Once Explorers, Always Explorers | Colin Pillinger Memorial Talk

In typical fashion, I had overslept a nap – rushing up the steps inside Will’s Memorial, I made it inside the Big Hall just in time to attend an event I had been looking forward to for months. Titled “Once Explorers, Always Explorers – Europe’s Role in Space Exploration”, it is part of a lecture series established by the Pillinger family in 2015 in memory of Colin Pillinger. Born in Bristol, he attended Kingswood Grammar school (now King’s Oak Academy), and graduated with a BSc and PhD in Chemistry from University College of Swansea and was a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Bristol School of Chemistry, Organic Geochemistry Unit from 1968 to 1974. A pioneering figure with an illustrious career in instrument development and analysis of extra-terrestrial samples at the University of Cambridge, and later at the Open University where he founded the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, he is probably best known as the leader of the Beagle 2 Mars mission. His legacy lives on, and as Dr David Parker so perfectly summarised, Colin possessed “sheer bloody mindedness”.

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Colin Pillinger. Photo credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27322166

That being said, the main speaker of the night was the fantastic Dr David Parker himself, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration in the European Space Agency. With fervent passion, he delivered such engaging insight into what projects are currently being undertaken, and where we are going in Europe’s space exploration. He began with highlighting the many successes of ESA, including the Cassini-Huygens mission exploring the Saturnian system, the historical Rosetta mission gathering data surrounding the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and of course, the huge international collaboration of the ISS itself.  Attempting to be discreet as I hastily scribbled notes in my battered notebook, Dr Parker zoomed ahead to talk about the challenges space exploration still currently presents, analogs here on Earth, and potentially going back to the Moon (build a base, anyone?). My favourite analogy of the night was that if Earth were the size of his hands balled together, the distance to Mars would be the equivalent to the distance between Will’s Memorial and IKEA (1:12,133,333 km scale). Love me some #justbristolthings geography.

Then we got to watch some amazing videos of Tim Peake and Thomas Pesquet, emphasising the overview effect and how “…it takes all of this technology to allow us to understand the simplicity of us.” It was only then appropriate for Dr Parker to now look to the future – more than ever, international cooperation is required for ambitious projects like the ExoMars programme to put the 2020 rover on Mawrth Vallis, planning the first roundtrip to Mars, and hopefully, undertaking the proposed Deep Space Gateway. You should’ve seen number of jaw drops around the room.

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Left to right: ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight Frank De Winne, Thomas Pesquet and Timothy Peake. Photo Credit: Jacques van Oene / SpaceFlight Insider

After Dr Parker’s compelling talk, there was a Q&A hosted by Tim Gregory – you may know him as the finalist on BBC Two’s riveting program, Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?, but he is also currently completing his PhD in cosmochemistry right here at the University of Bristol. The selected audience members had intriguing questions, including the future of planetary protection and how investment into the space program compares with current pressing issues today (e.g. poverty and famine). I especially loved Dr Parker’s answer to the age-old question “Are we alone?”, which was that either way – whether yes, there are other species out there, or no, humans are a unique entity – both answers will be just as extraordinary as the other. Tim ended the event with, “I hope you all have a safe journey back home…and beyond!” and the claps were thunderous.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I beelined towards the front and went up to Dr David Parker – surrounded by a huddle of middle-aged people discussing the technical aspects of spaceflight, I kept thinking to myself, “I am definitely not intelligent enough to talk to these people.” And at that point, Dr Parker looked at me expectantly during a lull in the conversation. So, I thanked him for the awesome talk, introduced myself, and began rambling on about Beth Healey, space medicine and the Concordia Station since he mentioned it during the lecture – he replied with a chuckle, “Oh, you probably know much more about this stuff than I do!” to which I promptly disagreed with a smile. I then quickly asked him, “Do you think one day we’re going to have to genetically modify the perfect astronaut?”, to which Dr Parker threw his head back in laughter, and responded, “Well, isn’t that the question!? I think we’ll all be walking around more cyborg than human, and that’s something I can’t quite wrap my head around!”

I then turned around, and spotted Tim Gregory – we immediately geeked over the lecture for a bit, before I told him I attempted to read his publication “Geochemistry and petrology of howardite Miller Range 11100” (to which I confessed a single sentence took me an unfortunate amount of time to understand). Thirty seconds into the conversation, and I already understood why Tim was nothing short of extraordinary – with such powerful maturity simultaneously coupled with an endearing child-like enthusiasm, he spoke about the psychological impact going through vigorous astronaut training, the importance of keeping up your hobbies, and how Will’s Memorial can be slightly unsettling in the wee hours of the morning (there is no denying the paranormal activity).

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Meeting the lovely Tim Gregory!

I finally asked him, “What’s your motivation when you’re completely down?”, and  without any hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye before replying, “Just always remember why you began in the first place.” Incredibly optimistic, humble and kind-hearted, I cannot wait to see what other fantastic contributions Tim will make for science in the future. And then as we said our goodbyes, he enthused about how we could one day be working together on the Moon, as geologist and doctor – needless to say, describing my elation as ‘over the moon’ seems paradoxically unbefitting.

