Showing 111 - 120 of 201 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science"

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The Bacteriologist has a visitor to his laboratory, a pale stranger who arrives with a letter of introduction from a good friend of the scientist. The scientist shows his visitor the cholera bacillus under a microscope and they talk about the disease. The visitor is particularly interested in a vial containing living bacteria, and the scientist describes the power of cholera, saying what a terrible epidemic could be caused if a tube such as the one he holds were to be opened into the water supply.

The scientist's wife calls him away for a moment; when the scientist returns, the visitor is ready to leave. As soon as the visitor has gone, however, the scientist realizes the vial of bacteria is missing, that the visitor must have stolen it. He runs out in a panic, sees the visitor's cab leaving, and hails another cab to give chase. The scientist's wife, horrified by his inappropriate dress and hurry, follows in a third cab, with her husband's shoes and coat and hat.

We shift to the point of view of the visitor in his cab. He has indeed stolen the vial. He is an Anarchist who plans to release the bacteria into London's water supply. His motivation is fame: he feels he has been neglected by the world, and now he will reveal his power and importance. In the speeding cab, however, he accidentally breaks the glass vial.

He decides to become a human vector. He swallows what is left in the vial, and stops the cab, realizing that he no longer needs to flee. When the scientist catches up and confronts him, the Anarchist gleefully announces what he has done. The scientist allows him to walk away, and tells his wife that the man has ingested the stolen bacteria.

There is a twist: the vial, it turns out, did not contain cholera, but a strange new microbe the Bacteriologist had been studying, the only known effect of which is to make the skin of the animals exposed to it turn bright blue. The Bacteriologist reluctantly puts on his coat and returns home with his wife, complaining that he will now have to culture the bacillus all over again.

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The Diagnosis

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A neurosurgeon looks forward to having a day off from work, but a promising Saturday brings only trouble. Henry Perowne is 48 years old and practices in London. Lately, he's concerned about the impending invasion of Iraq. Perowne's views on the situation have changed considerably after conversations with a patient who was tortured and imprisoned in Iraq for no apparent reason. A protest march against the looming war is held on Saturday.

On his way to play a game of squash that morning, Perowne is involved in a car accident on an otherwise deserted street. No one is injured and the two vehicles sustain only minor damage. The owner of the other car is a man in his twenties named Baxter. He is accompanied by two buddies. Perowne refuses Baxter's demand for cash to repair the car so Baxter punches the doctor. Perowne is moments away from a pummeling.

He notices that Baxter has a tremor and an inability to perform saccades. Perowne deduces that Baxter has Huntington's disease. The doctor capitalizes on the fortuitous diagnosis. He speculates that Baxter has kept the neurodegenerative disorder a secret from his sidekicks. When Perowne initiates a discussion about the illness, Baxter orders the cronies away so that he can speak privately to the doctor. The two men desert Baxter, and Perowne escapes in his car, hopeful he can still make the squash game.

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Wish

Goldsworthy, Peter

Last Updated: Aug-15-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

J.J.’s parents are both deaf, so he grew up with Auslan (Australian sign language) as his native "tongue," although he is not deaf and speaks English perfectly. After a disastrous marriage, J.J. returns to live with his parents and to teach sign language at the Deaf Institute. Two students in his beginners’ class befriend him. They are Clive, an elderly man world renowned as a leader of the animal rights movement, and his much younger wife Stella, who is a poet. They soon present J.J. with a mysterious proposition: would he be willing to provide private lessons for their "step-daughter" at their home? We soon learn that their "step-daughter," Wish, is actually a young female gorilla, which they "rescued" from a research laboratory.

At first J.J. is reluctant because he is aware that the purported mastery of signing by non-human primates is not only controversial, but very limited, even if true. However, he discovers that Wish has remarkable cognitive abilities. She learns Auslan quickly and even begins to converse using metaphor and expressing complex topics.

Eventually her story is revealed. She had undergone fetal surgery to remove her adrenal glands, which evidently limit cortical growth in gorillas. Unconstrained by her adrenals (although receiving daily cortisone injections), Wish has developed intelligence far beyond that of other gorillas.

Nonetheless, she is still a sexually mature female gorilla. She falls in "love" with J.J. who, after initially rebuffing her, mates with her. J.J., by the way is quite obese, and so he is much more attractive to Wish than the other human males she encounters, who are all so un-gorilla-like. J.J. and Wish live in connubial bliss for a brief period, until Clive decides to prosecute J.J. for sexually abusing his gorilla, since presumably gorillas cannot give informed consent to sexual activity with humans. (Of course, Wish can and does, because of her super brain, but this concept is a bit too subtle for the frenzied media and the legal system.) After J.J. is arrested and she is removed to a local zoo, Wish becomes depressed and commits suicide. Clive drops the charges, after which the story lumbers to a generally unhappy ending.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

Film clips of Cary Grant as the consummate anatomy professor in 0100 (see this database) are interspersed with comments from contemporary gross anatomy students, two medical school faculty intimately connected with dissection and the body donation tradition, and a live body donor. In what ways "yes" and "no" could both be proper responses to the statement, "A cadaver in the classroom is not a dead human being" is the key premise, beautifully presented in the cut-aways, organization, and editing of this piece.

The structure of the film is an as-if dialogue between young dissectors and soon-to-be cadaver (the body donor). Interviews heighten and explore the relationship between the living and the dead--and not just medical students and body donors. The medical students do not speak directly with the future donor, though we see him shaking hands with them, visiting (and speculating on) the spot where his remains will eventually be deposited. The video concludes with a moving annual ritual, the disposition of body donors' cremated remains at sea.

