Leonardo da Vinci’s Elegant Studies of the Human Heart Were 500 Years Ahead of Their Time

Leonardo da Vinci didn’t really have hobbies; he had passionate, unpaid obsessions that filled whole notebooks with puzzles scientists are still trying to solve. Many of the problems to which he applied himself were those none of his contemporaries understood, because he was the only person to have noticed them at all. The amateur anatomist was the first, for example, “to sketch trabeculae,” notes Medievalists.net, “and their snowflake-like fractal patterns in the 16th century.”

These geometric patterns of muscle fibers on the inner surface of the heart have remained a mystery for over 500 years since Leonardo’s anatomical investigations, carried out first on pig and oxen hearts, then later, in hasty dissections in the winter cold, on human specimens. He speculated they might have warmed the blood, but scientists have recently found they enhance blood flow “just like the dimples on a golf ball reduce air resistance.”




Leonardo may have been wide of the mark in his trabeculae theory, not having access to genetic testing, AI, or MRI. But he was the first to describe coronary artery disease, which would become one of the leading causes of death 500 years later. Many of his medical conclusions have turned out to be startingly correct, in fact. He detailed and elegantly sketched the heart’s anatomy from 1507 until his death in 1519, working out the flow of the blood through the body.

As the Medlife Crisis video above explains, Leonardo’s studies on the heart elegantly brought together his interests in art, anatomy, and engineering. Because of this multi-dimensional approach, he was able to explain a fact about the heart’s operation that even many cardiologists today get wrong, the movement of the aortic valve. In order to visualize the “flow dynamics” of the heart’s machinery, without imaging machinery of his own, he built a glass model, and drew several sketches of what he saw. “Incredibly, it took 450 years to prove him right.”

The mind of this extraordinary figure continues to divulge its secrets, and scholars and doctors across multiple fields continue to engage with his work, in the pages, for example, of the Netherlands Heart Journal. His studies on the heart particularly show how his astonishing breadth of knowledge and skill paradoxically made him such a focused, determined, and creative thinker.

via Medievalists.net

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

MIT Presents a Free Course on the COVID-19 Pandemic, Featuring Anthony Fauci & Other Experts

Most of us use the terms “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” to refer to the pandemic that has gone around the world this year. We do know, or can figure out, that the former term refers to a virus and the latter to the disease caused by that virus. But do we know the full name “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or “SARS-CoV-2” for short? We will if we take the online course “COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic,” which MIT is making available to the general public free online. We’ll also learn what makes both the virus and the disease different from other viruses and diseases, what we can do to avoid infection, and how close we are to an effective treatment.

All this is laid out in the course’s first lecture by Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard. Walker introduces himself by telling us how he graduated from medical school when HIV was at its height in America, timing that placed him well for a career focused on deadly viral diseases.




The course’s complete lineup of guest lecturers, all of them listed on its syllabus, includes many other high-profile figures in the field of epidemiology, immunology, vaccine development, and related fields: Harvard’s Michael Mina, Yale’s Akiko Iwasaki, the Broad Institute’s Eric Lander, and — perhaps you’ve heard of him — the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Anthony Fauci (find his session below).

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” began last Tuesday, and its lectures, which you’ll find uploaded to this Youtube playlist, will continue weekly until December 8th. Even if you have no background in medicine, biology, or science of any kind, don’t be intimidated: as leading professors Richard Young and Facundo Batista emphasize, this course is meant as an introductory overview.

And as Bruce Walker’s first lecture demonstrates, it’s not just open to the general public but geared toward the understanding and concerns of the general public as well. Taking it may not reassure you that an end to the pandemic lies just around the corner, but it will give you clearer and more coherent ways to think about what’s going on. The virus and disease involved are still incompletely understood, after all — but thanks to these and other researchers around the world, getting better understood every day.

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” will be added to our list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hear the Sound Of Endangered Birds Get Turned Into Electronic Music

Bird-watching is having a moment, thanks to the pandemic.

As non-essential workers adjusted to spending more time at home, their ears adjusted to the increasingly non-foreign sound of birdsong outside their windows.

Those sweet tweets are no doubt largely responsible for the record breaking turnout at this year’s Global Big Day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s annual birding event, held earlier this spring.




50,000 participants logged 2.1 million individual observations, and 6,479 species.

Apparently, there are even more birds in this world than there are sourdough starters

…though for the immediate future, civic-minded birdwatchers will be confining their observations to the immediate vicinity, as a matter of public health.

We look forward to the day when bird enthusiasts residing outside of Belize, Mexico, or Guatemala can again travel to the Yucatán Peninsula in hopes of a face-to-face encounter with the Black Cat Bird.

Til then, the animated video above, in which a Black Catbird unwittingly duets with Belize’s Garifuna Collective, makes a soothing place holder.

The catbird and the collective appear along with nine other electronic musician / endangered native bird teams on the fundraising album, A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager joins NILLO, a producer and DJ from Costa Rica who draws musical inspiration from the tribal communities around him.