Throughout the night, I remember feeling a little out of place – bustling with an older generation, it could’ve been mistaken for just another humdrum event. But instead, looking around, I did not just see an audience – I was looking at the spirits of restless kids staying up way past their bedtime; I was looking at the wide-eyed children lying much too closely to the grainy television, chins resting on palms and legs swinging back & forth; I was looking at the generation of children who, united together on that one Sunday evening in 1969, witnessed the history-defining moment when Armstrong stepped down off that pad onto the Moon.

 

And even though I couldn’t join in to fondly chuckle at the memories of “Space: 1999” or reminisce back to collecting Brooke Bond & Company’s “The Race to Space” tea card set  in 1971, there was something universally compelling about the night’s events – this powerful hope that united every single one of us, rooted back in time to the ancient dreamers who looked up at the night-sky all the way to the tinkerers of the future, is what eventually got us from “I wonder…” to “What next?”. We’re going to keep innovating as long as we remain curious, and as Queen perfectly summarises, I don’t want to stop at all.

©TMK

 

 

Laughing Gas | Time Capsule Log 💊

I’ve never tried laughing gas. Just never felt the need to; I’ve seen some of my friends intoxicated with the substance, and that’s enough entertainment in itself. But, the history of this party drug is a pretty incredible one – you’ll realise a lot of great inventors are elite masters of self-experimentation (yeah, not me) and this guy is no exception. Let’s get to it.

It began in 1772, when Joseph Priestly first discovered nitrous oxide, and he successfully synthesised it in 1775. Then came along young English chemist and inventor (plus, future president of the Royal Society), Humphry Davy. In October 1798, he joined the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol as the laboratory operator, and for you Bristolians out there, you’ll be extremely proud to know it was there where Davy played around with stoichiometry and delivered the laughing gas of your parties today! Oh, and just for your interest, this organisation was formed to exploit usage of recently discovered respiratory gases for medical practice – thus, the date 1798 is a pretty vital marker for the rapid progress in the discovery of respiratory gas for times to come.

***A lot of the quotes and information below comes from Davy’s “Researches, chemical and philosophical chiefly concerning nitrous oxide, or diphlogisticated nitrous air, and its respiration” (1800). 

Davy was dead keen on determining the effects of inhaling nitrous oxide (“…I resolved to breathe the gas for such a time and in such quantities, as to produce excitement equal in duration and superior in intensity to that occasioned by high intoxication from opium or alcohol.”) With the aid of his assistant, Dr Kinglake, during his first few experiments, he described “a slight degree of giddiness”, “pleasurable feelings” and “sublime emotions connected with highly vivid ideas”. So, Davy began increasing both the dosage and the frequency of the experiments over the next couple months, and he does allude to a potential medical use of nitrous oxide, “The power of the immediate operation of the gas in removing intense physical pain, I had a very good opportunity of ascertaining.” 

Ya boi began inhaling the gas in out-of-work hours by December, and “felt very great pleasure when breathing it alone, in darkness and silence, occupied only by ideal existence”, though remained incredibly diligent in logging his scientific entries. Ugh, nothing sounds more tempting than a long session of optimistic nihilism, ammirite?

Later, he constructed an “air-tight breathing box” where he would sit for hours and hours, inhaling way too much of that addicting gas, and nearly died on several occasions. He began allowing others to partake (what a selfless man) and I highly recommend you read all the entertaining experiences of his acquaintances, friends & family getting high on this hippy crack. All for science, of course. For example, you know talented poet Robert Southney? Dude who wrote “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, and the epic 1796 poem “Joan of Arc”? Oh yes, he tried out this gas and stated it “excites all possible mental and muscular energy and induces almost a delirium of pleasurable sensations without any subsequent dejection”.  Ayyy, a delirium of pleasurable sensations leading to talking bears who eat porridge! (Jk I don’t want to assume anything, but who knows…)

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Pleasure was so cheap back then

I know I’m making it sound like Davy was a sneak who used the excuse of science as a coverup to enjoy the bouts of pleasure – but honestly, he really did bear medical intentions in mind and was an intelligent guy. Davy was close to recognizing that inhaled nitrous oxide could be valuable for anaesthesia; however, the usage of nitrous oxide at upper class parties and fairs only increased its reputation as a novelty and decreased its respectability as a medical tool. 

So lets just skip ahead and head across the pond to meet our next figure, Horace Wells, who saw the gas as a way of reliving the pain of dentistry in 1844. In fact, he had such great success he got a chance to perform it for a crowd at Harvard Medical School…and no, they weren’t a friendly bunch. Wells extracted the tooth of a complying patient, and there definitely was a lot less pain than usual, but the patient mentioned still feeling some pain – this was enough for the judgemental physicians to boo Wells off the stage, and Wells committed suicide a few years later. Wow, doctors, way to go – what’s the purpose of your occupation, again?

Two more decades until nitrous oxide was used again publicly. Two! Okay, we’re almost there. Well, its reintroduction around 1870 was somewhat permanent, and remained the golden dental anaesthesia until the 1960s. It kept its position in anaesthetics, though not at the forefront; although plenty of physicians use it in their practice to this day, it isn’t really something anyone would admit to because even medical grade nitrous oxide can leave people anaemic and are potentially lethal even in the right amounts. Eek.

