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Beyond the Book Articles
Medicine, Science and Tech

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Ovarian Cancer (11/21)
In Danielle Evans' collection The Office of Historical Corrections, the short story 'Happily Ever After' centers around Lyssa, who at 30 years old is navigating life after her mother's death from ovarian cancer and has been advised to have her own ovaries removed as soon as possible. Ovarian cancer is the seventh most commonly diagnosed ...
The Science of Forgiveness (11/21)
Could you forgive the person who murdered your beloved son?

Weeks after Debra Trice was convicted of the first-degree murder of Raymond Jones she received a letter. It was from Margaret Jones, Raymond's mother. Mrs. Jones wrote, '[Y]ou have my forgiveness. So, when you feel you cannot make it, look up and talk to God, Jehovah is his ...
Aphasia (10/21)
In Lean Fall Stand, the main character suffers a massive and debilitating stroke during a whiteout storm in Antarctica. After being rescued, he returns home to England to begin the long, arduous task of learning to speak again. The medical term for the loss of the ability to understand or express speech is aphasia. It is usually caused by...
Archaebacteria (09/21)
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...
Viruses and Evolution (09/21)
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 ...
Nature vs. Nurture (09/21)
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.' ...
The Benefit of Sports for Young People Living With ADHD (09/21)
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 ...
Microdot Technology (08/21)
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 ...
Sara Seager and the Search for Exoplanets (08/21)
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...
The Evolution of the U.S. Spacesuit (06/21)
In Andy Weir's science fiction novel, Project Hail Mary, the main character periodically dons a spacesuit to perform maintenance outside his spacecraft or to keep himself safe when conditions inside it become life-threatening.

Spacesuits are critical to humanity's ability to explore the cosmos. The astronaut must be protected from (and...
Early Anesthetics (06/21)
In The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake, Nora and Daniel use diethyl ether, referred to simply as 'ether,' to render a patient unconscious in order to perform a surgical procedure on him. While the procedure is ultimately successful, the characters are still unsure of the exact effects of the drug. Nora and Daniel's study of and ...
Myasthenia Gravis (05/21)
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...
Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Race (05/21)
Science fiction tends to reflect deeper moral issues and fears confronting a society at the time it is written. Storytelling is a safe method to express anxieties about the state of the world. It allows authors and readers an opportunity to explore the murkiness of uncertainty in a non-threatening manner. Reading and discussing sci-fi is ...
Conflicts Over Credit: CRISPR and HIV (05/21)
When a scientific breakthrough is achieved, it can be a moment of major celebration. Depending on the implications of that advancement, previously unknown individuals can find themselves vaulted into the highest levels of celebrity. Yet, the challenge of deciding who is truly responsible for the scientific advancement can be contentious. ...
Genetically Modified Organisms: Past, Present and Future (04/21)
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have received a bad rap. They're banned from being grown or used in food throughout most of Europe. They're caustically labeled on groceries in the United States. And they are frequently despised by foodies, farmers, environmentalists and the devoutly religious alike — for reasons ranging from ...
Aneurysms (04/21)
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 ...
DNA Testing and Law Enforcement (04/21)
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 ...
A Brief History of Cloning (03/21)
One of author Sarah Gailey's greatest skills on display in The Echo Wife is that of making the science depicted look and feel real. The cloning in the novel seems plausible. But how far have humans actually come in the field of cloning? Where did it begin and where are we now?

First, we should establish what cloning is. As Dr. Helen ...
Cult Psychology (03/21)
Cults are often difficult to identify from the outside, given that a common characteristic is members' denial that any dysfunctional elements are at play within their community. Many countries, including the U.S., do not have a legal definition, but prefer to use a series of criteria. However, a sort of colloquial understanding is more ...
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (03/21)
In Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker writes about the Galvin family's experience with schizophrenia and discusses early research into the disorder performed under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The NIMH's website states it's the 'lead federal agency for research on mental disorders,' with a mission '...
Leeches in Medicine (03/21)
The Doctors Blackwell, Janice P. Nimura's biography of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, explores the tools 19th-century physicians used to address their patients' needs. Many common ailments were believed to be caused by an excess of blood, and consequently removing some of a person's blood was thought to be efficacious; often doctors ...
Gene Editing (03/21)
One of the central mysteries in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Klara and the Sun surrounds the question of how some children are 'lifted' and others are not. Seemingly benefiting from a class-based or other means-based differentiation, those who are lifted have access to higher-quality education and additional advantages. Precisely how some ...
Proteus Syndrome (02/21)
Midway through Patricia Lockwood's novel No One Is Talking About This, the unnamed protagonist learns that her sister's baby has been diagnosed with Proteus syndrome. You might recognize this as the condition believed to have affected Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, whose late-19th-century life has been dramatized in a 1979 ...
Trivia About the Human Body (02/21)
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...
From Herodotus to Vietnam: A Brief History of PTSD and Combat (02/21)
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...
The Falsity of a Real Reality (01/21)
Humans are incapable of knowing for certain what is real. We use our five senses to collect data about the environment around us. Data is the key word here; we don't see, hear, touch, taste or smell reality. We use our senses to sample data about the environment.

This data is processed by our brains, which then interpret and give form ...
Smart Homes and the Internet of Things (01/21)
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...
DNA Profiling (01/21)
In Kia Abdullah's courtroom drama Take It Back, the prosecution relies on a forensic technique called DNA profiling. Also known as genetic fingerprinting, the process can be used to match bodily material found at a crime scene to a suspect, to identify a person's relatives, to determine one's risk of some genetic diseases and to identify ...
Twins (12/20)
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, ...
Instagram (11/20)
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 two million advertisers, and with...
Animal Assisted Therapy (11/20)
Throughout Ellen Cooney's One Night Two Souls Went Walking, there are several key scenes in which our narrator – a hospital chaplain – observes therapy dogs at work. The book comments on the grace and importance of the service these animals provide for patients, from aiding recovery to providing comfort in someone's final ...
10 Important Inventions of Thomas Edison (11/20)
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 ...
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 '...
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...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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