Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mayo Clinic: History of Wax Models

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The Winter 2029-2020 issue of Minnesota History is up to its usual standard. I point out one article by Karen Koka, Mayo Clinic's Moulages and Medical Museum.

"For six decades," Koka begins, "from 1924 to 1982, Rochcester's Mayo Clinic produced large numbers of medical moulages, lifelike wax models formed from molds to demonstrate pathological changes in the human body. The wax models were educational tools used in exhibits at major medical meetings to depict the Mayo Clinic's medical and surgical techniques and to illustrate the signs, symptoms, and treatments of conditions seen at the clinic."

In Koka's close she notes that "As of 2019, 31 years after the museum closed, almost all of an estimated 1500-1800 extant wax models remain in storage. Only seven are now exhibited in the Mayo Clinic's patient education library in the Stephens Building, and a few others are on display in departmental areas."  

Interestingly, the moulages are still "asked patients who remember child hood field trips to the Mayo Museum and recall the fascination inspired by their lifelike features." Many were of farm injuries and accidents. I hope that one-day they will have an exhibit home so that we can see and learn from all of them.

The full article is available on-line (well-illustrated so do yourself a favor and at least scroll it). Moulage as a technique is still being used even in this era of 3-D imaging techniues. This video ( 2m 19s) from the Mayo Clinic describes the process and some uses.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Animation of a Trip Around a Black Hole

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Models, Simulations

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) shows what it would like to circle a black hole in a stunning visualization (18s). 

The features of a black hole are labeled with an explanation for each of the terms. In this trip you end up where you started from, not in the black hole itself.

All aboard!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from Saint Paul on this 241st day of 2020 with 65.85% of the year behind us. Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 7:53 pm. Today there will be 13h 25m and 17s of sunlight. Among the celebrations is National Cherry Turnover Day.

Marcie Rendon, mystery writer, playwright, children's author and poet, recently received--a McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist award ($50,000). She is the first Native American woman to receive this honor. Speaking about the pandemic quarantine, she said:"This is not our first war or our first pandemic. We're resilient. We're going to thrive and a lot how we do that is continuing to create and find humor and beauty, trying to find the words to inspire people" (Star Tribune August 24 2020)

Today's poem is by Mary Oliver.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Using Nature to Mind the Gap

Environmental & Science Education
Water and Watersheds
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Edward Hessler

In an enchanting photoessay on NPR, molecular biologist turned photographer, Prasenjeet Yadav shows us what he had the privilege of seeing as well as using: "a being that was both intrinsically natural and intrinsically engineered, a jing kieng jri, a living bridge made out of tree roots. The word comes from the local (phonetic) language called Khasi."

The bridges are made of Ficus elastica roots and are found in the Indian state of Meghalaya ("Abode of the Clouds"). It is profoundly hilly and wet--32 ' (384 ") to 45' (540") of rain per year.

We'd all like to know what it feels like crossing them. Yadav does not disappoint. He said he searched for a comparable experience and finding none describing the crossing as follows. "No, it did not feel like crossing a concrete bridge. No, it did not feel like climbing a tree. Instead, it felt like a fairy tale come to life. And perhaps, in a way, that's what it is."

Yadav notes that they the trees are havens of biodiversity, describes their construction, lives and variations (there is a double-decker among the photographs), the double-edged sword of tourism and why people construct them. Yaday also photographed bridges using the technique of light painting--described in the Wiki entry as "moving a light source while taking a long exposure photograph." The results surprised the local villagers, many of whom "often couldn't believe they were looking at their very own bridges."

He closes with a comment by his guide, Bah Drong who when asked what happens to them when they can no longer be used.  "They'll become a part of the forest, my friend."

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

In an article for the science journal Nature, Nikki Forrester introduces us to scientists who switched careers, all four of whom had worked with yeasts on how working with yeast decided to experiment with their careers--beers, of course, baking and tea.

Each thumbnail describes the career path and how experience in science helped them become persons in the business world. One of them, Andrew Strang is frank in admitting, "I never really had a career plan, but knew that doing a PhD in physics...would leave a lot of doors open to me and I enjoyed doing research in interference optics." Strang began by making bread as a student and then delivering is by bicyle.

J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham did her PhD on beer, namely "how its value was formed and manipulated in the US brewing industry from prohibition in the 1920s. She launched her current career after working for the Brewers Association as its diversity ambassador.She says "When people ask me what it's lie to no longer be an academic, I always say I'm definitely an academic, I just left the academy." Jackson-Beckhamn's research is different now as well as her teaching and community service.

Richard Preiss, a microbiologist, founded Escarpment Laboratories with a friend, "do supply liquid cultures to craft and home brewers."Part of what fuels me," he says, "is that I get to participate in research all the time...for our product development with academics.... We focus on understanding the natural diversity in flavours and functions of beer yeasts."

