Strange But True: Cellphones as mobile medical clinics


Q: Though one antedates the other by almost 200 years, what's an amazing similarity between a stethoscope and a smartphone?

A: As of 2014, there were some seven billion cellphones in use worldwide, with each serving as a potential mobile medical clinic, "an opportunity to diagnose, track and ultimately prevent disease," reports Kalee Thompson in Time magazine's special edition on "Great Scientists."

Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, has designed small, inexpensive smartphone add-ons that can convert "a cell phone into a sophisticated microscope able to detect diseases from malaria to tuberculosis to HIV." Today's 40-megapixel model is a processing powerhouse capable of seeing a single virus the size of a single hair divided by a thousand.

Smartphone-enabled medical gadgets can carry out diagnostic tests using disposable plastic cassettes, with receptacles for a sample of body fluid, usually blood or saliva. The resulting patterns are captured by the phone's optics and analyzed on-site, then the findings shared quickly with distant labs for further analysis of the disease. As Ozcan says, "You are giving developing countries tools that are extremely compact and cost-effective, as if they were from a million-dollar-funded lab."

Q: Christopher Crockett is a fine name for a magazine writer. But how about Ninja, Cervantes or Rosalind? And if not those, then OGLE-2106-BLG-0563Lb or HD219134e? How do these fare in "the name game"?

A: Good enough if the game is naming some of the 1,500 known exoplanets that orbit diverse locales throughout the Milky Way.

"The exoplanets have one thing in common," said Crockett in Science News magazine: "None of them have names" and are often known only by serial numbers, as illustrated by the OGLE or HD names above.

So, the International Astronomical Union recently established an online naming contest, inviting the public to participate in naming 20 exoplanet VIPs. The proposed names take in the bizarre and the traditional. "Perhaps 'iota Draconis b' will be rechristened as 'Hypatia,' after the fourth-century mathematician. Exuberant Internet voters could stick 'Fomalhaut b' with the label 'Leisurely Fish' because it moves slowly through the constellation Pisces." Stay tuned for the winners!

Q: Here's some food for thought: What are the food-related origins of these words and what do they mean — "saccharine," "bouillabaisse," "farrago" and "rechauffe"?

A: "Saccharine" comes from the Latin "saccharum" (sugar), the synthetic sweetening compound first produced in 1879, writes Anu Gard in his "A.Word.A.Day" web site. Metaphorically, it suggests something excessively sweet, sentimental or ingratiating.

From the French comes "bouillabaisse" (boo-yuh-BAYS), a rich and spicy fish stew or soup with at least two different kinds of fish, so it connotes a mixture of incongruous things. On a related note, "farrago" (mixed fodder), means a hodgepodge, a mishmash, a disorganized mix of things that don't fit together, as a flea market often features a farrago of antiques and old junk (

Were you flummoxed by "rechauffe" (ray-sho-FAY), from the French and meaning warmed leftover food? Metaphorically, it suggests a rehash, or old reworked material, as in the 2014 London Sunday Times: "Lines like that inspire forgiveness for what is essentially sitcom rechauffe."

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