The opioid epidemic is so bad that librarians are learning how to treat overdoses

Philadelphia (CNN)A crowd hovered over the man lying on the grass as his skin turned purple. Chera Kowalski crouched next to his limp body, a small syringe in her gloved hand.

The antidote filled the man’s nostril.
The purple faded. Then it came back. Kowalski’s heart raced.
“We only gave him one, and he needs another!” she called to a security guard in McPherson Square Park, a tranquil patch of green in one of this city’s roughest neighborhoods.
“He’s dying,” said a bystander, piling on as tension mounted around lunchtime one recent weekday.
“Where is the ambulance?” a woman begged.
Kowalski dropped the second syringe and put her palm on the man’s sternum.
Knead. Knead. Knead.
She switched to knuckles.
Knead. Knead. Knead.
Then a sound, like a breath. The heroin and methamphetamine overdose that had gripped the man’s body started to succumb to Kowalski’s double hit of Narcan.
With help, the man, named Jay, sat up. Paramedics arrived with oxygen and more meds.
Death, held at bay, again.
Kowalski headed back across the park, toward the century-old, cream-colored building where she works.
“She’s not a paramedic,” the guard, Sterling Davis, said later. “She’s just a teen-adult librarian — and saved six people since April. That’s a lot for a librarian.”

Libraries and a public health disaster

    Long viewed as guardians of safe spaces for children, library staff members like Kowalski have begun taking on the role of first responder in drug overdoses. In at least three major cities — Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco — library employees now know, or are set to learn, how to use the drug naloxone, usually known by its brand name Narcan, to help reverse overdoses.
    Their training tracks with the disastrous national rise in opioid use and an apparent uptick of overdoses in libraries, which often serve as daytime havens for homeless people and hubs of services in impoverished communities.
    In the past two years, libraries in Denver, San Francisco, suburban Chicago and Reading, Pennsylvania have become the site of fatal overdoses.
    “We have to figure out quickly the critical steps that people have to take so we can be partners in the solution of this problem,” Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, told CNN.

    Though standards vary by community, the group is crafting a guide for “the role of the library in stepping in on this opiate addiction,” she said. It will include how to recognize opioid use — short of seeing someone with a needle — and how to address it.
    McPherson Square Library, where Kowalski works, has a wide, welcoming staircase punctuated by tall columns. It sits in the Kensington community, where drugs and poverty lace daily life.
    Residents drop into the McPherson branch with questions about doctor visits and legal matters. Children eat meals provided by library staff and play with water rockets in a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics program.
    Kensington doesn’t host a civic institution, like a university, or a major company, said Casey O’Donnell, CEO of Impact Services, a Kensington community and economic development nonprofit.
    “In the absence of those things, the anchors become things like the library,” he said.
      In recent months, so-called “drug tourists” — people who travel from as far as Detroit and Wisconsin seeking heroin — started showing up in Kensington, which boasts perhaps the purest heroin on the East Coast, library staff and authorities said.
      Heroin userscamped out in McPherson Square Park and shot up in the library’s bathroom, where nearly a half-dozen peopleoverdosed over the past 18 months, said branch manager and children’slibrarian Judith Moore.
      The problem got so bad that the library was forced to close for three days last summer because needles clogged its sewer system, said Marion Parkinson, who oversees McPherson and other libraries in North Philadelphia.
      Since then, patrons have had to show ID to use the bathroom, she said. The library in October hired monitors to sit near the bathroom, record names on a log and enforce a five-minute time limit.
      Before the crackdown, library staff last spring discovered one man in the bathroom with a needle in his arm, Moore recalled. He toppled over and started convulsing.
      “I heard his head hit the floor,” she said.
      A city employee had left a dose of Narcan at the library. But the staff didn’t know how to use it. After that, Parkinson set out to get them trained.

      ‘It’s not normal’

      At 33 years old, Kowalski wears oversized sweaters and too-big glasses. She reads nonfiction about World War II and zones out on Netflix. She settles into work mode by listening to pop music on her train ride to work.
      She chose to work at the McPherson branch because she thought her own experience could help students who flock there after school.
        Kowalski’s parents used to use heroin. They’ve been clean for more than 20 years. Her mother earned a college degree in her 50s; and her father, a Vietnam veteran, worked steadily as a truck driver until retiring, she said.
        But before all that, Kowalski lived in the turmoil of addiction. “I understand the things the kids are seeing. … It’s not normal,” she said of her library charges. “It’s unfortunately their normal.”
        Now, when a drug user overdoses at or near the McPherson library branch, Kowalski takes a minute to “switch the headset” from librarian to medic, she said.
        When she got word that recent day that Jay had collapsed in the grass, Kowalski reached into a circulation desk drawer and pulled out a blue zipper pouch containing Narcan and the plastic components required to deliver it.
        Dashing out of the library, she asked if anyone had called 911. Someone had.
        The librarian got to Jay, crouched down, noticed his shallow breathing and discoloration.
        She tried to focus. Seconds ticked. Prepping Narcan takes four steps: unscrew the vial, put it in the syringe, screw on the nasal mister, squeeze out the medicine.
        “You’re under a time limit,” she recalled. “It’s how fast can I do this.”
        Kowalski recognized Jay’s face from the neighborhood. As she walked away from him, she felt relief. He would live.
        “I understand where they’re coming from and why they’re doing it,” she said of heroin users. “I just keep faith and hope that one day they get the chance and the opportunity to get clean. A lot of things have to line up perfectly for people to enter recovery long-term.”
        Back at the library, Kowalski tried to refocus. The phone rang. Just minutes earlier, she’d pulled Jay back from the edge. Now, she was helping a patron find the number for the US Treasury Department.

