America’s Top Young Scientist

America’s Top Young Scientist

Ninth grader Leanne Fan won the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge for inventing headphones that can treat ear infections.

A teen girl smiles and holds up a lucite award in front of a sign reading 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Discovery Education, 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 2022.

Leanne Fan won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge for inventing headphones that can detect and treat ear infections.

Leanne Fan, a 9th grader at Westview High School in San Diego, California, is America’s Top Young Scientist. Fan earned the title, along with a $25,000 prize, for winning the 2022 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Fan invented headphones that can detect and treat ear infections. 

Fan’s headphones detect ear infections using machine learning, which means they’re programmed to “learn” as they gather data, or information. After sending a sound into the wearer’s ear canal, the headphones can detect an infection based on the echo of the sound. The headphones then treat the infection using blue light, which is known to kill bacteria. Finally, the headphones can transmit music as they treat an infection, so it’s pleasant to wear them. Fan named her invention Finsen Headphones, after Niels Finsen, a scientist who in 1895 invented phototherapy, which is the use of light to treat certain diseases.

Discovery Education, 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 2022.

Leanne Fan presents her invention, Finsen Headphones, at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Fan came up with the idea for the headphones while trying to find a treatment for her mom’s ear infections. She later learned that 700 million people worldwide get ear infections each year, and most of them are children. Without treatment, an ear infection can cause complications. Fan estimates that her headphones could eventually prevent up to 60 percent of hearing loss in kids. 

Leanne is still perfecting her invention. Next, she’ll test it on people and make changes based on the results. She encourages other young scientists to bring their ideas to life.

“I would say that if you have an idea, definitely go for it,” she said in an interview published on Medium.com.

Did You Know?

© Emma Sanger-Horwell—E+/Getty Images, © Freddy Cahyono/Dreamstime.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Not every animal has ears. Spiders use the hairs on their eight legs to detect sound waves. And a recent study found that some spiders can detect sounds from across a room!

How Smart Is Your Phone?

© Weiquan Lin—Moment/Getty Images

If your phone has ever suggested a word as you start to type it, or if you get suggestions for new websites to look at based on websites you’ve visited before, then you’ve seen machine learning at work. 

Machine learning is part of what’s called artificial intelligence. It’s the ability of a computer or another machine to “learn” information and add it to its database without that information being programmed in by a human. Machine learning is a lot like human learning. The more a machine learns, the more it improves at its task.

Check out some examples of machine learning. 

Image recognition

Example: When your phone unlocks because it recognizes your face

Speech recognition

Example: When you speak into your phone and the words come up on the screen

Suggestions

Example: When a social media site suggests people to follow based on people you already follow

Ads

Example: When you’re shopping for a product and you later see ads for that product

We’ve become more and more dependent on machines and machine learning. Is that a good thing? What do you think?

Super Computers

The words I am so intelligent appear on the screen of a laptop that is wearing a graduation cap.

© Jemastock/Dreamstime.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Machine learning is part of artificial intelligence. If you want to know more about how machines got smart—and how much smarter they could get—check out Britannica School.

Find out at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

ingenuity

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: skill or cleverness that allows someone to solve problems, invent things, etc.

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In Case You Missed It

Eighteen-year-old Christopher Slayton used a video game to recreate the whole universe.

12.01.22

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This Minecrafter Thinks Big

This Minecrafter Thinks Big

Eighteen-year-old Christopher Slayton used a video game to recreate the whole universe.

A galaxy with a blue center and swirling gases all around.

ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, J. Lee, and the PHANGS-JWST Team; acknowledgment: J. Schmidt

This photo of the Heart of the Phantom Galaxy was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. Christopher Slayton recreated galaxies and much more.

An 18-year-old used the video game Minecraft to recreate the entire universe—or, at least, what’s known of it.

Christopher Slayton studied black holes, Saturn’s rings, and other parts of the universe for months in order to build his virtual universe. He started with Earth, using a globe to make sure the continents were in proportion with one another. Then, he worked his way out, building our solar system, our galaxy, and on and on. As he tackled the project, Slayton shared his progress on his YouTube channel, where he already had a record of some pretty bold Minecraft builds. 

