered beneath a gas station in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city. The bomb was deactivated after 70,000 people were evacuated from the area.

    • 5 ft 9 in

      LENGTH of the world’s largest dinosaur footprint, recently found in Australia. It eclipsed the previous record by about 2 feet.

    • stack of pancakes
    • 12,716

      NUMBER of pancakes 16 chefs in Russia recently made in 8 hours, a world record.

      SOURCE: United Press International
CREDIT: iStock/Getty Images (pancakes)
If Your State Were a Country. . .  
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CREDIT: Jim McMahon

Each U.S. state has a gross domestic product (GDP)—the value of all goods and services produced there yearly. Every country has a GDP too. This map shows which countries have GDPs similar to those of U.S. states. Does anything here surprise you? 

SOURCE: Bureau of economic analysis, International monetary fund, world fact book (C.I.A.)
Drone Hunters
An eagle captures a drone during a training exercise
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An eagle captures a drone during a training exercise at Mont-de-Marsan Air Base in France.

CREDIT: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

The French military has a new weapon to deal with the emerging terrorist threat from drones. Airmen at the Mont-de-Marsan Air Base in southwestern France are training four eagles to intercept and disable the remote-controlled flying machines. French officials say eagles are perfect for the job because they can spot drones from thousands of yards away and can dive for prey at up to 150 mph. The French have been increasingly concerned about drones since a recreational one flew over the presidential palace in Paris and into restricted military airspace in 2015. Several drones have also been flown near airports in France. Terrorist groups such as ISIS have experimented with weaponized drones in Iraq, where a small craft recently dropped an explosive on Iraqi soldiers. The eagles will allow the French government to stop a drone without having to shoot it down, which could endanger civilians. So what happens when an eagle meets a drone up close? “Eagle feet are much more powerful than our hands,” says Todd Katzner, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. “An eagle could break a drone like you or I could snap a toothpick.”

Ethical Dilemma
Hiding From the News
girl with hands over her eyes
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CREDIT: cheapbooks/

I’ve been depressed about the news, so I decided to avoid it. Just as I was feeling better, my boyfriend reported an awful headline that was devastating to me. I confronted him about it, and he gave me a weak “Sorry.” I feel terrible again, and I think I deserve a proper apology. How should I express this? —Anonymous

ANSWER Unplugging from the relentless chug of breaking news for a week or so can be rejuvenating, but withdrawing from the world indefinitely because headlines are upsetting—and expecting your beau to keep mum about them—is a big ask. Tell him, “I’m upset that you didn’t respect my news detox.” Then discuss how you’d like to move forward.

Adapted from ‘Social Q’s’ in The New York Times-

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