        ‘We want our libraries to be safe’

          When a man overdosed in late February in the bathroom at Denver Central Library, security manager Bob Knowles rushed to his aid.
          Just hours earlier, the branch had received its very first delivery of Narcan, which library workers sought after a fatal overdose earlier that month at their branch.
          Knowles, the inaugural hero of his team’s effort to stem the opioid scourge, lost a brother 40 years ago to an overdose.
          “I wish somebody had had Narcan for him,” Knowles said.
          Security staff, social workers and peer navigators former drug users who help current ones all learned to administer the overdose-reversal drug. The fact that it got used the day the first shipment arrived confirmed “we were on the right path,” said Chris Henning, director of community relations for the Denver Central Library.
          The branch is near Civic Center Park, a haven for homeless people and a market for street drugs. One recent morning, a self-described drug addict who prefers methamphetamine and the synthetic drug “spice” camped out near the library.
          Staff members at other Denver library branches are now also being trained to deliver the medicine, library officials said, adding that they’ve gotten calls about their regimen from libraries in Seattle, small Colorado mountain towns and parts of Canada.
          Meantime, a fatal overdose in February at a San Francisco library branch pushed officials there to forge ahead with Narcan training for security officers, social workers and employees who help the homeless, said Michelle Jeffers, a library spokeswoman.
          “We want our libraries to be safe for all visitors,” she said.

          Crisis in Philadelphia

          Drug overdoses nationwide more than tripled from 1999 to 2015. Opioid overdoses accounted for 63 percent of the 52,000 fatal cases in 2015 — or about 33,000 people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Across the country, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
          Philadelphia last year saw about 900 fatal overdoses, up nearly 30% from 2015, municipal tallies show. Nearly half the deaths involved fentanyl, the powerful opioid that killed Prince. This year’s total could hit about 1,200 fatal overdoses, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Patrick Trainor said.

          Battling prescription drug addiction, or know someone who is? CNN’s Impact Your World can help.

          “It is among the worst public health problems we’ve ever seen, and it’s continuing to get worse,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley told CNN. “We have not seen the worst of it yet.”
          Opioids attach themselves to the body’s natural opioid receptors, numbing pain and slowing breathing. They can relieve severe pain — but also can spur addiction. Almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014, according to the CDC.
          Naloxone kicks opioids off the body’s receptors and can restart regular breathing. Hailed as a miracle remedy, the drug is squirted into the nose or injected into a muscle.
          Harm-reduction groups and needle exchanges started distributing naloxone two decades ago, and since then, more than 26,000 overdoses have been reversed, the CDC reports.
          The drug has become a staple for police, fire and medical professionals, who can buy it for $37.50 per dose. Retail pharmacies sell it over the counter. Coffee shop baristas have been trained to administer it.
          Philadelphia Fire and EMS used Narcan last year about 4,200 times, mostly in the Kensington neighborhood, Capt. William Dixon said.

          ‘I might need to take a mental day’