Minecraft, which was developed in 2009, is a game that’s designed to let players build their own worlds—or universes, in Slayton’s case. Using building blocks made from different virtual materials, players can create just about anything they want. Some builds are inspired by fictional worlds from books and movies, while others, like Slayton’s, aim to be as realistic as possible. B. Reeja Jayan, a mechanical engineer, says Minecraft has few rules—and that’s a good thing.

“One of the advantages of using a game like Minecraft is it’s so flexible,” Jayan told the New York Times. “It’s so easy for a small child to learn to play the game, but at the same time it’s been adapted for teaching advanced scientific concepts.”

Slayton has been playing Minecraft for nine years, and he has no plans to stop. Next, he wants to explore other dimensions!

News Extra

Go, Artemis!

A spacecraft with the NASA logo in the foreground and the Moon and Earth in the distant background

JSC/NASA

On November 28, Orion reached its farthest distance from Earth. This was its view.

NASA is halfway through its Artemis I mission, and everything looks good! 

NASA launched its Orion spacecraft on November 16, 2022, and it started orbiting the Moon on November 25. Orion is made to carry up to four astronauts, but no humans went on this trip. The purpose of Artemis I is to test the performance and safety of Orion. It’s sort of like a practice run. On November 28, Orion was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from Earth. If all goes as planned, it soon will carry astronauts way out there, too. 

Artemis I is only the beginning. NASA is planning Artemis II for 2024. In that mission, Orion will take four astronauts to the far side of the Moon (the side farthest from Earth) and back. 

Artemis III is planned for 2025. Orion will link up with another spacecraft, which will land two astronauts on the Moon. It will be the first time humans have set foot on the Moon since 1972!

Did You Know?

Many Earths in a row in space

© Matthieu/stock.adobe.com

Some scientists believe in the idea of a multiverse. According to some theories, our universe, which is incredibly big, is just one of many parallel universes!

Minecraft Minds

You can create whatever you want in Minecraft. Here are some of the best builds ever. 

xv12commander (Youtube: xv12commander); Youtube: SkyblockSquad; Elysium Fire

Second to One

A Minecraft kid sits at a computer playing Minecraft.

© Nikola Fific/Dreamstime.com

In 2016, Minecraft was the second-best-selling video game. What was the best seller?

Find out at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

verisimilitude

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: the quality of seeming real

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How many old-school arcade games can you find?

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In Case You Missed It

A museum in Massachusetts has returned some of the objects in its collection to their rightful owners—members of the Lakota Sioux.

11.29.22

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Going Home

Going Home

A museum in Massachusetts has returned some of the objects in its collection to their rightful owners—members of the Lakota Sioux.

A man and woman pose for a photo on either side of a mannequin wearing a war shirt, leggings, and mocassins, with lighting equipment to one side.

Elizabeth Martin, Barre Library Association

Jeff Not Help Him and Leola One Feather, archivists from Pine Ridge Reservation, an Oglala Lakota reservation in South Dakota, pose with items that have been displayed at the Founders Museum but will now be returned to the Lakota Sioux. Jeff Not Help Him believes that the shirt may be linked to members of his family.

A museum in Massachusetts has returned some of the objects in its collection to their rightful owners—members of the Lakota Sioux. The objects were taken from the Lakota Sioux more than 100 years ago. 

On November 5, officials at the Founders Museum held a repatriation (return) ceremony with members of the Lakota Sioux who had traveled to Massachusetts to receive the artifacts. Some of the artifacts are connected to the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, in which the U.S. military killed between 250 and 300 members of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. 

Some of the objects that were returned to the Lakota Sioux are thought to have been stolen at the site of the massacre. Shortly after, a man named Frank Root, who ran a traveling show, made money showing the objects to the public. Root later donated the objects to the Founders Museum, which has had them ever since. 

Many of the people who attended the ceremony said their ancestors had passed the memories of Wounded Knee down to them. Knowing that museums were displaying objects stolen from their ancestors only added to their pain. That’s why return of the objects was extremely important.

Wendell Yellow Bull, a member of the Oglala Lakota, grew up hearing stories about his ancestor, Joseph Horn Cloud, who was at Wounded Knee. Yellow Bull told the Boston Globe that the return was “the beginning of healing.”

Elizabeth Martin, Barre Library Association

Jeff Not Help Him and Leola One Feather watch as a photo is taken of a ghost shirt, which the Lakota Sioux people believe to have spiritual powers.

