Ancient cave painters deprived themselves of oxygen to get high, new study suggests – CNET

A replica painting from Spain's Cave of Altamira, home to numerous paintings of contemporary local fauna and human hands created between 18,500 and 14,000 years ago during the Upper Palaeolithic period. 

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ancient cave painters sometimes created elaborate images in dark, narrow passages navigable only with artificial light. Hardly optimal conditions for an artist. So why would Picassos of the Late Stone Age even attempt to draw in such poorly lit, hard-to-reach spaces? Because they knew the environments would deprive them of oxygen and get them high, according to a new study.

They were "motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space," archaeologists from Tel Aviv University say in the study, which appears in the latest issue of Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. The oxygen deprivation helped them tap their deepest, most visceral levels of creativity and connect to the cosmos, the research suggests. 

In many Indigenous societies, actively connecting with the cosmos and environment is considered key to individual and communal well-being and adaptation. "It was not the decoration that rendered the caves significant," the study says. "Rather, the significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration."

When the body's mandatory blood-oxygen concentration falls below a certain level, hypoxia follows. It's a potentially life-threatening state that can cause a range of biological and cognitive changes, including increased dopamine, hallucinations and euphoria. The researchers believe artists from between 14,000 and 40,000 years ago lit their way through caves' interior depths with flickering torches knowing the fire would reduce oxygen levels in the already poorly ventilated spaces. Some art was found in areas that involved climbing steps, crossing narrow ledges and even shafts that descended several meters deep.

The researchers studied decorated caves first discovered in Western Europe in the 19th century to further interpret the enduring mysteries of cave art and explore what motivated these very early artists. Many of the images were painted in black and red, or engraved on soft walls or hard surfaces. They mostly depict animals, but also hand stencils, handprints and abstract geometric signs. 

Not all cave art appears in deep, dark recesses -- some decorates walls near entrances or shelters. But it was the art in remote cave areas not used for daily domestic activities that most intrigued researchers like Yafit Kedar, a Ph.D. candidate in Tel Aviv University's department of archaeology. 

She's the one who theorized the artists deliberately induced hypoxia to achieve an altered state of consciousness.   

To research her hypothesis, Kedar and her fellow scientists simulated the effect of torches on oxygen concentrations in closed spaces such as those in the Upper Paleolithic caves. They found that oxygen levels in narrow passages or halls with a single passage quickly declined to below 18%, the level known to induce hypoxia in humans. 

It's been a good year for cave art, which has much to tell us about how our forebears lived and thought. Earlier this year, researchers identified an image of a warty pig from 45,500 years ago that they believe to be both the world's oldest cave painting and earliest known surviving depiction of the animal world.  

The past several years have brought other exciting discoveries of ancient drawings, though nonfigurative, including one found in South Africa from 73,000 years ago that resembles a hashtag and another from between 2100 and 4100 BC that may show humans' wonder at a stellar explosion

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Finding Nemo, the spider: Meet the arachnid that looks like the Pixar star – CNET


Maratus nemo, a handsome little fella, should have no trouble attracting the ladies. 

Evolutionary Systematics

Say hello to Maratus nemo, a new species of peacock spider named for its resemblance to the beloved star of Pixar's Finding Nemo. Australian arachnologist Joseph Schubert named the adorable spider for the male's dazzling orange and white palette, which recalls the timid young clownfish in the 2003 Oscar-winning animated feature film


Peacock spiders, a type of Australian jumping spider, are so named for the vibrant, often iridescent scales on the upper surface of the males' abdomen. The males display the markings during courtship dances that involve lifting a single leg and slowly waving it in a partially flexed position. As the female approaches, the male raises and more quickly waves a pair of legs while bobbing its colorful abdomen flaps up and down. 

If you're having trouble picturing these sexy spider moves, you can see them performed below to the tune of YMCA. (No, that's not Nemo in the video. Yes, I'm in love.) 

Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday first found Nemo the spider in Nangwarry, a town in the Mount McIntyre region of Australia's south, and posted photos to a Facebook group for Australian jumping spiders. Schubert, a taxonomist with the Melbourne Museum, saw the images, contacted Holliday and went to work studying the creature in depth. He details the find in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.  

Peacock spiders are teeny-tiny, measuring anywhere from 0.05 inch (1.5 millimeters) to a third of an inch (7.62 millimeters). To anyone without superhero vision, they look like ordinary brown spiders at first glance. But under a macro lens or microscope, their brilliant colors and patterns appear. 

