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While You Were Out: MacArthur’s ‘Genius’ Women, America’s Royal Baby, Womb Transplants, and More


“While You Were Out” is a Friday feature of short notes and commentary from the week. Whether it’s something you’d discuss at the watercooler or at happy hour, you’ll find it on our grid, together with our opinion as to if it’s praiseworthy or cringeworthy. We’re pleased to bring you the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

And the Genius Grants Go to . . .

The 2015 MacArthur Genius Grants were announced this week, celebrating the work of twenty-four individuals in fields as diverse as religious studies, tap dance, and chemistry. The recipients of this award receive a free and clear $625,000 stipend over five years for “shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways.” As always, the list includes a few prominent names—Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright, composer, and performer responsible for the hip-hop musical Hamilton, which is currently taking Broadway by storm; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the journalist exploring the complex history of racism who recently wrote the best-selling book Between the World and Me—are among them.

Every MacArthur Fellow is impressive, but I found myself most excited this year about the women on the list. Michelle Dorrance is a dancer who is redefining tap dance within the context of contemporary dance. LaToya Ruby Frazier is a photographer promoting her art form as a way to encourage dialogue about marginalized communities. And Mimi Lien is a set designer breaking the storied fourth wall of theater by creating immersive environments to bring audiences fully into a production. Other women include neuroscientist Beth Stevens, economist Heidi Williams, poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, historian Marina Rustow, painter Nicole Eisenman, and designer Alex Truesdell, whose work creates affordable tools and furniture to “enable children with disabilities to participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities.” Congratulations to everyone on the list, but in the immortal words of Beyoncé—“Who run the world? Girls!” —Monica Weigel

Preemie Miracle

A miracle happened on the high sea when a mother gave birth on a cruise ship a hundred miles from land and fourteen hours from the nearest hospital. At just 23 weeks old, chances of survival for little Haiden were between 15 to 30 percent in a NICU, let alone an ill-equipped ship. Once the baby was born, they changed his swaddling towels to keep him dry, covered his tiny head with a maxi pad as a makeshift hat to keep the infant from losing too much heat through his head, and microwaved saline pouches and lined his swaddling with them to keep him warm. When the ship reached Puerto Rico, Haiden was whisked away to the ICU. Three days later he was strong enough to be transferred to a hospital in Miami, where it’s projected that he’ll be released December 19—his original due date. We wish Haiden and his family nothing but the absolute best. —Hannah Allen White

Chelsea Clinton Shares Rare Baby Picture

Former first daughter and American royal Chelsea Clinton shared a rare photograph of her daughter, Charlotte, via Twitter in honor of the baby’s first birthday. “Last book for Charlotte before bedtime on her first birthday!” the 35-year-old wrote as the caption. “Marc & I are so grateful every day to be her parents.” Chelsea doesn’t share photos of her daughter that often, so Clinton fans started gushing as soon as it was posted, and Chelsea’s mom, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, retweeted the photo. This is the first child for Chelsea and her husband Marc. —HAW

Blake Lively Closes Preserve

There are many reasons to be envious of Blake Lively—she has perfect hair, an incredible sense of style, an impressive acting resume, and a seemingly idyllic life with a gorgeous husband and baby girl. But a new amazing quality of Lively’s emerged this week that trumps everything else in my book—she is not afraid to fail and own up to it.

Lively launched Preserve, a lifestyle website, last year amid much ridicule and derision, and this week, she shut it down, admitting that it has not been successful and needs to be improved. Speaking to Vogue, Lively admitted that “it’s very exciting, and it’s also incredibly scary . . . I never thought I would have the bravery to actually do that, to take the site dark and to say, ‘You know what? I haven’t created something that is as true and impactful as I know it can and will be. And I’m not going to continue to chase my tail and continue to put a product out there that we, as a team, are not proud of.’ I know what it’ll look like, what I’m facing publicly, that people are just going to have a heyday with this. But it’s so much worse to continue to put something out there—to ask my team to put something out there—that isn’t the best we can do. I’m going to take this hit, and the only way I can prove all the negative reactions wrong is to come back with a plan that will rock people. And I have that plan.”

For all of us who are afraid to put ourselves out there and try something new because we are afraid of failure, I offer up a big THANK YOU to Lively, who had the guts to admit that she isn’t perfect and untouchable and that failing is always OK as long as you pick yourself back up, learn from your mistakes, and keep trying. —MW

Water Found on Mars

NASA announced this week that it has found strong evidence of liquid water on Mars. The evidence? Hydrated salt. If you are anything like me and do not immediately understand the significance of hydrated salt, according to Alfred S. McEwen, a professor of planetary geology at the University of Arizona, the finding is “a direct detection of water. . . . There pretty much has to have been liquid water recently present to produce the hydrated salt.”

Scientists have long known of water frozen in polar ice caps on the red planet and have for some time theorized about the possibility of liquid water, but they’ve—until now—lacked direct evidence.

In 2010, Lujendra Ojha, an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, first spotted long, dark streaks on Mars’ craters, canyons, and mountains. During the warmer summer, the streaks were longer and darker but disappeared when the temperature dropped. Scientists suggested that the streaks were caused by water melting when the temperature rose. The discovery of hydrated salt in spots along these lines further substantiates that theory. According to NASA scientist Mary Beth Wilhelm, the findings “strongly suggest” that the streaks “are formed by liquid water on present-day Mars.”

Given that liquid water is considered one of the essential ingredients for life, its presence on Mars is reviving a debate in the scientific community about whether or not Mars is, could be, or ever has been habitable. Regardless of the true answer, this development is exciting. —Baleigh Scott

Razor with a Laser

Can you imagine a world without razor burn? Too good to be true, right? Maybe not. Two Swedish scientists have developed a razor without the blade called “Skarp” that cuts hair with a laser. Morgan Gustavsson, who in 1989 invented the IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) laser, which is still used for laser hair removal, has since dreamed of inventing a method of laser hair removal that can be performed at home. He succeeded in finding wavelengths of light that could cut through dark hair but had no such luck with lighter hair—until now.