Siete Catorce, a producer who helped popularize the popular border genre known as ruidosón—a mix of cumbia and prehispanic tribal sounds—is paired with a Yellow-headed Parrot.

Jordan “Time Cow” Chung of Equiknoxx seamlessly integrates a Jamaican Blackbird into his unique brand of organic, experimental dancehall.

The album follows 2015’s Guide to the Birdsong of South America, and as with its predecessor, 100% of the profits will be donated to regional organizations focused on birds and conservation—Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Fundacion TXORI.

Birds, as the project’s founder, Robin Perkins, told Gizmodo’s Earther, are the most musical animals in the world:

There’s something really nice about focusing on endangered species and songs that are disappearing and not being preserved and to use music to raise awareness about the species. I believe music has a big power for social activism and social change and for environmental change.

Listen to A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean for free on Spotify.

Buy the album or individual tracks on Bandcamp to benefit the charities above.

Robin Perkins’ limited edition prints of the featured birds also benefit the bird-focused regional charities and can be purchased here.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Everything You Need To Know About Viruses: A Quick Visual Explanation of Viruses in 9 Images

It’s a great time to tune in to what scientists are trying to tell us.

It’s true that we’ve received a lot of conflicting information over the last four months with regard to how to best protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.

Scientists and health care professionals have a learning curve, too.

Their bulletins evolve as their understanding of the novel coronavirus grows, through research and hands-on experience.

There are still a lot of unknowns.




Some people take any evidence-based messaging updates regarding masks and re-opening as proof that scientists don’t know their asses from their elbows.

To which we might counter, “If that’s the case, please take a minute from berating the poor grocery store employee who asked you to follow clearly posted state mandated public health practices to educate us. Forget the economy. Forget the election. Blind us with some science. Pretend we don’t know anything and hit us with some hardcore facts about viruses. We’re listening.”

(Crickets…)

Science writer Dominic Walliman, founder of the Domain of Science Youtube  channel, may have a PhD in quantum device physics, but he also had the humility to realize, earlier in the pandemic, that he didn’t know much about viruses:

So I did a load of research and have summarized what I learned in… nine images. This video (above) explains the key aspects of viruses: how big they are, how they infect and enter and exit cells, how viruses are classified, how they replicate, and subjects involving viral infections like how they spread from person to person, how our immune system detects and destroys them and how vaccines and anti-viral drugs work.

Walliman animates his 10-minute overview with the same bright infographics he uses to help students and laypeople wrap their heads around computer science, biology, chemistry, physics, and math.

The virus video has been fact-checked by immunologist Michael Bramhall and biologist Christoph von Arx.

And how refreshing to see transparency with regard to human error, published as a corrective:

In slide 9 toxin vaccines are for bacterial infections like tetanus, not viruses. 

For those who’d like to learn more, Walliman has tacked a whopping 15 links onto the episode’s description, from sources such as Scientific AmericanNatureStanford Medicine’s Scope blog, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Download a free poster of Domain of Science’s Viruses Explained in 9 Images here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters related to COVID-19 public health Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of the Mütter Museum and Its Many Anatomically Peculiar Exhibits

A few months before Philaelphia’s Mütter Museum, exercising now familiar COVID-19 precautions, closed its doors to the public, it co-sponsored a parade to honor the victims to the previous century’s Spanish Flu pandemic, as well as “those who keep us safe today.”

The event was part of a temporary exhibition, Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia.

Another temporary exhibition, Going Viral: Infection Through the Ages, opened in November, and now seems even stronger proof that the museum, whose 19th-century display cabinets are housed in the historic College of Physicians, is as concerned with the future as it is with the past.

For now, all tours must be undertaken virtually.




Above, curator Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist and Director of the Mütter Research Institute, gives a brief introduction to some of the best known artifacts in the permanent collection.

The museum’s many antique skulls and medical oddities may invite comparisons to a ghoulish sideshow attraction, an impression Dhody corrects with her warm, matter-of-fact delivery and respectful acknowledgment of the humans whose stories have been preserved along with their remains:

Mary Ashberry, an achondroplastic dwarf, died from complications of a Cesarean section, as doctors who had yet to learn the importance of sterilizing instruments and washing hands, attempted to help her deliver a baby who proved too big for her pelvis. (The baby’s head was crushed as well. Its skull is displayed next to its mother’s skeleton.)

Madame Dimanche is represented by a wax model of her face, instantly recognizable due to the 10-inch cutaneous horn that began growing from her forehead when she was in her 70s. (It was eventually removed in an early example of successful plastic surgery.)

Albert Einstein and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker are among the household names gracing the museum’s collection.

One of the most recent additions is the skeleton of artist and disability awareness advocate Carol Orzel, who educated the public and incoming University of Pennsylvania medical students about fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a rare disorder that turned her muscle and connective tissue to bone. She told her physician, Frederick Kaplan, below, that she wanted her skeleton to go to the Mütter, to join that of fellow FOP sufferer, Harry Eastlack… provided some of her prized costume jewelry could be displayed alongside. It is.

Get better acquainted with the Mütter Museum’s collection through this playlist.

