Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 - 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

Antarctic Sea: Women in Science and Leadership Expedition, Marine Debris and Ocean Love

Open bridge policies on ships are the best.

In December 2016 I was in the Antarctic on the MV Ushuaia, a former oceanographic research vessel operated by US agency National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with 75 other female scientists. We were the largest-all female Antarctic expedition ever, part of the inaugural Homeward Bound initiative, a 10-year project to elevate the impact of women in science and leadership to address pressing contemporary issues. Antarctica was our backdrop, as well as our climate change classroom. Filmed Faculty on Homeward Bound included Her Deepness aquanaut and marine biologist Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace, Christina Figures leader on global climate change and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016.

HOMEWARD BOUND FILMED FACULTY

Iceberg Parade, Antarctic peninsula. Photo: Carol Devine

Iceberg Parade, Antarctic peninsula. Photo: Carol Devine

 

Chrysalis SciArt with air temperature and the Beauford Wind Scale. Photo: Carol Devine

Chrysalis SciArt with air temperature, Beauford Wind Scale, a bestiary, and personal symbols. Brett Foster photographer and Homeward Bound 2016 artists, Carol Devine curator.

 

At any given time, especially since it was the austral summer and the sun barely set, there would be a few of us on the bridge alongside the mainly Argentinean crew. There we witnessed the sailors’ skilled navigation of seasonal sea ice, heard the beeping meteorological data coming in and soaked in magical views of minke whale pods and iceberg parades.

The music on the bridge was invariably rock or pop, or some stunning classical piece that seemed to fit the mood of the weather – sunny, foggy or wind of Beauford Scale 10. Another sound on the bridge was a super loud beeping sound. At first I worried we’d hit an iceberg, but the Captain assured us it was the “Krill alarm”, signaling that we were near krill swarms, the major link in the food chain. The Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean is crucial body of water for our planet as it stores anthropogenic heat and carbon dioxide and helps regulates global atmospheric temperatures.

On this trip I was keen to learn more about the state of the earth and science and leadership from my fellow scientists from a dozen countries and the program’s faculty- including marine biologists, an astronomer, a mathematician, a glaciologist, a neuroscientist and social scientists like me. We had onboard faculty with leadership and terrestrial ecology backgrounds for example, and amazing “filmed” faculty with messages for us from primatologist Jane Goodall, aquanaut and oceanographer Sylvia Earle and diplomat Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We also had the fortune to visit scientists and staff the Argentinian research station Carlini, and US Palmer Station as well as Port Lockroy, the historic 1944 UK base. We explored the fact that many women are already leading scientists and changemakers but that there are also unconscious and conscious biases preventing or deterring women in STEM leadership. UNESCO reports that only 28% of researchers globally are women. Evidence tells us too that gender-balanced teams are renowned for better performance and decision making.

Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 - 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 – 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

On this 20-day program at sea I was keen also was keeping an eye out for marine debris. I’d collected garbage in the Antarctic twenty years earlier. I saw living on a Russian Research station decades ago, and on this trip in visits to three research stations, that individuals and groups in the Antarctic, be it governments, scientists or tourists, must act responsibly. We must think about what we goods we bring and dispose of there (and everywhere), including the risk of bringing invasive species to Antarctica on ships, planes and on shoes, materials and equipment.

I also helped clean up garbage in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where its Governor initiated clean ups of this northernmost inhabited place on earth where garbage collects on extremely remote fjords and shores. I collected a survey of the marine debris we found on Svalbard’s shores and documented in an exhibit Aqua Mess with portraits of the trash and landscapes where we found it.

Aqua Mess: Portraits of garbage at the top of the earth – Clean It! From Clean Up Svalbard 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

From the series Aquamess, portraits of garbage collected in Svalbard, Norway in the high Arctic during “Clean Up Svalbard” 2014. Photo: Carol Devine

In the Antarctic I didn’t see a lot of marine debris compared to the Arctic, but when we did it stood out as a shock of colour against mostly muted earth tones in the moss and rocks, on top of endless blue-white glacier vistas.

I collected ten pieces of trash on our shore landings, from small bits of multi-colour plastic rope to a big green pop bottle. Again, this may be the tip of the iceberg of Antarctica’s human-created pollution, even traces in its deep ocean floors. Study results from August 2016 on human contaminants in ocean trenches are eerie. In shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods, scientists found human-made organic pollutants at some 10,000 metres deep. We’re still learning about the volume, location and impact of marine debris from the Antarctic to the Arctic and in between. But we do know it’s prolific and harmful to wildlife and to organisms and us too when it breaks down and enters the food chain. It’s choking the oceans. Some estimates suggest plastics may make up 50-80% of ocean litter.

