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Beyond the Book Articles
Medical, Science and Tech

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Microdot Technology (11/20)
In Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre's account of real-life spy Ursula Kuczynski, several operatives are said to have used microdots, or tiny pieces of film on which miniaturized text is recorded, to smuggle information to the Soviet Union. Still in use today, these diminutive data caches are produced through a specialized photography process ...
Alchemy Across the Ages (10/20)
Since the start of recorded history, as Jake Wolff's debut novel The History of Living Forever makes clear, humans have sought the elixir of life that would confer immortality. The ancient Greeks fantasized about finding ambrosia, the mythical nectar of the gods, said to be sweeter than honey; while the Chinese have eaten Lingzhi, the '...
Nature vs. Nurture (10/20)
DNA structure The 'nature vs. nurture' debate is what sparks the narrative tension in M.O. Walsh's novel The Big Door Prize. The character Cherilyn refers to the concept of nature vs. nurture when she explains how the unusual DNAMIX machine 'tells you your potential, [...] what you could have been if everything would have worked out just right.' ...
Sara Seager and the Search for Exoplanets (09/20)
Sara Seager, the author of The Smallest Lights in the Universe, is an astrophysicist who served as a chairperson on NASA's Starshade Project, a mission to locate intelligent life on planets outside of our Solar System, a.k.a 'exoplanets' ('exo' is a Greek prefix meaning 'outside'). Exoplanets are challenging to discover, in part because...
Archaebacteria (09/20)
Carole Stivers' novel The Mother Code imagines the rapid spread of a deadly genetically engineered disease called IC-NAN. The widespread proliferation of the disease is due in large part to its receptive archaebacteria, which serve as both host and incubator for the IC-NAN's DNA; as one character puts it, 'these archaebacteria are capable...
The Transit of Venus (08/20)
Replica of the HM Bark Endeavour The HMS Endeavour, the eponymous subject of Peter Moore's book, was purchased by the British Navy in 1768. One of its missions was to transport a group of scientists to Tahiti where they could make astronomical measurements during a rare event called the Transit of Venus.

Venus is the third brightest object in the night sky, after ...
Artificial Intelligence (08/20)
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an idea that extends to ancient times, when Hephaestus — a character in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Hera — used his skills as a blacksmith to create mechanical servants. Despite this longstanding fascination, it was not until the 1950s that AI became a feasible technology with the invention...
Fake Science (07/20)
In The Great Pretender, former New York Post investigative reporter Susannah Cahalan uncovers evidence that Stanford University psychologist David Rosenhan fabricated at least some of the details in his famous 1973 paper 'On Being Sane in Insane Places.'

If true, this certainly wouldn't have been the only time a high profile researcher...
The Rise of Workplace Automation: 10 Shocking Facts (07/20)
It's no secret that rapid innovations in technology have drastically changed the way we work. But are these changes always for the better? Here are 10 shocking facts about the rise of automation in the workplace, taken directly from the pages of Emily Guendelsberger's On The Clock.


  1. According to a 2013 study from Oxford University, 47 ...
Emerging Infectious Diseases (06/20)
In Rory Powers' debut novel Wilder Girls, the students at the Raxter School for Girls are suffering from a mysterious illness called 'the Tox,' but other than knowing what the effects are and that some people from the outside world are working on trying to help them, they have no idea what is causing it, or what it even is.

How real ...
Twins (06/20)
Brit Bennett's novel, The Vanishing Half, follows the lives of Stella and Desiree Vignes, identical twin girls born in Louisiana in 1938.

As you likely know, there are broadly two types of twins: fraternal and identical. Fraternal, or dizygotic, twins are formed when two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate spermatozoa, ...
Funding Research in STEM (05/20)
In The Age of Living Machines, Susan Hockfield tells readers about the work of Angela Belcher, a chemist and bioengineer who found a way to make affordable, clean and natural renewable energy. Belcher and her colleagues did this by harnessing the power of viruses to make electric circuits that were then turned into high-powered batteries....
Grief and Intergenerational Trauma (05/20)
As the narrative of How It Feels to Float unfolds, it becomes apparent that Biz's father suffered from some mental health problems and that there is a connection between how he and Biz process the world. The hereditary effects of trauma are only just becoming understood but, in essence, intergenerational trauma describes the transfer of ...
The Benefit of Sports for Young People Living With ADHD (05/20)
In Sarah Tomp's The Easy Part of Impossible, diving proves to be a vital lifeline for teenager Ria Williams, who lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The intense structure, discipline and exertion called for by the sport allows Ria to channel her excess energy into something positive and helps her to master the ...
Literary Explorations of Women in STEM (05/20)
Through a compelling fictional storyline, The Tenth Muse draws attention to the sexism that pervades high-paying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, and charts an expansive global tradition of underappreciated female trailblazers. In this, novelist Catherine Chung joins a chorus of other American women writers...
Viruses and Evolution (05/20)
One of the most interesting concepts discussed in Some Assembly Required is that almost all life is primarily comprised of borrowed components. We share 95 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees. Only two percent of the human genome is unique to our species. The rest of us is adopted, adapted, tweaked and outright stolen.

