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From $300 to Her Name to NASA’s Head Mars Engineer

Amanda J

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It takes a lot to get someone with a few dollars in their pocket to believe that one day they will make big differences for an entire country. That was the case for Diana Trujillo. When she was a child in the 1980s, her world was a town in Columbia where girls were expected to grow to women taking care of households, having children and being wives. Science, much less engineering, were not necessarily the fields little girls in Columbia were expected to go into as they went through school and grew up.

However, for Diana, her world was expanded greatly when her father thought it was a good idea for the girl to spend time with her aunt in Florida, and it would give her a chance to learn another language by immersion. That jump allowed Diana to see other possibilities for her future.

At the age of 17 and with $300 of pocket money, she bundled a suitcase and visa to enter the U.S. and stay with her relative for a bit. And from that opportunity Diana shuffled and leverage housekeeping cleaning jobs to classes at Miami Dade College. That then allowed her both to learn English and something more, take classes in aerospace engineering. While not the typical classes one expects to have in a bachelor level college, Florida had a ton of aerospace engineering offerings practically being the capital of space exploration with Cape Canaveral up-state from Miami itself.

Challenges were bread and butter early on for Diana. At times, she was taking well over 5 bus connections daily to get to and from her school and her aunt’s home. Yet every bathroom she cleaned was one day closer to another class, another requirement, another degree step in getting her qualifications in engineer. The difference was perspective; compared to her otherwise expected path in Columbia everything she did in Florida was stepping-stone to a better opportunity in her mind. It paid for food, a place to sleep, her bus fare and her books. And then, being in the right place at the right time, one of her professors connected Diana to an astronaut. That experienced pushed her further to chase after a slot in the NASA Academy.

The NASA Academy served as a recruitment funnel for potential new hires showing exceptional aptitude in core engineering skills that the agency was always looking for. Given the push for the space shuttle and alternative space vehicles, NASA was on the hunt for new talent where it could be found. Diana ended up getting accepted, and she excelled. She performed to the top of her class and became one of only a duo offered hiring positions in NASA fulltime. She had already come a long way from that little girl in Columbia when she received her employee badge.

Like many of the engineers at NASA, Diana worked on multiple projects and cut her teeth on some of the newest ideas being tried. Robotics ended up being a big element in that experience-build by the mid-2000s. That experience also allowed Diana to complete a bachelors degree in Robotics by the second half of the 2000s, courtesy of her connections and NASA’s employment. By the next decade, Diana had skyrocketed to project lead on Curiosity Rover on Mars in 2014, and she made history again as the lead on the Perseverance Rover in 2021 also on Mars. And, no surprise, Diana also became NASA’s Hispanic voice, providing technical commentary on the Perseverance project to the entire Latin world. In gratitude, she was awarded the Policarpa Salavarrieta, Columbia’s order of merit award.

From cleaning bathrooms to managing the first human-built robot an entire planet away, Diana clearly proved how she could change our world and another one too. Sources 

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A Coyote Is Rescued After Trying To Go For A Swim In San Francisco Bay

Sarrah M

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Most folks who visit Fisherman’s Wharf and the Pier 39 area of San Francisco City tend to do it on the weekend. So, for the locals, the weekdays are far better times to go for a walk, avoiding crowds and congestion, and having an open area to relax and destress. However, on a given Thursday in the middle of the week, a coyote pup somehow managed to find her way onto the urban San Francisco peninsula and then take an unhealthy dip into the San Francisco Bay’s cold waters.

The coyote has been roaming the City streets for a while, likely eating out of trash cans and similar, given how much opportunity there is in the City for scavenging. However, unlike rural areas, cities have full departments dedicated to catching stray animals and stopping them from becoming a problem for residents. So, soon enough, this particular coyote pup had an unwanted fan club in the form of the City’s animal control chasing her down. In the midst of that pursuit, the coyote pup took a wrong turn and thought to evade the control officers by jumping off the pier. The shock on the animal’s face will likely never be recorded, but she did end up in the cold water pretty quickly, to the amusement of some local seals.

The whole chase got started because the coyote got herself stuck in a resident’s backyard without a clear way out. San Francisco inner city backyards are fairly small, about the size of most family rooms in a home in most cases, so the residents were likely freaked out to suddenly find a snapping stray dog in their yard. By the time officers arrived, however, the coyote was gone. It appeared next when moving at an erratic pace in the area of Pier 39. The chase was on. The coyote was actively afraid of humans and even got herself wedged between dock parts at one point. With the officers closing in, the coyote panicked, got free and then took her leap for freedom, or a cold bath.