Peacock spiders occupy a wide range of habitats. Holliday found the new species in wetlands, in marshy vegetation. No other peacock spider is known to occupy such a habitat, according to the study. 

Maratus nemo joins a distinguished class of peacock spiders named after iconic cultural offerings. Last year, Schubert introduced seven new peacock spiders, including one that looks like Vincent Van Gogh's famous painting Starry Night.  

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Duolingo is adding a Yiddish course. Could you plotz? – CNET

Popular language-learning platform Duolingo is about to roll out a Yiddish course for English speakers. I don't know about you, but I'm kvelling. 

The course, which is set to debut April 6, will guide students through speaking, reading and writing the richly expressive language that originated with Jews in Central and Eastern Europe and served as their lingua franca for centuries.  

Ed Begley Jr. gets the schpilkes in Christoper Guest comedy A Mighty Wind. 

Warner Archive/GIPHY

Don't know bupkes about Yiddish? It blends old German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic languages, and drips with humor, irony, pathos and history. While it's still widely spoken in largely Jewish neighborhoods in places like New York, there's been a renewed broader cultural interest in both the language and its robust tradition of literature, poetry, music, film and theater. 

Yiddish lovers can attend conferences, clubs, meetups and summer festivals, and listen to radio shows and podcasts like the Yiddish Voice and Vaybertaytsh. There are religious Yiddish newspapers and magazines and streaming classes in Yiddish for studying sacred ancient Jewish texts. 

But even though some perceive Yiddish as a language of older generations, it's become equally modern. Many Yiddish words have made their way into the everyday English vernacular and onto shows like Girls and Seinfeld. Thanks to my mom, the Texas-bred daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, I grew up thinking "oy" was another English word for "ugh" and everyone else in the neighborhood "schlepped," "schvitzed," "potchked" and "schmoozed" as much as my family did. 

The Duolingo course will cover everything from vocabulary and grammar to key cultural phrases, connecting participants with the tachlis (brass tacks) of Yiddish culture. Other online Yiddish courses teach the language, too, but it's a ganze tzimmes (a big deal) that a platform with more than 300 million users is including it in its catalog.  

Yiddish makes it onto Law and Order. 

Wolf Entertainment/GIPHY

Duolingo is available for free on iOS, Android and the Web, with an upgrade to Duolingo Plus for $7 a month offering lessons free of ads, plus offline access to lessons and content, and the ability to track your progress. Lessons take about five minutes and teach language through a simple interface and short, video game-like exercises.  

The Yiddish course is five years in the making. The company tapped volunteer contributors including Meena Lifshe Viswanath, a civil engineer who grew up speaking Yiddish at home and whose aunt is editor of the Yiddish Forward newspaper. Also on the team are Gen-Zers inspired by their personal heritage to help Yiddish thrive.  

The contributors had vigorous debates about which of the main Yiddish dialects should be taught on Duolingo, even soliciting public input on how the language should be pronounced in the new course. Ultimately, they decided to go with the dialect prevalent among Hungarian Jews, especially among Hasidic communities in Brooklyn. 


"The focus on this particular Yiddish shows a desire to teach a living breathing language, as it's found not in the halls of the academy, but on the streets of Brooklyn, London, Antwerp and beyond," says Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, the New York-based founder of Tech Tribe, a community for Jews in tech and digital media. He isn't affiliated with the course. 

Lightstone says he's "very excited" about Duolingo offering a Yiddish course, as Jews and non-Jews alike are drawn to it both as a distinctive-sounding language and a link to history and heritage. "Yiddish opens up a world of profoundly inspiring and influential teachings in their original language," he says. 

Duolingo offers 100 total courses across nearly 40 distinct languages, from the most spoken to lesser-spoken languages such as Hawaiian, Navajo, Scottish Gaelic and now, Yiddish.

More than 9,500 people are currently waiting to take the Yiddish course when it starts in April, according to the class' webpage. No doubt that makes Duolingo a bit verklempt. 

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Fascinating new WWI GIFs capture the poignant reality of war – CNET

National WWI Museum and Memorial

When you think of GIFs, you probably think of Captain Picard facepalming, Homer Simpson backing into the bushes, and cats doing just about anything cats do.

An extensive new collection of GIFs from the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City could expand the perception of the ubiquitous short clips. The GIFs capture daily life during the First World War, from the tragic to the lighthearted, providing a mesmerizing, easily scannable snapshot the museum hopes will help bring history to a younger, GIF-savvy generation.