The Founders Museum is one of many museums and universities that have objects connected to American Indian history in their collections. A 1990 U.S. law requires that public institutions (which are funded by the government) return such objects to their rightful owners. But progress has been slow. Many American Indians have worked for decades to get their objects back. 

“For us to bring back these artifacts, that’s a step towards healing,” said Surrounded Bear, who had ancestors who died at Wounded Knee. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

Find out more about Wounded Knee and efforts to preserve the site where it happened.

Did You Know?

An aerial view of mountains covered in grass and trees with a body of water in the background

© wollertz/stock.adobe.com

The Black Hills

In 1868, the Sioux signed a treaty with the U.S. government stating that the Black Hills of South Dakota would become a reservation for the Sioux. But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, the U.S. broke the agreement and allowed white miners into the area. Since then, the Sioux have been working to get their land back.

Who Do These Things Belong To?

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images; Philip Pikart (CC BY-SA 3.0); Dan Kitwood/Getty Images; © Bruce Whittingham/Dreamstime.com

Museums are filled with artifacts that tell the stories of cultures from around the world. But who do those objects really belong to?

It all comes down to how the artifacts ended up at the museums in the first place. Sometimes, art and other objects that we can see at museums were donated by the people who made them, or by their families. But not always. Some museum artifacts were looted, or stolen, from the people who made them. This has happened during wars, for example, when people from a conquering nation stole from the people they were conquering. 

That doesn’t mean anyone at the museum stole the objects—or even knows the objects were stolen. Often, objects are donated to museums with no explanation. It’s not always easy to trace the journey an object takes from its home country to a museum. Still, some museum officials recognize that it’s not right, or respectful, for the museums to own these objects. 

Recently, people from many different countries have filed claims, demanding the repatriation of their cultural artifacts. Repatriation means returning something to its country or culture of origin.  Many museums have been resistant to repatriation. Some don’t want to break up their collections. Others see returning these objects as admitting that their country did something terrible in the past—for example, looting objects from another culture. But more and more museums are repatriating artifacts. And, very slowly, objects are returning to where they came from.

Working For Change

A woman sits at a table and speaks into a microphone.

Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Suzan Shown Harjo is an activist who has worked to change the way artifacts are collected and displayed. 

You can read more about Harjo at Britannica School.

WORD OF THE DAY

heirloom

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: a valuable object that is owned by a family for many years and passed from one generation to another

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In Case You Missed It

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11.18.22

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Should Schools Allow Phones?

Should Schools Allow Phones?

More and more schools are banning cell phones. Should school be a phone-free zone?

In a classroom, one student looks at his phone while the other students are writing.

© WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

More U.S. schools are banning students from using cell phones at school. And while some people agree that phones and classrooms don’t mix, others say kids should be allowed access to their phones. 

School officials who have limited or banned cell phone use say phones distract students. Many schools have reported that students use their phones not only in hallways and lunchrooms but also in classrooms. And their concerns have only grown in recent years. School officials who are banning phones point out that students lost a lot of time in the classroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, officials say, it’s important to focus and aim to get back on track. And many parents agree with them.

Among the parents who support a ban on cell phones in classrooms is Julia Wilburn, of Nashville, Tennessee. Wilburn is the mom of a seventh grader whose school doesn’t let him carry his phone during school hours. “I definitely feel like that’s taking the right approach,” Wilburn said.

But other parents say they want their kids to be able to reach them if necessary. And that means carrying a cell phone all day. 

“We used to get in touch with our kids when we wanted to,” Louise Boll told the Associated Press. Boll is president of the parent-teacher association at Forest Meadow Junior High in Dallas, Texas. Forest Meadow requires students to put their phones away during the day.

At the Brush School District in Colorado, parents spoke out against a ban on taking cell phones to school. After a community meeting, a compromise was reached. Now, students can take their phones to school, but the phones must be turned off and not in sight. 

“There’s not an intention to say cell phones are evil,” Bill Wilson, the district superintendent, told the Associated Press. “It’s a reset to say, ‘How do we manage this in a way that makes sense for everybody?’”

News Extra

World Cup 2022

Are you ready for some soccer? The 2022 FIFA World Cup will take place from November 20 to December 18! This year’s host country will be Qatar. 

At the World Cup, the 32 best soccer teams on the planet compete to find out which nation’s team will be the world champion. Check out the graph to see the winners of every World Cup since the first one.

