Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Brief History of Surgery

For this History of Science class, our final exam can take the form of a research project/experiment. For mine, I am planning on delving into a research project with one of the pediatric urology surgeons I work with at U of M's hospital.

I have always been fascinated by the history of surgery, and how it has evolved over the years, so I thought I would share some of the more interesting parts with the readers of this blog.

Surgeons and doctors were considered very different in the Middle Ages: doctors went to university and got a degree to practice medicine, while surgeons were apprentices, and learned their trade through practice. Surgeons were called Mr. _______ instead of Dr. _________. One of the surgeons I work with practiced in England, and still has his nameplate that says Mr. _________.

Surgeons' primary responsibilities were pulling teeth and setting broken/dislocated bones.

Aseptic techniques for surgery were developed by Joseph Lister in 1867 with his book Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery.

Surgery is often advanced during war, when desperate times call for desperate measures. For example, amputations were experimented with during wartime, especially in the Civil War.

There are many others to check out if you are left curious by this post. Surgery is a fascinating field, and advancements are constantly being made to make surgeries safer and more comfortable for patients.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mammal Skulls

I recently had the opportunity as part of this class to take a look at the skulls of different mammals, and it was an interesting look into how these skulls some in a great variety of shapes, but that a similar shape may still apply to many mammals. In this case, I decided to split up the types of mammal skulls into three. I could have made more or fewer divisions, but at the time I decided to split them into these three categories: land quadrupeds, marine mammals, and primates.

As I decided to classify it, land quadrupeds are obviously characterized by the tendency to live on land and to walk on four legs. Additionally, they typically on fields or mountains, or tended by humans. These type of mammals include goats, giraffes, wolves, and cats. As for their skulls, the length of the skull is usually about twice that of the height, and the snout is fairly elongated.

Next, I designated marine mammals to be those mammals like dolphins and whales that, as would be expected, live in the ocean. These skulls are even more elongated, as it is not uncommon to see these type of skull be three or more times as long as they are tall. Additionally, the snout is very long and thin and actually can make up more than half of the skulls extreme length.

Finally, primates include humans, in addition to all the human's close relatives like chimpanzees or apes that generally live in rain forests. Primate skulls are far more rounded than the skulls of the marine mammals or land quadrupeds, as they have a length that is about equal to their height.

All in all, this is how I, as a layperson, decided to classify these animals based on their skulls. I know that this was mainly only based on two criterion: length of the skull in relation to the height, and general habitat of each mammal, but considering the context, I felt like I did an alright enough job.

-Christopher Hoef

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

After Galvin

Galvin was the first of many scientists to experiment with electrophysiology. His experiments with frogs legs opened the door for other scientists to draw conclusions about physical processes of humans. Several 20th century scientists (Ken Cole, Howard Curtis, Louis Lapicque, Alan Hodgkin, and Bernard Katz) contributed ideas which coincided to prove that neural cells operated via an action potential (Li, "The History of Medical Stimulation). Basically, our neurons are charged, and electrochemical messages are transmitted to our brain when ions travel through the neural cell membranes and change the internal charge. A more recent innovation in electrophysiology is EMS (electrical muscle stimulation). The human body is known to work better under stress, so when placed under electrical stress, muscles become more efficient. This is why athletes often undergo EMS to improve their athletic performance (Li, "The History of Medical Stimulation"). It's cool how Galvin's curiosity and the experiments which resulted from such intrigue led to so many breakthroughs in the field of animal physiology.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stumbling upon science...

Can you believe that one of the greatest drugs discovered in history was found by accident?  In 1928 Alexander Fleming noticed in his lab that there was mold on one of his plates of bacteria, and around the mold there was an absence of bacteria (  I have been taught throughout my life that Fleming had discovered penicillin, the wonder drug, but I did not know that he discovered it by accident.  It is truly amazing to me is that Fleming was not actively testing mold as an agent to kill bacteria.  He merely discovered it due to his lab being messy.  Based on this one observation, the bacteria free ring around the mold, he was able to make one of the most important scientific discoveries in history.  Many lives would be saved because of Fleming's accidental discovery.  It just goes to show that sometimes the best science can come from making observations of mistakes or accidents.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Modern Physiognomics (Sort of)

Part of one of the readings that we had for Friday discussed the old study of a field called Physiognomics, or as the reading describes it, "body criticism." Physiognomics proposed that a person's entire character, or who he or she "really is" internally, could be determined simply by how he or she looked externally. The field was involved with mystic beliefs, with a central one being the belief in a Glass of Momus, or a window into a person's soul that only a trained eye could perceive.

