On this day in 1928, a young female polio victim at Children’s Hospital in Boston, who had suffered respiratory failure and was on the verge of death, was saved by a newly-invented device called the Drinker Respirator, though it became better known as the Iron Lung. Within minutes, the stricken girl was breathing again with the help of the machine, which had been developed by Philip Drinker, a 32-year-old instructor at Harvard’s then-new School of Public Health. Drinker’s original field of expertise was industrial health, and he originally envisioned the device as a way to resuscitate workers who had been poisoned by gas or stricken by electric shock. For patients whose muscles were paralyzed or too weak to breathe on their own, the device simulated the natural negative pressure process of human breathing. in which expansion of the rib cage causes the diaghragm to pull down, expanding the chest cavity and decreasing pressure in the lungs, which in turn causes them to fill up with air. In the original design, a large tank encapsulated the patent’s entire body, and then an electric pump increased and then decreased the air pressure inside. Later designs had a neck portal with a rubber seal, so that the patient’s face and head could be outside the enclosure, and included an apparatus that allowed physicians and nurses to reach inside the respirator to bathe the patient and change bedding.
A few years after Drinker developed his device, a Harvard Square machine shop operator named John Haven Emerson developed this improved version of the Iron Lung, and prevailed in a legal battle with the original inventor.
In the 1930s, a nationwide polio epidemic prompted hospitals across the nation to seek Iron Lungs of their own, and within a decade or two, entire hospital wards were filled with rows of the devices. While the Iron Lung helped polio patients to survive, they still faced the grim prospect of living inside a machine and being unable to move… Fortunately, Dr. Jonas Salk’s invention of a polio vaccine in 1952 and the mass vaccination campaigns that followed ultimately conquered the once-common disease in the U.S., and decreased the need for Iron Lungs. Although negative-pressure artificial respirators are still used today, the technology largely has been replaced by less cumbersome positive-pressure ventilators that utilize a tube inserted down the patient’s airway.
And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.
Massive East Coast offshore wind project announced. Google is backing the $5 billion project, which will utilize a far-flung linked array of wind turbines positioned to provide a continuous source of energy, despite varying weather at the different locations.
Pentagon researchers studying how to use algorithms to spot disgruntled or radicalized soldiers. The technical name for this sort of data mining is “Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales,” and they hope it might prevent another Fort Hood-type massacre.
New version of Ubuntu OS gets rave review on netbooks. The Unity netbook environment is designed for small displays and has a global menu bar to conserve space.