Gustavsson and his partner Paul Binun claim to have discovered part of a hair molecule that is shared by all humans and can be cut by a particular wavelength of light. Skarp is being funded through Kickstarter, where it has raised more than $2 million—well beyond its initial $160,000 goal. Unfortunately, if you want one by March of 2016, it will cost you $159. As someone whose skin is in a perpetual state of razor burn, never using a bladed razor again might be worth that. —BS

Global Citizen Festival

Last week Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran took to Central Park to headline the Global Citizen Festival. The concert is the flagship event for the United Nations’ Global Poverty Project, which campaigns to eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2030. Attendees get free tickets after applying and pledging to take part in an “action journey,” doing activism such as making phone calls or volunteering to help achieve the project’s goals. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly when Queen Bey, dressed down in jeans and a T-shirt, joined Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder onstage for an acoustic rendition of Bob Marley’s iconic tune “Redemption Song.” The song is widely associated with hope in impoverishment because Marley wrote it about his experiences growing up in Jamaica. Beyoncé and Vedder were an unlikely pairing but sounded absolutely amazing together during the duet. —HAW

Robert Downey Jr. Loves to Dance, Apparently . . .

I always enjoy a good blooper reel, and I have to say that superheroes losing it mid-take and special effects and action sequences going wrong are their own particular brand of comedy gold. Marvel released a glimpse of its new Blu-ray Avengers: Age of Ultron DVD gag reel on Twitter on Monday, which looks like it includes a fair few dance-offs, character-inappropriate kisses, and CGI fails. Thank you, Marvel; your comic timing is impeccable as ever, even when it’s improvised. —Sophie Caldecott

Christmas Dinner at Hogwarts, Anyone?

Warner Bros. announced on Tuesday that, for the first time ever, it will be holding a Christmas dinner on the set used for the Great Hall at its studio near London in December. Ticket holders will be given a wand and served a two-course meal “with all the trimmings” in Hogwarts’ famous dining hall (decorated, of course, as if it really were Christmas in the wizarding world) before being able to explore other famous sets such as the Gryffindor common room and the Weasley family’s kitchen at the Burrow. Festive desserts and butterbeer, as well as music and dancing, are also promised. The two hundred or so tickets cost £230 each and sold out within twenty-four hours of the event’s announcement. —SC

Birth Series Speaks Volumes

The miracle of birth is an amazing thing, and many women are lucky enough to have beautiful stories about how they brought their babies into this world. Some women, however, do not. Some women carry emotional and physical scarring that can be hard to reconcile.

A recent photo series is giving moms the opportunity to talk about those experiences and foster conversation about the issues too many moms face during childbirth. Titled “Exposing the Silence,” the series was created by Cristen Pascucci, who works for the advocacy organizations Improving Birth and Birth Monopoly, along with doula and photographer Lindsay Askins. The two women drove across the country to meet with moms who had experienced trauma in pregnancy and childbirth. Their subjects mention everything from difficult stories of emergency C-sections to miscarriages to claims of abuse by medical professionals. The series is cathartic for women who can relate and an informative, thought-provoking experience for everyone else. —HAW

Miscarriage Prevalence

This week a powerful piece made the rounds on the Internet. At the Huffington Post, Laura Benanti shared her story about what she describes as “the Voldemort of women’s health issues”—in other words, miscarriage. Something we at Verily find an important issue deserving of attention. —Mary Rose Somarriba

Well, This Is a First

It has been announced that the UK’s first-ever womb transplants will be attempted, with a hundred women already identified as potential participants in a new clinical trial. The trial is set to begin in spring 2016, led by gynecologist Dr. Richard Smith, who has been working on the project for nineteen years. Speaking to the BBC, Smith said, “Over the years I have quite a lot of crisis with this project. . . . But when you meet the women who have been born without a uterus or who have had their uterus removed for one reason or another, this is really heart-rending stuff, and this is what has kept us going.” The transplant trial team has specified that the women must be 38 or younger, have a long-term partner, and be a healthy weight to qualify. They will use wombs from donors who are brain-dead but whose hearts have been kept beating, and IVF embryos will be implanted. Last October a woman in Sweden became the first woman in the world to give birth to a baby through a womb transplant, but in her case the donor was living. —SC

A Sad Loss

In tragic news this week, the Irish makeup artist Cathriona White committed suicide, causing many headlines to pop up identifying her primarily known for being Jim Carrey’s girlfriend. The 28-year-old beauty was known for being from a big family. Carrey has issued a statement, saying, “She was a truly kind and delicate Irish flower, too sensitive for this soil, to whom loving and being loved was all that sparkled. My heart goes out to her family and friends and to everyone who loved and cared about her. We have all been hit with a lightning bolt.” While media is speculating about her mental health and involvement in Scientology, we have to say, especially after publishing two pieces in honor of September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, one from a former suicide-hotline volunteer and one from an anonymous author whose sister committed suicide, our hearts go out to Cathriona’s loved ones and family during this sad time. —MRS

A Grassroots Effort to Combat Cyberbullying

This week a powerful video story was posted on Glamour’s The Scene channel. It tells the story of Lizzie Velásquez, born with a rare congenital disease that impedes her from accumulating body fat, who has overcome cyberbullying on a huge level—including being billed “the ugliest woman in the world.” Glamour’s story precedes the release of the documentary A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velásquez Story, which is opening in select theaters now. —MRS

Episode 1: Bullying