Brewing kombucha tea led Andrew Kraft to pursue two careers, one in business and the other in academia. He'd always had an interest in entrepreneurship and was awarded a competitive award from the West Virginia Business Plan Competition to start a kombuchery (Neighbourhood Kombuchery). Rhodes notes that "With kombucha, I'm juggling multiple brewing cycles and different flavours, while also dealing with accounting, distribution and sales. It's the same as being in a PhD programme, in which you're writing a journal paper, teaching a course and taking a class. Graduate studies teach you time management."He is also a current hire "as a teaching assistant professor in aerospace engineering at West Virginia State University.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Straight Talk on the FDA's Decision to Use Conavalescent Plasma in Covid-19 Treatment

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

For all of my life the U. S. Food and Drug administration has been free of political influence, in other words a trusted and trustworthy agency. Independent.

As you probably know on Sunday night, weekends are favorite nights for announcements, President Trump with FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, held a "news conference to announce the decision"granting the "emergency use authorization of convalescent plasma to treat patients with Covid-19. Trump characterized the decision as a major breakthrough." Hahn, there to provide professional backup, failed right out of the gate. He claimed "that giving plasma would help 35 out of 100 people treated."

STAT senior writers, Matt Herper and Adam Feurerstein, sat down "to gather their thoughts." Their spirited conversation is available here

In response to Herper's characterization of Commissioner Hahn's statement, i.e., that he misspoke, Feurerstein responded: "Misspoke is being kind. Hahn grossly mischaracterized the benefit of convalescent plasma on Sunday night. I’ll just quote him here: “A 35% improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit. What that means is — and if the data continue to pan out — 100 people who are sick with Covid-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma.”

Feurestein's closing sentence is one I like, of course, one all of us should, because it is based in the reality of numbers. "The data don't show that." Herper then continues the conversation about what the reported numbers should be.

Decisions about medicines and vaccines must be made under circumstances of scientific independence IF an agency is to be trusted and IF the scientists, doctors and technicians who work there know this. This undermines that AND as Herper points out, "This country has a serious problem with vaccine hesitancy. Even the whiff of politics into the FDA review process for Covid-19 vaccines could be disastrous." (my emphasis)

The conversation is too lively and informed for me to pick a few quotes here and there, so do yourself a favor and read it.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Priming Vaccines to Function Better

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, History of Science --Edward Hessler

Vaccines work better when they are "primed" with a chemical to activate the immune system to make antibodies. This is what chemicals known as adjuvants do. From the Latin, the term means "to help."

The first adjuvant was alum (diptheria and tetanus vaccines) which was used for more than 70 years but according to the Wiki entry was replaced in commercial vaccines by aluminium hydroxide and aluminium phosphate. Adjuvants can cause side effects in some of us--redness, swelling, pain which is localized at the injection site.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) entry on adjuvants has a chart describing adjuvants in use in the United States which includes their chemical composition and the vaccines in which they are found.

In an essay at NPR, science reporter Joe Palca discusses adjuvants and the mechanisms involved in antibody production. He also discusses the need for more research with an eye to finding the best one for each vaccine. This attention, of course, has been brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Palca writes,

But the strange thing is that there aren't a lot of adjuvants out there.

"'We only think about adjuvants when there's a dire need, such as this pandemic, for example,' says Bali Pulendran, a vaccine developer at Stanford University. 'Now everyone is interested in faster response and a better response and a longer-lasting response. 'This is a topic that needs, deserves better attention,' he says.

Some of you may have had an injection of the new, more effective shingles vaccine. My Doctor says it is almost 97% effectiveness compared to the problematic 50% effectiveness of the old vaccine. (I've yet to opt for one although I did experience shingles quite a few years ago.). She also said that some people experience unpleasant side effects for about a day--tiredness and soreness, particularly the former.  Palca describes the development of this vaccine, something I didn't know or ever think about. So much for the curious patient!

Palca refers to adjuvants as "the special sauces" but since one of the impediments to adjuvant research is proprietary (no surprise) it also made me think of them as "secret sauces." 

Palca also quotes Sallie Permar of Duke University that she thinks adjuvant research will open a new avenue of science and it "may not be far off." 

Three cheers for adjuvants AND adjuvant research!




Sunday, August 23, 2020

Hamline Univesity and the Green Legacy Hiroshima Project: An Update

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture, Society 

On August 15 the Green Legacy Hiroshima project (GLH) was the subject of a post that I left incomplete. 

I noted Hamline University's participation but that no one here knew anything about it. I mentioned I had some ideas about HU'a involvement and what likely happened to the seeds but didn't want to speculate. I'm glad I didn't. I had some of the story more-or-less right but the rest was completely wrong.

The mystery is solved!