Not used to swimming, the coyote was immediately struggling, just trying to keep above the water and figure out where to go. A nearby boat closed in and one of the animal control officers jumped onto it to reach in and snag the coyote with a control lasso. Soon enough, the pup was out of the drink and firmly secured in the back of an animal control truck. Fortunately, however, the pup wasn’t going to maximum security. Instead, it was checked out by the city veterinarian crew, warmed up again due to suffering from hypothermia, and eventually relocated to a wild area likely south of the city and away from people.

Given the experience, it’s likely the coyote pup will never venture anywhere close to San Francisco neighborhoods again, but the animal was a bit of a different experience for the control officers. Dog-like but wiry, coyotes are extremely fast, smart, and resourceful in surviving. Folks had their hands full just trying to corral a young female in this case. And, it’s not every day they get fished out of the Bay either.

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Senior Citizen Saved After Cat’s Meow Alerts Searchers to Ravine

Danielle S

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Over the years, you’ve heard of dogs saving their owners, but a feline has proven that it doesn’t matter what type of pet you are; love conquers every situation.

It was the case for an older adult who fell deep into a ravine, and residents would not have located the woman had it not been for some seriously loud meows from her dear pet that drew the attention of community members and rescue operators.

Cats can be aloof and prefer to do whatever they desire. One cat, however, has become something of a hero after alerting rescuers to the site where its owner had fallen into a ravine.

On Saturday, crews were already searching for a missing 83-year-old woman in Bodmin, Cornwall, when neighbors helping in the search for the woman heard her pet cat Piran meowing and followed the sound.

The woman had fallen a ravine with “complicated access and uneven terrain,” according to the report, and the woman had even slipped through some barbed wire.

The older woman had come to a halt in the middle of a creek. Piran was “very persistent,” according to one of the witnesses, according to BBC News. “This was unusual,” the owner of the farm where they found Piran told media representatives.

Tamar Longmuir told reporters that, “The cat is quite loyal to its owner, and he was walking to and fro in the gateway with nonstop meowing, so I decided to go and search the maize field.”

After that, Longmuir went to the field and began calling the woman’s name. Longmuir’s cows first replied, but she later stated that she had heard the woman’s cry for help.

Longmuir told reporters at the scene that if the cat hadn’t been waiting at the field’s gate, it could have been hours before I or anyone else checked there.

“Piran, the cat, saved the day,” stated Bodmin Police. The woman was carried back up to the top on a stretcher and transferred to a local hospital, according to police.

The rescue has brought the community even closer than it already was. Neighbors constantly keep an eye and ear out for each other. However, now that everyone anticipates the older woman’s speedy recovery, the focus is on her cat, Piran.

Both the rescue workers and the community as a whole continue to laud the creature, who has a close bond with its owner. Cat’s may be self-centered, but that does not mean they don’t care for their owners.

Piran certainly proved that, and it has driven many residents to draw even closer to their pets in the event they should one day need their assistance for any reason.

Cats Give What They Get, Researchers Say

Meanwhile, contrary to popular perception, Oregon State University researchers have shown that cats build personal connections when the proximity of a caregiver makes them feel safe and calm.

“Cats that feel insecure are inclined to run into hiding or appear aloof,” said Dr. Kristyn Vitale, the study’s principal author. The researchers looked at the interaction between 108 cats and their owners.

When cats were abruptly left alone, they behaved similarly to dogs and children, according to the research.

Seventy cats were placed in an unknown room with their owners for two minutes during the trial. The owner left the room for another two minutes.

According to the researchers, 64.3 percent of the cats showed symptoms of “secure attachment,” meaning they grew more relaxed when their owner returned while others became unduly attached to their owners or altogether avoided them.

According to Vitale, the qualities of a secure cat include welcoming its owner and then returning to its previous activity.

She continued, “That’s how a secure human behaves as well.” “It is critical for owners to consider this. When they’re in a stressful circumstance, the way they act can have a direct impact on their cats’ behavior.”

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A Huge Tip Windfall for an Airport Piano Player

Sarrah M

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These days, with all the security involved, it’s not often one sees local entertainment at the airport. However, for Tonee “Valentine” Carter, playing the piano at Atlanta International Airport has been his gig for decades. As it turned out, one day, that became the best life choice he ever made.

