TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Independent and third party candidates could break D.C. gridlock — if they can get to Washington.

By Tom Squitieri in the Hill

2. A new software project has surgeons keeping score as a way to improve performance and save lives.

By James Somers in Medium

3. The New American Workforce: In Miami, local business are helping legal immigrants take the final steps to citizenship.

By Wendy Kallergis in Miami Herald

4. Policies exist to avoid the worst results of head injuries in sports. We must follow them to save athletes’ lives.

By Christine Baugh in the Chronicle of Higher Education

5. Sal Khan: Use portfolios instead of transcripts to reflect student achievement.

By Gregory Ferenstein at VentureBeat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME holiday

Have a Very Marie Curie Christmas With These Nobel Physicist Snowflake Decorations

Because every scientist is unique in their own special way

Do you love the holidays? Do you love science? Are you a nerd?

If you answered yes all of the above, or even just the last one, Symmetry magazine has a holiday decoration just for you: Nobel prize-winning scientist snowflakes.

“Energy and mass may be equivalent, but this Albert Einstein snowflake is beyond compare,” writes Kathryn Jepson of Symmetry a particle physics journal, alongside a downloadable PDF template for cutting out the snowflakes yourself.

Other templates include the Marie Curie snowflake—which “radiates charm”—and the Erwin Schrödinger snowflake: “Is it an Erwin Schrödinger snowflake with cats on it, or is it a cat snowflake with Erwin Schrödinger on it?”

Read more and get your snowflake templates now at Symmetry

TIME Transportation

When Is the Anniversary of the First Flight? The Answer’s Not So Easy

Wilbur and Orville Wright flying
Wilbur and Orville Wright making the world's first hour-long flight at Fort Myer, Va., in 1907. Popperfoto / Getty Images

Dec. 17, 1903: The Wright brothers make what history has recorded as the first successful powered airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

In North Carolina — as in most of the world — Wednesday will be commemorated as the 111th anniversary of flight. After all, on Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright got off the ground in North Carolina, flying for 59 seconds at 852 feet.

But if it were up to some historians — and Connecticut lawmakers — we’d have to wait until August and mark the 114th. They’ve pushed to relocate aviation’s ground zero from Kitty Hawk to Fairfield as the site of the first powered, sustained, and controlled flight — by Connecticut’s Gustave Whitehead, in a monoplane — on Aug. 14, 1901.

Defenders of the Wrights believe Whitehead advocates should instead go fly a kite.

“When you get right down to it, to the Whitehead claim, there is – no – evidence,” Smithsonian curator Tom Crouch told TIME’s Josh Sanburn a year ago. “None.”

The issue had recently come to a head after historian John Brown uncovered century-old photos that appeared to show Whitehead’s plane aloft prior to the Wrights’ flight. The ensuing uproar in the aviation history community invoked the high-tech forensics of CSI and the lax journalism standards of Season Five of The Wire. Brown asked a police forensics unit to enlarge the photos, from the 1906 Aero Club of America exhibition, by 3,200 percent. The grainy images convinced some holdouts, including the editor of a prestigious aviation reference guide, that Whitehead was truly first in flight. Before Brown’s find, the best evidence for Whitehead’s claim to the title took the form of a 1901 article in the Bridgeport Herald, with a drawing of Whitehead’s plane “soaring above the trees.” But, apart from the possibility that the image was drawing-shopped in the pre-photo era, Crouch told TIME that a witness named in the story later denied the flight ever happened.

Whitehead fans, particularly in the Nutmeg State, have periodically pushed for recognition nonetheless. Wright fans, particularly in North Carolina, have continually pushed back. In 1985, North Carolina’s legislature issued a resolution stating that the Wright brothers were first in flight. In 1986, the Connecticut Legislature asked the Smithsonian to hold a public hearing of evidence that Whitehead flew first. The request was denied. The flight feud simmered on low until the summer of 2013, when Connecticut issued its own resolution proclaiming Whitehead’s flight the first. Then tempers flared again. State Sen. Bill Cook of North Carolina told TIME the Connecticut claim was too ridiculous to take seriously. “It’s like if somebody told you that, Oh, by the way, I believe that Ben Franklin was the first president,” he said. “I mean, it’s just stupid.”