Who are you rooting for?

Did You Know?

Teen’s hands holding a cell phone with a “no” symbol over it and other teens in background.

© skynesher—E+/Getty Images; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Ten years ago, about 90 percent of public schools banned cell phone use. 

By the 2015–2016 school year, only 65 percent of schools had bans in place. 

COVID-19 reversed the trend. During the 2019–2020 school year, 76 percent of public schools banned cell phones, according to the Associated Press.

Which Sites Do Teens Like?

A woman uses her phone in a darkened space with the logos of various platforms on either side of her.

© Basak Gurbuz Derman—Moment/Getty Images; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

What are students doing on their phones? In a 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, teens were asked if they ever use certain apps and websites. Ninety-five percent said they used YouTube. TikTok was second-most popular, at 67 percent.

Texting Trouble?

Animation of five students sitting on a ledge on their phones with text bubbles of their conversation appearing.

© AntonioDiaz, streptococcus/stock.adobe.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Did you know that texting is considered controversial? Find out why at Britannica School.

Learn more at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

proscribe

PART OF SPEECH:

verb

Definition:

: to make (something) illegal : to not allow (something)

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Crossword

See how many words you can fill in.

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In Case You Missed It

Bella Rasmussen is the first female high school football player in her state to score two touchdowns in a varsity game.

11.15.22

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11.11.22

November 8 is Election Day in the United States. Here’s what midterm elections are all about.

11.08.22

A new U.S. quarter honors Anna May Wong, the first Asian American movie star.

11.04.22

Football Phenom

Football Phenom

Bella Rasmussen is the first female high school football player in her state to score two touchdowns in a varsity game.

Illustration showing the number 24 Rasmussen jersey with two hands holding footballs on either side and a banner that says Laguna Beach

© retrostare, Ronillo/stock.adobe.com, © Siarhei Nosyreu/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Bella Rasmussen has loved football since she was 3 years old. And for nearly as long, the senior at Laguna Beach High School in Laguna Beach, California, has dreamed of scoring a touchdown. On October 14, Rasmussen made her dream come true—twice. 

That night, Rasmussen became the first female high school football player in the state of California to score two touchdowns in a varsity game. Her touchdowns contributed to a 48–0 victory against the Godinez Grizzlies of Santa Ana, California.

“I’m looking at coach, I’m like, Nah, man, I got it. I can do it,” Rasmussen said in an interview with Today. “I’m saying this to myself over and over and over again. [Then] I’m in the end zone [where a player runs to score a touchdown]. And I remember I just stood up and I was like, “Did anybody see? This actually happened?”

That was the first touchdown. To be able to score a second one—in the same game—was unexpected, she said.

“I was in disbelief. [I thought] there’s no way that just happened,” Rasmussen told the Los Angeles Times

Rasmussen has been playing football at her high school for four years as a running back and defensive end. At 5 feet, 9 inches (175.3 centimeters) tall and 135 pounds (61.2 kilograms), she’s smaller than most of her teammates, who are all boys. Her opponents are bigger than she is, too. But she said her teammates had been encouraging her before the game, telling her they were sure she’d score a touchdown.

They knew she could reach the end zone, and so did she.

“To be able to do it was something I had been dreaming about since I was 6 years old,” Rasmussen told the Los Angeles Times. “I ran to my mom [and said], ‘I did it.’”

Did You Know?

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport

Adrienne Smith (10) of the Boston Militia is tackled by Sonfre Roberson (2), Alicia Freeman (20), Natasha Joanson (15), and Tiffany Humphrey (29) of the San Diego Surge during the Women’s Football Alliance National Championship game in 2014.

In the U.S., about 4,000 women play tackle football in organized leagues. 

Football First

F.J. Higgins—New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ds-03688)

This photo of the Rutgers University football team was taken in 1891, 22 years after the first college football game.

The first-ever American college football game took place between Rutgers University and Princeton University on November 6, 1869. But if you could go back in time to watch that game, you might not recognize it as the sport that’s played during the Super Bowl. 

The game between Rutgers and Princeton closely resembled a very old sport from England. The English call that sport football. Americans call it soccer.

For the Rutgers and Princeton players, the object of the game was to kick the ball into the opponent’s goal. They could also move the ball with any part of their bodies, including their hands. Players were not allowed to throw the ball. Rutgers won the game, 6 to 4.

