The Discovery of Radium

Portrait of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie

Marie Curie’s miracle cure

One of the central paradoxes of scientific research and technological development is that while every new discovery brings previously unknown possibilities to light, these discoveries can also have negative effects that may not be readily apparent. For example, certain medicines may provide exciting new treatment options, but it’s only later that their side effects come to light. One of the most glaring examples of this was the thalidomide scandal in the late 1950s, when thousands of women took this drug to combat morning sickness during pregnancy, and it was later found to cause birth defects. Similarly, in the 19th century, opium was thought of as a cure-all before its highly addictive nature was fully understood.

Along the same lines, Marie Sklodowska Curie’s discovery of the element radium in 1898 at first seemed to lead the way to a variety of novel medical treatments, but as the properties of radioactive materials became better known, radium’s health benefits came to seem more limited. Once added to everything from toothpaste to face cream, radium’s reputation went from cutting edge to dangerous within a few short decades.

The Element of Surprise

Marie Curie’s eventual discovery of radium was first set into motion by the research of French physicist Henri Becquerel, who noticed that materials containing uranium produced rays that fogged photographic plates. Looking into this phenomenon further, Marie Curie found that not only uranium, but also the element thorium, caused these effects regardless of their physical state (for example, dry or wet, crushed or solid), and from this deduced that the rays were part of the elements’ atomic makeup. She coined the word “radioactivity” to describe this property of these two elements, and along with other scientists of the time, opened the way to a new understanding that the atom was not the smallest unit of matter, but that even smaller particles (notably electrons) existed within it.

Building on this information, and on her observation that two uranium-containing compounds, pitchblende and chalcolite, produced much more radiation than uranium alone, Marie Curie speculated that there were other, as yet unknown, elements in these compounds. After extensive experimentation, aided by her husband Pierre Curie, Marie Curie was able to identify two new elements in pitchblende, which she called polonium (after her native Poland), and radium (after the Latin word for “ray”). Although the process of isolating radium involved processing a ton of pitchblende in order to obtain just a fraction of a gram of radium, even with similar levels of effort, the Curies found that it was impossible to isolate polonium. Later on, when the principle of radioactive decay was developed, scientists realized that the short half-life of polonium—138 days—was the reason for this problem.

Radium Reign

With the help of industrial partners who could produce radium much more quickly in their processing facilities than it was possible to do in the lab, the Curies began to develop new uses for this marvelous material. However, the Curies never became rich because of their discovery, but as a service to the scientific community and the rest of the world, freely shared their method of obtaining radium. One of the first uses of radium was as an anti-cancer treatment, owing to its observed ability to damage tissue. The resulting treatment, known as Curietherapy in France, and radiumtherapy elsewhere, is still used in some instances to treat cancer today.

However, as with any health fad, there are those who take it too far, usually for financial gain. Because radium was seen as providing health benefits in one area, its use was expanded to other areas for which there was no proven benefit. This was especially the case in the 1920s, when advertising campaigns for face creams with names such as Tho-Radia and Radior claimed that “the amazing Energy of Radium has proved a boon to the human skin.” What purchasers of these products didn’t realize was that the “glow” they were seeking was not necessarily the kind they would actually receive.

Losing Its Glow

In fact, the luminescent property of radium was precisely what made it attractive to manufacturers of clocks, watches, and other technical instruments, for whom its glow-in-the-dark ability was commercially advantageous. However, the use of radium-based paints for such applications was eventually found to be extremely dangerous, after many workers exposed to the paint died from the effects of radiation.

The growing awareness of radium’s toxicity made it seem less and less suited to general use, and when Marie Curie died in 1934, it was speculated that her exposure to radiation played a part in her death. Scientists now know that radium damages bone marrow particularly, because the body treats it as calcium, depositing it in the bones and providing it easy access to the marrow.

Although the benefits of radium fall far short of what it was once believed it could do, with careful handling radium still proves useful in medical treatment and scientific research. In addition, the story of its discovery is inspiring and laid the groundwork for many other important advances in science (If you’re ever in Paris, I highly recommend a visit to the Musée Curie, where you can see the actual office and lab used by Marie Curie in her later experiments). But the next time you hear something being praised as a miracle cure-all, remember that the truth may be more complicated than it seems.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on January 30, 2008.

