Nuclear Powered Pacemakers for the Heart

By Anupum Pant

Heart and Pacemakers

Your heart is a complex device. It comes with its own sophisticated electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of your heartbeats. The electrical system is responsible to make the heart contract and as a result pump blood into your body. It is required to keep a proper rate and rhythm. There is a whole lot to learn about how the human heart works. But that is for some other day. Or, you can read it here – [Link]

As years pass, like any other electrical system, even the heart is prone to electrical faults. Faulty signals can make the rhythmic beating, non-rhythmic. This can make life difficult for a person. Enter pacemaker…

Pacemakers are small devices that are placed in the chest. They use low energy pulses to maintain the rate and rhythm of your heartbeats by overcoming the faulty electrical signals. Sometimes Permanent pacemakers have to be used to control long-term heart problems. For this, they are required to run for a long time without replacement. Who’d want their chest dug every two months to replace the pacemaker battery?!

Nuclear powered

Nuclear batteries work due to a nonstop radioactive decay of certain elements. They can last for incredibly long times. Due to their extremely long lives and high densities they are used in space devices and other underwater systems; basically, in systems where replacement of batteries is not an option. So, scientists from the past thought – why not use them to power pacemakers too!

In the 1960s, scientists at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico began exploring the feasibility of being able to use nuclear power for pacemakers. The idea was to develop a penny sized battery that could be used with a pacemaker and could be implanted in a human body. It was made. And they decided to call it an atomic battery or Radioisotope battery or simply a nuclear battery.

Despite bearing the name “nuclear” battery, they were not really little nuclear reactors as they didn’t use chain reactions to produce energy. So, there was no danger of a meltdown. They were safe devices. No radiation related issues were ever reported.

The Problem

Agreed these batteries were costly and weighed a lot, but that was not the problem. The big problem was that they contained hazardous material which had to be recovered once a patient died. There were several instances when a person had died; the living relative had returned the nuclear battery, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission never received it.

However, later in the year 1988 last of the nuclear batteries were used. Now they were being replaced with long lasting (~10 years) lithium batteries.

Even today Los Alamos National Laboratory has a fact sheet on their website that mentions what to do in case you find a nuclear battery.

Darkness Is Good For You

By Anupum Pant

It is astounding how the tiniest things can affect your life greatly. Who would have thought that sleeping with lights on can change you into a completely different person, over time?

Sleeping with lights on, or simply not getting enough exposure to darkness can have long-lasting effects. Darkness is good for you.

Melatonin – The Darkness Hormone

Melatonin is a hormone found in all living creatures from the most basic ones to humans. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland (a part of the brain), by the retina, lens and GI tract. Production of melatonin is influenced by the information received from the retina about the daily pattern of light and darkness. It is primarily secreted when the information of “darkness” is obtained by the gland.

Its Effects

Its levels vary in a daily cycle. In humans, it plays a role in the regulation of several biological functions. Three of its functions we are interested in here are – its effect on out mood, performance and aging process.

Aging, behavior and memory effects:
According to one study, in mice that were aged artificially, Melatonin had immense anti-aging effects. In a similar study, the combined effect of physical exercise and increase in of Melatonin concentration led to improvements in behavior, learning and memory.

Studies on humans have also produced results on similar lines. The hormone’s effect on mood, performance, memory and visual sensitivity were assessed among 14 healthy men in a study carried out at MIT. It was found that externally administered Melatonin had a significant but short acting sedative-like effect on humans. In terms of mood, it had a calming effect.

Anti-Cancer effects:
Melatonin causes cancer cells to self-destruct. The hormone also boosts your production of substances that make your immune system stronger. As a result, your system gets better at identifying and attacking mutated cells that lead to bad cancer.