Over the next few decades, the sport evolved quite a bit, borrowing some rules from another English game called rugby. In both sports, players can score points by carrying the ball across the goal line of the opposing team. 

Today, football is the most popular sport in the U.S. In 2022, about 112 million people watched the Super Bowl. That’s more than one-third of the U.S. population.

America’s Game

© Dmytro Aksonov—E+/Getty Images; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Why is American football called gridiron football? You can learn more about the sport—and your favorite players—at Britannica School!

Learn more at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

gumption

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: courage and confidence

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Word Search

See if you can find all the football terms.

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In Case You Missed It

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11.11.22

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11.08.22

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Step Away From the Screen

Step Away From the Screen

In a village in India, people take a 90-minute break from their screens every night—for a good reason.

A symbol with screened devices crossed out points to Mohityanche Vadgaon on a map of India.

© fad1986—iStock/Getty Images Plus, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.; Illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Every night at 7 p.m., a siren goes off in a village in India. The siren signals the start of the village’s nightly “digital detox,” a 90-minute period when residents are strongly encouraged to turn off their phones and TVs. 

Officials in the village of Mohityanche Vadgaon say they decided on the digital detox initiative because of concerns that people were too attached to their screens. Like almost everywhere, people in the village spend a lot of time watching TV and looking at their phones. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the problem got worse among kids and teens. No longer able to attend school, students started attending classes online and spending more time on their phones. Adults got worried. 

“Surfing on the Internet—that is, multi-tasking—deprives students of their ability to concentrate for longer periods when they need to study,” Dr. J.R. Ram, a clinical psychiatrist, told Voice of America. “They get used to scrolling on social media, watching videos, and exchanging text messages during classes. Such a situation can have negative consequences on one’s cognition or thinking ability.”

Sure enough, teachers noticed that all that screen time was affecting students’ ability to concentrate. They took their concerns to Vijay Mohite, the sarpanch, or head of the village government. Mohite came up with the idea for the nightly digital detox period. 

It’s not only kids who are encouraged to stay off their phones for 90 minutes a night. Adults are supposed to follow the rules as well. Residents are encouraged to read, study, or just talk to each other, instead of scrolling. The period lasts until 8:30 p.m., when another siren signals that phones and TVs can be used again.

The idea has gone over so well that five other villages in India are taking similar steps.

Did You Know?

© Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Kids aged eight to 12 in the U.S. spend four to six hours a day looking at screens. Teens spend up to nine hours. That’s according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Take a Break…From Your Phone

Animation of a girl lying on her couch with a book and ignoring her phone

© Anna Bezrukova—iStock/Getty Images Plus; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

If you have a phone, you may have noticed that it’s easy to spend way too much time looking at it. So, what are some ways to reduce your screen time? 

  1. Set aside a time each day when you won’t allow yourself to use your phone. Mealtimes are a good start, since it can be considered rude to stare at your phone at the dinner table!

  2. Turn off notifications that aren’t essential. From your phone’s Settings, you can go through your apps to see which ones you really don’t need to hear from.

  3. Turn on reminders to step away from your phone. Both Apple and Android have features that let you do this. On iPhones, a feature called Screen Time lets you schedule time away from your favorite apps.

  4. Turn your phone display to gray. Your phone’s bright colors make looking at it more tempting. Look for a setting that lets you turn off those colors.

Get Inspired!

Animation with illustrations of people doing different hobbies flashing on and off the screen

© MicroOne/stock.adobe.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

What did people do before smartphones existed? Lots of things! Read about hobbies, and see if you’re inspired to try something new.

 

Learn more at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

distraction

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: something that makes it difficult to think or pay attention

Definitions provided by
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Word Search

Try to find all the forms of communication—the ones we still use and the ones we don’t.

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In Case You Missed It

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A new U.S. quarter honors Anna May Wong, the first Asian American movie star.

11.04.22

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Why Elections Matter

Why Elections Matter

November 8 is Election Day in the United States. Here’s what midterm elections are all about.

At a voting location, four people stand and cast their votes while others speak to election workers.

© Hill Street Studios—DigitalVision/Getty Images

In the United States, some people vote in person, while others vote by mail.