Image credit: Photographer unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Author: Morgen Jahnke

Data Privacy Day

Data privacy icon

Since 2008, January 28 of each year has been Data Privacy Day, an occasion for learning about the numerous threats to the privacy of your personal data and what you can do about them. It so happens I’ve written an entire book on this topic: Take Control of Your Online Privacy. It tells you who’s after your personal data and why, what you should (and shouldn’t) worry about, and what concrete, practical steps you can take to protect yourself without withdrawing entirely from the online world. I hope you’ll check it out!

Image credit: PICOL- PIctorial COmmunication Language [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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Author: Joe Kissell

Sandboarding

People sandboarding

Dry surfing or hot snowboarding?

It was in a high school English class that I first ran across Emerson’s famous quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” Something about that struck a chord with me, and ever since, I have tried to nurture a healthy appreciation for paradox if not outright contradiction. For example, as I may have mentioned, sports are not among my top thousand or so favorite things in life. So I was chagrined to discover how many of the suggestions I received for topics to include on Interesting Thing of the Day were sports-related. Someone would very excitedly come up to me and say, “Hey! You’ve got to write about this cool piece of tennis trivia,” or “There’s this really amazing baseball story your readers would love to hear,” and I’d kind of grin and nod and pretend to make a mental note, all the while thinking there could hardly be anything less interesting to write about than sports. However, when my son Ben suggested an article on sandboarding, I had to admit that did sound sort of interesting—and at least I didn’t have to participate in it. So in the noble spirit of contradiction, I set out to discover what I could about this sport.

Getting Board with Sand

Sandboarding resembles snowboarding as seen through amber glasses. The general idea is the same; participants strap a short board to their feet and slide down a hill, only in this case the surface is sand rather than snow. Sandboarders sometimes say the experience is more like surfing than snowboarding, an impression undoubtedly enhanced by the lack of heavy clothing. As in snowboarding, the sport is sometimes recreational, sometimes competitive; some participants focus mainly on speed, others on acrobatics and tricks. But one of the biggest differences is that sand dunes don’t have lifts; to get to the top for a run, you must hike or take a four-wheel-drive vehicle (euphemistically known as a “chair lift”)—and a friend to drive it back down the hill. Unlike snow-covered mountains, sand dunes are constantly changing size and shape due to shifting winds, making fixed installations of lift equipment impossible.

The sandboards themselves are superficially very similar to snowboards, which is to say they’re about the same size and shape, and use similar bindings. However, since sand is much more abrasive, and with much higher friction than snow, some modifications are necessary to keep the boards running smoothly and to keep them from getting chewed up rapidly. The bottom surface of most sandboards is covered with a tougher, more slippery material than wood—often Formica or ABS plastic, though stainless steel is sometimes used as well. The choice of material must be matched to both the type of sand on which it will be used and the intended effect (lighter materials for acrobatics, slipperier ones for speed). Some riders wax their boards to reduce friction further and prolong the life of the board, but even under the best conditions sandboards wear out even more quickly than snowboards.

The Sand(boards) of Time

I initially assumed that sandboarding was a recent invention, a simple snowboarding knock-off. This is only approximately correct, however. On the one hand, sandboards have appropriated snowboard technology, and attracted snowboard riders, only in the last few decades. But there is evidence that ancient Egyptians were sliding down sand dunes on pieces of wood or pottery 3,000 years ago. Modern, upright sandboarding is believed to have been invented in Brazil in the 1940s. In recent years, though, advances in materials and techniques have led to much faster speeds and longer jumps than ever imagined before—professional sandboarders routinely reach speeds in excess of 60 mph (100 kph) and jump distances of 50 feet (15m) or more.

Sandboarding can be done anywhere there are sand dunes—which is a surprisingly large number of places. Certainly the deserts of Africa, Australia, and California are natural choices, but suitable sand dunes can be found all over the world—from Chile to the Athabasca sand dunes in Saskatchewan, Canada, from China to North Wales. The international sandboarding championships are held annually in Nurnberg, Germany, attracting as many as 50,000 fans. Florence, Oregon is the proud home of the world’s first sandboarding park, called Sand Master Park.

