HistoryMedicineScience

Fastest scalpel in the west…

…The West End of London that is. The man who for years carried the infamous distinction of being capable of the fastest amputations in London was a Scottish doctor by the name of Robert Liston. And, in the anesthesia-absent dark ages of the middle nineteenth century, being able to neatly and (relatively) cleanly sever a limb was a definite marketing advantage for a doctor.

In the time before sanitary hospitals, antibiotics, and any kind of anesthesia other than possibly several stiff belts of whisky and maybe an actual belt to bite on, working with speed was critical. Patients were often writhing in agony and fighting the doctor every step of the way. Often, doctors were attended by assistants, whose only job was to keep the poor sod with the gamey leg from scarpering off. Kind of like when the heavy kids sat on your chest to hold you down in gym class, while the bully put gum in your hair. Except you usually finished gym class with the same number of limbs you started with. Unless you went to particularly tough parochial boarding school, I guess.

Doctor Liston was a skilled surgeon and was responsible for a number of medical innovations of his time, including authoring several medical textbooks, inventing locking forceps, and even a type of leg splint still in use today. But the writin’ and inventin’ ain’t the things Doc Liston is renowned for. If he was, this would be titled “Most Book Writing-est Doctor in the West”, but he’s not and it isn’t. No, Doc Liston was renowned for his speed. According to medical historian Dr. Richard Gordon, Doctor Liston was capable of severing a limb in about two and a half MINUTES.

In fact, according to Gordon, Liston had several surgeries notable for their speed. Some of the notable ones being: the time Liston removed a 46 lb. scrotal sac tumor (ed. note: one assumes this took a lot of balls. We’re not sorry.) and the time Liston was arguing with a colleague whether a red patch on a boy’s neck was a simple abscess or a more deadly aneurysm of the carotid artery and Liston advocated that there was no way it could be a aneurysm, and killed him when he tried to lance it. (ed. note: The artery remains in the University College Hospital pathology museum to this day – specimen # 1256. Stop by and ask to see it. Tell them we sent you).

However, there is an apocryphal story of the time old Doc Liston managed a 300% mortality rate on a single surgical amputation. Allegedly, once Liston amputated a patient’s leg in less than three minutes. The patient eventually succumbed to gangrene (ed. note: Strike one). In his enthusiasm to work quickly, Liston accidentally severed the fingers of his assistant; unfortunately the (unnamed) assistant developed a case of greasy stump, a euphemism for gangrene that I just made up (ed. note: Strike two). And finally, a (curiously also unnamed) bystander who happened to wander too close to the surgical table had his coattails severed, not something usually considered fatal. However, the bystander felt the pull of the knife and saw the copious blood, and dropped stone dead of a heart-attack (ed. note: Steeeee-rike three!). Three deaths, one operation, presumably very little waiting.

Nobody ever remembers that Richard Liston was the first surgeon in Britain to use chemical anesthesia (ether) or any of the other innovations contributed to modern medicine. Nope. But kill three people in one go, and you’re a legend forever.

FoodHistoryScienceUncategorized

Eminem isn’t the only thing salty to come out of Detroit…

Detroit, Michigan USA is known by a lot of names. Mo-town. The Motor City. The Cautionary Tale of Auto Industry Decline Meets Institutional Government Corruption. The D (ed. note: No, really). The Birthplace of the Coney Dog (ed. note: that’s another topic for another day).

One more name it might deserve is Salt City, USA. You see, nearly a quarter mile BENEATH the gritty streets of Detroit are an entirely different collection of dirty boulevards…ones made up entirely of salt that is more than 400 million years old.

And that’s where our story begins. Back in the Devonian period, the chunk of real estate that eventually became Detroit was under water, part of mid-west America’s cycle of being covered in inland seas and then drying out, which continued for a couple hundred million years. This cycle of wet-dry-wet-dry left tremendous deposits of evaporated seawater on the remaining land, which means salt. Loads and loads of salt.

devonian map

Looks like a crab claw has grabbed a mitten.

 

In pre-colonial times, native american tribes in the area, extracted the salt from salt springs, but it wasn’t until the early twentieth century that companies first began looking at commercially extracting the salt. Only one problem though – the salt could only be found underground. Like WAY underground. More than 1,000 feet down in fact. So in 1910, the Detroit Salt and Manufacturing Company completed a shaft down to the luscious and tender salt (ed.note: those are not good words to describe salt. Neither is “succulent” now that we think of it. Pretty much just go with “salty”).

The shaft down to the salt mine was reportedly so narrow that all machinery sent down

mine map

Image credit: Detroit Salt Company

had to be sent down in pieces and reassembled on the mine floor and and equipment that was brought down was left to remain in the mine for perpetuity since it was impossible to bring anything but salt and miners back up. The same went for the donkeys originally sent down before powered mining gear existed. (ed. note: presumably he means that they were left down there forever, rather than sent down in pieces and then reassembled. Because, eww).
Over the past century, ownership in the salt mine below has changed hands several times, but the currently very active mine is currently owned by the Kissner Group. Although the salt mined beneath Detroit is no longer used for human consumption, tons of the stuff are still mined for use as road salt each year, with an estimated 71 TRILLION tons left to be mined.

So, the next time someone tells you that Detroit Rock City is a decaying post-industrial wasteland, you can tell them a very good pun about rock salt while complimenting them on their spot-on analysis of Detroit (ed. note: For realsies though, Detroit has been undergoing a renaissance over the past several years and downtown Detroit has become a destination for travelers again and Detroit is the ONLY city in the US where all four major sports franchises are all houses within a four-block area. If you get the chance – check it out.)

For more information, check out the history of Detroit Salt.

Scienceweatherzoos

Gonna rock you like a hurricane

This week, hurricane Florence, a category-5 storm, is gearing up to kick the Carolinas in their short and curlies. Climate change implications aside for the moment, Florence is projected to hit the US as the northernmost category-5 storm ever. And it’s currently pointing itself at what Carolinians (ed. note: Caroliners? Carolinears? Caroloins?) call “low country”, because “coastal bog” doesn’t have as nice a ring to it.

The governor of South Carolina ordered a mandatory evacuation of all coastal residents on Monday, and the governor of North Carolina followed suit the next day. And that’s probably smart, considering a gigantic whirlpool of hate, rain, and wind is currently pointed at all those “we rated our construction for much smaller storms” houses.

But what about those residents who CAN’T leave. No, I don’t mean the disenfranchised or the poor or the elderly, all of whom make up a substantial portion of the Carolina coastal residents. That’s a whole ‘nother issue for another time. No, I’m talking about the zoos in the Carolinas. What happens to the elephants, the flamingos, the heffalumps (ed. note: not a thing), the jackalopes (ed. note: also no), and the naked mole rats (ed. note: this one is real and it looks like a ballsack with teeth) who all can’t relocate to a Holiday Inn farther inland?

molerat

Look at it. JUST LOOK AT IT.

Turns out all zoos that are affiliated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is pretty much all zoos in the US and abroad – more than 230 worldwide, requires all member zoos have disaster emergency plans for things like hurricanes. These plans were created in part in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Irma caused extended power outages at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, resulting in the loss of more than 10,000 fish. Since then, zoos and aquariums have taken a much more programmatic approach to hurricane prep, as well as public communication.  As hurricane Irma bore down on Miami in 2017, Zoo Miami posted the following on their Facebook page.

We don’t evacuate our animals since hurricanes can change direction at the last minute and you run the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location. Furthermore, the stress of moving the animals can be more dangerous than riding out the storm. The animals that are considered dangerous will stay in their secure night houses, which are made of poured concrete and welded metal. These animals survived [Hurricane] Andrew without injuries. We’ve loaded up on additional food and water, our generators have been tested and ready to go. In addition, we’ve stored all cycles and removed debris.

This forward planning sometimes leads to unusual scenarios, like when Zoo Miami’s flamingos were housed in the men’s room for their safety…

flamingos.jpg

“Who are those handsome devils in the mirror?”

So when you’re watching the hurricane coverage over the next few days, think about all the captive critters riding out the storm in less than perfect accommodations. And to everyone anywhere currently in the path of Florence – stay safe, nail down the pool toys, and try not to think about naked mole rats.

 

BiologyComicsdinosaurspaleontologyScience

Ladies and Gentlemen…the Thagomizer

If your adolescence happened to occur during the 1980s or ’90s, then your sense of humor was very possibly influenced by Gary Larson’s The Far Side. For those of you who may not be familiar with The Far Side, first – welcome to the daylight, hopefully you had a pleasant upbringing in your Amish cave. Second, The Far Side (along with Jim Davis’ Garfield) absolutely dominated the comics page in the local newspapers from the early ’80s up through the mid-90s.  The comic spawned more than twenty books and countless greeting cards and calendars.

The Far Side was a surreal and irreverent single-panel comic, often with a focus on animals and nature, and it counted scientists, paleontologists, and biologists,among its many fans, with the likes of Jane Goodall and Stephen Jay Gould contributing pieces for the foreward for several Far Side compilations.

While everybody has a favorite Far Side comic (ed. note: well clearly not EVERYBODY. It’s kind of hard to imagine that Turkish president Erdogan is a big reader of the comics page), this comic, printed in 1982 was one of the more popular and clip-and-pin-on-the-cube-wall worthy:

thagomizer-comic

Courtesy United Press Syndicate and Gary Larson (1982)

Funny stuff, yeah?  Well LOTS of people thought it was funny and copies of that comic were undoubtedly clipped out of innumerable editions of the local fishwrap and thumbtacked to just as many office doors and cubicle walls. One of those who clipped the comic was Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and he apparently liked it so much, that he referred to the tail spines of a stegosaurus as the “Thagomizer” during the 1993 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Since that conference, the term has been adopted as an informal anatomic term and is used by the likes of the Smithsonian Institution, the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur, and Dinosaur National Monument in the U.S., and even more importantly, has its own Wikipedia page.

thagomizer2

The Thagomizer. (The arrows make it so much easier to see, right?)

So, now more than 25 years after the comic was first published, and more than 60 million years after encountering his ignoble fate, Thag Simmons lives on forever. And for those concerned about scientific accuracy, first may I point out this was a comic and second, when asked about his comics and their legacy, Larson was quoted as saying “Father, I have sinned – I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon“.

Now I just wonder if we can get Ankylosaurus’ tail knob renamed to something like “LampreyOnlineThumper”.

BiologyHistoryScienceUncategorizedWarfare

It’s a bomb, Batman! …

…or more accurately, “it’s a bat-bomb, man!”

It was World War II. The US was dealing with war in two theaters – Europe and the Pacific, and the Department of War was having to deal with combating two entirely different enemies in two very different environments.

And that’s where our hero of our story comes in. Lytle Adams was a mild mannered dentist by day, and an insatiable hellcat by night (ed. note: citation very much needed and probably super unlikely). History may be inconclusive on whether Dr. Adams was or was not a hellcat, but he was most assuredly a dentist, and he was one with a curious mind. In fact, in 1937 Doc Adams invented and patented a way for airplanes to pick up and drop mail without landing. While that idea was inarguably awesome, the idea we celebrate Lytle for today is an altogether different one. Because, in 1942 Lytle Adams was the person who gave us the idea for the BAT BOMB.

batbomb

                                        No, not that one.

The idea Adams came up with could be summed up with this premise: “What if we strapped a sh*t-load of bats with a sh*t-load of tiny incendiary bombs and then chucked the whole thing at Tokyo?” And Adams told his very good friend Eleanor Roosevelt about his idea. After hearing his idea, Roosevelt presumably asked “Jesus, man. What the hell do you have against bats?” before taking the idea to her husband who happened to be the president of the United States. After laughing himself out of his wheelchair, FDR asked a few zoologists if the idea was at all practical, to which the zoologists replied “Prolly“.  You see, Adams realized a number of useful facts:

A: bats are able to carry their own body weight in flight

B: bats would seek out places to land after being dropped out of an airplane. Places like under eaves and roofs

C: bats are unable to read and therefore unable to ask why the hell a giant Molotov cocktail was being strapped to its backside

D: WWII era Japan, being made of wood and paper, was flammable as hell

And what Doctor Adams thought about these facts was that hundreds of small bats could be strapped with tiny incendiary bombs and then collectively loaded into a large canister which would then dropped from a plane once over Japan. Once dropped, a parachute would open and the panels of the canister would pop off, allowing the suddenly awakened bats to fly away, only to roost for the day in buildings all over a 20+ mile radius from the drop zone.

And thus, Project X-Ray was born. In 1943, the US Army designed a bomb-shaped bat carrier that consisted of twenty-six stacked trays each capable of holding up to 40 boom-bats. For those scoring at home, that’s more than a THOUSAND tiny organic potential explosives.

And the army took Doctor Adams’ idea seriously, spending over $2 million dollars (ed.note: that’s nearly $30 MILLION in 2018 dollars) in design and testing. And the idea worked. During a 1943 test at the Carlsbad Army Airfield in Carlsbad, New Mexico, one of the bats managed to roost under a fuel tank, resulting in the entire test range being incinerated.

The National Defense Research Committee, who was in charge of finding cool new ways to blow sh*t up, determined that Project X-Ray was an effective weapon, but the project was shelved in mid-1944 (ed. note: much to the relief of bats everywhere) when the government opted to go another direction – instead of many small explosions, one big ass bomb that blew up everything and everyone. But that’s a story for another day.

AstronomyScienceSport

To boldly go where no man has gone be…FORE!

On the morning of July 16th, 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 lifted off from Cape Canaveral in their gigantic Saturn-V rocket, headed for the moon in advance of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon a few days later (ed. note: Michael Collins waited in the car).

However, those three heroes and that bright morning forty-nine years ago aren’t our story today. Millions of people know their story, and millions of people know that less than a year later, NASA used heroic measures to bring Apollo 13 and Tom Hanks (ed. note: No.) back after an oxygen tank exploded in the service module. But far fewer know that after the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility, NASA’s Apollo program successfully landed five other missions on the big green cheese between 1969 and 1972. And even fewer know about the time a NASA astronaut set the solar system record for farthest a golf ball was ever hit.

Apollo 14 was to be NASA’s third moon landing and the first after actor Ed Harris (ed. note: Still no.) helped return Apollo 13 safely to earth in what became known as NASAs “successful failure”. When he was named commander of Apollo 14, Alan Shepard was already a legend of spaceflight after he became the first american in space, piloting Mercury’s Freedom 7 in a fifteen minute suborbital flight. Shepard (along with Gus Grissom and Wally Schirra) was one of three Mercury astronauts named to NASAs Apollo moon program.

alan shepard

Look at that face. That face played golf. IN SPACE.

On the last day of January 1971, Shepard, along with fellow Apollo astronauts Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell, lifted off from the Cape for a nine day mission to orbit and land on the moon. Included in the mission were two scheduled moonwalks. On February 6th, during their second moonwalk, Shepard pulled a modified six-iron club head out of one of his EVA suit pouches and attached the club head to the handle of the lunar excavation module (or diggin’ stick) and then proceeded to hit a pair of golf balls on the surface of the GODDAMN MOON. Shepard was heard to exclaim that in the low lunar gravity, the second ball went “miles and miles and miles”. According to the Weights and Measures Department of Lamprey Online (tentative motto: We focus on pints), that would be significantly farther than the official longest golf drive on earth, measured at 515 yards and held by Mike Austin since 1974, and gives the title to Shepard. At least until we finally get a pro golfer to fly to Mercury, home to the weakest gravity in the solar system.

If you want to challenge the respected Mr. Shepard on his assertion of the distance of his moonshot and holder of the record for longest drive in the solar system, the staff at Lamprey gently reminds you that, in addition to being one of the twelve human beings in all of human history to stand on the moon and being a naval test pilot, Shepard was the first guy in america that though strapping a giant rocket to his ass was a fine idea.

FoodScience

Cooking without cooking…

…part one of whatever.

It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere (ed. Note: Motto: “Pretty much everybody lives here”), and that means it’s sometimes just too damn hot to stand over a stove, slaving away at a meal. And sometimes you just can’t stand ordering another pizza (ed. note: Bet me).

Turns out, there’s several ways to ‘cook’ your food without actually applying any heat to it. And one of the easiest and most affordable ways to cook seafood without heat comes to us courtesy of the southern hemisphere (ed. note: Motto: Only twelve percent of the global population, but responsible for 100% of all Crocodile Dundee and Yahoo Serious movies). The dish is ceviche and its home is Peru. Sure, Peru may or may not have created it, but they sure as sh*t made ceviche part of their culture, with ceviche considered the Peruvian national dish, much like bulgogi in South Korea or the Double Value Meal in the US. 

In Peruvian ceviche, fish gets cured with an ingredient called ‘leche de tigre’, which translates as ‘tiger’s milk’, but really means ‘just some limes and stuff’. This tells us that somewhere in Peruvian cooking history, there’s probably a real unfunny practical joke involving an assistant chef and a tiger. With super sexy terms like ‘leche de tigre’, ceviche can feel both exotic and inaccessible for your typical home cook, however ceviche is simply seafood that has been cured in citrus.

But before we get to the tasty bit, how does curing in citric acid actually COOK the fish? Truthfully, it doesn’t. Cooking requires heat. However, heat and acid both contribute to the exact same chemical process of ‘denaturation’, which begins to break down the structure of proteins, in this case, Mister Fishy. When an external stressor (like acid or salt or your Weber grill) is applied to protein, the tissues begin to break down and form a more solid structure – essentially firming up the meat, which ultimately makes it more edible and digestible to hungry mammals and alleged lizard persons like us. Denaturation isn’t the sexiest food word (ed note: that would be fromage. Say it with me.”fromage”. MMM), but that’s the science behind how meat gets cooked. And science you get to eat is the BEST SCIENCE.

So, let’s say you want to denature the hell out of some lovely fresh seafood for a summer picnic. Before you start remember: while it’s super easy to make ceviche, make sure you know where you’re getting your seafood. Use a high quality, firm fish or shellfish (scallops and shrimp are wonderful in ceviche) that has been commercially frozen. Maybe don’t get your fish from a gas station this time around, OK?

All you need for ceviche is fish, cut into bite sized chunks or strips and limes. After that, everything is down to taste. Here at the Lamprey Online Test Kitchen we used yellowfin tuna as the base and it turned out so well, I received six wedding proposals.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sh*tload of limes (ed. Note: Eight. He means eight limes)
  • 6 – 8 oz of yellowfin tuna
  • 1 roma tomato
  • ¼ red onion
  • ¼ cucumber
  • 1 jalapeno, seeed. Or not. I’m not your supervisor
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • Black pepper to taste

 

Juice the limes in a bowl and then just chop the rest of that stuff and pour it right into the lime juice. You want everything in a manageable size, and it’s important the fish has adequate surface area. Cover it and throw it in the fridge to let it set up until the meat is just turning opaque and firm. Less time for flakier fish like red snapper, longer for dense stuff like scallops. You’re definitely thinking in the 20 – 50 min range.

Serve it with avocado chunks and tortilla chips. Then, next time play around…change the protein. Add red pepper flakes. Try some garlic. Go nuts.

Then, enjoy the science. The tasty, tasty science.