What We're Reading
by Shannon Eliot • June 26, 2015
An Exploratorium press officer offers up some of her favorite science reads from the week. It's like staff picks at a bookstore — only different.
It looks like scientists have found yet another use for lasers. Aside from being used by aestheticians for various beauty treatments, lasers are showing real potential in lessening the severity of, if not altogether curing, certain mental illnesses. By burning certain parts of the brain (we’re hoping it’s less painful than it sounds), psychosurgeons have already seen great success with patients suffering from OCD. Before you run and sign up, it is worth mentioning that the procedure isn’t right for everyone; physicians perform these procedures only those who have shown no response to at least three types of medications and months of talk therapy.
Back in the day, if one was in the unlucky position of struggling with aortic valve stenosis — or the narrowing of the valve that controls blood flow from the heart — the only option for survival was open heart surgery. Well not anymore. There is a new valve procedure in town that is changing cardiac medicine, and it’s called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR. Contrary to the traditional method of cutting out an old valve and sewing in a new one, TAVR allows doctors to fold up and slip a brand new valve into a catheter, which is turn is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin. When the catheter reaches the base of the aorta — the main artery of the body that originates from the left ventricle in the heart — the doctor opens a balloon that inflates the valve. The old valve still remains, but it is pushed aside by the new one. Patients remain awake and lightly anesthetized, which is why the procedure is revered by older and high-risk patients who are too weak to undergo surgery.
In a major win for global health advocates (and humanity), a new finger prick test for Ebola was unveiled on Thursday. This means that a procedure that once took days to confirm a positive or negative result now takes mere minutes. Now that Ebola can be diagnosed more quickly, treatments can be delivered with more urgency, as can the distinction between who should be quarantined and who can go home.
Turns out that science and art don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Of course, being at the Exploratorium, we already knew this (have you seen our stunning arts program?), but the idea is a bit slower to catch on in the rest of the world. Medical illustrator Amanda Montañez argues that something special happens when reproducing and visually interpreting scientific structures. “In making marks,” she says, “we infuse meaning into each element of the structure before us. … I spent a lot of time dissecting cadavers and studying illustrations, but I was never sure I understood each anatomical region or structure until I could draw it.” Hear hear!
Just when you thought you found a sanctuary with plenty of square footage and killer views, you learn that it’s not fit for habitation. Apparently the planet Venus — which has often been deemed Earth’s sister planet — is very likely geologically alive, meaning that it possesses active volcanoes. The Venus Express spacecraft, launched by the European Space Agency in 2005, measured short-lived pulses of heat energy that physically manifest as red-hot glow of active pools and flows of molten rock. Hey, at least there’s free street parking. And we hear the galaxy views are amazing.