I should perhaps mention that, as sports go, the ones that involve standing on a board and moving very fast are among the last I’d personally be inclined to try. Whether the surface is water, snow, concrete, or sand, that whole mode of movement just doesn’t appeal to me. I do like the idea of sandboarding, especially the fact that it’s not as commercialized as snowboarding. But I think I’ll start out with sand tobogganing—or maybe just hold out for the 3D force-feedback sandboarding computer game, undoubtedly coming soon.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 15, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on February 13, 2005.

Image credit: CVN 75 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Author: Joe Kissell

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Child survivors of Auschwitz

During World War II, six million Jews (and millions of others) died at the hands of the Nazis. Perhaps the most notorious of the concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was the last one to be liberated—on January 27, 1945. In recognition of that event, the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 declared January 27 to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I used to think that racism in general, and anti-Semitism in particular, were on a rapid and irrevocable decline, but sadly that has turned out not to be the case. What happened before—and worse—could happen again unless we get our collective acts together, stop being awful to other human beings, and stop tolerating those who are.

Image credit: Alexander Voronzow and others in his group, ordered by Mikhael Oschurkow, head of the photography unit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Author: Joe Kissell

The Hurdy-Gurdy

A musician playing the hurdy-gurdy

Violin, bagpipes, and kazoo combined

In 1996, I bought an album I knew next to nothing about, by an artist I had never heard of before, on the strength of the album being issued on Peter Gabriel’s excellent Real World record label. The album was Big City Secrets by Joseph Arthur, and from the very first track I knew that I had made a good purchase. However, I really sat up and listened when I got to track 3, “Mikel K.” In the background of the song there was a really odd-sounding instrument. It sounded a bit like a violin (or a folk-style fiddle) played with a never-ending bow, and had a bagpipe-like drone note in the background. As if that wasn’t enough sonic complexity for one instrument, there was also a rhythmic buzzing sound, slightly reminiscent of a kazoo. What in the world was it? A quick check of the liner notes revealed only one instrument that I hadn’t heard of before—a hurdy-gurdy.

Don’t They Usually Come with a Monkey?

The first image that popped into my head was of a kind of barrel organ, where a handle is turned to drive bellows which force air through organ pipes, and which is also usually accompanied by some kind of simian assistant. I was so fascinated by the sound that I did some research, and found that my misconception was a common one. The hurdy-gurdy (or vielle à roue, as it is known in France) is played by turning a handle, but the resemblance to a barrel organ ends there. The body of the instrument can be box-shaped or with a rounded back like a lute, and many examples are beautifully decorated with inlaid wood. The handle turns a wheel covered in rosin, which vibrates the strings; the hurdy-gurdy functions like a violin with an endless bow, so that there is no pause in the sound at the end of a bow stroke. Instead of sounding notes using the fingers, the musician presses sliding, un-sprung keys which make contact with the strings and shorten them to make a sound of the required pitch. The drone comes from one or more strings which do not get pressed by the keys, and therefore sound the same notes continuously. The final part of the puzzle is the moveable bridge, or chien (French for dog), which supports one of the drone strings and can be manipulated by a skilled player so that it vibrates against the body of the hurdy-gurdy during playing, making a rhythmic buzzing noise. The whole ensemble has a driving, continuous sound, with its own percussion produced by the chien; it is impossible not to tap your feet along with the music.

The Golden Age of the Hurdy-Gurdy

It should therefore come as no surprise that the heyday of the hurdy-gurdy was in the medieval period, when it was used to accompany dancing. However, between the 14th and 16th centuries, the complexity and range of the popular music of the day increased beyond the capabilities of the instrument, and it fell out of favour with professional musicians, while remaining a firm favourite in rural areas with folk musicians. There was a bit of a hurdy-gurdy revival in the 17th to 18th centuries, as the instrument was improved and much new music was written for it. Oddly, this was partly due to its former association with the rural peasantry. The French court of Louis XIV started a fashion for what might be called “peasant chic”: the King was fascinated by his own idea of the simple, rural life (of course, this was a somewhat rose-tinted view, ignoring all the harsh, unsanitary, and downright unpleasant aspects of peasant life), and the hurdy-gurdy fitted in with this fashion perfectly. Eventually, the fashion changed, and by the French Revolution, the hurdy-gurdy had been returned to the rural working people. Today the peculiar sound of the instrument has a great affinity for all kinds of modern music, as I discovered. It makes an interesting acoustic counterpoint to largely electronic music, and the Celtic/Middle-Eastern feel of the sound complements world and folk music equally well. In my opinion, there are few pieces of music that aren’t improved by the addition of a hurdy-gurdy—but perhaps I’m a bit biased.