"This GIF collection is a fantastic way to add an unexpected layer to education and engage new audiences," said Lora Vogt, curator of education at the museum and memorial.

Some of the nearly 500 video snippets compiled on GIF database GIPHY show rolling tanks, exploding grenades and troops crawling on all fours through forests or hunched in trenches, rifles drawn. In others, soldiers seek moments of levity and normalcy during a conflagration that saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction. 

National WWI Museum and Memorial

They box, dance and play the saxophone, baseball and hockey. They playfully snatch hats from each other's heads and mug for the camera with their canine buddies. They write letters home. The images feel far away, yet they also capture the timeless human yearning for the ordinary during extraordinary times.

The black and white videos come from archival film footage, primarily from the US Signal Corps, a branch of the United States Army responsible for communications and information systems. 

This isn't the first time GIFs have captured pivotal historical moments. 

National WWI Museum and Memorial

The US National Archives has assembled GIF collections chronicling events including the 1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy, D-Day and NASA's Apollo program. And the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture has uploaded numerous GIFs of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech and civil rights marches. 

But this new collection is believed to be the largest GIF cache yet of the Great War. It took the National WWI Museum and Memorial almost 350 hours of work over six months to sift through 20th century footage and select the moments that would be turned into 21st century GIFs. 

They are poignant treasures. 

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Step inside 65 million pixels of Vincent Van Gogh’s most iconic works – CNET

Massive yellow, gold and rust sunflowers stretch from floor to ceiling everywhere I turn. 

These aren't your standard, everyday sunflowers. They're Vincent Van Gogh's sunflowers, and I'm steeped in them. That, of course, is the point of Immersive Van Gogh. The multimedia exhibit invites viewers to "step inside" the legendary Dutch painter's most iconic works through digital projection, animation, light and music from classical to original to Edith Piaf. Chairs hover; windmills turn; and flowers shrink, expand and explode into bursts of brilliant blue. A nightscape appears to rain down the wall and a man in a boat rows past me in rippling water. The exhibit is moving, quite literally. 

GIF by Leslie Katz/CNET

Immersive Van Gogh -- running in San Francisco from Thursday through Sept. 6 and heading to many other cities later this year -- is a technological feat. The production I'm seeing at the cavernous SVN West events venue in SF involves some 300,000 cubic feet of projections, 65 million pixels, 60,600 frames of video from 400 images, 40 projectors, 30 speakers, 510 feet of truss and 8 miles of cable. 

But the numbers behind this exhibit, the technology, don't feel important right now. I can only focus on the surreal reality that for the first time in a long, long year, I'm standing in a room with other people, strangers, sharing a cultural experience live. All around me, famous paintings like The Bedroom and Starry Night reveal themselves through giant, swirling brushstrokes. It feels like floating through a mesmerizing post-Impressionist dream.  

The exhibit takes all appropriate COVID-19 precautions: reduced capacity, mandatory masks, touchless hand sanitization stations, temperatures taken at the door, contactless payment and circles projected onto the floor to keep viewers socially distanced. "It's safe to Gogh," the website assures visitors.  

Watching Van Gogh's towering masterpieces assemble and disassemble, shifting palettes from dark and muted to vibrant and pulsating, is like walking straight into the artist's canvases and consciousness. Through this exhibit I'm experiencing art beyond the confines of my computer screen for the first time in many months. But I'm also taking a big step toward returning to the world. 

In Immersive Van Gogh, a self-portrait of the artist floats downward through images from his 1889 painting Starry Night. Van Gogh painted it while hospitalized in an asylum in France.

Leslie Katz/CNET

The traveling exhibit from Lighthouse Immersive originated in Toronto in July 2020, went on to Chicago and will play in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas and Houston. It's surpassed a million ticket sales in North America, with tickets for the San Francisco showing ranging from $25 to $40.  

It's fitting that Van Gogh is the artist coaxing people out of their homes and into a shared space in such large numbers. The painter famously struggled with mental unrest and isolation, "an experience all of us can relate to more than we could have a year ago," Toronto-based co-producer Corey Ross, speaking over video chat, tells a small group assembled for a showing before opening day of the West Coast premiere. 

This is an exhibit of quickly shifting moods, like the past year has been for just about everyone. 