          Armed with Narcan, McPherson’s library employees keep an eye out for overdoses. When he spots one, Davis, the security guard, tries not to alert the children.
          Kowalski’s first save in the park, back in April, happened when a young woman overdosed on a library bench after school. One dose of Narcan revived her: She got up and walked away.
          But when Kowalski turned around, several kids — all library regulars — were standing on the steps watching.
          “I got really upset because I know what they were seeing,” she said.
          Weeks later, she revived a man who overdosed on fentanyl and fell off a bench in front of the library. “I might need to take a mental day tomorrow,” she told Moore afterward.
          But then her library regulars arrived after school. She played games with them and helped them on the computer.
          By the end of the day, “I felt good again,” Kowalski said. The next day, she was back at work.
          In the square, once dubbed Needle Park, library volunteer Teddy Hackett uses a grabber to pick up needles in the grass, near benches and in the rose bushes.
          “That’s my rose bush there,” he said one recent day. “I protect that rose bush.”
          Hackett, who beat drug addiction almost 20 years ago, said he once got mad when he saw a man shooting up on a bench in front of the library. Hackett chased him away, the needle still stuck in his arm.
          “God’s got me doing this for a reason,” he said, laughing. “For the little kids and the animals.”
          He reports his daily needle tallies to Kowalski. May set a record: 1,197 needles. The previous one, set last fall, was about 897.
          The increase might reflect the spike in drug use. It also could mean a redevelopment surge in the city has pushed a long-lingering problem out of the shadows, said Elvis Rosado, the education and outreach coordinator at Prevention Point, a local nonprofit that trained Kowalski and more than 25 colleagues to use Narcan.
          “They’ve been here for years,” Rosado said of drug users. “It’s just that they’ve been in abandoned buildings.”
          As evidence of addiction has spread, Philadelphia leaders have stepped up to counter it. Mayor Jim Kenney formed a task force to tackle the opioid epidemic.
          The city’s health department launched an ad campaign called “Don’t Take the Risk” to remind patients that a drug isn’t completely safe just because a doctor prescribes it. Officials mailed out more than 16,000 copies of the addiction warning.
          In McPherson Square Park, clean-up projects, a new playground and lights have improved the grounds. Police in mid-June increased patrols there and plan to install a mobile command center, which will also offer social services.

          ‘Call Chera’

          The day after Kowalski’s naloxone doses revived Jay, more drug users trickled into McPherson Square Park, where sirens whine like white noise. Nearby, a slender woman shot up heroin, then got up and walked away.
          Moments later, a former freight train operator who weeks earlier had overdosed twice in one day, sat down on his cardboard blanket and overdosed again. He’d gotten hooked on prescription pills after a leg injury. A heroin user gave him Narcan that she’d bought from another user for $2.
          An hour later, paramedics carried away a woman who’d overdosed while sitting on a bench, said Davis, the security guard.
          “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get one or two more people that’s going to OD out here today,” he said.
          An hour later, it happened: A woman who’d earlier been hanging out with the train operator slumped over on the ground.
          Davis didn’t flinch. Standing at the library door, he told the needle collector to find Kowalski.
          “Ted,” he yelled, “call Chera!”

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          Jean-Luc Mlenchon ready to lead Frances new resistance

          The hard-left leader is prepared to fight in parliament or on the streets. And tackling Macron on workers rights is first on the agenda

          Entering the French lower house of parliament as an MP for the first time last week, Jean-Luc Mlenchon pointed to the European flag planted next to the French tricolor, turned to the camera tracking him and said: Do we have to put up with that?

          Earlier he stood on the steps of the Assemble Nationale, alongside the other 16 newly elected MPs from his hard-left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), raised a clenched fist and shouted Resistance.

          Mlenchon declared they were there as opposition MPs in the service of the people. He had begun as he means to go on for the next five years going head-to-head with president Emmanuel Macrons La Rpublique en Marche (La REM) majority government.

          It is a battle that will be fought in parliament and as Mlenchon has made it clear out on the streets if necessary.

          Macron, a former investment banker who is deeply pro-Europe, is seeking to loosen Frances complex labour laws to allow companies to hire and fire more easily, negotiate working hours and wages with employees and not the unions, and cap unfair dismissal pay-outs. Frances youngest president is planning to use ordinances a process to push through legislation quickly by decree which French unions will bitterly contest as sweeping away social dialogue and consultation. He has also pledged to cut public spending by 60bn and lay off 120,000 public-sector workers. Mlenchon has promised not a single concession on workers rights without a fight.

          His party has only 17 seats out of a total of 577 in the National Assembly but is at least a unified opposition, which is more than can be said for the general election runners-up, the conservative Rpublicains, which won 112 constituencies but is currently tearing itself apart, or the Socialist party, which is also catastrophically riven and now has just 29 seats compared with 295 in 2012. Macrons REM has 308 seats and his allied Democratic Movement, MoDem, party has 42.

          Mlenchon gearing up for the second round of parliamentary elections earlier this month. Photograph: Claude Paris/AP

          Even so, the political scientist Dominique Reyni, director of the progressive centre-right thinktank Fondapol, said he doubted everything would go the way Macron wanted once the electoral honeymoon period was over. He will face opposition. If not in parliament then outside, on the streets, Reyni said.

          Bruno Jeanbart, deputy director of the pollsters OpinionWay, had already warned even before Macrons triumph: Where is the opposition? If it doesnt happen in parliament, it will happen in the streets, in the press.

          Their warnings were echoed this week by Luc Rouban, a political scientist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, who described the political situation in France as potentially explosive. Rouban said FI could put up a little resistance but opposition is likely to express itself outside parliament.