The Sad and Seedy Side

The hurdy-gurdy also has a dark side to its history, which can be traced back to Hessen, Germany in the 1800s. Poverty was rife in rural areas because of increasing family sizes and the division of inherited land, so farmers started to make brooms and fly whisks in the winter which they then sold in the summer as pedlars. Initially, they sold their goods locally, but their trade soon spread to other areas of Europe, and as far as Britain and Russia. Being shrewd folk, they realised that brooms are not the most fascinating of household commodities, and that they would gather more of a crowd of potential purchasers if some form of entertainment was included. This took the form of pretty young “hurdy-gurdy girls” who danced and played music. Inevitably, the girls became more of a draw than the brooms, and before long, young girls were being persuaded by “soul-merchants” to leave their homes and families to play and dance in seedy music halls for sailors, miners, and other groups of men bereft of female company. The girls performed as far afield as gold-rush California, Cuba, and Australia. Some were drawn into prostitution, and while a lucky few became rich from their trade, most led miserable lives and returned home poor and ill. For many years, the trade was a public secret, with officials turning a blind eye (or even profiting from it) but eventually it changed from public secret to public scandal, and was finally outlawed in 1865 by a government edict.

Hurdy-Gurdy Gurus

So who is the Jimi Hendrix of the hurdy-gurdy scene? My vote would go to Nigel Eaton. His father, Chris, also makes the instruments, which must be handy if he has a Pete Townsend moment at a gig, and smashes up his hurdy-gurdy. Nigel has formed numerous groups centered around the hurdy-gurdy, including Blowzabella and Ancient Beatbox, as well as playing as a session musician with performers as diverse as Led Zeppelin and Joseph Arthur. In fact, this is where I came in—Nigel Eaton was playing on the Joseph Arthur track I mentioned at the start of this article. Like the rosined wheel of the hurdy-gurdy, I have come full circle.

Guest author Jackie Chappell is a biologist at the University of Birmingham (UK).

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 1, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on September 22, 2004.

Image credit: Sander van der Wel [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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Author: Jackie Chappell

National Seed Swap Day

RFGN seed swap at the Reading Farmers' Market. 17th March 2018

A seed swap is an event where—see if you can follow this intricate description—people swap seeds. That is to say, gardeners bring excess or unusual seeds to a central location and trade them for others—perhaps to obtain new heirloom plants, to try new things, or just for garden-variety (see what I did there?) diversity. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have anywhere to put a garden, but if I did, I’m sure I’d find seed swaps delightful. Washington Gardener Magazine started National Seed Swap Day in 2006, and it has been held the last Saturday in January ever since.

Image credit: Karen Blakeman [Public domain], via Flickr


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Author: Joe Kissell

Family Mediation Week Day 5: Planning For The Future

Day 5 of Family Mediation Week’s theme is “A Ray of Sunshine; What a Relief”

Today is the last day of Family Mediation Week.

Once again there is a lot of very helpful information, including videos, blogs and articles available from the Family Mediation Week website (http://www.familymediationweek.org.uk/).

These look towards the end of the process and people being able to move on.

For example, there is a video by Bill Hewlett recording how relieved children feel that they have been listened to, they no longer feel they are caught in the middle and they can go on and enjoy the rest of their childhood.

There are also articles about the importance of everyone looking after themselves, mentally and physically, as they go through the process of separation and moving on.

This is accompanied by another piece focusing on the future and having a clear plan in order to make the best of life.

Mediation is all about helping families to find fair solutions which work for everyone.

Mediation requires commitment and effort by everyone concerned, the couple and the Mediator or Mediators, it is not necessarily an easy process but if it does result in fair, workable solutions the gains are enormous.

Mediation is just one of several ways of resolving issues when families separate. As such, it should always be considered.

