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Bulky gear is a major cause of injuries to firefighters, but a Cornell University researcher is using 3-D motion capture technology to try and change that.

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The top firefighter injury isn’t burns or smoke inhalation, but damage to the muscles and skeleton, such as ankle sprains, said Huiju Park, Cornell professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology. Park is the principal investigator of a five-year project to make firefighters’ movements more natural and comfortable by designing better-fitting protective gear. “Boots provide mechanical protection from burns, but they’re very uncomfortable. Every step is an effort to move forward,” said Park.

With graduate students and undergraduate members of his Functional Aspects of Clothing Design class, Park and his research team are using advanced 3-D motion capture system technology and plantar pressure sensors to assess how protective equipment affects firefighters as they walk and climb stairs in a simulated work environment. The 3-D imaging – the same technology used to create special effects in films and video games – records subtle changes in balance, foot comfort and joint movement.

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So far, Park has analyzed the range of motion at each joint for eight male and four female firefighters, as well as the pressure applied inside their shoes. They have also examined the ways the body is affected by wearing protective gear, as well as what causes poor balance and inefficient movement.

Funded by the federal government, the experiment is based largely on firefighters’ input from a focus group and survey Park’s team conducted this past summer. Park aims to develop new performance and design guidelines for protective gear as part of a larger study with researchers at the University at Buffalo and Colorado State University. Park is particularly interested in the difficulty many female firefighters have in finding well-fitting coats and pants. Because firefighting is traditionally a profession for men, manufacturers don’t consider women to be major customers, he said.

“Female firefighters don’t often get the right size, right fit. Sometimes they just wear men’s clothing,” he said. “When there’s an uncomfortable fit, there’s more danger of injuries.”

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At the study’s end, Park hopes to be able to suggest a better design for protective gear. He expects manufacturers to be interested, but, he emphasized, that’s not the primary goal of his project. “This is not about business,” Park said. “It’s about protection for first responders who care for our community.”

With the American premier of Downton Abbey, season three, here are five history lessons based on the popular television series provided by Katherine Howe, author and lecturer of American studies at Cornell University. The paperback of Howe’s novel, “The House of Velvet and Glass,” takes place in the same time period and will be released on Jan. 29 by Hyperion/Voice.

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The real women behind Cora, Countess of Grantham and her mother, Martha Levinson 
Many Gilded Age American families, long on wealth and short on pedigree, attempted to match their daughters with wealthy European aristocrats. One of the most notorious of these matches was the one brokered by Alva Vanderbilt, a socially ambitious belle from Mobile, Ala., who had married into a New York City railroad fortune, for her beautiful only daughter Consuelo. Consuelo was forced to marry Charles Spencer-Churchill, the ninth Duke of Marlborough in 1895, though both were in love with other people, and the New York girl reportedly wept throughout the wedding ceremony. Consuelo had been secretly engaged to another man, and Alva kept her daughter from eloping by locking her in her room. Upon the occasion of the marriage, the Duke was given $2.5 million in railroad stock - the equivalent of about $67 million today. Whereas Cora, Countess of Grantham and her husband Robert, Earl of Grantham, eventually come to love each other, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough separated in 1906, eventually divorcing in 1921. 

America’s own Downton Abbey
Right in the heart of the Back Bay stands a complete, untouched Gilded Age townhouse, operating now as the Gibson House museum. Completed in 1860, the house was bought by Catherine Gibson, and was one of the first purchased by a woman in the “new land,” the neighborhood created by filling in the marshes on the south side of the Public Garden. Inherited by flamboyant man-about-town Charlie Gibson in the 1930s, the house remained a perfect snapshot of Victorian Boston all through the changes that convulsed the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Today the walls are still stained with smoke, and Catherine’s gloves still lie in her dresser drawers. 

‘The Servant Problem’: Life below stairs in the Downton Abbey years
Read any women’s magazine in the 1910s and 1920s and you will find endless handwringing about the so-called “servant problem.” Why, American society women bemoaned, was good help so hard to find? The answer lies partly in the terminology. In Britain society women had “servants,” but in the United States society women had “help,” a crucial distinction in that most women working in service in the early 20th Century United States resented having to do so. “Help” implies a temporary job done at will, rather than the more entrenched social hierarchy implied by the word “servant.” 

Sex, drugs and Ragtime
Not everyone lived an elegant and high society life in the 1910s and 1920s. During this period centers of vice flourished in American cities like Boston and New York, particularly after the Harrison and Volstead Acts limited the legal sale of narcotics and alcohol. Whorehouses, opium dens, speakeasies, vaudeville theaters, movie houses - the Progressive era had a rollicking underbelly of vice.

Celebrity gossip, 1910s style
Think celebrity gossip rags are a new invention? Think again. The 1910s and 1920s had just as much of a gossip press as we do today, right down to the use of blind items and paying informants for exclusive scoops. In fact, it was a celebrity gossip rag called Town Topics that broke the news of Edith Wharton’s husband Teddy’s philandering with a showgirl. High society may have preferred that one’s name appear in the papers only three times: at birth, at marriage, and at death. But that’s a tough line to toe in the age of gossip.

