How to use The big picture

7th April 2000 at 01:00
More packed into less is a feature of 20th-century technology, from the silicon chip to this stunning little arterial submarine. Twenty years ago, the idea of a craft navigating our innards would have been wild science fiction, yet it soon will be commonplace.

Nanotechnology What does nano mean (something very small, from the Greek nanos meaning dwarf, eg nanosecond is a billionth of a second; nanogram, a billionth of a gram)? Find examples of technology of the very small, such as the silicon chips found inside computers and other modern machines. What might these little submarines do (look inside the body, deliver medicine directly to the place that needs it, clear blockages)?

Medical miracles What medical "miracles" can you think of; what did they achieve (immunisation and vaccination prevented killer diseases like diphtheria, wiped out smallpox; penicillin - cleared up infections; heart, kidney, liver transplants - replaced non-functioning organs; radiation treated cancer; keyhole surgery patients have daytime operation and go home)? What might the next breakthrough be (full limb transplants; spinal injuries cured so paralysed patients walk again)?

Thinking the unthinkable Technology like this minute submarine is mind-blowing when it is first developed. Can you think the unthinkable? What about future forms of transport (space travel to other galaxies; jet boots; cheap family helicoptersplanes; sending our body's molecules instantly across vast distances)? Or entrtainment (Internet choirs where anyone can join in; 3D hologram football matches; books where characters answer your questions)?

Writing (a) You are shrunk to a minute size and travel in this tiny submarine from someone's heart to their brain. Describe your journey, making it as factually accurate as you can. (b) You are a famous inventor who has just come up with a revolutionary idea and tell the story of your invention and what it does.

* TED'S TALKING POINTS

Medical miracles are very exciting and everybody should have access to them. Or should they? Suppose you have furred up your arteries by smoking heavily. It's your own fault, so should you still get expensive treatment?

For Although you shouldn't smoke, you ought not to suffer just because of what you started when young. Smokers have paid a fortune in taxes so that covers their treatment. Some can smoke without ill effect, while others become ill, and there are people who don't smoke who get blocked arteries. It would be a nightmare for doctors to have to say yes to one patient and no to another in the next bed.

Against Why should non-smokers have to pay for the folly of smokers? The perils of smoking are well known. Many people who started young have had the will power to give up. There is never enough money in the health service, so those who are ill through no fault of their own should be given top priority for what cash there is. Even some doctors are in favour of penalising smokers.


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