Legal advice is vital no matter what process a couple choose to follow.

Legal advice can support and assist the Mediation process so couples can make proper informed decisions.

Family Mediation Week has been an enormous success, the material produced is of first class quality and at Stowe Family Law we are committed to helping our clients identify the process which will work best for them and their families. Stowe Family Law is able to offer mediation services in a number of our offices so if you are interested in hearing more get in touch.

You can read our previous Mediation Week posts here:

The post Family Mediation Week Day 5: Planning For The Future appeared first on Stowe Family Law.


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Author: Graham Coy

A Week In Family Law: A Domestic Abuse Bill, the myth of common law marriage, and more

And what a busy week it’s been!

First up, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill, which provides, amongst other things, that opposite sex couples may enter into a civil partnership, will now proceed to the committee stage in the House of Lords.

The big news was the unveiling by the government of its draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which it calls “the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse.” The Bill is “aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders.” Its main provisions include the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse; the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues; the introduction of new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and the prohibition of the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts. For further details of the Bill see this brief summary I wrote here on Monday. The Bill has been generally welcomed by interested parties. Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said that it “has the potential to create a step change in the national response” to domestic abuse, and Suzanne Jacob OBE, Chief Executive of the domestic abuse charity SafeLives, said: “We welcome the government’s set of proposals, particularly putting a greater focus on perpetrator accountability, both through the legal system, civil powers, and programmes that seek to change abusive behaviour.” Let us just hope that the present political uncertainty does not derail the Bill (the prohibition of the cross-examination of victims provision has already been delayed a year and a half by the last general election).

The next big story was not actually news, at least not to all family lawyers. This year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, found that almost half of all people in England and Wales mistakenly believe that unmarried couples who live together have a common law marriage and enjoy the same rights as couples that are legally married. The findings reveal that 46% of the population are under the wrong impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage – a figure that remains largely unchanged over the last fourteen years (47% in 2005), despite a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples. In contrast, only 41% of respondents to the survey rightly say cohabiting couples are not in a common law marriage. Interestingly, the survey showed that people are significantly more likely to believe in common law marriage when they have children – 55% of households with children think that common law marriage exists, whilst only 41% of households without any children do so. Commenting on the figures Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy at the University of Exeter, which commissioned the survey, said: “Cohabiting couples now account for the fastest growing type of household and the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children has more than doubled in the last decade. Yet whilst people’s attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation have shifted, policy has failed to keep up with the times. The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial that we raise awareness of the difference between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage and any differences in rights that come with each.” Exactly. We must continue to try to raise awareness, and also press for basic property rights for (former) cohabitees.

And finally, almost unnoticed amongst all the other news, this has been Family Mediation Week, an annual campaign organised by The Family Mediators Association which “aims to raise awareness of mediation and how it can help separating families manage their issues collaboratively and productively.” For further information, I would refer the reader to the series of posts here on the subject this week from Stowe Family Law partner Graham Coy, who is himself a member of the Association.

Have a good weekend.

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Author: John Bolch

Leeches Reconsidered

A therapeutic leech on skin

Modern medicine sucks it up

I’m not particularly squeamish at the sight of blood. Needles, on the other hand—or, let’s say, any sharp objects that could be used, intentionally or otherwise, to put a hole in my skin—give me the creeps. I can deal with injections and blood tests and so on as long as I don’t have to watch, but that sensation of having something poking under my skin…well, it gets under my skin. I’m also not crazy about slimy or wriggly things—food, plant, animal, or otherwise. (This was not always the case. When I was very young I loved to play with earthworms. Once I accidentally, uh, broke one, and I was terribly upset. I took the pieces to a neighbor who was a nurse and insisted that she put the worm back together with a band-aid. She did. Poor woman. Poor worm.) Thus it should come as no surprise that leeches—by virtue of being slimy, wriggly, and putting holes in the skin—are pretty high on my “icky” list.