Now playing: Watch this: Immersive Van Gogh puts you inside the artist's paintings


After so many canceled and reimagined plays, concerts, parties and trips, everything about the experience feels extra vivid, and extra special. That makes me cautiously hopeful about the future of cultural events, despite the many roadblocks and reconstructions ahead. Maybe people will emerge from the pandemic with a renewed reverence for all we went without.  

"The past year taught us to be creative, to be flexible, to be patient," co-producer Svetlana Dvoretsky says before the show. There's triumph in the air -- and on the walls.  

Cheshire Isaacs

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Scientists grow human tear glands in a lab, and actually make them cry – CNET

Getty Images

Disembodied human tear glands that cry sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. But in the Netherlands, functional tear glands that don't attach to anyone's eyes (or emotions) are starring in their own real-life drama. 

Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute and UMC Utrecht used stem cells to grow tiny tear glands in a petri dish that mimic the real thing. They hope these so-called organoids can serve as models for studying how the cells in human tear glands produce tears. The ultimate goal: to better understand and treat conditions such as dry eye disease or the autoimmune disorder Sjögren's syndrome, as well as cancers of the tear gland. 

"Hopefully in the future, this type of organoid may even be transplantable to patients with nonfunctioning tear glands," says Marie Bannier-Hélaouët, a doctoral candidate at the Hubrecht Institute for developmental biology and stem cell research. She co-authored a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Stem Cell that details the project.  

Organoids are built in vitro, in 3D suspension, from a small number of stem cells that eventually multiply to form something resembling a real organ, such as a mini-brain, bladder, or, in this case, the glands located inside the upper eyelid. 

Tear, or lacrimal, glands continuously supply fluid that's wiped across the surface of the eye every time we blink and then drains into small holes in the corners of our upper and lower lids before traveling down our tear ducts to the nose. In addition to displaying emotion, the fluid is essential to the eye's health, lubricating the cornea and helping ward off bacteria. Tear gland dysfunction can be annoying, causing scratching, stinging or burning sensations and sensitivity to light. But it can also be serious, leading to corneal abrasions or ulcerations or even blindness in the most severe cases. 

Tear glands are made up of several kinds of cells. The lab-grown glands out of the Netherlands are made up of just one type, ductal, and cry in response to chemical stimuli such as noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that sends a message from our neurons to our tear glands.  

The cells shed tears on the inside of the organoid, causing it to balloon up. 

Marie Bannier-Hélaouët/Hubrecht Institute

"Our eyes are always wet, as are the tear glands in a dish," Bannier-Hélaouët says of the artificial glands. Bannier-Hélaouët works in molecular biologist Hans Clevers' lab, which focuses on creating organoids for disease modeling and has previously re-created snake venom glands and mice tear glands. 

It's not like you'd walk into Clevers' lab and see big tear-shaped drops floating in jars. The cells shed tears on the inside of the organoid, called the lumen. This causes the organoid to swell up like a balloon, with the size indicating how much tear production and secretion is going on. 

This isn't the first time scientists have created human eye components from stem cells. In 2018, a team from John Hopkins University created eyeball parts in hopes of better understanding how and why we developed "trichromatic vision" -- the ability to see in red, blue and green.

The Dutch researchers acknowledge limitations to their tear gland, as it's comprised of just one of the main cell types found in the gland. They say they'd eventually like to grow a full tear gland from the broader array of cells that make it up, gaining an even more robust understanding of how we form tears. 

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Watch a drone swoop through a bowling alley at warp speed – CNET

GIF by Leslie Katz/CNET

Miss going to bowling alleys in person? Lace up your virtual bowling shoes and get ready to visit one through the eyes of a drone. 

Filmmakers Jay Christensen and Anthony Jaska of video production house Rally Studios sent a drone speeding through Bryant-Lake Bowl and Theater in Minneapolis and posted the eye-popping results to YouTube on Sunday.   

It's an impressive bit of filmmaking as the Cinewhoop drone flies down bowling lanes, nuzzles close to the pins and then soars back toward the bowlers. Crisp, atmospheric audio -- of people chatting, bowling balls rolling on wood, pins clanging, glasses clinking -- adds to the immediacy. 

Cinewhoop drones are a small type of drone specifically created to capture cinematic HD footage. Because ducts protect the propellers, they're safer. 

That's probably why the bowlers awaiting their turn don't look in the least alarmed to see a drone flying straight at them. They also knew it was coming. 

Read more: The best drones of 2021

"This took a solid amount of planning and flight mapping prior to turning the camera on," Brian Heimann of Rally Studios told me. "The intention was for this to feel more cinematic and voyeuristic." 