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MySafetyLabels.com

Nitrous gas has its iffy reputation, but the fact euphoria is mentioned on labels today endures its original recreational usage from over 200 years ago. So, next time, when you’re buying a canister of this stuff at some awesome party, give thanks to your 20-year-old pal Davy doing exactly the same thing 219 years ago.

Sources:

https://eic.rsc.org/feature/nitrous-oxide-are-you-having-a-laugh/2020202.article

https://io9.gizmodo.com/5934877/the-strictly-non-medical-history-of-laughing-gas

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneumatic_Institution

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/how-dangerous-is-laughing-gas-legal-highs-hippy-crack-nitrous-oxide-safety-facts-explained-a7088226.html

http://justsayn2o.com/nitrous.history.html

http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-nitrous-oxide-experiments-of-humphry-davy/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/heres-what-it-was-discover-laughing-gas-180950289/

©TMK

Listerine | Time Capsule Log 💊

Listerine did not invent bad breath. Human mouths have stunk for millennia, and there are ancient breath fresheners out there you can read up about. But here’s a nice little story of how Listerine advertisements transformed bad breath from an ordinary albeit awkward personal circumstance into an embarrassing medical condition with heavy implications of social suicide. Treatment that very conveniently was sold by the company themselves.

The History Of Listerine

What: Listerine was invented originally as a surgical disinfectant.

Who: Doctor Joseph Lawrence, inspired by the research of Sir Joseph Lister. Oh, who was Joseph Lister? Well, back in the nineteenth century, “hospital disease” (now known as post-operative sepsis infection) was prevalent; that is, mortality rates post-operation were high despite successful surgical procedures. For example, Lister reported in the Male Accident Ward in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, between 45-50% of amputation cases died from sepsis between 1861 and 1865. It was in this ward he did his experiments – in line with his earlier research on the coagulation of blood and role of blood vessels in the first stage of inflammation, he had already formulated theories and disregarded the concept of miasma (popular, but not obsolete medical concept, stating diseases were caused by “bad air”). By that time, bacteriologist Louis Pasteur had arrived at his theory microorganisms caused fermentation and disease; thus, Lister’s education and speculations that sepsis could be caused by pollen-like dust compelled him to accept Pasteur’s theory. An amalgamation of his previous research and Pasteur’s theory, he began conducting experiments; he soaked dressings with carbolic acid to cover wounds (an effective antiseptic already used as a means of cleansing foul-smelling sewers). The results were dramatic: surgical mortality rates decreased from 45 to 15% between 1865 and 1869 in the Male Accident Ward. And in 1865, Lister was the first surgeon to carry out an operation in a chamber sterilised by pulverising antiseptic into a fine mist of carbolic acid into the air around the operation. 

Why: So, here comes in an inspired Joseph Lawrence, who made a unique formulation of surgical antiseptic himself in 1879…and in honour of Sir Joseph Lister, called it LISTERINE®. He formed a partnership with pharmacist Jordan Wheat Lambert, creating Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, producing & selling this disinfectant in operating theatres and bathing wounds.

How: …but it was pretty small market. So, to increase sales, its advertised use became extremely varied: a cure for dandruff, a floor cleaner, a hair tonic, a deodorant, and even a cure for diseases ranging from dysentery to gonorrhoea. Okay, so this did put up company revenues. But the Lamberts had another idea in the 1920s. 

They began putting the vaguely medical-sounding term “halitosis” in their advertisements, framing it as a health condition hindering people from being their best. During that era of time, a lot of companies were offering products that could cure every known illness, including catering to the emerging middle class’s social anxieties. I mean, look at this ad below – the sad, unmarried Edna doomed to be a bridesmaid but never a bride just because she has this condition “halitosis”.

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This marketing campaign was incredibly successful, and over 7 years, revenues skyrocketed to $8 million. And now, we all know Listerine primarily as the antiseptic for oral health & hygiene. This must be one of the best iterations in history of the modern advertising industry creating a problem to sell its solution. Well played, Lamberts.

Sources:

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/josephlister

https://www.listerine.co.uk/about

Listerine Was Once Sold as Floor Cleaner

Click to access listerine.pdf

©TMK

Vibrators | Time Capsule Log 💊

I just came back from the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies titled “Globalized Thailand? Connectivity, Conflict, and Conundrums of Thai Studies” in Chiang Mai – my amazing sister presented her LSE dissertation, Thai Youth Sexual Culture: Exploring Representations of Gender and Sexuality in the Thai Controversial Series, Hormones (2013).” If you’d like to read the masterpiece, here’s the link (scroll down to Tammarin Dejsupa and press that PDF logo); there were way too many intelligent words coming out of her mouth, and needless to say, I was immensely proud, but also very confused…

The panel was on sexuality, media & commercialisation – and so, to kind of continue on a similar theme, I decided to dedicate this time capsule log to that by writing about…vibrators.

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There’s a tale that goes Egyptian Queen Cleopatra invented the vibrator; she supposedly had the idea to fill a hollow gourd with angry bees, and the violent buzzing caused the gourd to vibrate…and the rest is history. Or is it?