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The BIG Idea Competition is designed by Entrepreneurship@Cornell for Cornell Undergraduates who have great for-profit or non-profit ideas, and are looking to capitalize on them! All business ideas are welcome including those that are targeting social and environmental issues. No business plan or actual business needed - it’s as simple as answering 5 easy questions. The deadline for the BIG IDEA Competition is January 29. Top prize: $3,000. Your idea is the next Big thing! Information and application

If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling within the coming weeks, it will present the President with a ‘trilemma’ in which he cannot not faithfully execute all of the mutually contradictory laws regarding spending, taxing and borrowing. Yet each of the three realistic options open to him – unilaterally cutting spending, increasing taxes, and issuing new debt – would unconstitutionally usurp legislative power.
The Constitution assigns all of the relevant powers to Congress, not the President. In these circumstances, the President should minimize the damage by choosing the ‘least unconstitutional’ option. Here that would mean issuing just enough new debt to cover the difference between revenue and legally required spending, even though doing so would override the debt ceiling. That would be very bad, but the alternative of unilateral Presidential spending cuts would be even worse because it would require the exercise of a great deal more legislative discretion in deciding what to cut and by how much.
Michael Dorf, a constitutional law expert, former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and professor of law at Cornell University, discusses why President Obama must exceed the debt ceiling.

"In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary," says audio curator Greg Budney, describing a major milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All archived analog recordings in the collection, going back to 1929, have now been digitized and can be heard at www.MacaulayLibrary.org

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"This is one of the greatest research and conservation resources at the Cornell Lab," said Budney. "And through its digitization we’ve swung the doors open on it in a way that wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago."

It took archivists a dozen years to complete the monumental task. The collection contains nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented. There’s an emphasis on birds, but the collection also includes sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates and more.

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"Our audio collection is the largest and the oldest in the world," explained Macaulay Library director Mike Webster. "Now, it’s also the most accessible. We’re working to improve search functions and create tools people can use to collect recordings and upload them directly to the archive. Our goal is to make the Macaulay Library as useful as possible for the broadest audience possible."

The recordings are used by researchers studying many questions, as well as by birders trying to fine-tune their sound ID skills. The recordings are also used in museum exhibits, movies and commercial products such as smartphone apps.

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"Now that we’ve digitized the previously archived analog recordings, the archival team is focusing on new material from amateur and professional recordists from around the world to really, truly build the collection," Budney said. "Plus, it’s just plain fun to listen to these sounds. Have you heard the sound of a walrus underwater?  It’s an amazing sound." 

Sample some fascinating Macaulay Library sounds:

Earliest recording: Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen was a pioneer in sound recording. On a spring day in 1929 he recorded this Song Sparrow sounding much as they do today

Youngest bird: This clip from 1966 records the sounds of an Ostrich chick while it is still inside the egg – and the researchers as they watch

Liveliest wake-up call: A dawn chorus in tropical Queensland, Australia is bursting at the seams with warbles, squeals, whistles, booms and hoots

Best candidate to appear on a John Coltrane record: The indri, a lemur with a voice that is part moan, part jazz clarinet

Most spines tingled: The incomparable voice of a Common Loon on an Adirondacks lake in 1992

Most erratic construction project: the staccato hammering sounds of a walrus under water

Most likely to be mistaken for aliens arriving: Birds-of-paradise make some amazing sounds – here’s the UFO-sound of a Curl-crested Manucode in New Guinea

Best-selling author Susie Bright, the country’s preeminent feminist sex writer, will donate her archival materials and deliver her ‘Sexual State of the Union’ address at Cornell University on Wednesday, January 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium of Goldwin Smith Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

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The donation and address kick off the 25th anniversary of Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection, which began a quarter of a century ago as the Cornell Library gathered books, letters, photographs and other ephemera related to sexuality — much of which was ignored or shunned by academia at the time of the collection’s conception.

Bright is a leading voice on sexual politics. She broke new ground publishing the lesbian sex magazine “On Our Backs” in the 1990s and remains on the cutting edge of publishing as an author, editor and podcaster. 

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“I’ve admired Cornell’s archives of GLBT history for years — really, it’s one of the world’s finest when it comes to sexual representation, and the range of erotic and sexual identity in full flower,” Bright said. “The ‘On Our Backs’ legacy — the hundreds of women we published who took such great risks, and our thousands of readers who had their lives changed by this vision of lesbian sexual self-determination — deserve the perfect spot.”

In her talk, the “Sexual State of the Union Address,” Bright will discuss the current status quo of sexuality in the nation’s bedrooms and courtrooms, from the most personal to the most global consequences.

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Bright is giving Cornell her unique archives, which document sexual politics over the past 35 years. Her collection contains the written history of “On Our Backs” and rare museum objects, such as specially designed costumes the publishers wore at magazine fundraisers, as well as detailed documentation of the feminist sex wars and censorship battles that defined lesbian publishing in the ’80s and ’90s. Bright is also an expert on the history of the pornography business and its censorship, and she is donating priceless videos and documents that record the path of these controversies.

More information on Bright’s visit

More information on Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection