Dave returned to Washington, DC on Monday.  We were concerned, because seemingly the entire eastern seaboard had been pelted with a foot or more of snow on Sunday.  Washington was spared though.  On the NOAA snowfall map it is neatly nestled in a dry little donut-hole around which there was only blizzard.  The District got only a half-inch of snow, but even so, his flight was still delayed a half-hour.  Oh well, it could have worse.  Right?

I copped the title for this post from some pundit at the Washington Post.  A No-Pocalypse is sort of the antonym for last year’s way too cool snowstorm related buzzword, Snow-Pocalypse.   A No-Pocalypse has all the hype and buildup of the apocalyptic Snow-Pocalypse, but without the snow.

While he was visiting us, Dave tried to explain what it is that he actually does as an intern at the National Institute of Health.  This is my understanding of what he said.  (Dave, feel free to correct me.)  Previously, Dave has described his work as, “performing brain surgery on live-ish mice.”  This is true, as far as it goes, but doesn’t really explain his work and is a bit flippant to boot.

These so-called, live-ish mice, are picked up at the vivarium, where they are raised.  What makes them “live-ish” is that through a birth defect, they have no upper brain, just the brain stem.  Effectively, they are born brain-dead.  The benefit of using these mice is that you can perform surgery on them without an anesthetic.  Dave cuts open their skulls and with microscopic electrodes, actually very small pipits that are hooked to an oscilloscope, he can measure individual nerve cell’s electrical responses to auditory stimuli.  Using an anesthetic, as would be required with any normal mouse, would only mess-up the nerve cell’s electrical responses.

So that sort of answers the mail on what Dave does at NIH, but doesn’t explain why he does it.  This is where I get a little fuzzy on the subject, so bear with me.  (Dave, feel free to chime in anytime.)  From the microscopic point of view, scientists have begun to categorize different kinds of nerve cells, but they don’t know yet what they do.  Conversely, other scientists have shown that different nerve cells perform different auditory functions.  In a nutshell, the goal of Dave’s research is to connect-the-dots, between what has been observed at the macroscopic level and what can be measured on the microscopic level.  It is hoped that by correlating these two viewpoints a deeper understanding of how we hear can be gleamed and eventually with that knowledge, ways to reverse hearing loss learned.

This may sound all rather science fictional to you, I know that it does to me.  But science fiction has always been a great harbinger of things to come.  Yesterday’s science fiction becomes today’s science fact.  While writing this post, I recalled an old Star Trek episode, called ‘Spock’s Brain’.  While generally considered to be the worst episode of that sixties series, it still seemed somehow apropos.  Here is the back-story for that show:

A beautiful woman beams aboard the Enterprise, incapacitates the crew and then steals away with Spock’s brain.  Captain Kirk and his enterprising crew trail her to her planet only to find Spock’s brain installed as the planet’s central computer.  Dr. McCoy using this alien civilization’s advanced technology reconnects Spock’s brain to his animatronicly controlled body, which the good doctor just happened to bring along with him.

The YouTube clip is from the show’s finale, so is a bit jocular in tone.  Star Trek always believed that science and technology would pave the way to a brighter future.  I too shared that belief; even when it wasn’t always warranted, but I never thought that I would live to see the day that so much that was once only fiction, become fact or at least began to become true.

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