Viruses make up ...
DNA Testing and Law Enforcement (05/20)
In The Lost Family, Libby Copeland examines some of the complex issues surrounding commercial DNA testing, including concerns about privacy and consent. To what extent should we be comfortable entrusting our DNA to powerful corporations that can take our most intimate information—our genetic data—and put it to uses we aren't ...
Time-Saving Appliances (04/20)
fridge Jennifer Weiner's novel Mrs. Everything confronts the notion that a woman can do and be everything to everyone. From the 1950s through the early 2000s, women in America became liberated from many household chores due to time-saving inventions. Refrigerators, dishwashers, laundry appliances, even automatic coffee makers, all helped ...
HBOT: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (04/20)
HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen therapy), the medical treatment at the center of Miracle Creek, is a real treatment used for a variety of conditions. While undergoing HBOT, you breathe pure oxygen in an environment where the air pressure is much higher than normal. The higher pressure allows you to take in more oxygen, which can help your body ...
Myasthenia Gravis (04/20)
In her memoir The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness, Sarah Ramey mentions a litany of so-called mysterious illnesses, some of which are widely known—lupus, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis—and others that may be less familiar to readers. I was surprised to see her mention a relatively unknown...
Aneurysms (04/20)
In Julia Alvarez's novel Afterlife, Antonia's husband Sam dies suddenly of an aneurysm. An aneurysm is an enlargement or bulge in an artery from a weakening of the arterial wall that can cause internal bleeding if it ruptures. Most aneurysms don't rupture, and most people who have them don't experience any symptoms at all. However, when ...
The Fallibility of Memory (04/20)
Throughout his collection of short stories, Instructions for a Funeral, David Means shows the ways in which people's recollections of the past change over time. Learning new information, reconsidering ethical stances and changing self-perceptions contribute to characters tweaking their memories to better fit new narratives about their ...
Smart Homes and the Internet of Things (03/20)
In Gish Jen's The Resisters, people live in AutoHouses, internet-linked homes that are capable of performing certain automated tasks for their inhabitants, such as cleaning up dropped objects and regulating temperature, but that are also used for government surveillance. While the homes in Jen's novel operate at a much more advanced level...
Predictions and Paradoxes: Famous Technology Theories (03/20)
Marc-Uwe Kling's novel Qualityland, which is set in a European country in the near future, incorporates plot points based around human interactions with machines. Throughout the book, references are made to economic, technological and robotics theories that were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries as scientists began to speculate ...
From Herodotus to Vietnam: A Brief History of PTSD and Combat (02/20)
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first officially recognized in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) by the American Psychiatric Association.

However, the history of conflict-related PTSD is long and varied and can be traced back to the ancient world. One of the first-known...
Immunoassay: A Medical Diagnostic Test (02/20)
As reported in John Carreyrou's book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, Elizabeth Holmes's company Theranos produced a device that it claimed could run a medical diagnostic test called an immunoassay on a very small amount of blood.

An assay is a procedure for measuring the amount of, or presence of, a specific ...
The Potential Dangers of Consumer DNA Testing (02/20)
Early on in Inheritance Dani Shapiro agrees to order a DNA test through Ancestry.com along with her husband after he suddenly becomes interested in genealogy. The results of Shapiro's kit happened to be life changing, upending everything the memoirist thought she knew about her family history. Her experience is extraordinary, but there ...
Earworms: Why Do We Get Songs Stuck in Our Heads? (01/20)
In one of The Wrong Heaven's most memorable stories, the narrator feels she is gradually losing her mind when she cannot get the song 'Hand in My Pocket' by Alanis Morissette out of her head. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as an 'earworm.' The word has a multi-strand history: Apparently, in ancient times, dried and ground earwigs...
Leprosy (01/20)
In Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the main character is forcibly taken from her mother and put up for adoption because her mother was diagnosed with leprosy. Also called Hansen's Disease, leprosy affects a person's skin and peripheral nerves causing a loss of sensation and tissue degeneration. Those impacted may experience the ...
How the Cure for Tuberculosis Led to the Development of Anti-Depressants (01/20)
Sometimes inventions are derived by chance. In The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression, Edward Bullmore notes that the first antibiotic treatment of tuberculosis (TB) led to the creation of the world's most widely used antidepressant drug: Prozac.

Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease that most severely ...
Instagram (01/20)
In Megan Angelo's Followers, the protagonist uses Instagram, a photo and video social networking application, to elevate her roommate to the status of 'influencer'—someone who has enough of an audience (aka 'followers') that sponsors will pay them to mention their products or services. Instagram has 2 million advertisers, and with ...
Imaginary Friends (11/19)
One of the most memorable characters in The Adults is not one of the titular adults, but a four-foot-tall purple bunny named Posey. Posey is seven-year-old Scarlett's imaginary friend, and - like a real person - he has fears, desires and opinions. But how normal are imaginary friends?

A study from the University of Oregon suggests that...
What We Know, and Don't Know, About Sleep (11/19)
In The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, an illness is spreading that causes everyone infected to go into a deep sleep with heightened brain activity that is suggestive of dreaming. Sleep and dreams are central to the novel, but there is a lot we don't know about both.