If you do a quick Google search on the history of vibrators, many will state it was invented by Victorian doctors as a prescribed “pelvic massage” treatment for patients with hysteria to induce “hysterical paroxysm” (read: orgasm) because the medical professionals back then complained about the manual labour being tiresome. It’s a great conversational story, huh? Imagine breaking the ice with “Hey! Did you know, the vibrator was invented to treat women with hysteria because Victorian doctors got tired of manually stimulating them?” And then there’d be shared boisterous laughter, suggestive nudges and comments like “Ugh, tell me about it!”

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Source

The story makes the Victorians sound reserved, that they were oblivious to the art of self-pleasure and never saw pelvic massage as anything other than medicinal. And until the 20th century, it was even more so believed women did not experience sexual desire; to be a lady was to lack sex drive, with a duty to put up with their husband’s sexual needs. It would feed directly into the stereotypical connotations I’m sure most of you have about the Victorians – the whole high prudery attitude resulting in shrouding piano legs and a “Lie back and think of England” kind of mentality.

It’s true that some doctors during that time believed the art of self-pleasure was highly dangerous to your health (check out these painful looking anti-masturbation devices – moment of silence for all the teens during 1840 to 1900). However, Michel Foucault famously critiqued these stereotypes, and in his book “The History of Sexuality” explains the repressive hypothesis: “…that Western man has been drawn for three centuries to the task of telling everything concerning his sex; that since the classical age there has been a constant optimization and an increasing valorization of the discourse on sex; and that this carefully analytical discourse was meant to yield multiple effects of displacement, intensification, reorientation, and modification of desire itself.”1 Basically, as readers, we’ve read into the history of the past three centuries assuming sexual repression. Whether or not you accept this hypothesis, Foucault sparked much academic work exploring the various ways Victorians did indeed openly speak of desire; there are a lot of examples. Victorian attitude towards both male and female sexuality can be seen just as expressive and expansive as it is today – a prime example being the glamorous courtesan of Paris, Cora Pearl, who lived a very erotic life. In fact, Victorian women had a healthy interest in protecting their bodies whilst still enjoying a sexual relationship; Annie Besant’s “Fruits of Philosophy”2 published in 1877, was a guide that listed every single possible contraceptive method available to the Victorian reader, becoming so popular it even reached out to 125,000 Brits in the first few months alone.

So, back to that whole women-with-hysteria-treated-with-massage-and-vibrator-was-invented story. In actuality, it was only a hypothesis by Dr. Rachel Maines, famed sex historian and author of seminal 1999 book, The Technology of Orgasm”. She even said so herself, “Well, people just thought this was such a cool idea that people believe it, that it’s like a fact. And I’m like, ‘It’s a hypothesis! It’s a hypothesis!’. But it doesn’t matter, you know? People like it so much they don’t want to hear any doubts about it.”3 Truth! Even when I began researching about the topic, I thought it was a hoot and a half to tell. But now we know – yes, the vibrator was officially invented in Victorian times, but that is definitely not the full story. Number one, doctors were fully aware what they were doing; keep in mind, people thought real sex was only penetration to male orgasm, and sex education was incredibly limited. I just wanted to make clear Victorians weren’t this prude, unaware society. Number two, the vibrator’s history is much more complicated. Hopefully we can get past the party story version.

So, what’s the actual history of the vibrator, then? Well, we definitely know its origin was very much within the medical setting; the earliest vibrators, as stated by Dr. Maines, “…came out of massage, hand technology for massage.” Not with the intention of inducing orgasm. But other than that, there is vast amount of speculation out there, which in turn further deep-dives into a plethora of ancient obstetrics & gynaecology papers. I particularly enjoyed Helen King’s critical analysis of the history behind therapeutic masturbation associated with “hysteria” – it’s 32 pages long, but 32 pages of such splendidly interesting information citing many dated texts (honestly, worth checking out). However, I attempted to comb through the tangles of speculated knowledge so you don’t have to (but there is still so much out there I haven’t mentioned). Here we go.

The History of Vibrators

We begin with Hippocrates, widely regarded as the Father of Western Medicine (we swore the derivative of his medical oath during the promise ceremony first week of uni). Despite his brilliance, there was a lot about the female body Hippocrates did not grasp – he believed the womb was an actively moving organ that even travelled to the trachea during orgasm, contributing to heavy breathing. The label “hysteria” is never used in early texts, but that weird womb-moving theory Hippocrates thought of is mentioned as a condition called “suffocation of/from the womb”. The womb, he believed, was to blame for “nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia, and lack of appetite”4 Later, Greek doctor Galen, most admired for being a brilliant anatomist ahead of his time and a master of medical philosophy5, proclaimed the symptoms were caused by retention of semen and saw widows as a particularly high-risk group. The cure: herbal remedies, pelvic massage, and even getting married6 (can you imagine getting this as your prescription). Mind you, the concept hysteria hasn’t been mentioned yet.

It persisted through the Middle Ages; treatments still included marriage and pelvic massage, but also “irritating suppositories and fragrant salves”7This treatment continued throughout the Renaissance period, and Nathanial Highmore was one of the first doctors to publicly acknowledge the end result of pelvic massage – the hysterical paroxysm8Orgasms became kind of a socially acceptable treatment for this strange condition that hadn’t been named yet. Whatever the condition was, doctors agreed it included a wide variety of symptoms including nervousness, anxiousness, emotional outbursts, hallucinations, “tendency to cause trouble”, fluid retention, and yes, sexual thoughts/frustration. 