Tonee Carter has been playing piano for years. And at age 66, there isn’t much else he’s going to do. So, travelers who make their way through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport get the unique opportunity to enjoy Carter’s piano playing daily, often stopping folks in their tracks as they arrive, depart or catch a connecting flight. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that Carter puts his soul into his music when he plays.

As it turned out, one traveler named Carlos Whittaker was also in Atlanta International on a given day, trying to make his way back home midweek after one of his events ended up being cancelled at the last second. Looking to make a connection back to Tennessee, Whittaker was not in his best mood getting circumvented through Atlanta instead of his normal flight route. However, that was also the moment that Whitaker was put in the right place at the right time to hear and enjoy Tonee Carter’s piano playing in the airport.

Whitaker not only stopped to catch his bearings, the motivational speaker was moved by the music, and he stayed to listen for almost two hours as Carter played one melody after another ,the music wafting through Concourse A, blocking out the incessant chatter of airport announcements and general buzz of travelers talking. Whitaker didn’t stop listening either; he used his smartphone to video film the musician as well as post a meeting and chat with Carter as well. That particular post then ended up going viral with Whitaker’s network and 200,000 viewers online.

As they talked, Whitaker, who normally makes a living speaking, ended up hearing an amazing personal story of Carter’s and how he ended up doing what he does with a piano. The telling moved Whitaker and a spark flashed inside the professional speaker’s head; he was going to see if his following audience would be willing to participate in giving Carter the biggest tip he ever received in his piano-playing history. The idea went off like a rocket. In a half hour, the tip amount grew to $10,000.

Carter at first thought the whole thing and Whitaker were a spoof, a candid camera joke. However, when he realized that Whitaker was serious, and the money for the pianist’s tip was real, he was floored. Carter had spent his entire life giving to others; nobody had ever picked him out from the crowd to be a recipient. Whitaker kept the drive going before leaving for his connection, and when he did reach Nashville, the donation account had doubled. Later that same day, Whitaker connected with Carter and put the pianist on a podcast, and the balance was then at $44,000. By the end of the workweek, Carter was going to be the tip recipient of well over $61,000, without any strings attached.

From a boy who was inspired by Ray Charles’ piano-playing at the age of six, Tonee Carter would find himself 60 years later being rewarded for his musicianship by complete strangers. For Whitaker, the moment galvanized his speeches on how people can do great things when they work together, even if just with small contributions rolled together in a big movement. However, for Carter, he doesn’t plan to be greedy. Instead, he expects to take his tip and pay it forward to others who need help. And he’ll still be playing piano at Atlanta International Airport, Concourse A, for as long as he can.

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Activist Known For Protecting MOST-TRAFFICKED Mammal Awarded Major Honors

Danielle S

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A tiny animal known to thrive throughout Africa and Asia, pangolins are as fascinating as they are bizarre. Covered in scales from head to toe, the pangolin feeds on ants and termites which it catches through a prolonged tongue, eating nothing else from the environment. Due to their unusual bodies and beautiful scales, the pangolin has become one of the most trafficked mammals on the planet. Already critically endangered, pangolin smugglers often ship the animal’s scales into China for profit on the black market and use through traditional Asian medicine.

Setting his sights on helping such a critically endangered species, Thai Van Nguyen would score international honors from the Goldman Environmental Prize, a grassroots award offered to environmental activists from all over the world.

Earning the Goldman Environmental Prize

Established in 1989, the Goldman Environmental Frize was founded by Rhoda and Richard Goldman in the city of San Francisco. For more than 32 years, the Prize has been offered to grassroots activists working day and night to benefit and protect the planet. Environmental activists from every inhabited continental region in the world compete for the top honors, with more than 206 winners spread across 92 nations at the time of this writing.

Susie Gelman is the V.P. at the Goldman Environmental Foundation and it was through a press release that she honored past recipients of the prize. Focusing on the importance of the work they are advocating for Gelman stated, “The global community of leaders, thinkers, and philanthropists is only growing and becoming more sophisticated, united, and powerful.”

Gelman went on to describe how each prize winner has played an immeasurable role in helping the planet move forward, focusing on the “balance with nature” that Gelman believes is the key to survival.

Meet Thai Van Nguyen; International Eco-Activist

With a workmanlike dedication to fighting the good fight, Thai Van Nguyen has been working in pangolin conservation since 2015. The founder of Vietnam Wildlife, Thai, and his team have personally accounted for the rescue of at least 1,540+ pangolins since their work began.