The exhibit Spit Spreads Death is currently slated to stay up through 2024. While waiting to visit in person, you can watch an animation of the Spanish flu’s spread, and explore an interactive map showing the demographics of the infection.

h/t Tanya Elder

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How a Virus Spreads, and How to Avoid It: A Former NASA Engineer Demonstrates with a Blacklight in a Classroom

The past few weeks have reminded us just why viruses have been such a formidable enemy of humanity for so long. Though very few of the countless viruses in existence affect us in any way, let alone a lethal one, we can’t see them without microscopes. And so when a deadly virus breaks out, we live our daily lives with an invisible killer in our midst. Aggressive testing, as several coronavirus-afflicted countries have proven, does much to lower the rate of transmission. But how, exactly, does transmission happen? In the video above, Youtuber Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer and Apple product designer, demonstrates the process vividly by taking a blacklight into that most diseased of all environments: the elementary-school classroom.

You can’t see viruses under a blacklight, but you can see the special powder that Rober applies to the hands of the class’s teacher. At the beginning of the school day, the teacher shakes the hand of just three kids, touching none of the others, and by lunchtime — a couple of hours after Rober powders the hands of one more student during morning break — the blacklight reveals the “germs” everywhere.




This despite fairly diligent hand-washing, albeit hand-washing unaccompanied by the disinfection of surfaces, cellphones, and other objects in and parts of the classroom. “Even if a virus is spread through airborne transmission,” Rober says, “those tiny droplets don’t stay in the air for long. Then they land on surfaces, waiting to be touched by our hands.” This leads him to the declaration that “the ultimate defense against catching a virus is: just don’t touch your face.”

Rober calls your eyes, nose, and mouth “the single weak spot on the Death Star when it comes to viruses. That’s the only way they can get in to infect you.” Hence, here in the time of COVID-19, the frequent urgings not just to wash our hands but to refrain from touching our faces as well. Increasingly many of us have become hyper-aware of our own “germ hygiene,” as Rober calls it, but the other half of the battle against the pandemic must be institutional: school closures, for example, one of which was announced over the PA system during this very video’s shoot. “Because of this virus, we are going to be closing school for three weeks,” says the principal, not without a note of excitement in his voice — but an excitement hardly comparable to the subsequent explosion of joy among the third-graders listening. Challenging though this time may be, children like these remind us to take our fun wherever we find it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice)

Depending on how you feel about cats, the feline situation on the island of Cyprus is either the stuff of a delightful children’s story or a horror film to be avoided at all cost.

Despite being surrounded on all sides by water, the cat population—an estimated 1.5 million—currently outnumbers human residents. The overwhelming majority are feral, though as we learn in the above episode of PBS’ EONS, they, too, can be considered domesticated. Like the other 600,000,000-some living members of Felis Catus on planet Earth—which is to say the type of beast we associate with litterboxes, laser pointers, and Tender Vittles—they are descended from a single subspecies of African wildcat, Felis Silvestris Lybica.

While there’s no single narrative explaining how cats came to dominate Cyprus, the story of their global domestication is not an uncommon one:

An ancient efficiency expert realized that herding cats was a much better use of time than hunting them, and the idea quickly spread to neighboring communities.




Kidding. There’s no such thing as herding cats (though there is a Chicago-based cat circus, whose founder motivates her skateboard-riding, barrel-rolling, high-wire-walking stars with positive reinforcement…)

Instead, cats took a commensal path to domestication, lured by their bellies and celebrated curiosity.

Ol’ Felis (Felix!) Silvestris (Sufferin’ Succotash!Lybica couldn’t help noticing how human settlements boasted generous supplies of food, including large numbers of tasty mice and other rodents attracted by the grain stores.

Her inadvertent human hosts grew to value her pest control capabilities, and cultivated the relationship… or at the very least, refrained from devouring every cat that wandered into camp.

Eventually, things got to the point where one 5600-year-old specimen from northwestern China was revealed to have died with more millet than mouse meat in its system—a pet in both name and popular sentiment.

Chow chow chow.

Interestingly, while today’s house cats’ gene pool leads back to that one sub-species of wild mackerel-tabby, it’s impossible to isolate domestication to a single time and place.

Both archeological evidence and genome analysis support the idea that cats were domesticated both 10,000 years ago in Southwest Asia… and then again in Egypt 6500 years later.

At some point, a human and cat traveled together to Cyprus and the rest is history, an Internet sensation and an if you can’t beat em, join em tourist attraction.

Such high end island hotels as Pissouri’s Columbia Beach Resort and TUI Sensatori Resort Atlantica Aphrodite Hills in Paphos have started catering to the ever-swelling numbers of uninvited, four-legged locals with a robust regimen of healthcare, shelter, and food, served in feline-specific tavernas.

An island charity known as Cat P.A.W.S. (Protecting Animals Without Shelter) appeals to visitors for donations to defray the cost of neutering the massive feral population.

Sometimes they even manage to send a furry Cyprus native off to a new home with a foreign holidaymaker.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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