In the 1700s, speculated causes of this condition shifted from the womb to the brain, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century when the condition was finally labelled hysteria (the Greek word for womb) and was something in need of treatment. The treatment was hysterical paroxysm, horse-riding, and even unpleasant blasting of water on the abdomen.9 Doctors apparently dreaded giving hysterical paroxysms because it was time-consuming, taxed physical endurance, and hand fatigue giving the massages meant they couldn’t always produce the desired result. They pushed for an invention to aid them – thus, here enters the very first vibrator: the Tremoussior, a strange wind-up clockwork contraption invented in France, 1734 (mind you, this was before electricity was invented). Then, in 1869, came along the steam-powered vibrator, “The Manipulator”, invented by American physician George Taylor – however, it was this cumbersome, immovable thing that you constantly had to shove coal in.

Finally, an enterprising English physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, patented an electromechanical vibrator during the 1880s, which became greatly popularised and was soon a permanent installation in the doctor’s surgery at that time. It became incredibly popular and soon, battery-powered vibrators were introduced as a household appliance; it was a huge commercial success, becoming the fifth electrical appliance to be introduced into households alongside the kettle, sewing machine, fan, and toaster10.

 

But then the vibrator had its debut in pornography and became unacceptable as a household tool to treat hysteria, labelled prurient rather than respectable. Women could no longer disguise their intentions of buying one, and doctors dropped the devices because of their sexual connotations. Vibrator ads disappeared from consumer media, and lips were sealed shut – that is, until the women’s movement in 1970s. Feminists like Betty Dodson11 made it a symbol of female sexuality, and vibrators became just as popular as before.

As for hysteria – being such an amorphous condition, the diagnosis surprisingly only recently fell from medical grace in American Psychiatric Association’s mental disorders in 1952.12

So there you have it. From womb-moving theories to feminism, that is how a medical cure became a female sexual icon.

Sources:

1: https://g.co/kgs/Z5hx6H

2: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38185/38185-h/38185-h.htm

3: http://bigthink.com/ideas/18073

4: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article4032852.ece

5: http://www.greekmedicine.net/whos_who/Galen.html

6: http://www.vonnaharper.com/history-of-the-vibrator.html

7, 8: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/06/hysteria-sex-toy-history-timeline/

9: Cosmacini G.  The long art: the history of medicine from antiquity to the present. 00. Rome: Oxford University Press; 1997.

10: http://www.thedailybeast.com/hysteria-and-the-long-strange-history-of-the-vibrator

11: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-15/the-history-of-the-vibrator/7925988

12: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-vibrator/

©TMK

Spider-Man: Homecoming | Kind Of A Review, But Not Really

Warning: This post contains spoilers about Spider-Man: Homecoming. You have been warned…

Spider-Man’s web shooters have become such an iconic gadget ever since his debut in Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 (a rare, near-mint copy was auctioned off late last year for $454,100!1) – I mean, it seems every interview promoting Spider-Man: Homecoming ends up with the ever-patient Tom Holland strapping on a silly-string shooter for a Marvel knowledge quiz. Like watching any other superhero film, I was questioning the plausibility of the science behind it all – was the web fluid formula Peter secretly making a batch of in Chemistry class legit? Can the thin bundle of web actually support Peter’s urban jungle-swinging? When the cable on the elevator snapped, how could his webs suspend it long enough before saving everybody inside?

I love science so, so much. Thus, seeing the scientist side of Peter Parker in Jon Watt’s “Spider-Man Homecoming” and Mark Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that Sam Raimi’s movie trilogy never showed gave me palpitations of nervous excitement (you think I’m joking…). There is an extremely high chance I’ll be doing a much more in-depth research of the science behind it all, but for now, this post is going to be a review that’s quasi-scientific. Bear in mind, I’ve only watched the film once, so details are a bit hazy. Huge shoutout to Marvel Studios for the Thai restaurant scene with the picture of our beloved King Rama 9 of Thailand; thanks a million. I am so grateful. 

I’m gonna start off science (or of what limited knowledge I have). In Peter’s Chemistry class, a long row of black & white portraits of brilliant scientists line the top of the whiteboard; there were the likes of Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Sir Isaac Newton…and even Bruce Banner. I loved that, because the film treasured Bruce Banner for his contributions as the famed thinker he is and not the superhero he can also be. The science teacher quizzed the class on how to calculate the linear acceleration from Point A and B (you can see the problem on the whiteboard in the screen-cap below). She was essentially asking for the formula for the angular acceleration of a pendulum, and Flash Thompson incorrectly responded (gravity times sine theta)/mass, but a dozing Peter awaken from his nap with Spider-Man YouTube videos playing on his laptop was able to correctly answer, “Mass cancels out, so it’s just gravity times sine theta.” (“You’re dead!” Flash later whispered, because ooo trig burn). I mean, regardless if Peter is a genius, I love that sly reference to Spider-Man’s mode of transport i.e. swinging like a pendulum on webs.

