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A sucker for soccer? Here are seven maps to unlock the FIFA World Cup in Russia
Soccer is not a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that. And the FIFA World Cup even more so.
“Football is not a matter of life and death,” said legendary coach Bill Shankly in 1981, “it's more important than that.”
As the 2018 FIFA World Cup gets underway in Russia today, that saying will ring true for millions of fans around the world. For the next few weeks, little else will matter but the beautiful game—which Americans obstinately keep referring to as soccer.
Here are seven maps to make sense of the month-long tournament that will captivate the world's attention from now until the final, on July 15th in Moscow.
Held every four years, the FIFA World Cup is expected this time to have a global audience of more than three billion viewers—about half the total world population.
Despite the U.S.'s first absence from the tournament since 1986, that number will include millions of Americans. However, as this map shows, interest varies greatly by state. Based on an analysis of recent Google searches, soccer fever reaches its highest pitch in Washington D.C. (with a relative score of 100), followed by New Jersey (71), California and New York (both 64), Connecticut (62), Maryland (60) and Massachusetts (58). Least interested in the tournament are Mississippi (15), West Virginia (17), Alabama (21), Montana and Arkansas (both 22).
It would be fair to say that the World Cup will be followed most passionately in the 32 nations whose teams have qualified for the tournament (marked blue on the map below).
Latin America and Europe are particularly well represented. The eight qualifying American teams, all from south of the border, include regulars like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay.
Peru is back for the first time since 1982. Panama declared a national holiday when it qualified for Russia 2018; it's the first World Cup for the small nation, hemmed in by two more experienced participants, Costa Rica and Colombia. Chile, the current champion of South America, is notably absent.
Germany, France, England and Spain are some of the most formidable participants from the European delegation, 14 countries strong. Belgium is tipped as a strong contender, which leaves other competitors like Poland, Denmark, Portugal (winner of Euro 2016), Sweden and Balkan rivals Croatia and Serbia with more opportunity to surprise.
For Iceland, it's the first World Cup ever. With a population of just over a third of a million, it's also the smallest country ever to participate (1). Despite winning the World Cup on four previous occasions, Italy failed to qualify. The Netherlands are another conspicuous no-show. Host country Russia automatically qualifies.
Africa supplies five countries: Egypt (for the first time since 1990), Morocco (previously qualified in 1998), Tunisia, Senegal and Nigeria. Neighbouring Cameroon, despite its strong footballing tradition and being the current holder of the African champion title, didn't make the cut (Zimbabwe, and other countries in black, were expelled from the tournament by FIFA).
The other teams are two pairs of rivals from each end of Asia: Saudi Arabia and Iran, and South Korea and Japan; and Australia.
So, who plays whom? The competition features eight groups, each consisting of four teams. Each group is 'seeded' with a strong team. By virtue of hosting, Russia gets to seed team A, although it is only placed 70th in the FIFA world rankings—the lowest-ranked team in the entire competition.
Other seeded teams are Portugal (B), France (C), Argentina (D), Brazil (E), Germany (F), Belgium (G) and Poland (H). After the first round, in which each team will play three games, the two best-placed teams in each group will advance to the next stage: 16 knock-out games sending the winner to the quarterfinals (on July 6th and 7th), semifinals (on July 10th and 11th) and eventually to the final, on July 15th.
Both the opening game today, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the final will take place in Moscow's 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium. In all, the 64 matches of the 21st World Cup will be played in 12 stadiums across 11 cities. The furthest distance between two venues is 1,800 miles – and still, the tournament locations are limited mainly to the western part of the country. Yekaterinburg, just east of the Urals, is the only venue outside European Russia.
Who will win? Only time will tell, but that doesn't stop everybody and their uncle from offering their opinion, well-reasoned or otherwise. Germany are considered strong contenders, not least because they are the reigning champions, having defeated Argentina in the 2014 final. Brazil, who have participated in all World Cups and won five of them, are also high on the list—even though they haven't won since 2002 and not in Europe since 1958.
Even though Russia's team is not a huge favorite, they do have a home advantage. As this diagram shows, 30% of teams hosting the World Cup have gone on to win the tournament on home soil – i.e. Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1988).
As the top of the diagram shows, many more countries have hosted the World Cup without winning it. The bottom of the diagram shows countries winning the Cup away from home. In all, just eight countries have ever won the Cup. Apart from the six mentioned above, also Spain and Brazil.
Even if the host country fails to win the trophy, organizing the World Cup is a massive PR coup for Russia, and its president Vladimir Putin. No more than a couple of weeks ago, Russia was singled out as the likely culprit for the chemical attack on a Russian defector and his daughter in the UK. The country has been heavily sanctioned and expelled from various bodies for its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its military support for Syria's Assad regime drives yet another wedge between it and most western countries.
All that and more will now disappear under a month-long flood of football frenzy (see the Shankly quote at the beginning). However, the Greens in the European Parliament are using the World Cup to draw attention to a less-than-friendly facet of today's Russia: more than a quarter century after the fall of Communism, the country is again imprisoning people for their political beliefs.
Their website offers 'fair play' and 'foul play' versions of the map of Russia. Yes, the coming month will feature crowd-pleasing games in 12 stadiums across Russia. But the country is also dotted with 87 prisons that contain among them no less than 158 political prisoners. By all means, cheer for your favorite team. But also consider signing the petition that urges their release.
Map of interest in the World Cup per U.S. state found here on noobnorm. Map of qualifying countries found here on Wikimedia Commons. Chart of the Groups found here at The Australian. The stadiums map taken here from The Times. The 'home advantage' diagram taken from the Norwegian in-flight magazine. More on the Euro-Greens initiative here on their page.
Strange Maps #913
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) When Iceland reached the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 in France, more than 10% of the country's entire population had travelled down to support their team.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."