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Sweet Thursday

Steinbeck, John

Last Updated: May-05-2005
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Returning to the scene of Cannery Row (see this database), made so famous in the eponymous novel, Steinbeck finds a few of his familiar old characters (notably Doc and Mack) and some new ones inhabiting a world that appears to have changed little during the intervening years, despite the closing of the canneries and a World War. Mack and the boys, still up to their usual self-sabotaging shenanigans, collude with Fauna, the proprietor of the local brothel, to bring together Suzy, a new prostitute recently arrived to Cannery Row, and an increasingly lonely and frustrated Doc.

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Comfort

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-02-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Margaret returns one afternoon from tennis to discover that Lewis, her husband, has committed suicide by taking an overdose of pain medication. Lewis had been bedridden from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They had thoroughly discussed his plan to kill himself before he was unable to do so, but Margaret is surprised when it happens because she expected Lewis to leave her a message. There is none.

As Margaret prepares for her husband’s cremation, she recalls the circumstances under which he left his teaching job--not because of the ALS, but because he used to teach human evolution in his high school biology class, without giving "equal weight" to creationism.

Because this upset many of his students’ parents and local clergy, the principal several times suggested that Lewis might at least give a nod to creationism. However, Lewis, an outspoken opponent of religion, was insulted by this proposal and quit his job.

The undertaker encourages Margaret to hold a wake--to comfort her and their many friends--but she insists that Lewis wanted no wake and no service. The next day the undertaker brings her Lewis’ ashes; she goes out into the country at night and disperses them.

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Comfort

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-02-2005
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nina Spiers comes home to find that her husband, Lewis, has committed suicide. Lewis, a former high-school biology teacher, had ALS, and they had discussed this possibility, but Lewis has not included Nina in his final decision and its enactment. She searches in vain for a last message from Lewis, but can find nothing. We learn that Lewis left his teaching job over the community's pressure on him to incorporate the possibility of divine creation in his teaching of evolution; profoundly rationalist and scornful of religion, he refuses and resigns.

Lewis's body is taken to the local funeral home where, inadvertently, it is embalmed, which he would not have wanted. Ed Shore, the undertaker, arranges to have the body cremated immediately and brings Nina a note found in Lewis's pajamas. Instead of a message for her, it is a piece of badly-written satirical verse about the school and the argument between creationism and science. There is nothing for Nina.

Later Ed brings Nina the ashes. Ed and Nina have a history: once, on an evening when Lewis and Kitty, Ed's saint-loving Anglican wife, were engaged in a fierce argument, Ed had kissed Nina. Now, they talk of the preservation of the body and the existence of the soul. Nina then takes Lewis's ashes and scatters them at a crossroads outside of town. At first she feels shock at what she is doing, and then pain, but we infer too that as she sheds the comfortable self-effacement of her role as Lewis's wife, Nina is perhaps coming back to life herself.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Physician-scientist Lewis Thomas turns to pressing, threatening issues in this collection of 24 essays, many of which have been published in Discover magazine. The book opens and closes with meditations on nuclear warfare--the atom bombs of World War II and the escalation of worldwide tensions and technology that can combine to destroy the human race. In between, other essays, such as "On Medicine and the Bomb" and "Science and 'Science,'" also focus on these issues.

Less apocalyptic essays concern Thomas's experience with requiring a pacemaker, the state of psychiatry, lie detectors as evidence for essential human morality, and his abiding interest in language and scientific research.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This book contains 29 short essays by physician-scientist Lewis Thomas, originally published in the early 1970s in The New England Journal of Medicine. The essays center on science, and range in focus from the molecular (e.g., DNA) to the subcellular to the organism to social interactions and all the way up to the search for extra-terrestrial life. Some themes reappear in several essays: science as a grand, engaging enterprise worthy of the brightest minds; communication between organisms creating the intricate dance of the social organism; the relationship of man to both nature and the grand scheme of the universe.

Lewis is fascinated by communication not only at the cellular level, but also at the pheremonal and cerebral level: "Language, once it comes alive, behaves like an active, motile organism" (90). The ant and its colony, as an example of a simultaneous individual and integrated social organism, form a link for Thomas between the enclosed unit of a cell and the complex interactions of a society. Indeed, macro-micro comparisons continue throughout the essays, and even conclude the final essay, "The World's Biggest Membrane," which lauds the atmosphere as protector, filter, and provider: "Taken all in all, the sky is a miraculous achievement. It works, and for what it is designed to accomplish it is as infallible as anything in nature. . . it is far and away the grandest product of collaboration in all of nature" (48).

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Among animals only humans have difficulty giving birth. While other primates deliver their babies with little fuss, women experience painful labor and childbirth. The explanation for this discrepancy lies in the size of the human head at birth. As hominids evolved ever larger and larger brains, the fetal head had to increase in size at birth. Eventually the head almost outstripped the female pelvis's ability to expand enough to allow it through the birth canal. This delicate balance between fetus and pelvis accounts for human fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality.

As a response to the growing threat of childbirth, human females evolved away from estrus (i.e. sexual receptivity only when ovulating) to the menstrual cycle and continuous sexual receptivity. The mysterious moon-related cycle led women to formulate the concept of "time" and make the connection between sex and pregnancy. It also allowed them to refuse sex when they were ovulating.

Women then taught time consciousness to men, and men used their growing self-consciousness to begin to establish control over nature (and women). The sense of being-in-time led inevitably to awareness of mortality. This, in turn, stimulated humans to create gods and religion in order to ward off death anxiety.

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