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Spider-Man’s web shooter. The classic design, as you’re probably very familiar with, is strapped to Peter’s wrists beneath the costume sleeves. You can watch Tom Holland briefly talk through it in behind-the-scenes footage; he even shows you the piece of tech. There’s a palm release button high up on the palm to avoid unwanted firings, and when tapped, the web fluid stored in small cartridges made up of mainly nickel-plated annealed brass passes through an internal spinneret mechanism made from stainless steel (except for the turbine component & bearings). I really liked how the film kept going back to Peter picking up spare web fluid cartridges he stored underneath a row of lockers; it’s these kind of details that makes it so much more realistic. The very small turbine pump vanes shears the web fluid, forcing it through the spinneret holes with an adjustable nozzle, which cold-draws it and shoots out through the air where it solidifies. There is so much detail about Peter’s web shooters, and I recommend you go scour through all the Amazing Spider-Man issues and read Marvel Wikia for more.2

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Amazing Spider-Man #2 Panels

And, what’s the web fluid made of? Well…no one really knows. The chemical composition remains a mystery. Potassium carbonate? Toluene? Silica gel purification?  I saw sneaky salicylic acid amongst Peter’s notes in Chemistry class! “Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide”3 states Peter spent hundreds of hours in his high school labs working with multi-polymer compounds to create an adhesive substance – we do know it’s related to nylon. It’s thought the web fluid exists as a shear-thinning liquid inside the cartridge (solid until a shearing force is applied to it), and according again to the “Ultimate Guide”, each cartridge holds approximately 1000 yards of webbing. I assume when exposed to open air, the web fluid begins to harden, though I’m wondering what high school lab equipment Peter uses to pressurise the fluid at 300 p.s.i. (though this official number has been known to change, this would be enough to shoot a stream of web approximately 60 feet, but once again depends on forces of resistance). According to Marvel Wikia, “On contact with air, the long-chain polymer knits and forms an extremely tough, flexible fiber.” In the film, Peter does mention the webbing takes about 2 hours to wear off, so I guess the web fluid’s adhesive quality diminishes rapidly with exposure to air. Indeed, Marvel Wikia further states “After approximately 1 hour, certain imbibed esters cause the solid form of the web fluid to dissolve into a powder.”

I’ve only just scraped the surface of the basic science at work with Spider-Man. There is way more science out there concerning Spider-Man’s heroic feats and his web shooters, but I just wanted to give a little taster to get you pumped about how extraordinary the science is. I’m obviously no expert in the realm of physics, but from what I’ve read, the science is pretty plausible – it sticks within the rules of the MCU, and there are sufficient calculations to show the web fluid tensile strength, slinging capabilities, etc. are all quite legit.

Now for a more general overview of the movie: I’d like to start off by saying how much I loved the montage of all the high school scenes. Not only is it devoid of the stereotypical cliques of cheerleaders & jocks with the lead character clearly a twenty-something with a backpack chucked on, but the various encounters reminded me of my own time as a 15-year-old kid. The little things like when Ned questions back what the chess team are doing when he’s creeping around the hallway (and the kid vaguely gestures to the classroom, “Chess…” in such a mannerism that’s so relatable), Michelle reading Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel “On Human Bondage”4 (if you read the book, you’ll find a very familiar parallel with that of Peter’s life), the very millennial-style editing of the morning school announcements (zooming in on Jason’s rejected face), building the LEGO Death Star (3,803 pieces!5) with that heart-warming moment Ned gave Peter the very last piece (Emperor Palpatine) to finish it all off, Peter practicing in the mirror what’d he say at Liz’s party alongside his Thor impression, Ned’s questions after learning about his buddy’s secret identity (“Do you lay eggs?”), playing kiss/kill/marry Avengers style during gym class, telling Happy about the churros he got because as a teenager food is always such a joy but not when freakin’ Tony Stark mentions it after the ferry incident (you’ll never see a greater combo of frustration, regret & embarrassment on Peter’s face), searching up how to do a Windsor knot on YouTube for homecoming, the Academic Decathlon team’s quirks (I liked the dude who confidently answered incorrectly in response to what the heaviest naturally-occurring element was and immediately realized out loud, “…that’s not the question, okay. Yeah.” with a sheepish smile). There’s a lot more I could mention, but you get the point – it realistically depicted a high school kind of life, not some kind of Easy A, Avril Lavigne music video kind of vibe. 

Another thing: the portrayal of Peter Parker. We all know he has a brilliant mind, which is ultimately his biggest weapon as a super-hero, but the film doesn’t portray him as a model student.  He did lose five backpacks, and I would most definitely assume he’d be in much more severe trouble than the film suggests (losing your notes, coursework and textbooks was something almost unbearable to watch when he stood in dismay in that alleyway). In addition, he so discreetly had his “Web Fluid: Version 3.01” page underneath the “Identifying Ions” practical (because nothing like big block words WEB FLUID to keep your secret identity under wraps), which he frantically concocted in a wooden drawer. And he quit marching band and initially chose not to go to Washington DC for the Academic Decathlon. So, he’s not that picture-perfect student, but that’s what I loved because we see him do literally everything else in the world except actual work. And when he is doing work, it isn’t to serve the movie plot, but because he’s a 15-year-old kid and that’s what high school kids should be doing. It makes sense, then, that with such a rad internship, you can’t help but try to have as much fun as possible just like this 15-year old taking over Southern Rail’s Twitter. I’m sure this is a unanimous review of Peter Parker when I say he’s the most relatable and realistic one yet (at least for me, he was) – the examples are endless.  And let’s not begin on how delightful Peter’s science pun shirts were.

