The pandemic seems to have made us all amateur (or at least wanna-be) epidemiologists. The even more geeky among us have learned a lot about immunology as well. Immunologist Matthew Woodruff, who has written a number of stories for us since the pandemic began, provides an in-depth explanation of the “coordinated dance” that the immune system of pregnant women must perform – and the role vaccines play in that. His piece explains why pregnancy is a significant risk factor for COVID-19 and how the research shows that vaccines are vital for pregnant women.

In reading Chris Impey’s story on the James Webb Space Telescope, I learned of a period in the universe’s history I hadn’t heard of before: the Dark Ages. Impey, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, explains in lay terms how this mission, set for launch in December, is engineered to learn about the period after the Big Bang – the Dark Ages – and other mysteries, such as when galaxies formed. “Some of the biggest unanswered questions about the universe relate to its early years just after the Big Bang,” he writes.

As any parent knows, kids seem to spend a whole lot of time with screens of various kinds. Is this harming their development and mental well-being? In a recent study, Ph.D. student Katie Paulich from University of Colorado Boulder found five hours a day for preteens doesn’t appear to be harmful in terms of mental health. Her write-up provides a nuanced look at the findings, including caveats and room for more research.

Also in this week’s science and research news:

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Pregnancy poses significant risks for severe illness or death from COVID-19, for both mother and baby. ArtMarie/E+ via Getty Images

Vaccination against COVID-19 supports a healthy pregnancy by protecting both mother and child – an immunologist explains the maternal immune response

Matthew Woodruff, Emory University

In light of mounting research showing the serious risks of contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy, the CDC is re-upping its urgency that pregnant women get their shots.

Hubble took pictures of the oldest galaxies it could – seen here – but the James Webb Space Telescope can go back much farther in time. NASA

The most powerful space telescope ever built will look back in time to the Dark Ages of the universe

Chris Impey, University of Arizona

The James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch into orbit in December 2021. Its mission is to search for the first light to ever shine in the universe.

Tools for a prescribed burn conducted in the Sierra Nevada in November 2019. Susan Kocher

Moving beyond America’s war on wildfire: 4 ways to avoid future megafires

Susan Kocher, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Ryan E. Tompkins, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Two forest researchers whose own communities were threatened by fires in 2021 explain how historic policies left forests at high risk of megafires.

Other good finds