I mentioned that there was a faculty member at Hamline University who I thought might be involved. , Walter Enloe, wrote a book about GLH with full information on seeds from that project that were brought here. Seeds of Rebirth: The A-Bomb Peace Trees (illustrated by Serene Enloe and Isaac Enloe--childrent and teachers). 

Amazon had just the information I wanted about the fate of the seeds and also provides information about Professor Enloe's deep relationship with Hiroshima where he grew up and served as principal of a school. He returned many times. According to the Amazon summary:

"In 2011, Steve Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and a director of the Hiroshima International School introduced Walter Enloe and Serene Enloe to the Green Legacy Hiroshima project. Walter, a teacher, grew up in Japan and for years was Principal of Hiroshima International School and the co- founder of the 1000 Cranes Club with Steve. Serene, a teacher, was born in Hiroshima and attended the International School. 

"Together, father and daughter, invited the Avalon School in St. Paul and advisor Jo Sullivan, a childhood friend of Steve, to become the first North American institution to join the project. In the summer of 2015 Serene returned to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sister-city of St. Paul, to photograph the surviving Peace Trees of Hiroshima. "Over the past five years the students have experimented with (the) various seeds (delivered to Hamline University, March 2014)--Ginkgo, hackberry, persimmon, jujube, Kurogame holly) and discovered that the only trees to thrive at Minnesota’s latitude is the venerable Ginko. 

On June 6, 2017, Peace Day at Avalon, they distributed their first trees to peace parks and public spaces throughout the region. Like the founding of the 1000 Cranes Club over thirty years ago, students reach to their locale and the world to share their fervent desire for peace through working to contribute to a world that values justice and equity for all peoples, and sustainable environments for future generations. These roles of active citizen and earth steward are a hallmark of the Avalon School community.

However, we aren't out of the woods yet--pardon this, if you can. The Amazon abstract doesn't tell us about the species tested (except Gingko), the number of seeds in each packet, how many were planted, when and how, at what depth--the "experimental" design, germination success, and little about the "strength" of the the conclusion. I hope the book touches on some of these details.

You could be confused say about hackberry and why it didn't have success here. There are hackberry trees on HU's campus--a common tree in the upper midwest but it is a different species in the genus Celtis (occidentalis) from the Japanese hackberry (jessoensis) found only in Japan and Korea  (and used for bonzai culture).

I thought of some questions science educator Mary Budd Rowe thought that all students should learn to ask as a matter of routine when work is completed, e.g.,  What do I know? What is the evidence? Do I have it all? Where did the evidence come from? How good is it? What are other interpretations? What possible actions should I take?  What does it all mean?

I am glad to know what happened as well as the history. It must have been a memorable experience for the students and others involved.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cancer in a Dinosaur

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Paleontology, Earth Science, Earth Systems, Geology, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Give or take a few years, 76 million years before present, a Centrosaurus, living in what is now Canada was roaming the land with a malignant tumor in its lower leg. It has now been diagnosed as an osteosarcoma and is the firs time that cancer has been confirmed in a dinosaur. Benign tumors have been identified in Tyranoaurus rex fossils. The identified tumor could have been fatal, but evidence from the site where it was found suggested that it died in a flood with the rest of the herd.

This diagnosis required a team of scientists and physicians as science reporter for the journal Science, Gretchen Vogel writes, "'Scientists, including paleontologists, pathologists, a surgeon, and a radiologist, examined the full fossil with high-resolution computerized tomography scans and examined thin sections under the microscope to evaluate the structure of the cells. They found that the tumor was advanced enough that it had probably plagued the animal for some time."

It is a short read and includes two images of the diseased bone. The original paper was published in the medical journal, The Lancet Oncology (paywall, abstract available).

Friday, August 21, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Environment, Poetry

Ed Hessler

Good morning from Saint Paul, MN. August 21st is the 234th day of the--63.93% of the year has passed. Sunrise is at 6:22 am and sunset is at 8:05 pm giving us 13 h 45 m 53 s of daylength. Twelve days from today Meteorological Fall begins (9-1) and in 33 days it is the Autumnal Equinox (9-22). One sure thing is ahead--the continued loss of light. In his weather column on August 18 in the Star Tribune, meteorologist Paul Douglas noted that between August 31 and October 18, 3-plus minutes will be lost daily.

Today's quote. "Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed Chandlers' speech, it was very bitter. I’ve been watching to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet ... Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Thomas Catt with her "Rats." Is she the one that put rat in ratification, Ha! No more from mama this time.--On August 18, 1920, Republican Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee legislature, had this note in his coat pocket when he voted--the deciding vote:49 to 48--in favor of ratification of the 19th Amendment.  He had been expected to vote against it. By the way, he handily won re-election and went on to hold many public offices during his life. 

Today's poem by Marilyn Chin  marks the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution 100 years ago on August 18. It states that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Thursday, August 20, 2020

What is Known and Not Known about the Virus SARS-CoV-2 After Seven Long Months?