          Even before he took up his seat in the Assemble Nationale, Mlenchon was making headlines. Referring to one of Macrons more flamboyant new and inexperienced MPs, the prizewinning mathematician Cdric Villani, as the maths guy, he added: Ill explain to him what the labour law is all about and hell be astonished. Hes no idea whats in it! He doesnt realise the eight-hour working day was the result of 100 years of battle. Villani responded in good humour. Dear Jean-Luc Mlenchon, he tweeted. As director of IHP [a mathematical research centre], Ive seen work contracts. But its always a pleasure to have a private lesson!

          Rouban said that Mlenchon and the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, who was also elected to the French parliament for the first time with seven other FN MPs, could become the cheerleaders for a social challenge, a strong theme for the presidential election. The situation was made even more unpredictable, he said, because the opposition parties had little real power. And the decider would be whether what they say carries any weight with public opinion or whether there is a form of apathy among the working classes and of patience among the upper classes.

          Pierre Gattaz, head of the French business leaders organisation Medef, dismissed the idea of Mlenchon leading any kind of credible opposition to Macron. He said Mlenchons worship of Cubas Fidel Castro and Venezuelas Hugo Chvez made him a man whose ideas were extremely dangerous.

          He can talk. He has a great talent for oratory, but well have to see how it finishes for those who put their faith in someone who speaks well, but whose ideas will lead to ruin and desolation for France, Gattaz told the Anglo-American Press Association.

          We have to call a spade a spade. He has never produced a single idea for creating jobs in France. Let Mr Mlenchon set up his own company and create a few jobs and then he can say something.

          Gattaz, who believes Macrons economic reform plans do not go far enough said he was optimistic that reform would happen. If not, we will be looking at Mlenchon and Le Pen in the second round in 2022, he said.

          Asked where he saw opposition to Macrons economically liberal programme coming from, Gattaz said possibly from the streets.

          The historian Jean Garrigues said opposition parties had few weapons against an absolute parliamentary majority, adding that the opposition vote against cant make much difference and they had the choice of ganging up on the government by joining forces or taking the fight to the streets. The latter only worked when theres pressure from unions and public opinion. Olivier Rozenberg, associate professor at SciencesPo university, said: The opposition isnt going to change laws, but they can make their point of view heard. They force the majority to justify itself, which is important.

          Mlenchon believes that his best ally is the record 57% bloc of French voters who, orphaned by the disintegration of the traditional left and right parties, did not bother to cast a vote in the general election. The president has no legitimacy to perpetrate a social coup. I see in this abstention an energy that’s availableif we know how to use it for our fight, he said.

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          The Shirk Report Volume 427


          Welcome to the Shirk Report where you will find 20 funny images, 10 interesting articles and 5 entertaining videos from the last 7 days of sifting. Most images found on Reddit; articles from Facebook, Twitter, and email; videos come from everywhere. Any suggestions? Send a note to

          20 IMAGES

          When you wanna take a selfie but have no idea what you’re doing
          Ran into Chief Vitamin Water this week
          and this festival legend
          This McDonald’s has only one arch
          Michael never learns
          Well that’s one way to put out a candle
          I miss having this much free time
          So Italy sells 3 ft cans of Pringles and I’m moving tomorrow
          I’m just going to sit in a corner for few minutes
          These fidget spinners are getting out of control
          Wanna go for a walk?
          Breathe it in boys
          It’s his daughter’s first lesson
          David has zero chill
          Seriously, enough with the fidget spinners (obligatory shooting stars remix)
          The bus stop button broke and I think this solution should become permanent
          He was looking so cool right before that happened too
          Until next week

          10 ARTICLES

          Okay, WTF Is Ethereum?
          Why Flights in Phoenix, Arizona Can’t Take Off in Extreme Heat
          The Impossible Mathematics of the Real World
          A quick history of why Asians wear surgical masks in public
          Why SC Johnson Made Saran Wrap Less Sticky
          Why green olives come in jars, but black ones come in cans
          The Symptoms of Dying
          In the Footsteps of Charles Darwin
          What It’s Like To Work With The World’s Deadliest Pathogens Every Day
          Power Causes Brain Damage

          5 VIDEOS + i love you dad


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          How one teacher’s aquarium dream made science at this Texas school 10 times cooler.

          What do you do if you’re an awesome science teacher and you want your kids to learn about water animals but don’t have water nearby?

          That’s what James Jubran was up against as an aquatic science teacher at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas.

          “We dont have the ability to go to lakes, rivers, oceans or streams,” Jubran explains. The nearest large body of water is Trinity Bay, which is an hour away. Big field trips like that cost money, and the school doesn’t have the funding to make them feasible.

          Elsik is far from being the only school with this problem. Schools nationwide are dealing with massive budget cuts to their STEM programs (science, technology, education, and mathematics). That’s a big obstacle for students looking to have careers in any of these fields.

