Connections: Getting High; October 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by James Burke; 2 Page(s)
As I came out of the library the other day, an ambulance raced past. The ECNALUBMA on the front was quite a coincidence, as I'd just been looking at some of Leonardo da Vinci's mirror writing. Talk about a role model for the Renaissance man. Leonardo's talents and interests were so enormous I'll leave it at that, except to say I particularly liked his high-tech anatomical drawings done sometime around 1510. Especially the one of the kidney, a major source of problems in an age when the rich and famous went for 10-course meals that were washed down with copious amounts of booze. Result: gout. Effect: kidney stones. By the 18th century this condition was the biggest earner for physicians to the well-heeled.
In 1753 one treatment attempted in Edinburgh was to dissolve the stones with caustic limewater. Another possibility, offered by medical student Joseph Black, was to use a preparation of magnesium carbonate. Wrong, but during the experiments Black came across carbon dioxide, extinguishing candles and small birds with it, and thus inspired subsequent, more famous work by such illustrious suffocaters as Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier. (Black is probably best known as the guy who told James Watt about latent heat, thereby triggering Watt's idea of a separate condenser.)