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

Covid is now seven months in. What do we know and what questions remain about Covid-19? Andrew Joseph, Helen Branswell and Elizabeth Cooney of STAT provide some insights. The essay is long but it reflects the importance of the pandemic in our lives. Some of the findings and a few notes below but not all that is reported.

--Covid and kids: It’s complicated. In spite of the spin doctors, many of whom are politicians kids can contract the disease. The authors write, " We’ve learned younger children and teenagers shouldn’t be lumped together when it comes to Covid. Teens seem to shed virus — emit it from their throats and nasal passages — at about the same rates as adults. Kids under 5 have high levels of virus in their respiratory tracts, but it’s still not clear how much they spread it or why they don’t develop symptoms as often as adults do." And the rates of infection have risen from the outset of the pandemic.

--There are safer settings, and more dangerous settings. The worst settings include these characteristics: close, long, indoors, loud talking, heavy breathing, singing. "[T]here is a threshold level of virus you need to be exposed to to become infected. Also, one hypothesis for why some people get so sick is that they are exposed to higher “doses” of virus.

 --People can test positive for a long time after they recover. It doesn’t matter. This may come as a surprise..

--After the storm, there are often lingering effects. Covid-19 misses no body system or part. The authors discuss three: brain, heart, peripheral nervous system.

--‘Long-haulers’ don’t feel like they’ve recovered. Some people who survive don't feel like their old selves. They are called the 'long-haulers.'  "Mount Sinai Health System in New York City opened a Center for Post-Covid Care in May to treat long-haulers. David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation there, has suggested dysautonomia — when heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature are disjointed —could be to blame for prolonged and distressing symptoms. Why Covid-19 would cause this isn’t known, nor is the best treatment."

--Vaccine development can be accelerated. A lot. It was good news when it was learned that vaccine trials could be "compressed and overlapped."

--People without symptoms can spread the virus. These people are referred to as asymptomatic and presymptomatic--will show symptoms but haven't yet. There is a percentage of infected people, estimated to be about 20% do not show any symptom.  "Whether or not someone is asymptomatic or presymptomatic, they can still spread the virus (though whether they spread it as efficiently as people with symptoms is still unknown). That is why public health campaigns have been stressing distancing, masks, and hand hygiene for everyone, not just people who feel sick."

--Mutations to the virus haven’t been consequential. Other virus families mutate quickly. This means vaccine development moves more quickly since the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are based on its genetic sequence. There has been one exception: the "G variant." This involved "one swap in the “'letters'” that make up the virus’ RNA."  The switch occurred early and the so-called "G-variant" is now dominant. It is not know whether this happened just by chance or whether it is more contagious.

--Viruses on surfaces probably aren’t the major transmission route. Surface germs are known as "fomites." "(Maria)Van Kerkhove of WHO said there hasn’t been a case recorded where it’s clear someone was infected by fomites alone." However, do NOT stop cleaning surfaces and washing hands though. These are "risk-lowering step(s) people can take, public health officials agree."

--People seem to be protected from reinfection, but for how long? So far "scientists have not confirmed any repeat Covid-19 cases," but much is not known about the body's immune response and whether/how long it confers immunity. T-cells are the body's response team to pathogens but their role in Covid-19 has not been established. 

--What happens if or when people start having subsequent infections? It is well known and our personal experience that respiratory viruses "don't induce life-long immunity in the way a virus like measles does." It is not known whether reinfections might mean a lesser threat than the first one. One study in the Netherlands, preliminary and not yet peer-reviewed "followed people for decades, measuring their antibodies to four human coronaviruses at regular intervals and looking for changes that would indicate a new infection. The scientists found that reinfection could occur within a year of the first infection."

--How much virus does it take to get infected? This is among the greatest unknowns. "Angela Rasmussen, a coronavirus expert at Columbia University said “'We don’t know the amount that is required to cause an infection, but it seems that it’s probably not a really, really small amount, like measles.'” 

--How many people have been infected? "Problems with testing, and its limited availability, have contributed to (the gap between confirmed cases and carriers), as has the fact that some people have such mild or no symptoms that they don’t know they’re infected. But researchers don’t know just how big of a gulf they’re dealing with — how much spread they’ve missed.

--It’s not clear why some people get really sick, and some don’t. Consider the range: "from a truly asymptomatic case, to mild symptoms, to moderate disease leading to months-long complications, to death." There are clear factors: being old, underlying health conditions (cancer, obesity, sickle cell disease) and possibilities: genetic differences, blood types, T-cells that formed as a result of "one of the common cold-causing coronaviruses but that can recognize SARS-CoV-2 as well (referred to as "cross-reactive" T cells). Up to half of us have them but do they actually play a role in whether we get sick or less sick from SARS-CoV-2 is not known. It remains a tantalizing hypothesis.