In addition to saving many at-risk pangolins from international trade, Thai was integral to establishing Vietnam’s first-ever anti-poaching unit. This anti-poaching unit has helped to significantly address illegal activities that were prevalent throughout Pu Mat National Park. Thai’s efforts helped to lead his anti-poaching unit to destroy over 9,700 animal traps, 775 illegal camps, and 78 guns. The anti-poaching unit that was established would also help lead to the arrest of 558 poachers in 7 years.

Before he was an international icon and environmental hero, Thai Van Nguyen was just another child growing up near Cuc Phuong National Park. It was there that Thai saw a baby pangolin and its mother trapped and killed by poachers. Since then, his efforts have been entirely focused on putting an end to the practice. To accomplish this task, Nguyen decided to embark upon a multi-pronged campaign to educate the public of Vietnam while stressing the importance of conserving the pangolin population.

Nguyen would begin conservation efforts by deploying an education campaign, discussing how to rescue and treat pangolins while also contributing to peer-reviewed journals and international workshops. Eventually, Nguyen would help engineer the opening of the Carnivore and Pangolin Education Center, a true first-of-its-kind establishment in the region. Through the non-profit, Nguyen has helped to educate guards, rangers, students, locals, and customs officials on how to properly care for pangolins.

Despite Nguyen’s heroic efforts, the past decade has seen more than 1 million pangolins poached worldwide, with Vietnam a particularly notable hotbed for the activities.

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Single Bee Sets Out To Make Undying Clone Army, Caused by Genetic Fluke

Amanda J

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The sound of a buzzing colony of bees doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it? If you aren’t in love with these flying insects and all that they do for the environment, you might even consider them a pest. We’d advise against telling the bee in today’s story how much of a pest he is, however, as he might end up becoming quite the life-changing bee!

According to researchers on the topic of South African Cape Honeybees, cloning and condemning a colony through the use of a clone army of insects isn’t just possible, it happens all of the time!

Creating a Clone Army of Bees

If all this bee talk has you reaching for your Wicker Man DVD, we’d advise waiting just a little longer. This story isn’t as much about cult islands and crazy insects as it is about genetic flukes and how they can impact a colony. When African lowland honeybees experience the collapse of a hive, it is due in large part to a rival army of clone bees. This sounds wild, but it is actually true!

More grounded in science than science fiction, an army of bees of cloned female workers are possible thanks to the Apis Mellifera Capensis. The female workers of the South African Cape Honeybee are capable of replicating themselves completely. Diving into this fascinating story, researchers were able to trace a single honeybee through millions of replications and clones. This perpetual-cloning ability has allowed Cape honeybees to perpetually invade their lowland rivals, churning out multiple copies while refusing to contribute to the colony at all!

The reason that these bees are capable of cloning themselves is actually quite simple in the grand scheme of things. Unlike the Queen Bee or even most animals, female workers don’t have to shuffle their DNA during the egg-laying process. This allows worker bees to continually recreate their own perfect copy, a clone that is capable of reproducing while sidestepping all of the DNA shuffling that goes on in a conventional nest.

Benjamin Oldroyd is the lead author of the study we’ve been discussing, as well as a Professor of Behavioral Genetics at the University of Sydney. Speaking to Live Science, Oldroyd stated, “It’s insane; I’ve not heard of anything like this before – anywhere!”

Honeybee workers aren’t the only social insects that can reproduce asexually, so this news shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to researchers. Still, every time that worker bees create clones, they do so by reshuffling the genetic material from their four chromosomes, eventually going through a process we now know as recombination. With this reshuffling process, it guarantees that at least one parent offers genetically distinct future offspring.

While this process is smooth and efficient, the degradation of the genetic material is notable over time. As two chromones of the four are selected, more than one-third of genetic diversity is lost through each shuffling performance. This is where a queen steps into play, reproducing sexually to create a more diverse genetic workforce. Oldroyd goes on to say, “We have this tension between what’s good for the individual and what’s good for the society.”

Understanding the dangers and potential benefits imposed by genetic cloning, Oldroyd and his team delved into the clones as well as the honeybee workers and their queen. Genetic research revealed that the Queen had developed a process to bypass asexual reshuffling, limiting the loss of genetic diversity that had been occurring due to recombination.

Still, things are not completely well. Researchers note that Cape Bee Clones don’t perform any work around the colony, eventually aiding in its total collapse.

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