Different stages of sleep can be assessed through the use of an ...
Trivia about the Human Body (11/19)
Bill Bryson's The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an engaging exploration of the human body, packed with interesting trivia about human anatomy. Some of the most memorable facts the author presents are:
  • According to calculations by Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, 59 elements are needed to construct a human being. Just six of these...
10 Important Inventions of Thomas Edison (10/19)
Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor. He held at least 1,093 patents and constantly invented new things at his famous laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Of the hundreds of ideas that sprung from his mind, here are 10 of his most important inventions:
  • Electrical vote recorder: This device was Edison's ...
Is There Room for the Amateur in Modern Scientific Research? (10/19)
Scientific discoveries were once often made by amateurs (often self-educated, curious members of the upper class), who carved out disciplines based on their interests in fields such as medicine, astronomy, physics and natural history, to name a few. The word 'amateur' has a Latin etymological root – amator – meaning 'lover.' ...
Medicine and World War I (10/19)
The Winter Soldier shines light on the desperate measures taken to save lives during a war that produced casualties in the millions. When Lucius Krzelewski arrives in the small Eastern European village of Lemnowice, Sister Margarete informs him that she has lost many soldiers to typhus (typhoid fever) and that chronic infections of lice ...
Types of Stroke (06/19)
Most strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels, either directly in the brain or traveling from elsewhere in the body to the brain; these are referred to as ischemic strokes. A minority are caused by ruptured blood vessels (hemorrhagic strokes). It is important for doctors to identify the specific type of stroke that a patient has ...
STEM Fields Lack Diversity (06/19)
Esi Edugyan's Washington Black becomes an apprentice to a man of science and cultivates a far-reaching understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts – something that would never have been expected of a child born into slavery. He contributes his great mind to the aeronautical pursuits of his teacher as well as to the ...
Metals and the Human Diet (06/19)
Toby Fleishman, of Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, is a hepatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the liver, gall bladder and pancreas primarily. At one point in the novel, he diagnoses a patient with a genetic disorder called Wilson's disease. This rare condition causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain ...
U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock (05/19)
You have a job interview at 9:30. You plan to leave at 8:50. It's really only a 10-minute walk, but the path cuts through pleasant tree-lined neighborhoods and you know you'll take extra time meandering. Right now, it is 8:45 – or around 8:45 anyway. The DVR time atop the TV says 8:46. The microwave and oven times both say 8:47. And...
Eye-Gaze Computers (04/19)
Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband Simon, who had Motor Neurone Disease, communicated using a type of adaptive technology known as an eye-gaze computer. The author mentions its use as a critical part of their lives throughout her memoir, I Found My Tribe.

Adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology and while the two terms are often...
Schizophrenia-focused Labs and Research Centers (04/19)
Like the lab where Grace and her father work in An Na's The Place Between Breaths, scientists around the world are hard at work researching the causes of schizophrenia and investigating potential cures. Here are a few of the labs and research centers that include schizophrenia as one of their primary areas of inquiry:

Duke ...
Brain Cancer in Childhood (02/19)
In Luke Allnutt's novel, We Own the Sky, five-year-old Jack Coates is diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor.

According to the American Cancer Society, brain tumors are 'masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that have grown out of control.' The American Brain Tumor Association estimates that 4,600 children and ...
The Birth of Moving Pictures (01/19)
Although the main characters in Melanie Benjamin's historical novel The Girls in the Picture are just breaking into the nascent film industry in the early 1900s, actual moving pictures had been around for decades. It all began in the United States, shortly after the American Civil War.

In the early 1870s, British born Eadweard ...
Herbalism (12/18)
Educated author Tara Westover's Idaho family runs Butterfly Express, a successful business selling essential oils and other herbal remedies. Her mother, LaRee Westover, trains herbalists and is the author of a book on herbalism, Butterfly Miracles with Essential Oils. Throughout her childhood, Westover was treated with foraged herbs ...
Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor (11/18)
In Happiness: The Crooked Road to Semi Ever After, the author's newborn has a rare blood disease and requires a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Bones have soft tissue at their core called marrow; marrow contains immature or undifferentiated cells known as stem cells. There are two main types of stem cell: one produces bone, ...
The Internet Era: Did You Know? (11/18)
In How the Internet Happened, author Brian McCullough provides details about the visionaries and startups that created the modern iteration of the Internet, giving his account character and dimension and providing a more complete picture of Internet-era history. Here are a few such details:

  • The term 'information superhighway' didn'...

Coma (10/18)
The central character in Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a woman in a coma.

A coma is defined as a prolonged state of unconsciousness during which a patient is completely unresponsive to stimuli such as light, sound or even pain. The person appears to be asleep but cannot be awakened.

The condition is generally caused by ...
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (10/18)
At one point in The Wife Between Us, the main character claims to have experienced Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. She states, 'It's when you become aware of something—the name of an obscure band, say, or a new type of pasta—and it seems to suddenly appear everywhere.'

The phenomenon (pronounced badder-mainhoff) is also known as...
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