          Thankfully aquatic science enthusiasts at Elsik have Jubran grant writer extraordinaire.

          Jubran with some of his students. All photos via Elsik High School, used with permission.

          Jubran grew up in Florida surrounded by the ocean, and he was always fascinated by underwater ecosystems. He often went out on boats with his family, and he never missed an opportunity to go snorkeling or scuba diving.

          He became a science teacher in Florida 10 years ago, but due to statewide school budget cuts, he lost his job and decided to move inland to Houston, Texas, in 2006. He’s been at Elsik for five years but has always felt somewhat limited by the lack of access to water.

          So in 2016, he wrote a grant proposal for State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist Program asking for help in building a gigantic aquarium for Elsik students as well as students at other nearby schools.

          State Farm accepted the first 2,000 applicants for the grant, and narrowed that number down to 200. Those proposals were then made public so that people could vote on their favorites. Elsik students made it their mission to vote as much as possible.

          The top 40 proposals received $25,000. The grant Jubran wrote came in at #8.

          State Farm grant dispatchers and members of the school board.

          Jubran immediately began pulling resources to build his dream aquarium, and within a couple months, it was finished.

          The aquarium is 12 feet long, 9 feet tall, and 3 feet wide and can hold 1,100 gallons of water.

          He decided to create a tropical ecosystem in the tank, home to all kinds of tropical fish. The aquatic residents were added slowly to the tank in order to build up good bacteria, which allows the tank to better handle fish waste. The slow process also helps make sure the fish all get along.

          Today, there are 14 different species of fish living in the tank. They include threadfin geophagus, known for their digging skills, Silver arowana, which can grow to two feet long, carnivorous tiger oscars, shovelnose catfish, which look like their name sounds, and Redhooks the vegetarian version of piranhas.

          A few redhooks in Elsik’s new aquarium.

          The tank is located in the school cafeteria so that all of the students can enjoy it and, well, because it was too big to put upstairs near Jubran’s classroom.

          The aquarium’s been in place for two months now, and everyone seems to love it and all its colorful inhabitants.

          Threadfin geophaguses hanging out together.

          Students are often seen pressed up against the glass watching the fish swim around and interact with one another.

          Jubran doesn’t love the thousands of fingerprints on the glass, but he appreciates the enthusiasm. He even has kids he’s never met before coming up to him saying things like, oh, are you the guy who built the aquarium? Its so cool.”

          I don’t know about that guy in the middle. He looks pretty fishy to me. HEYO!

          And Jubran’s students, especially the ones interested in aquatic science careers, can’t get enough. Even though it’s the end of the school year, he’s begun assigning special teaching projects on species in the aquarium.

          “Next year, students will learn everything they need to know about the fish, then develop and present a curriculum focused on the aquarium,” Jubran says. That way, when students from other schools come by to check out the aquarium, Elsik students can actually teach them about what’s going on inside it.

          And Jubran is not finished with his plans to bring water to Elsik he’s got even loftier plans up his sleeve.

          Jubran teaching his students about the aquarium.

          “I’m going for a $100,000 grant next year to build an even larger salt water aquarium for the other side of the school,” Jubran says.

          It might be four times as much as the previous grant, but considering his success at getting that, there’s a very good chance he’ll be filling a larger aquarium with more exotic fish soon enough.

          Jubran’s initiative just goes to show there’s enormous power behind one person’s desire to make a difference.

          You don’t have to have a ton of money or a fancy upbringing to make huge waves in your community. All you need to have is an idea and the tenacity to see it through.

          One teacher can make a school a better, cooler place to learn and grow. As long as Jubran’s at Elsik, he’ll be working on exciting ways to do just that.

          If you want to find out more about Neighborhood Assist, and how it’s helping improve communities across the country, check out the program here.

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          The police hero, the maths genius and more: meet Macrons new MPs

          The French president swept parliamentary elections on Sunday with a wave of non-career MPs who could be the most interesting politicians in Europe. But it was bad news for the partys celebrity bullfighter

          If Britons werent so wrapped up in our own great political unravelling, we would be obsessing about developments on the other side of the Channel. Emmanuel Macrons party La Rpublique En Marche, founded little more than a year ago, has won a clear majority in the national assembly something the Conservative party (founded 182 years earlier) signally failed to manage in the UK. Macron has effected a bloodless revolution, while the UK is mired in political paralysis.

          Part of Macrons appeal is that, rather like the Scottish National party when they swept the board in Scotland in the 2015 general election, he has brought a new set of people into politics. He determined that half his partys candidates should not previously have been politicians, that they should be younger and more diverse than existing assembly members, and that half the candidates should be women. Macrons directives have thrown up some intriguing new MPs:

          A dandyish penchant for cravats Cdric Villani. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

          The doyen of the new En Marche parliamentary group is Cdric Villani, a brilliant mathematician with a dandyish penchant for cravats. He triumphed easily in the fifth district of Essonne, south of Paris. Villani, who won the much-prized Fields medal for mathematics in 2010 and is the director of the Institut Henri-Poincar in Paris, said last month that, if elected, he was ready for a new challenge: Its important to make a change from time to time, and in most cases your previous lives will help you in your future life.