And, in the last year, evidence has mounted that Cook is probably right: in July of 2014, Scientific American‘s archives were used to debunk Whitehead’s claims.

With that in mind: happy birthday, airplanes.

Read more on Time.com: The Unlikely Fight Over First in Flight

Photos from LIFE: In Praise of Unusual Flying Objects

TIME Science

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain

music class
Getty Images

Actively learning to play an instrument can help a child's academic achievement

There’s little doubt that learning to play a musical instrument is great for developing brains.

Science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids.

Many parents probably read the above sentence and started mentally Google-ing child music classes in their local area. But if your kid doesn’t like learning an instrument or doesn’t actively engage in the class–opting to stare at the wall or doodle in a notebook instead of participating–he or she may not be getting all the benefits of those classes anyway.

A new study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. “Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training,” said Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, in an email to TIME. She co-authored the study with Jane Hornickel, Dana L. Strait, Jessica Slater and Elaine Thompson of Northwestern University.

Additionally, the study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group. “We like to say that ‘making music matters,'” said Kraus. “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”

Kraus, whose research appeared today in Frontiers in Psychology, continued: “Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain.” Active participation and meaningful engagement translate into children being highly involved in their musical training–these are the kids who had good attendance, who paid close attention in class, “and were the most on-task during their lesson,” said Kraus.

To find these results, Kraus’s team went straight to the source, hooking up strategically placed electrode wires on the students’ heads to capture the brain’s responses.

Kraus’s team at Northwestern has teamed up with The Harmony Project, a community music program serving low-income children in Los Angeles, after Harmony’s founder approached Kraus to provide scientific evidence behind the program’s success with students.

According to The Harmony Project’s website, since 2008, 93 percent of Harmony Project seniors have gone on to college, despite a dropout rate of 50 percent or more in their neighborhoods. It’s a pretty impressive achievement and the Northwestern team designed a study to explore those striking numbers. That research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed direct evidence that music training has a biological effect on children’s developing nervous systems.

As a follow up, the team decided to test whether the level of engagement in that music training actually matters. Turns out, it really does. Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers.

“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important,” Kraus said, differentiating her group’s findings from the now- debunked myth that just listening to certain types of music improves intelligence, the so-called “Mozart effect.” “We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument,” said Kraus. “I like to give the analogy that you’re not going to become physically fit just by watching sports.” It’s important to engage with the sound in order to reap the benefits and see changes in the central nervous system.

As to how to keep children interested in playing instruments, that’s up to the parents. “I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged,” said Kraus. “Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

With that in mind, it’s not too late to trade in those Minecraft Legos, Frozen paraphernalia, XBox games, and GoldieBlox presents that you may have purchased, and swap them out for music lessons for the kids in your life.

For exclusive parenting content, check out our TIME for Family subscription. And to receive parenting news each week, sign up for our parenting newsletter.

TIME Science

Scientists Name New ‘Punk Rock’ Snail After The Clash’s Joe Strummer

Five new species of Alviniconcha snails were identified using DNA sequences. Shannon Johnson—MBARI

Alviconcha strummeri lives life to the extreme.

Correction appended: Dec. 16, 2014

Alviconcha strummeri is a snail with serious attitude.

These snails live in the deep sea near thermal vents 11,500 feet under water and their golf ball-sized shells are fully spiked. It’s no wonder the scientists who discovered them were reminded of mohawk-wearing, leather-clad punks.