In one sequence, the camera swoops above and then behind the pins so you can see the hidden machinery that controls them. That's a behind-the-scenes view I, for one, have never seen. Then again, I can count my total lifetime strikes on one hand.  

"I know nothing about drones, but I am amazed how it could be flown through all those narrow spaces without crashing," one YouTube viewer commented.  

Rally Studios counts adventure videos among its offerings. Heimann assures me the team operated via strict COVID-19 protocol for the production, taking temperatures at the door and requiring masks -- when people didn't need to lower them to down a beer, that is.

A bowling pin getting knocked over never looked this intense.

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Mark Women’s History Month with these streaming movies and TV shows – CNET

Women's History Month, which runs through the end of March, is a time to honor the vital role of women in history and celebrate their diverse achievements and stories.   

To mark the occasion, the CNET team has come up with a list of inspiring and illuminating movies and TV shows that explore the triumphs and challenges of the female experience. Some are documentaries, of activists, artists, politicians and more. Others are historical dramas that open a window on women's lives in the past, or contemporary takes that feature compelling female characters navigating modern life. 

Of course this roundup represents only a sampling of the vast range of available content that would make for great viewing during Women's History Month. Got your own picks? Please share them in the comments.

Zeitgeist Films; video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

You like the internet? Thank Hedy Lamarr: inventor, visionary, sex symbol. Lamarr's story is suffused with transformation and survival; inspiration; invention and reinvention again. The forebear of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Lamarr was the Jewish-born wife of a businessman with Nazi ties. Her dramatic escape from the regime led to a second life on the silver screen, where Lamarr was judged by her beauty rather than her cutting intellect. 

In this 2017 documentary, Lamarr comes to life as a whole person, with thoughts and dreams. Refreshingly unabashed in her groundbreaking role as a contributor to technology and science, Lamarr, in her own words, reveals herself as an innovator who knew her worth.

--Jessica Dolcourt

Magnolia Pictures; video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

After the wonderful documentary The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle wrote and directed this story about a group of female skaters based in New York who called themselves Skate Kitchen. Most of the cast in this 2018 drama are nonprofessional actors playing a fictionalized version of themselves. Honest and delicate, Skate Kitchen is a beautiful portrayal of teenage girls taking over spaces that too often seem to be reserved for boys. 

--Marta Franco 

Disney Plus

For a  true, uplifting story, Hidden Figures ticks all the boxes. The Oscar-nominated biopic follows the Black female mathematicians who were instrumental in helping NASA during the space race. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson are the names that hopefully you'll remember after watching, and the three women are brought to life by the unwaveringly excellent performances of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

--Jennifer Bisset


When I joined my first newsroom in the early 1990s, I had no idea how far women journalists had come in such a short period of time. Then I watched Good Girls Revolt. The single-season series is based on the true story of the young women who worked in the Newsweek newsroom in the late 1960s and faced utterly ridiculous sexism. They worked their butts off as researchers – i.e., male reporters' assistants -- yet were never allowed to become reporters or get bylines. They were also paid substantially less than their male counterparts.  

This Amazon Original series isn't completely serious, though. I delighted in the fashion, hair, morality and revolutionary feel of the time. And I cringed at the women's (often poor) choices in romantic and sexual partners. I also sent Amazon an incredulous note when this series was canceled after one season. If you give Good Girls Revolt a try, you'll understand why. 

--Natalie Weinstein


You have to have pretty thick skin to be an activist in the public eye. But lawyer Gloria Allred has championed women's rights for decades, seeming completely immune to the childish taunts thrown her way. This 2018 documentary is an utterly fascinating look at the life and motivations of one of America's best-known attorneys.

--Rebecca Fleenor 


This historical miniseries has a stacked cast, including Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Sarah Paulson. Blanchett plays Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist who caused unexpected backlash to the political movement to pass The Equal Rights Amendment. Prominent feminists of the '70s pop up, like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. For a vivid look at history through powerhouse performances, Mrs. America is tremendous. 

--Jennifer Bisset


A soaring feel-good movie from 2016 about a young woman who achieves greatness. The best part? Queen of Katwe is based on a true story about the first titled female chess player in Ugandan chess history. Life in the Katwe slum is a constant struggle, but when Phiona Mutesi discovers her talent for chess, she starts believing she can do bigger and greater things. Starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo, Queen of Katwe is a winning checkmate.

