The life that a child deserves to live

(First published in the Norwalk Patch)

Chance encounters in New York City got this author thinking about education and improving the lives of children.

We deserve to live a quiet life without anxiety and fear.

We deserve to know that we don’t need to come back to the shelters today, tomorrow, or next month.

We deserve to stop hearing voices of the missiles.

We deserve to live in our houses, not in the shelter nearby.

The words echoed by Israeli teenagers from the Eye2Israelproject reflect their perspectives on an endless conflict that has stymied leaders on both sides of the political and religious divide. However, this post is not about politics or religion. It is about meeting children in Union Square, New York City, and seeing the world through their eyes. It is about hope and idealism, in spite of being faced with adversity. Last year, I was privileged to meet the bright scientific and technological minds that will continue to cement the reputation of Israel as a technology powerhouse. A group of ninth- through twelfth-graders from the Israel Scientific and Technological School network showcased inventions ranging from a mobile application (to alert smartphone users about food allergens) to a prototype for a wearable sensor designed to aid blind people. The high-technology inventions and expertise on display at the Union Square exhibit and the enthusiasm with which students freely shared their knowledge, speak volumes about the results of investing in the education of children. According to the nation’s research and development service, Israel has 135 academically educated engineers and scientists per 10,000 population compared to 81 per 10,000 in the US. Companies such as Intel, IBM, Motorola, Applied Materials, BMC, Creo, Marvell, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Nestlé have research and development centers in Israel.

Where are the future scientists and engineers of the USA? They are undoubtedly being cultivated in charter schools, STEM programs and other nationwide educational efforts. While the experts debate whether US teenagers are lagging in science, technology, and mathematics versus the rest of the world, it is also important to pay attention to the idea that teachers “ought to think in terms of working with – and learning from – their counterparts in other countries so that children everywhere will become more proficient and enthusiastic learners.”

Sometimes it may be as easy as crossing to the other side of Union Square to spread infectious enthusiasm about science and technology. The children I met on separate occasion at the same location reflected the largest untapped human resource in this country. They also felt that they “deserved” something. Unlike the children from Israel, they did not live in the shadows of war. Their war was one waged against poverty and hopelessness. They asked for something that many other children take for granted: love.

We Deserve Love Too!, a youth-led campaign in New York City, attracted my attention with the stories of teenagers who fell through societal cracks and still held out hope of finding a home. One teenager described living in the home of adoptive parents for years before being returned to the foster care system. Thanks to finding loving parents, he was able to complete high school and was accepted at a local university. Imagine if he was there on the same day as the Israeli inventors and had been inspired by their presence. Would it have changed the course of his life or others like him? Maybe Union Square would at the very least have been place where children learn from another under the guidance of adults who truly invest and believe in their futures.

Decontamination strategies to curb HAIs

While there has been a 45% decrease in tuberculosis death rates since 1990, the growing crisis of drug-resistant tubercle bacilli (480,000 new cases of multi-drug resistant TB in 2013), high mortality rates (1.5 million deaths out of 9 million diagnosed TB cases in 2013), and ongoing HIV/TB co-infected cases (360,000 in 2013) persist across the globe. The post-2015 End-TB strategy from the World Health Organization involves three tiers i.e., integrated, patient-centered care and prevention, bold policies and supportive systems, and intensified research and innovation.

Appropriate disinfection and decontamination of hospitals, clinics, and other medical centers to reduce the prevalence of this airborne pathogen will be an important aspect of any integrated patient-centered care and prevention strategy. The merits and perils of automated systems such as hydrogen peroxide vapor and ultraviolet light disinfection systems to reduce the impact of hospital-acquired infections are discussed inAutomated Technologies for Patient Room Disinfection and Decontamination of Biosafety Level 4 Infectious Agents, Including Ebola Virus.

Through the looking glass with Da Vinci and Carroll

(originally appeared in The Norwalk Patch)

Have you ever started a project with great gusto only to be distracted, or to switch to something else midstream? Fear not. You are in good company when it comes to an inability to complete projects. Leonardo Da Vinci, arguably the world’s most famous polymath, needs no introduction in terms of his achievements, but was also known for having great difficulty completing tasks. Then again, few people would quibble with having a painting like The Adoration of the Magi on their list of unfinished works.

Today, Da Vinci has been immortalized in the world of fiction by the author, Dan Brown, as a code-writer rather than immersed in scientific, engineering, and artistic endeavors. Who knows? Maybe Brown subconsciously drew some of his inspiration from Da Vinci’s well-known mirror-writing skills. Mirror-writers, mostly left-handers or ambidextrous people, are able to write in the opposite direction and backwards to that of normal writing, so that the text can only be easily read when held up to a mirror. Some people, mostly children in the early developmental stages, or patients with neurological or psychological disorders, may engage in partial mirror writing, i.e. letters or numerals written in reverse appear occasionally in otherwise normal writing (1). There are also anecdotal reports of possible genetic links and a surprisingly high prevalence of mirror writing among normal people (2).

Habitual mirror-writers like Da Vinci have been the subject of numerous scholarly works on neurological phenomena. They are often compared with transient mirror writers like Reverend Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, author of the children’s classics,Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. Carroll occasionally penned “looking glass letters,” as in the poem, Jabberwocky, presumably as an artistic device to entertain children. Carroll’s contrived writing appears far removed from the faithful mirror images emblematic of Da Vinci’s writings in his notebooks, and probably involved different neural mechanisms or other causes (3).

It may be fashionable to group unusual behaviors of famous figures in categories marked “disease” or “disorder,” however, there is no doubt that the origins and content of Da Vinci and Carroll’s writings will continue to fascinate scholars and laymen alike.

References

1. Nakano, M., T. Endo, and S. Tanaka, A second Leonardo da Vinci? Brain Cogn. 2003, 53(1) 9-14.
2. Schlott, G.D., Some neurological observations on Leonardo da Vinci’s handwriting. J Neurol Sci. 1979, 42 (3) 321-9.
3. Larner, A., The Neurology of ‘Alice.’ ACNR 2006, 4(6) 35-36.