“Because they look like punk rockers in the 70s and 80s and they have purple blood and live in such an extreme environment, we decided to name one new species after a punk rock icon,” said Shannon Johnson, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Specifically, they named him Joe Strummer, after the leader of iconic British rock band The Clash. Strummer isn’t the first punk legend to have a species named for him: Sex Pistol John Lydon and members of The Ramones have had species of extinct trilobite named after them. In fact, an exhibition of “Heavy Metal And Punk Fossils” opened at Oslo’s Natural History Museum last year.

Plenty of non-rock celebrities have had species named for them, too. There’s a lemur named for Monty Python comedian John Cleese, a small parasite named after reggae legend Bob Marley and a species of whale named for Moby Dick author Herman Melville. The practice is an easy and humorous way for scientists to draw attention to their discoveries. “This gets people excited about science,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, people might not see these snails.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated how deep these snails live under water. The correct distance is 11,500 feet.

TIME Food

Men Who Love Spicy Food Have More Testosterone

Food-YE-Food
Sriracha chili sauce bottles are produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, Calif. Nick Ut—AP

A French study finds that some really do like it hot

Men with higher levels of testosterone—the hormone often associated with risk-taking behavior and heightened sex drive in men—tend to love spicy food, according to a French study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

In the study, titled “Some Like it Hot” and conducted by researchers from the University of Grenoble-Alpes in France, 114 men ages 18 to 44 sat down to a meal of mashed potatoes with spicy pepper sauce and salt. Researchers saw a clear correlation between higher hot sauce usage and higher levels of testosterone levels found in the saliva of the men. In other words, men with greater testosterone levels tended to douse their food with more hot sauce.

How much capsaicin—the chili pepper compound that makes them spicy—a man likes has been linked to social dominance, aggression and “daring behaviors,” the study authors write. “Conversely, low testosterone levels have been associated with lethargy or depressive mood.”

Though the hot sauce correlation was clear, the mechanism behind it is still unknown. “A wide range of factors, including genetic, physiological, psychological and social forces, influence the liking and consumption of capsaicin-containing food,” the study authors write.

Read next: 3 Reasons You Should Eat More Spicy Food

TIME weather

Tornadoes at a Record, Unexplained Low in U.S.

Double Tornadoes, Pilger, Nebraska, Weather
A pair of tornadoes barrel toward Pilger, Neb., on June 16. The twisters uprooted trees and flattened houses across the tiny village (pop. 352). Two residents, including a 5-year-old girl, died as a result of the storm. Eric Anderson—AP

Fewer twisters than in any three-year period since records began

The United States has seen a major lull in the number of tornadoes to strike in each of the past three years, fewer than any three-year period since accurate record-keeping commenced in the 1950s.

Tornadoes are rated EF-0, weakest, to EF-5, the strongest.

In an average year the U.S. sees roughly 500 tornadoes rated EF-1 or stronger. According to data from the Storm Prediction Center reported by USA Today, so far this year the country has seen just 348 EF-1 tornadoes. In 2012 there were 364 EF-1 or stronger tornadoes and 404 tornadoes of that strength or greater in 2013.

Scientists say there’s no consistent reason year to year for this stretch of calm but point to a similarly calm period in the 1980s.

Despite the decline in the number of tornadoes, deaths from the storms remain roughly around the annual average of 60 year on year—many fewer than the unusually high number of deaths from tornadoes in 2011: 553.

[USA Today]

TIME Science

Watch Bill Nye Explain Evolution Using Emoji

“We emojinized it.”

Bill Nye has never been known to teach science the way you learned it in school — unless, of course, your school taught you about water displacement by spoofing Sir Mix-a-Lot. The Science Guy is still infusing fun into science, this time spreading the gospel of evolution with the help of some emoji.

In the video, produced by Mashable as part of General Electric’s “Emoji Science” promotion, the major players in evolution get emoji matches: carbon is represented by the diamond, self-replicating molecules are interconnected faces and bacteria are represented by the purple alien monster. But despite his casual demeanor in this video, Nye takes the topic rather seriously. Back in February, he debated Ken Ham, a prominent proponent of creationism, in an attempt to win over creationists with the scientific evidence supporting evolution. In November, he released a book called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, aimed at exposing young creationists to the scientific principles of evolution.

For those who don’t plan to read the book, the video offers a simplified version. “We shook it up with emoji, and then we told a story,” Nye says of the digital age approach to evolution. “The way you might do if you had too many, um, Jell-O shots.”

TIME Science

NASA Interns Couldn’t Help But Make an ‘All About That Space’ Parody

These interns are all about that

Interns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center have produced a music video parody of Meghan Trainor’s hit “All About That Bass,” dubbing it “All About That Space,” singing the refrain “I’m all about that space / ‘Bout that space, space travel.” The mission of the music video is to “keep up the excitement about the successful first flight of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft” last week, which is designed for human spaceflight, and maybe one day, trips to the moon or Mars.

More sample lyrics:

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t commercial crew
But I can launch it, launch it
Like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the Astros chase
And all the space flight to all the right places

TIME Science

Apollo 17 and the Case for Returning to the Moon

Harrison H. Schmitt on moon
Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt standing on surface of moon while holding a rake full of rock samples, with Rover in distance Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

It's been two generations since the moon was eclipsed in NASA's priorities

Richard Nixon was a lunar buzzkill—but at least he was honest about it. During the early years of the space program, Nixon held no political office, which put him on the sidelines for all of the one-man Mercury flights and two-man Gemini flights, as well as the first two flights of the Apollo program. But he assumed the presidency in January of 1969 and was thus the one who got to spike the football in July of that year, phoning the moon from the Oval Office to congratulate the Apollo 11 crew on their historic lunar landing.

Not long afterward, the same President canceled the Apollo program—though he held off on making his announcement until after his reelection in 1972 was assured.

During the final lunar landing mission—Apollo 17, which left Earth on Dec. 7, 1972 and reached the moon on Dec. 11—Nixon was candid about what the future held for America’s exploratory ambitions, and it was not good. “This may be the last time in this century that men will walk on the moon,” he said in a formal pronouncement.

As it turned out, things have been even bleaker than that. It’s been 42 years since Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan climbed up the ladder of his lunar module, leaving the final human footprint in a patch of lunar soil. TIME’s coverage of the mission provides not only an account of the events, but a sense—unintended at the time—of just how long ago they unfolded. There are the quotation marks that the editors thought should accompany the mention of a black hole, since really, how many people had actually heard of such a thing back then? There was, predictably, the gender bias in the language—with rhapsodic references to man’s urge to explore, man standing on the threshold of the universe. It may be silly to scold long-ago writers for such usage now—but that’s not to say that, two generations on, it doesn’t sound awfully odd.

Over the course of those generations, we’ve made at least one feint at going back to the moon. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush announced a new NASA initiative to return Americans to the lunar surface by 2020. But President Obama scrapped the plan and replaced it with, well, no one is quite certain. There’s a lot of talk about capturing a small asteroid and placing it in lunar orbit so that astronauts can visit it—a mission that is either intriguing, implausible or flat-out risible, depending on whom you talk to. And Mars is on the agenda too—sort of, kind of, sometime in the 2030s.

But the moon, for the moment, is off America’s radar—and we’re the poorer for it. There were nine manned lunar missions over the course of three and a half glorious years, and half a dozen of them landed. That makes six small sites on an alien world that bear human tracks and scratchings—and none at all on the the far side of that world, a side no human but the 24 men who have orbited the moon have seen with their own eyes.

We tell ourselves that we’ve explored the moon, and we have—after a fashion. But only in the sense that Columbus and Balboa explored the Americas when they trod a bit of continental soil. We went much further then; we could—and we should—go much further now. In the meantime, TIME’s coverage of the final time we reached for—and seized—the moon provides a reminder of how good such unashamed ambition feels.

Read a 1973 essay reflecting on the “last of the moon men,” here in the TIME Vault: God, Man and Apollo

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