--Jennifer Bisset


I've often had romantic notions of writers of yore meandering through their days, dreaming of their next story while sipping tea and taking walks through their estates. To watch this 2016 film and learn the brutal reality the Bronte sisters faced is a true wakeup call. 

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte struggled in ways I cannot fathom. They were poor and isolated. Their alcoholic brother drained their family financially and emotionally. And they faced a publishing world that had zero interest in women authors. Yet they wrote and published (under male pseudonyms) some of the greatest works of English literature: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. This film is simultaneously haunting and inspiring. 

--Natalie Weinstein

Magnolia Pictures

In the last decade of her life, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved a status her colleagues hadn't: She became a pop culture icon, aka the Notorious RBG. As the 2018 documentary RBG makes clear, it was largely because of her pointed dissents defending everything from reproductive rights to pay equity to voting rights. But long before she sat on the nation's highest court, she was fighting for gender equality. In the movie, Gloria Steinem describes her as "the closest thing to a superhero I know." 

The film features interviews with Ginsburg, her children, granddaughter, friends, former colleagues and even a few politicians -- those who agreed with her decisions and those who didn't. It also makes good use of audio from the cases she argued in front of the Supreme Court (she won five out of six). 

One of those cases is dramatized in the enjoyable but mostly forgettable On the Basis of Sex, which stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg and includes a powerful cameo by the Notorious RBG at the end. (It's the movie's best scene.) Pass the tissues, please. 

--Anne Dujmovic 


I Am Greta chronicles the remarkable story of teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg. The 2020 documentary is an intimate look at Thunberg's one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish parliament. We also see a little of her life as a shy student with Asperger's. The rare footage is in the sure hands of Swedish director Nathan Grossman, following one young woman's galvanizing impact from Sweden to the rest of the world.

--Jennifer Bisset

Sky Atlantic

I Hate Suzie is a show that says something that hasn't been said on screen before. Writer Lucy Prebble manages to discuss female identity through low-key lines delivered by her flawed and lost yet powerhouse women. "I feel like my whole life I've just seen everything from other people's points of view and I've never asked myself like, 'What do I want?'" 

The titular Suzie, played by Billie Piper with a weird, skittish energy, experiences trauma after life-upending pictures on her hacked phone are leaked. Even though the character is a celebrity actress, she's relatable, vulnerable and unpredictable. It's probably too much to say this is a modern Odyssey, but thanks to the frenetic, almost frenzied filmmaking, by the end it feels like you've experienced something big. 

--Jennifer Bisset

Hollywood Pictures

As someone with immigrant parents, I connected deeply with this 1993 film (and the Amy Tan novel it was based on). But the beautiful, complicated relationships between Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters can resonate with anyone struggling to navigate complex bonds with people who may have different backgrounds and life experiences. 

The film explores the importance of tradition and the power of love to connect people regardless of challenges or differences. It also speaks to the resilience of women to overcome immense difficulties, no matter their background.

--Abrar Al-Heeti

Music Box Films; video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Mary Dore's 2014 documentary looks back at the second-wave feminism movement from 1966 to 1971 and interviews a number of pioneers who fought for women's liberation. It's a great quick watch and a helpful reminder that even though young women today are a few generations out from second-wave feminism, there are still important conversations to be had about issues like reproductive rights and gender equality in the workplace.

--Rebecca Fleenor


This 2020 documentary about the systematic sexual abuse of elite young female gymnasts by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar is harrowing. But the strength and perseverance of the athletes who went on record with their stories, facing their abuser in court, is nothing short of heroic. Nassar -- and those who enabled his widespread abuse -- took so much from these young women. But no one could take away their courage or humanity. 

--Leslie Katz

Peter Rodis/Netflix

"High Priestess of Soul" Nina Simone is a legendary singer and activist, and this 2015 film, which uses rare recordings and archival footage, is maybe one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards. And for good reason. 

--Mark Serrels


The tide has turned, so to speak. Instead of the helpless "rescued by a prince" princesses of yesteryear, Disney has made a sincere effort in the last decade to tell stories that will inspire young girls to be strong and independent. Moana plays a Polynesian teenager who sets out on an oceanic mission to help her people, guided by demigod Maui. Moana, from 2016, is a beautifully animated, well-written film that should be played on repeat for our young sons and daughters.