          Another high-profile En Marche candidate elected by a sizeable majority was Jean-Michel Fauvergue, who defeated his Republican rival in a constituency to the east of Paris. Fauvergue was formerly the commander of the elite police unit Raid. His unit was part of the force involved in the Bataclan siege he felt Raid should have been given full control and he personally directed the assault against the Saint-Denis apartment where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged coordinator of the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015, was in hiding. Abaaoud was killed in the raid.

          Former bullfighter Marie Sara. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

          Herv Berville is an economist who was born in Rwanda in 1990. He survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994, was adopted by a family in Brittany, studied in Lille and then did a masters degree in development economics at the London School of Economics. He has been elected to represent a constituency in Brittany, and is seen as part of Macrons attempt to introduce greater diversity into French politics.

          The highest-profile En Marche candidate of them all, retired bullfighter Marie Sara, was beaten by the incumbent National Front MP Gilbert Collard by just 0.3% of the vote in the southern department of Gard, traditionally an NF stronghold. Her defeat is a loss to Frances remarkable new parliament, but Macron hopes he has enough firepower to tackle his countrys deep-seated social and economic problems. Despite Saras absence, the radical centrist intends to take the bull by the horns. Again, the contrast with the directionlessness in the UK is stark.

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          Can you solve it? Pythagoras’s best puzzles

          Three teasers from the vaults

          Hi guzzlers,

          The most famous theorem in maths is named after the Greek thinker Pythagoras. So is the most famous recreational mathematics publication in the Netherlands.

          Pythagoras Magazine was founded in 1961, and to celebrate its half century it recently published a selection of its best brainteasers in English. Ive selected three of them here, in increasing order of difficulty.

          1) Dollar bills. In a bag are 26 bills. If you take out 20 bills from the bag at random, you have at least one 1-dollar bill, two 2-dollar bills, and five 5-dollar bills. How much money was in the bag?

          2) Yin and Yang. The Yin-Yang symbol is based on the figure below, bordered by three semi-circles. How can you divide this shape into two identical shapes?

          Big yin

          3) Huge pie. A huge pie is divided among 100 guests. The first guest gets 1% of the pie. The second guest gets 2% of the remaining part. The third guest gets 3% of the rest, etc. The last guest gets 100% of the last part. Who gets the biggest piece?

          Ill be back later today with the solutions.


          I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. Send me your email if you want me to alert you each time I post a new one. Im always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.

          Thanks to the editors of Pythagoras Magazine for todays puzzles. You can check out more of them in Half a Century of Pythagoras Magazine.


          Football School, which I which I co-wrote with Ben Lyttleton, is a book for 7 to 13-year olds children that uses football to explain subjects like English, maths, physics, geography, philosophy and zoology. You (by which I mean any 7-13-year-olds you may know) can check out the Football School YouTube channel, in which Ben and I answer all questions about football and life. Submit your questions and subscribe!

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          Rookie research: When school science gets ‘real’ – BBC News

          Image caption Dr James Geach hopes primary pupils could make new discoveries

          Modern science produces so much data that scientists can’t cope with it all – so why not enlist schoolchildren to help?

          The new Sky Explorers club at Wheatfields Junior School in St Albans is making use of a night sky camera which has been installed on the building’s roof.

          “I am really looking forward to doing all the great stuff we are going to do with the camera,” says eight-year-old Cameron. “Looking at space is really exciting.”

          Throughout the night, the camera takes a long exposure shot of the whole sky once a minute and the resulting thousands of images are made into a time-lapse film for the children to view the next day.

          The club members will be on the look-out for shooting stars or meteors and will log where they appear, their direction and the time and send the data to the international All Sky Camera network.

          Image copyright UoH Bayfordbury Observatory
          Image caption Meteors show up as bright streaks of light across the night sky

          Dr Jim Geach, a senior lecturer and research fellow at University of Hertfordshire’s School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics, has shown them what to look for – the long bright lines across the sky produced by meteors as they enter the atmosphere – and how to distinguish them from planes from nearby Luton airport.

          Eggs and lemons

          Dr Geach, who studies galaxies, also has a second task for the children, directly related to his own research.

          He plans to give the children access to images from the Subaru telescope on Hawaii, which takes pictures of deep space, to look for interesting or unusual looking galaxies. “Some of them will not have been seen before and could be very exciting,” he says.

          He will come to the school every two weeks to run the club, answer the children’s questions and evaluate their research.