Teaching an Old Leech New Tricks

I cringe when I read old stories about bloodletting and other medical practices that, by today’s standards, would be considered insane. Although doctors of centuries past surely felt their logic was sound, they were working from incorrect assumptions, and such tactics caused untold suffering. Stories of the medicinal use of leeches, in particular, always disturbed me. It’s one thing to use a medical device to remove blood from someone’s body, but applying a blood-sucking creature just seemed hideously wrong. I’ve never heard of mosquitoes being put to therapeutic use, never heard of a surgeon suggesting that a shark might be handy for performing an amputation. So I’ve always been grateful to live in the age of sterile instruments, antibiotics, and other modern marvels.

But in recent years I’ve been seeing more and more articles about leeches being used, once again, in medicine. I saw live leeches on display at the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans, and I’ve seen them used on numerous TV shows (both reality and fiction). After decades of living in disdain on the general public’s “icky” list, leeches are once again gaining respectability for their medical applications. Only this time it’s not bloodletting to cure a fever, a headache, or any other random ailment; it’s a precise medical procedure to solve some very specific problems.

This Animal Really Sucks

Medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) have a sucker on each end with which they attach to a host. Their tiny mouths, located inside one of the suckers, have three jaws arranged in a Y shape—each with about 100 microscopic teeth. When these jaws bite into the flesh of a human or other animal, they create tiny, precise incisions that give the leech access to a steady supply of blood, which it then ingests. But just as interesting is the leech’s saliva, which contains among other things an anesthetic (making the bite virtually painless), a vasodilator (which expands the small blood vessels near the bite), an anti-clotting agent (which can cause the wound to keep bleeding for many hours after the leech is removed), and even antibiotic agents to prevent infection. So as animals go, there are worse things to be bitten by. Leeches suck in up to 10 times their body weight in blood—about 15–20 grams, or 3–4 teaspoons—and then drop off. A feeding lasts about 30 minutes to an hour, after which the leech doesn’t need to eat again for six months.

The modern medical application involves procedures such as skin grafts, reattachment of body parts, and reconstructive surgery in which blood flow must be directed to a new piece of skin. Getting blood to a piece of tissue is relatively easy, but siphoning the used blood away from the tissue is trickier. As a result, blood sometimes pools under the skin where it has just the opposite of the desired effect—it prevents oxygen from reaching the tissue. In such cases, what the patient needs is a minuscule incision, constant negative pressure to draw the excess blood out, a way to expand the blood vessels for maximum blood flow, and a way to prevent the opening from clotting until proper circulation has been established. This turns out to be a perfect match for the leech’s résumé; it can accomplish all this much more efficiently, precisely, and safely than using conventional medical equipment. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has formally classified medicinal leeches as medical devices. Now they are being used daily, by the thousands, in well-equipped hospitals all over the world.

Like used syringes, “used” leeches must be disposed of; reusing them on another patient could transmit diseases found in the first patient’s blood. I’ve heard that some are discarded along with used sharps (and then incinerated by a plasma arc waste disposal system), while others are disposed of by dunking them in ethyl alcohol or putting them in caustic soda. I have not heard whether such disposal methods raise the hackles of animal-rights groups. Medicinal leeches are, after all, considered a “near threatened” species in the wild. But as much as I like animals, I’d have trouble feeling sympathy for a euthanized leech, even if it did just save my skin.

Leeches are not the only slimy critters being put to medical use. Maggots, for example, are becoming a popular choice for debriding major wounds because they eat only dead flesh, leaving the healthy tissue intact. I’m all in favor of “natural” cures, and I’d like to think that if I ever experienced an injury for which leeches or maggots were an appropriate treatment, I’d have the grace and fortitude to suppress my “ick” reflex. All the same, the researchers working to create a mechanical substitute for medicinal leeches have my complete support.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on February 19. 2005.

Image credit: Pixabay


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Author: Joe Kissell

Opposite Day

Opposite-colored pigeons

It’s Opposite Day, or National Opposite Day, if you’re in the United States. Which means you probably can’t believe anything you hear or read. Assume, for example, that anything tweeted today by members of the Executive Branch of the United States is meant to mislead you—all in the name of good fun, of course! Most likely the opposite is true.

On Opposite Day, it’s important to remember the difference between an argument and a contradiction. But if you should happen to be enslaved by a group of androids, you can use Opposite Day to your advantage by overloading their logic circuits. There’s an easy way to do this, and there’s a hard way.

Image credit: Pixabay


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Author: Joe Kissell