--Rebecca Fleenor

Forty Acres and a Mule; video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Spike Lee's 1986 directorial debut, She's Gotta Have It still holds up more than three decades later as a comedy, a drama, a romance and a thought piece on race and sexuality. The film follows the incredible Nola Darling as she juggles three men simultaneously, while not letting them define her or her independence. On the upside, once you finish the movie you can start straight away on the Netflix series Lee recently adapted. It's also fantastic. 

--Rebecca Fleenor 

Amazon Prime; video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

This is a filmed version of writer-comedian Heidi Schreck's one-woman show, directed by Marielle Heller (who plays the adoptive mom in The Queen's Gambit). It starts out with Schreck giving a talk about the Constitution that she used to give as a teenager, all over the country, to earn college money, which is funny and self-deprecating and nerdy. 

But it develops into the story of the women in her family and the ways the nation's founding document has circumscribed their freedoms and directly affected their lives. NGL, it gets pretty dark. Wisely, Schreck ends on a high note -- I won't say more. This is funny, moving and deeply thought-provoking.

--Nick Hide 


As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I had of course heard of the classic book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Her autobiography tells the incredibly painful and fascinating story of her childhood. Yet I had no idea who the real woman was until I watched this 2016 documentary. 

Her fame as a brilliant poet and author was preceded by decades in the theater as a dancer, singer and actress. She was also an activist who was intensely involved in the civil rights movement and worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin. This documentary lays it all out and allows you to soak in Angelou's talent, personality, determination and iconoclasm.  

--Natalie Weinstein


In 18th century France, a painter is hired to paint the portrait of a woman without her knowing. As they spend time together, the two women become closer until it becomes clear their relationship goes well beyond friendship. Beautiful, sensual and free of the clichés sometimes present in movies about LGBTQ characters, Portrait of a Lady on Fire does an excellent job exploring a passionate, nascent same-sex love.

--Marta Franco


The Great is one of my most favorite shows from the past few years. This irreverent comedy about the early years of Catherine the Great's marriage doesn't let historical accuracy get in the way of a good story. And it really is a fantastic story. Elle Fanning and Phoebe Fox are brilliant, and Nicholas Hoult is a wonderfully terrible husband you can't help but feel a little sorry for. 

--Nicole Archer 


Speaking of loose interpretations of history, there's Apple TV Plus' Dickinson. The series follows a young Emily Dickinson through her struggles to be seen as a poet and rebel against the strict constraints of 19th century New England society. Dickinson has modern sensibilities -- yes, there is twerking and R&B, and yes, Whiz Khalifa plays Death -- but there are really great and raw moments about young women who desperately want to be their true selves and thrive.

--Nicole Archer


Regardless of your views on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 2019 documentary Knock Down the House is an incredible underdog story that shouldn't be missed. Focusing on progressive female candidates during the 2018 congressional primary campaigns, it's an insightful look at the democratic process, and women's role in it. 

--Mark Serrels

Focus Features

Emerald Fennell has taken the classic revenge story to a completely new place with Promising Young Woman. Fun, clever, bitter and very refreshing, this dark comedy features the heroine (played by Carey Mulligan) we didn't know we needed. Be ready to talk about the ending for weeks after watching it. 

--Marta Franco

Nicole Rivelli/Amazon

Spunky 1950s New York housewife Midge Maisel discovers a passion and talent for stand-up comedy in this Emmy-winning comedy series. The show's an exuberant and often touching look at a woman who defies all cultural expectations of her era to boldly chase her dreams. 

--Leslie Katz 


Set in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the '90s, Derry Girls is about four friends navigating high school while also living through The Troubles. It's equally hilarious and hopeful, and you absolutely will cry at least once watching it, but in a good way. 

--Nicole Archer

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Dance Your Ph.D. winners deliver fire Finnish rap and coronavirus pirouettes – CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Scientists worldwide continue their race to understand the mechanisms of virus infection, transmission and control in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. One of those specialists is sharing her findings through interpretive dance. 

Heather Masson-Forsythe performing an excerpt from "Biochemical & Biophysical Studies of the COVID-19 Nucleocapsid Protein with RNA." 

GIF by Leslie Katz/CNET

Heather Masson-Forsythe, a graduate student at Oregon State University, is searching for new drugs that could stop the viral replication of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. She just won the COVID-19 research category in the annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest, which has challenged scientists to explain their research through movement for the past 14 years.  

In her winning video, Masson-Forsythe leaps and twirls through the findings of her thesis on "Biochemical & Biophysical Studies of the COVID-19 Nucleocapsid Protein with RNA." For her research, she used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to better study and understand the structure of the Nucleocapsid protein. This protein is encoded in the viral genome and plays a critical role in the infection cycle, protecting and packaging viral RNA as a virus assembles. It also looks good as a pirouette. 