Although this field, as it originally was, has gone the way of Alchemy and disappeared, a new kind of Physiognomics has actually developed, as new studies show that it is actually possible to assess certain aspects of a person's character based on his or her external appearance. For instance, in general, men with wider faces are considered to be more aggressive, as a wider face is an indication of having more testosterone. Additionally, a person with a liberal political viewpoint is more likely to be able to keep eye contact in conversations than a person with a conservative political viewpoint. Between this and many others, the core ideas of Physiognomics actually work.

Therefore, direct comparisons can be made between early Physiognomics and more modern Physiognomics, but there are many differences between the two, as well. While early Physiognomics focused more on mysticism, modern Physiognomics is based on scientific studies and concrete scientific explanations, like hormones and DNA. Modern Physiognomics also doesn't try to determine universals in character based on external qualities. While old Physiognomics sought to learn everything about who a person "really is," modern Physiognomics is conducted with the full knowledge that what they determine is made up of generalizations rather than blanket statements - i.e. not all men with wide faces are aggressive.

All in all, I found it to be an interesting take on how an old study has been revitalized and adapted based on modern science.

-Christopher Hoef

American Eugenics

So since we were able to view prominent examples of eugenics found throughout European history, I decided to look up examples of eugenics in the United States. What I found was shocking. American eugenics ranged from focus on eliminating occurrences of diseases such as epilepsy, to traits such as general weakness. One of America's most influential inventors, Alexander Graham Bell, even admitted that deaf people should not be allowed to marry in order to eliminate deafness (Remsberg). Humans were compared to animals in the sense that the "best" were "purebred." Eugenics is one of those practices which truly shows the extent of societal misconceptions regarding humanity, and I believe it to be an important focal point in scientific history and in the shaping of our ethical belief systems today. The link below also has an interesting slideshow depicting images of American eugenics, for those who are curious.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Day Einstein Died

Here is a really cool photo story about Einstein's funeral. Only one
photographer attended the funeral. His photos did not run, however, because the family asked the editor of Life to not publish them to allow the family to grieve in peace. Would today's magazine editors not run the photos?

I enjoy the caption on photo six:
Friends and family make their way to their cars after the service for Einstein. The ceremony was brief: Einstein's friend Otton Nathan, an economist at Princeton and co-executor of the Einstein estate, read some lines by the great German poet, Goethe. Immediately after the service, Einstein's remains were cremated.

Should the Nazi Research Data Be Cited?

"I don't want to have to use this data, but there is no other and will be no other in an ethical world"
- John S. Hayward, University of Victoria in British Columbia

 In 1984, Kristine Moe wrote an article, for The Hastings Center Report addressing this very issue. A number of opinions can be found in the article, including those of scientists currently involved in hypothermia research. The scientific community seemed quite divided at the time (and most likely still is); some charged that the research had no validity while others claimed it was indispensable. The author ultimately decides that we should not "let the humanity of the experiments blind us to the possibility that some good may be salvaged from the ashes." What do you think?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Causes of Harm to the Eye

The eye is truly a wondrous organ. The eye’s amazing complexity is perfectly suited for its sole purpose: to perceive light. After dissecting a cow’s eye and getting a first hand look at the intricacy of its structure I began to wonder, what happens when something goes wrong. There is a myriad of diseases, deformations, and malformations that can seriously impair the function of the eye. These conditions are not only attributed to the eye itself since vision is sense comprised of connections between the eyes, visual pathways and the brain.

Myopia, hyperopia, cataracts, and color blindness are just a few conditions attributed directly to problems with the eyeball itself. These conditions occur quite frequently and can be caused by many genetic and exterior factors. One very specific type of eye infliction that I found quite interesting is the “A-bomb cataract.” These cataracts are formed when one directly observes the blast of an atomic bomb without any type of visual shielding. The intense radiation from the blast ionizes the water in the victim’s eyes causing the formation of powerful reducing agents that damage the protein synthesis and DNA causing cataracts. The picture shown is an example of radiation cataracts. These types of cataracts were seen in some of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII. Victims developed the radiation cataracts after exposure to radiation from up to two kilometers from the blast. The development of the cataracts was not instantaneous though. Some patients were diagnosed with the infliction 25 years after the bombings.

