Friday, May 09, 2008

Creative science

I had a hospital appointment first thing this morning for a CT scan. It was a pleasant surprise, having checked in well before time, to be ushered in to the radiology department's scanner unit ten minutes early, and find myself lying on the table, breathing in and out at the command of a robotic voice, while the great doughnut shaped device smoothly glided up and down around my lower body, its huge magnetic pulses changing the spin direction of billions of atoms in my body for long enough for them to emit a signal that could be recorded and mapped by computer into an image of my insides that a doctor could read. By ten past nine I was on my way out, with no idea of what the images disclosed. But, all in all, it was an intriguing experience, managed by all those young technicians and medics a third of my age.

In fact, when I was their age, I heard in my final year Chemistry undergraduate lectures the amazing news about the fresh discovery of this 'nuclear magnetic resonance' phenomenon, and of its potential value in identifying the shape and composition of organo-metallic compounds on which some of us had been working. That's 42 years ago, and what a wonderful journey of creative technological development has been undertaken, turning a natural phenomenon into a laboratory technique and then an entire branch of diagnostic technology - an industry that employs hundreds of thousands around the world, and has as its end-product, not merely lots of interesting images of our insides, but a powerful means to identify the causes of sickness, in support of the healer's art.

If I was God, I'd be pretty pleased with what my favourite creatures had managed to do with some of their inherent curiosity and imagination.

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