Masson-Forsythe dances gracefully across a beach waving a flowing red scarf to symbolize the virus' genetic material. To illustrate the nucleocapsid protein's importance in the viral replication of SARS-COV-2, she's suddenly in a dimly lit room, her gestures jerky and chaotic. Then she's in a forest, getting funky. 

The scientist has been dancing since age 10. "I had to think about the movement of this virus proteins I work with every day but can't actually see," Masson-Forsythe says. 

The Dance Your Ph.D. competition is run by John Bohannon, a former correspondent for Science magazine and now director of science at Primer, an artificial intelligence company that sponsors the tournament.

The top video overall this year comes from a trio of University of Helsinki atmospheric science graduate students researching how atoms stick together to form billowy clouds. The three incorporated original rap lyrics and choreography, computer animation and drone footage for their video, which beat 39 other contestants to take top honors in the contest, and also win the physics category. 

"Our main goal was to show nonscientific muggles that science can be fun, silly and exciting," says Jakub Kubečka, who won a  $2,000 prize and fame in geek (and possibly dance) circles. 

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Scientists read 300-year-old sealed letter without opening it – CNET

Letter opening

Scientists are using technology to read centuries-old letters sealed using "letterlocking."

Nature Communications

In a letter, dated July 31, 1697, Jacques Sennacques asks his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant in The Hague, for a certified copy of a death notice for Daniel Le Pers. That's no revelatory request by any means, but for the past 300 years, the letter has remained sealed away, its contents unseen. 

Now, thanks to a technique that let scholars peek inside virtually without damaging the intricately folded historical document, Sennacques' request has been uncovered. The new technique could hold promise for unlocking sealed correspondence containing historical gems across time and place.

All those years ago, Sennacques' letter was closed using a process called "letterlocking," a complex folding technique used globally to secure post before the invention of envelopes. Think of it like ancient encryption: Letters sealed this way couldn't be opened without getting torn, and rips indicated a note had been tampered with before reaching the intended recipient. 

"Letterlocking was an everyday activity for centuries, across cultures, borders and social classes," said Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson Conservator at MIT Libraries and one of the authors of a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications that details the virtual unlocking technique. 

No paper was damaged in the reading of this letter: It was unfolded virtually. 

Nature Communications

Letterlocking played an integral role in securing physical communications before the age of modern digital cryptography. Some of the earliest letterlocking examples can be found in the Vatican Secret Archives dating back to 1494. Researchers could have just torn the letter open, but they wanted to conserve all of its folds and creases, which themselves amount to evidence about communications practices. 

"This research takes us right into the heart of a locked letter," Dambrogio said in a statement. 

To unlock the letter, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from MIT and King's College London turned to advanced X-ray machines designed for dentistry to produce high-resolution 3D scans that showed exactly how the paper is configured. An automated computational algorithm developed by one former and one current MIT student then produced legible images of the letter's contents and intricate crease patterns. 

"Virtual unfolding is a computational process that analyzes CT scans of folded letterpackets and creates a flattened image of their contents," the team said. "Our virtual unfolding pipeline generates a 3D reconstruction of the folded letter, a corresponding 2D reconstruction representing its flat state and flat images of both the surface ... and each letterpacket's crease pattern." 

Computational algorithms have been successfully applied to scans of scrolls, books and documents with one or two folds. But the complexity of the letterlocked documents posed their own challenges. 

The letter came from the Brienne Collection, a European postmaster's wooden trunk that contained 3,148 items, including 577 letters that were never unlocked. The research team unlocked several letters using their new technique and believes it holds promise for many other unopened letters. 

"One important example is the hundreds of unopened items among the 160,000 undelivered letters in the Prize Papers, an archive of documents confiscated by the British from enemy ships between the 17th and 19th centuries," the study reads. "If these can be read without physically opening them, much rare letterlocking data can be preserved." 

Before the researchers' computational analysis, they only knew the name of the intended recipient written on the outside of the locked letter. 

"When we got back the first scans of the letter packets, we were instantly hooked," said Amanda Ghassaei, who helped write the publicly available code for virtually unfolding the letters. "Sealed letters are very intriguing objects, and these examples are particularly interesting because of the special attention paid to securing them shut." 

Let the epistolary history unfold. 

CNET's Corinne Reichert contributed to this report. 

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