Ted Talk: Can Astronomy Help Doctors?

I recently watched a Ted Talk about how two separate fields can come together and help each other. The talk was given by a woman named Michelle Borkin. She talked about combining astronomy with medicine and called it: Astronomical Medicine. She said that if astronomers worked with doctors, we could make novel discoveries about the universe while saving peoples lives. I thought this was pretty cool but I was a little confused. How is it that someone staring at space can help save a patient’s life? Or how is it that a medical doctor can help someone who enjoys stars and galaxies? I continued to watch on and learned something fascinating: interdisciplinary research. That means that two different fields or disciplines can merge together and help each other out. Ms. Borkin gave a great example. She said one of her colleagues had been collecting 8 years worth of data on a galaxy in space. But there was an issue. Her colleague could not figure out how to make a 3D model of her data. She couldn’t figure out a proper and effective way to actually visualize all the data she had compiled! So she talked to Ms. Borkin and they came together to figure out a solution. Apparently, they used something called a 3D slicer. This slicer was actually developed for looking at brain scans! But Ms. Borkin used this slicer to make a 3D image of the galaxy while using all the data her friend had put together. After this was done, Ms. Borkin’s colleague was able to make discoveries about how Super Novas exploded. It was really cool. Something made for checking brains was now used for looking at galaxies!

After explaining how a medical device could help astronomers, Ms. Borkin talked about how astronomers could help doctors. She said that after a doctor had shown her a picture of a CT scan of a patient’s heart, she wanted to make the CT scan easier to understand. She said she could do this by introducing the astronomy side. She was able to change the colors on the CT scan that correlate to maybe a tumor or disease. When she changed the color key, which she now made similar to what astronomers use, doctors were able to find many more diseases that they couldn’t see before. She increased the chances of finding a region that could be potentially harmful from 39% to 91%. That change is remarkable. Something as simple as changing the shades of colors on a scan can make a huge difference. But it was something that the medical field was over looking. With the help of the astronomy field, doctors are now able to save many more lives!

This Ted Talk was really interesting and taught me a lot about how future fields may come together. After watching this, I think I want to combine different specialities when I get older. Interdisciplinary research is a great way to learn new things and see new perspectives.


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