Overall, to me, the movie wasn’t just all about that With great power comes great responsibility” talk, but a story about Peter taking the reigns of his own life. Much like when we were younger, we took cues from authoritative figures like our parents or teachers (or in this case, Tony Stark), but ultimately, you have to learn to act for yourself and deal with the consequences of deciding who you want to be. Peter did just that, and I think the title “Homecoming” has just taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Sources:

1 http://www.cbr.com/rare-spider-man-comic-sells-at-auction-for-record-price/

2 http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Web-Shooters

3 https://www.amazon.com/Spider-Man-Ultimate-Guide-Amazing-Publishing/dp/0756626757

4 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31548.Of_Human_Bondage

5 https://shop.lego.com/en-LU/Death-Star-10188

©TMK

Coca Cola | Time Capsule Log 💊

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the Six-Word Stories I’ve been putting out! I’m now beginning a new segment called “Time Capsule Log”, which I’m extremely excited about. I’ll be exploring inventions & breakthroughs with weird origin stories, whether it be failed pharmaceutical drugs eventually fated for non-clinical use or accidental products that have ended up medically successful. Curiosity is one of the great virtues of mankind, and it just goes to show purpose doesn’t have to be born out of intention. Alrighty, enough introduction – onto the fun!

The History of Coca-Cola

What? Coca-Cola was initially formulated as a cure for morphine addiction. What!?

Who? John Pemberton was a pharmacist and “the most noted physician Atlanta ever had” according to Atlanta newspapers1, but he was also a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.

John_Pemberton.jpg
John Pemberton. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pemberton

Why? He was almost killed fighting in the Battle of Columbus in April 1865, and with his background as a pharmacist, his access to morphine and need to appease the pain from his war injuries lead to a strong morphine addiction2.

How? In 1884, Pemberton began experimenting to create opium-free medication as an attempt to cure his addiction, and along the way, another doctor claimed coca (cocaine) had the ability to do so. Thus, Pemberton devised “French Wine Coca”, a concoction containing coca leaves, caffeine-containing kola nuts, and wine. The product was advertised dramatically as seen on the label below (well I’ll be; it cures heart disease!). However, the city of Atlanta enacted legislation bringing about local prohibition in 1886, and Pemberton was forced to remove the alcoholic element from his formula, despite selling it as a medicine. Thus, he had to revise his to-be popular beverage by using sugar syrup to replace the wine’s sweetness and carbonating the mixture, eventually marketing it as the Coca-Cola we all know and love today. This new drink was advertised as “delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating” whilst retaining “the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts.” The cocaine ingredient persisted, however, only until the beginning of the 1900s because a series of stories spread throughout the South that black men were getting high on cocaine before raping white women (yikes!)3.

In such devastating irony, despite claims made about Coca-Cola’s restorative powers, Pemberton remained addicted to morphine; he never realised the long-potential of the beverage he created, slowly selling off the company in pieces to various partners before dying of stomach cancer in 1888.4 It is said that on the day of Pemberton’s funeral, the owners of all the drug stores in Atlanta attended the services as a tribute of respect, and “not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city.”5

I’ve always admired how Coca-Cola holds these joyful campaigns that celebrate authentic, genuine moments in life. Perhaps Pemberton couldn’t cure his own morphine addiction, but he created something pretty beautiful out of it. Lest we forget, let’s clink together a couple of Cokes and say cheers.

Sources:

1: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/business-economy/john-stith-pemberton-1831-1888

2, 3: https://books.google.co.th/books?id=dFRd2MMrtiUC&pg=PA152&lpg=PA152&redir_esc=y&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

4: https://www.amazon.com/God-Country-Coca-Cola-Mark-Pendergrast/dp/0465054684/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388434759&sr=1-1&keywords=0465054684&tag=bisafetynet-20

5: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/business-economy/john-stith-pemberton-1831-1888

©TMK

I Wore A Heart Monitor For 24 Hours

Spoiler: I’m okay for now.

Approximately three weeks ago, I went for my regular health-checkup routine. There was nothing spectacularly negative about my results – my total cholesterol level increased compared to last year, but it was due to an elevation in good ol’ HDL; my TSH level was 1.960 uIU/mL, smack-bam in the middle of the hospital’s normal range; my hematocrit percentage, usually presented with a taunting “L”, was surprisingly normal for the first time in years. It’s safe to say, living on my own in Bristol the past year has made me much healthier on the micro scale.

Ah, but the results came with a little more excitement than anticipated.

Last year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with sinus arrhythmia; borderline prolonged QT interval; otherwise no pathological findings”. It wasn’t necessarily denial, but an unimpressive knowledge about ECG/EKG interpretation that allowed me to shrug nonchalantly about the situation. But this year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with junctional escape beat and bigeminy premature ventricular complexes”, and after having crammed an outrageous amount of information about various cardiovascular system abnormalities (I’m panicking as the phrase “Quick lids flecking at amiable dilettantes” scrolls across my vision), well, what can I say…I still shrugged nonchalantly about the situation.

fullsizeoutput_93f
14/06/17 EKG Results (For You Keeners Out There)

A follow-up was required a couple weeks later. I was *this* close to napping face-down all day listening to the ironically motivational movie soundtracks of Rupert Gregson-Williams, but thankfully dragged my lazy bum off the bed due to post-exam hopelessness (I hope today all you IB kids got the results you wanted – remember, there’s always a pathway for you!). So there I was, in the doctor’s office – not to be worried about at all, she said. It’s common for people under 40, and it’s very rare for it to be serious. Two things would happen: I’d get an echocardiogram done, and then wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours.