          Image caption Some galaxies are lemon-shaped, said Dr Geach

          The project has been funded by a grant of almost 3,000 from the Royal Society, the UK’s science academy.

          “If they find anything, scientists will be interested,” says Dr Geach.

          This kind of engagement by scientists with primary pupils is “one of the things we need to do, as this age is when you can really get them switched on as scientists”, he adds.

          Image copyright NAOJ/HSC Collaboration
          Image caption The Subaru telescope takes images of galaxies in deep space

          This view has strong support from Dr Becky Parker, director of the Institute for Research in Schools, which runs classroom projects involving scientists from the International Space Station, Nasa and the Large Hadron Collider, among others.

          “Students get a diet of quite factual based science in school and yet they have the potential to contribute,” she says.

          “Why not involve them in doing real science? Teachers find it keeps them inspired and keeps them right at the cutting edge of their subjects.

          “Young people don’t necessarily just become clever when they get to university. Let them contribute when they are at school.”

          The Royal Society offers about 20 grants a year to universities and schools wanting to collaborate on research.

          “It’s all about letting as many schools as possible experience the creative core of science,” says Tom McLeish, professor of physics at Durham University and chairman of the society’s education committee.

          Too often a lack of resources in schools makes encountering real science very difficult.

          “But, for example, you would be appalled if students had never put pen to paper when doing art GCSE, or never made any kind of music while doing music A-level.

          “If all you have done is learn the facts of what biology or chemistry have shown us, you haven’t actually engaged with what it is.

          “We are passionately committed to making sure that pupils get as rich an experience of science as we possibly can.”

          ‘Exciting and relevant’

          Nearing the end of their school careers, sixth formers at The King’s Academy in Middlesbrough have been chosen to showcase their experiments on the possibility of mimicking the way plants use sunlight to make hydrogen fuel from water at this summer’s Royal Society Summer Exhibition in London.

          They hope their work on artificial photosynthesis, in conjunction with Teesside University, could pave the way for a new method of producing hydrogen gas to run cars and fuel cells.

          For the last few months the teenagers have spent Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons synthesising chemicals at the university laboratories, working with equipment their school could never afford.

          Image copyright Teesside University
          Image caption Nazmin Akhtar, 17, hopes the project will boost the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells

          Nazmin Akhtar, 17, described how the team developed catalysts able to “split water to produce oxygen and to create the hydrogen gas which is the fuel”.

          “Obviously we are running out of fossil fuels now, so we need to find new ways of making fuel and sustaining the environment,” she says.

          “I love learning about renewable fuels – it is one of my passions. I am so glad I chose to do this project.”

          Her chemistry teacher Brian Casson says the opportunity to work on a project as “exciting and relevant as this” had widened his students’ horizons.

          “It’s been such an eye-opening thing for them… I hope it will turn them into scientists for the future. It really has given them a vision of what science is about.”

          Teesside University lecturer Dr Anna Reynal, who has been working on artificial photosynthesis for six years, says the students are experiencing real research.

          “This has not been done many times and we don’t know what the result is going to be. We don’t know that it’s going to work.”

          Back at Wheatfields, Dr Geach warns the Sky Explorers that unexpected results can pave the way to new knowledge.

          “One of the most important things about science is making mistakes,” he says. “There are no wrong answers.”

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          Are Left-Handed People More Gifted Than Others? Our Study Suggests It May Hold True For Maths

          The Conversation

          The belief that there is a link between talent and left-handedness has a long history. Leonardo da Vinci was left-handed. So were Mark Twain, Mozart, Marie Curie, Nicola Tesla and Aristotle. Its no different today former US president Barack Obama is a left-hander, as is business leader Bill Gates and footballer Lionel Messi.

          But is it really true that left-handers are more likely to be geniuses? Lets take a look at the latest evidence including our new study on handedness and mathematical ability.

          It is estimated that between 10% and 13.5% of the population are not right-handed. While a few of these people are equally comfortable using either hand, the vast majority are left-handed.

          Hand preference is a manifestation of brain function and is therefore related to cognition. Left-handers exhibit, on average, a more developed right brain hemisphere, which is specialised for processes such as spatial reasoning and the ability to rotate mental representations of objects.

          The corpus callosum. Life Science Databases(LSDB)/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

          Also, the corpus callosum the bundle of nerve cells connecting the two brain hemispheres tends to be larger in left-handers. This suggests that some left-handers have an enhanced connectivity between the two hemispheres and hence superior information processing. Why that is, however, is unclear. One theory argues that living in a world designed for right-handers could be forcing left-handers to use both hands thereby increasing connectivity. This opens up the possibility that we could all achieve enhanced connectivity by training ourselves to use both hands.