Other effects:
Melatonin’s effect is not just limited to that. It plays a great role in decreasing Heart Diseases, Headaches, Diabetes and Osteoporosis too. And more…

Improving your Melatonin production

  • Avoid screen time during the last few hours of your day before going to bed.
  • Avoid using any sort of night-light or bed-side lamp. Sleep in complete darkness.
  • Avoid waking up abruptly due to loud alarms or bright light. Use a crescendo for alarms.
  • Sleep away from your phone.
  • Maintain a set light and dark, wake and sleep rhythm.
  • Most important of all, to optimize the production of this hormone, you need exposure to bright sunlight during the day. Unlike what just-the-headline suggests, it is important to note that you are not doing yourself any good by lying in darkness all the time. There has to be a continuous rhythm of light and darkness.

 

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Human Skin and Permanent Tattoos

Our skin is huge. It is so big that it is larger than any of our organs. Yes, skin is the largest organ in our body. Still, we have never heard some of the most striking things about the human skin. Let us take a few minutes to skim through them before we talk about permanent tattoos.

Weight and Area: If our skin was cut and laid on the floor, it would cover an area of about 1.5 to 2 m2. If weighed on a scale, it would independently weigh about 3.5 kg (about 5% of your body weight).
To give you a perspective about its area, the same area in some posh localities of Mumbai would cost around $35000. Anyway, it sounds senseless to compare our skin’s area with real estate. So, given that no one has been able to artificially create an exact replica of it, I can’t really put a cost on it now. Let us talk about a nice estimation of its cost in the future. In terms of many functions it performs for our body, – a personal air conditioner, heater, shield, sensor, moisturizer etc – our skin, no doubt, is an invaluable asset.

In short, it is always good to think carefully about it, when you are planning a construction on this precious piece of real estate. Because bringing it down is going to be difficult.

Permanent Tattoos

To understand how permanent tattoos work, you need to understand the basic structure of skin.

Layers: Broadly, there are 3 main layers of skin – The Epidermis, Dermis and Hypodermis. The thickness varies at different parts. For instance, it is the thinnest at our eye-lids. Thinner skin is lighter. This enables you to complete the wink, in the wink of an eye.

Why Permanent?
Permanent tattoos on skin are permanent because of the 3 different layers. To put a tattoo on your skin a mechanized needle punctures your epidermis and sends colored particles to the epidermis. The body thinks of it as a damage that has been done to the body, and sends white blood cells to capture the color particles. But these particles are too big to be eaten by the white blood cells. As a result, they stay there permanently.

Why Avoid?

  1. It is not really Permanent: Later in your life, as the pigment moves and the folds of skin change, the “permanent tattoos” lose their sharpness. They start fading or get distorted. But a hazy and pointless mark remains there permanently.  At this point, people start regretting about their early life decisions. They start looking for methods to get rid of these hazy marks. Now, an expensive laser treatment seems like the best idea.
  2. Tattoos can kill you: While itching, swelling, rashes, bumps, and other skin reactions due to tattoos are very common; it should be known that tattoos can also kill you. Poorly made tattoo ink can contain hazardous chemicals which range from potentially carcinogenic substances to the presence of lead. Moreover, a wrong needle pierced at the wrong places, like your spine, could prove to be deadly. You don’t want these pigments in your blood stream.
    HIV or hepatitis from an infected needle can be another concern. But dying from a tattoo is extremely rare.
  3. Professional career: Also visible permanent tattoos aren’t good for your professional career. Most employees think it’s unacceptable for tattoos by be visible while at work. Also it is believed that tattoos should be covered up for a job interview.
  4. Tattoo removal can be expensive. Plus most of the time these methods don’t do their job perfectly. Often, permanent coloration is left after removal.
  5. This is not an exhaustive list. So, Etc…

It is a good idea to find some other way to prove your love.

If you are wondering why I wrote this – It was a side-effect of an effort to find a few common things in the randomness that I came across today while researching for a completely different article. Although the article might seem absurd, you can’t refute that it does teach you at least one new thing, for the day.

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