I remember watching one of the demos talk about echocardiography during an anatomy session, and this image was put up:

echocardiogram
Source: http://www.cardiachealth.org/sites/default/files/2011/echocardiogram.jpg

Um. I mean, what a truly wondrous photo. Find a person who’ll look at you the same way the patient and sonographer look at each other, am I right? (I swear I learn in anatomy sessions).

Anyways, that didn’t happen in my case (painfully grateful); I faced away from the sonographer and counted the number of vertical stripes per coloured block on the wallpaper (seven, if you wanted to know), and there was barely any talking. Despite being half-nude and having this transducer basically kneading my left boob, it all felt incredibly systematic. I almost fell asleep. But by hearing sudden spitfire beatboxing by my heart, occasionally being asked to hold my breath, and catching a glimpse of the Doppler echocardiography’s explosion of pretty colours, I just managed to stay awake.

After swiping away the ultrasound gel, I was then suited up with the Holter monitor: five electrodes plastered on, and a little pouch that held the ambulatory device itself. It’s basically just a piece of tech that records heart activity continuously for 24 hours (or 48, depending on the doctor’s suspicions of the final diagnosis) – since ECG/EKGs are performed only within a short snapshot of time and abnormal heart rhythms/cardiac symptoms come and go, the monitors are pretty great for doctors to evaluate irregularities, severity and patterns over an extended period.

I left the hospital feeling like an amateur espionage agent (watch out Agent Cody Banks!1!!). Here are a couple of images to show the Holter monitor itself and where the electrodes were placed – the former displays a countdown of the exact amount of time I had left of the 24 hours, and shut down once it reached zero; it was like a microcosm of every dystopian novel ever. 

So comes the next day, after having slept as still as a log (subconsciously afraid I’ll roll onto the Holter monitor and suffer the pricey consequences), and they go analyse the data. Here are my results in brief.

Echocardiography Summary: function and anatomy normal albeit mild tricuspid regurgitation (TR). Seeing the real-time videos of my heart beating made me oddly vulnerable – I mean, if you think about it, nobody will ever have the privilege to set eyes on your beating heart (with the exception of those lucky enough to partake in open heart surgery). I’d feel more naked posting a snippet of the echocardiogram than a revealing swimsuit photo of myself.

Holter Monitor Summary: The doctor said if I had 10% or more ventricular ectopic beats in the total number of heartbeats in the 24 hours, I would be sent for treatment. If it was 5% or below, I’d be alright. Luckily, I only had 4.1% – whilst she did appease my mother by stating there was nothing to worry about (“All you need to hear is that her heart is completely normal”), she turned to me and asked me to be more aware of my body. That is, if my palpitations become more frequent or if the tight squeezes I feel in my chest increase in severity, I am to go back to see her.

“How many hours of sleep do you get?” she asked in the middle of history-taking.

“Well, 7 hours on average, now that it’s summer.” I think back to how my heart rate was only 48BPM just before the appointment; that armchair was really quite comfortable…

With a small smile, she casually said, “Ah, wonderful – when you get to clinical years of medical school, you won’t get nearly as much!”

Honestly, I really like this doctor.

Anyways, I got this incredibly exciting full report with an hour-by-hour analysis (I can sense what a funky, wild Friday night I’ll be having).

You can see how the number of PVCs vary during various times of the day; a few examples of the activities I was engaged in included:

8:00PM = delicious dinner at MK with the family + a McDonalds cone (the simple pleasures of life)

10:00AM = extremely fervent Kyle Landry piano-playing; I even got a cramp in my left hand (watch this space for a cover…)

3:00PM = serious car talks in traffic

It’s extraordinary to actually see the direct play between the physical environment and the electrical activity of my heart – the times with high PVC frequencies correlated with some form of intense emotion; “Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies” “With a sinking heart” “Eat your heart out” idioms suddenly became exceptionally reasonable to me. It should be blatantly obvious that everything you do cascades upon your inner mechanics, but I previously could only resonate so much so as if watching a devastating BBC News segment from the comfort of my own home. It just further highlighted the stark opposition of medicine being both routine practice and blindly grasping in the dark.

At the end of the day, the treatment literally stated “reassurance” – drink lots of water, sleep for a minimum of 6 hours per day, no caffeine, stress less. Such basic courses of action to take, and yet so subconsciously overlooked by the generation of today. Anyways, I think as a medical student, having the opportunity to personally experience particular examinations/procedures you see portrayed via cringe-worthy stock photo compilations in lectures provokes the same level of excitement you have as you are about to watch one of the most anticipated block-buster films of the year (I am at this very minute on the way to watch Spider-Man Homecoming). And that’s probably the very reason I documented it all…I guess I’m just young at heart.

©TMK