          These peculiarities may be the reason why left-handers seem to have an edge in several professions and arts. For example, they are over-represented among musicians, creative artists, architects and chess players. Needless to say, efficient information processing and superior spatial skills are essential in all these activities.

          Handedness and mathematics

          But what about the link between left-handedness and mathematical skill? Unsurprisingly, the role played by handedness in mathematics has long been a matter of interest. More than 30 years ago, a seminal study claimed left-handedness to be a predictor of mathematical precociousness. The study found that the rate of left-handedness among students talented in mathematics was much greater than among the general population.

          However, the idea that left-handedness is a predictor of superior intellectual ability has been challenged recently. Several scholars have claimed that left-handedness is not related to any advantage in cognitive skills, and may even exert detrimental effects on general cognitive function and, hence, academic achievement.

          For example, one study discovered that left-handed children slightly under-performed in a series of developmental measures. Also, a recent review reported that left-handers appear to be slightly over-represented among people with intellectual disabilities. Another large study found that left-handers performed more poorly in mathematical ability in a sample of children aged five to 14.

          Carefully designed experiment

          Interestingly, these past studies, just like many others, differed from each other in how handedness was measured and how participants were categorised some of them simply asked people what their hand preference was in general. And, most importantly, they had different approaches to measuring mathematical ability ranging from simple arithmetic to complex problem solving. These discrepancies in the experimental design may be the cause of the mixed observed results.

          To get more reliable results, we decided to carry out a whole series of experiments including more than 2,300 students (in primary school and high school). These experiments varied in terms of type and difficulty of mathematical tasks.

          To assure comparability, we used the same questionnaire the Edinburgh Inventory to assess handedness in all the experiments. This questionnaire asks people which hand they prefer for writing, drawing, throwing, brushing and other things. It assesses to what extent someone prefers their right or left its a scale rather than a categorical left versus right assessment. This specific feature allowed us to build more reliable and powerful statistical models.


          Could training to use both hands boost mathematical ability?enixii/flickr

          The results, published in Frontiers, show that left-handers outperformed the rest of the sample when the tasks involved difficult problem-solving, such as associating mathematical functions to a given set of data. This pattern of results was particularly clear in male adolescents. By contrast, when the task was not so demanding, such as when doing simple arithmetic, there was no difference between left- and right-handers. We also discovered that extreme right-handers individuals who said they prefer to use their right hand for all items on the handedness test under-performed in all the experiments compared to moderate right-handers and left-handers.

          Left-handers seem to have, on average, an edge when solving demanding mathematical tasks at least during primary school and high school. Also, being strongly right-handed may represent a disadvantage for mathematics. Taken together, these findings show that handedness, as an indicator of connectivity between brain hemispheres, does influence cognition to some extent.

          That said, handedness is just an indirect expression of brain function. For example, onlya thirdof the people with a more developed right hemisphere are left-handed. So plenty of right-handed people will have a similar brain structure as left-handers. Consequently, we need to be cautious in interpreting peoples hand preference whether we see it as a sign of genius or a marker for cognitive impairment.

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          Researchers Reveal The Multi-Dimensional Universe Of The Brain

          The human brain is a convoluted labyrinth of passages in constant flux routes are being created, strengthened, and deconstructed on a daily basis. On top of this, there are billionsof neurons communicating with each other all day, every dayvia these ever-changing passages. At their junctions, there are synapses about 1 quadrillion of them. If this all sounds complicated enough, then add a mind-boggling 11 dimensions to the mix.

          Get ready, this new research is set to be a head-twister.

          The study, published in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, uses algebraic topology to reveal the multi-dimensional architecture of the brain. This branch of mathematics harnesses abstract algebra to study topological spaces, such as spheres, knots, and tori.

          The team from Blue Brain Project primarily focused on cliques and cavities to paint a picture of the structures and spaces within the brain. When neurons form a clique, they connect to every other neuron in the group in a way that forms a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the more connections there are, and the greater the dimension of the object.

          We found a world that we had never imagined, said neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project, in a statement, there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions.

          The purpose of such work is to try to peel back the relatively flat representation of the brain we have and reveal the multi-dimensional internal workings of the brain.

          A representation of theneurons and connections that, in terms of the model, make up multi-dimensional “cliques”. Above is a 5-dimensional simplex. Blue Brain Project

          When the team then added a stimulus into the virtual brain, progressively higher dimensional cliques assembled and enclosed holes, or cavities. Much of these developments, however, were ephemeral.

          Co-author Ran Levi paints it in a simpler fashion: The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner. It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.

          The team did their best to verify their findings by testing the results on real brain tissue. They state that their virtual discoveries were biologically relevant and suggest that the brain constantly rewires itself during development to construct a high-dimensional structure.

          It is key to note that the objects in this study are not more than three dimensions outside the space of this model, its just that the mathematics used to describe the intricacy can have more dimensions.

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