It’s election time again! On November 8, U.S. voters will head to the polls to cast their votes in the midterm elections. If you’re wondering why these elections are important, we’ve got some answers for you.

What are midterm elections?

You may be thinking, Wait, didn’t Americans just elect a new president in 2020? That’s true, and we won’t have another presidential election until 2024. Midterm elections take place midway through the president’s term in office. At this time, voters select members of Congress, which is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. All 435 seats in the House are up for grabs because House members’ terms last only two years. Senate terms last six years. In 2022, 35 of the 100 Senate seats are in play. 

Why should we care?

The president is only one part of the U.S. government. It’s Congress, not the president, that introduces (proposes) and passes the nation’s laws. So, if you think certain laws should or should not be passed, it’s important to pay attention to who is being elected to Congress and what their views are. The president may support certain laws, but it’s up to Congress to decide whether to vote yes or no on them.

Who is in Congress now?

Most members of Congress belong to one of the two major political parties—the Republicans or the Democrats. Since both houses of Congress vote on laws, whichever party has the most seats holds control.

Currently, Democrats control both houses. That could change, depending on the results of the November 8 election. The Democratic majority is slim, so it wouldn’t take much for the Republicans to take control. 

What happens if Republicans take control?

President Biden is a Democrat. With a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, he has support from more than half of U.S. lawmakers. Some of the legislation he supports has been passed. If Republicans take control of either or both houses, that is likely to change. 

For both Democrats and Republicans, the midterm elections are a real nail-biter. The results can dramatically change the course of the country! We’ll know more about how this election turned out very soon.

Did You Know?

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

November 8 isn’t just a day for congressional elections. Thirty-six of the 50 states are holding gubernatorial elections (elections for governor) this year. Those states are colored orange on this map. Is your state one of them?

How Abe Lincoln Became a Star

Illustration showing Abraham Lincoln standing on a stage before a crowd and in front of a banner that reads Knox College for Lincoln. Lincoln and Douglas portraits are also featured.

Old Paper Studios/Alamy

This postcard was made in 1908, in memory of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Its existence shows just how important those debates were.

Some people who run for Congress turn out to be a pretty big deal. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln ran to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Lincoln hoped to unseat Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who was running for reelection.

At that time, there were some incredibly important issues at stake. The biggest issue was slavery. During the mid-19th century, the United States was growing. Areas of land called territories were applying to become states. Leaders in some of these states applied to be “slave states”—states where slavery would be legal. Others applied to be “free states,” where slavery would be illegal. Lincoln believed the expansion of slavery should be prevented. Douglas, whose wife was an enslaver, said he believed that states should decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. 

Lincoln recognized that this issue was tearing the nation apart. During this time, Lincoln gave a speech where he famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” What he meant was that the American people were so divided over slavery that the future of the country was threatened.

Before the Senate election, Lincoln and Douglas held a series of debates (public discussions between people who have different views). Lincoln argued that slavery was wrong and should not be allowed to expand as the nation grew. Douglas argued that Lincoln’s views were too extreme and would only divide the country more. Even though there was no TV or Internet back then, the debates were reported in newspapers all over the country. 

Kean Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln (left) debated Stephen A. Douglas in front of audiences in 1858. There was no TV, but newspapers reported on the debates.

Who won the election? 

When all the votes were counted, Douglas was the winner. But the Lincoln-Douglas debates became famous—and Lincoln became a bit of a celebrity. In 1860, Lincoln decided to run for president. You’ll never guess who was running against him. That’s right—Stephen A. Douglas. This time, Lincoln won.

He would have a tough job to do. The question of slavery continued to tear the nation apart. Eventually, in 1861, it led to the Civil War.

You’ve probably read a lot about Abraham Lincoln. Did he really grow up in a log cabin? Was he really a wrestler? Find out at Britannica School!

Checking Up On Each Other

Circular illustration showing the buildings of the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and the White House. Between the buildings there are arrows in both directions.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The Supreme Court checks the powers of Congress, which checks the powers of the president, and so on.

Congress has the power to make laws, but those laws can be vetoed by the president or struck down by the Supreme Court. This is part of a system of checks and balances that’s baked into the U.S. government. With the system in place, each branch can put checks, or controls, on the powers of the other two.

What’s the point of checks and balances? 

Find out at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

contentious

PART OF SPEECH:

adjective

Definition:

: likely to cause people to argue or disagree

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