While much can go wrong with the eye in its development or through its regular usage, it is comforting to know how much modern medicine can do to treat it. Now even the completely blind can see again by sending visual information through cameras directly into the brain, bypassing the eye and the optic nerve. I find the eye truly fascinating. The specialization of each individual part of the eye is perfectly developed so that we can accurately perceive our surroundings. This is why I am very grateful that modern medicine can protect our vision from the many things that cause it damage.


The Tragedy of Nazi Eugenics

As part of the History of German Science course, myself and the rest of the class went to see an exhibit on the use of Eugenics during the first half of the 20th Century, namely in the Wiemar Republic of Germany and Nazi Germany. It involved encouraging the marriage of people with "desirable traits" so that their children would be genetically improved. Unfortunately, the consideration of what constituted a "desirable" trait was very subjective, and those who lacked these "desirable traits" were frowned upon at first, and later sterilized by force and even systematically killed off.

The tragedy of the Nazis' systematic killing of Jews, Soviets, Romani people, and many others during World War II is well-known, and certainly must never be forgotten, but another tragedy that is perhaps not as well-known is that some of the Nazis' first victims were children considered to be disabled or mentally ill, with disabled or mentally ill adults soon to meet the same fate.

This is what was truly terrifying to me, and what I feel I must stress in this blog post: the Nazis felt that they were achieving scientific progress by killing off these groups. They were able to use scientific progress as a pretext for perhaps the greatest widespread act of hate in history. It was incredibly jarring to me, as I tend to think of science as most frequently being conducted for the good of mankind, not its destruction, but from this, I understand that a mask of scientific betterment can veil destruction when in the wrong hands.

So that is what I mean to say. Science can be a tool of great good, but we must use scientific knowledge and discovery to benefit all people. Looking toward the future, we must understand this, and ensure that scientific ideas like those in Nazi Germany are never accepted again. In science, as in all fields, we must understand this history to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. We must be careful to use science for good, because when we do, it is then that mankind will truly be better off.

-Christopher Hoef

Monday, February 6, 2012

Deadly Eugenics

In "The Legacy of Nazi Medicine" by Naomi Schaefer Riley she provides an interesting informative review of the "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" exhibit put on by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Reading about the exhibit and also being a recent visitor to the exhibit, I found it eye-opening how quickly eugenics became a deadly study.  Eugenics was a way for the Nazis to "cleanse" their society and make themselves racially "pure", but in the process they committed horrifying acts.  It is particularly scary to me that doctors got involved in eugenics during the Nazi era, and instead of saving lives, they were taking them.  I feel that this exhibit is teaching important information because it is crucial that in the present we learn from the mistakes of the past in order to never commit them again.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Daniel Fahrenheit

Currently in my chemistry class, we are studying Gibb's free energy. Temperature and the measurement of it plays a significant role in calculating many things (i.e. work, Gibb's free energy, entropy, enthalpy, gases and phase changes, what have you).
So interested in how the system of measuring temperature came about, I looked into it and read several biographies on a man name Daniel Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit was born in 1686, and according to multiple biographies I've read, he was either born in Poland or Germany. One claims he was born in Germany and lived in Poland; however, I have not looked deeper into this discrepancy so if someone would like to do so, please do. I'm curious. He was a glassblower which allowed him to make barometers and thermometers, convenient wouldn't you say?
Smart man that he was, Daniel Fahrenheit worked with alcohol, and afterwards mercury. Doing so, he was able to systematize a way to measure temperature, which is an important contribution to daily life today. The celsius scale same a couple decades after the standard fahrenheit temperature scale (1724) was invented.
Originally, the fahrenheit scale was based on the body temperature of the human body. What was once 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the scale, the temperature of the human body has been adjusted to what we now describe as normal body temperature, 98.6 degrees.
It's always interesting to read about how instruments that society utilizes today and seemingly finds simple came about.

-Amanda Do