The Aqua Mess display as it is in the #SciTechHiddenWorlds exhibition of the new Canada Science and Technology Museum. Photo: M. Labrecque

“Aquamess” is now displayed in the new Canada Science and Technology Museum’s #SciTechHiddenWorlds exhibition.

In Antarctica studies on marine trash began in 2007/8 by The British Antarctic Survey and Greenpeace. While big pieces of plastic were not found, plastic was discovered in remote places and seas. In 2012 scientists on the French schooner the Tara found a disturbingly high amount of trash in Antarctica. While we were in Antarctica another ship was doing a formal survey again said one of our faculty, terrestrial ecologist Dr. Justine Shaw told us.

We live in uncertain yet also hopeful times. Antarctic history gives us fantastic examples wisdom on the value of international cooperation, science and innovation, which were also values we discussed on our recent expedition and ones we commit to live and disseminate following the voyage.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, created remarkably during the cold war, and its Environmental Protocol of 1991, dedicates the continent to peace and science, celebrates its aesthetic beauty and outlines our responsibility to conserve Antarctic biodiversity and ecology. In our pursuit to protect limited resources, reduce and clean up our human footprint on land and oceans, and work towards better equity for fellow humans around the globe, the poles are bellwethers, mirrors and also inspirations.

Carol Devine is a social scientist from Toronto who specializes in global and earth health, and one of 76 participants on Homeward Bound Women in Science and Leadership Expedition Antarctica 2016. Carol is a member of Society of Women Geographers and The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Social Sciences Expert Group.

Carol Devine is a social scientist from Toronto who specializes in global and earth health, and one of 76 participants on Homeward Bound Women in Science and Leadership Expedition Antarctica 2016. Carol is a member of Society of Women Geographers and The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Social Sciences Expert Group.

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels. 
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. 
Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

The Surgical Touch – Connecting Artifacts and Trade Literature

One of the exhibits that will be in the renewed Canada Science and Technology Museum is organized around the theme of medicine and the five senses, and their central role in medicine over centuries. Medical Sensations will feature the human dimensions of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch in medical practice, as well as the instruments that have evolved to extend the use of these senses. The exhibition will showcase a number of significant artifacts from the museum’s collection, as well as artifacts on loan from museums around Canada and the world.

The sense of Touch will be explored with artifacts and stories about the use of touch in learning and practice. The learning element will include old anatomical models as well as new 3D prints. The practical aspect will explore the “surgical touch” and the more refined, skilled use of hands and instruments to heal the sick and fix the injured. Unfortunately, we could not display the entire collection of surgical artifacts held by the museum, nor the incredible visual material held in the library and trade literature collections which date back to the early 1800s.

Image: The surgical instrument catalogues contain images and technical descriptions for the surgeons to make their purchase decisions.  Instruments would sometimes be organized into kits, such as this one that contains the necessary instruments for a private practitioner. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: The surgical instrument catalogues contain images and technical descriptions for the surgeons to make their purchase decisions.  Instruments would sometimes be organized into kits, such as this one that contains the necessary instruments for a private practitioner. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

These resources provide a window into how doctors would have learned about the latest technical development in practice. One of my projects during my placement at CSTM has been to examine this literature and have some of it digitized and put into the museum’s new Digital Asset Manager and online Open Archives Portal. The images from the trade literature and textbooks greatly enhance our understanding of the surgical instruments that are in the museum’s collection. The small selection of instruments going on display in the exhibit includes a trepan, a scarificator, eye surgery tools and an amputation saw. Surprisingly, many of these instruments have changed little over time, showing the stability of surgical practice. However, through the trade literature and instruments, we see changes in materials and style, the commercial context for surgery, as well as broader changes in the surgical practice and technology. During this project, I also discovered several historic image resources from on-line medical collections across Canada and the world such as the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, the Wellcome Library and University of Heidelberg.

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels. Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels.
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Some of the collection and images evoke a graphic medical past. Hundreds of years ago, surgeons who were known for their brute force and speed would operate on completely conscious patients. Anaesthetic was not tested until the 1840s, so patients before then faced traumatic pain when going into surgery. The most dramatic of these operations were amputations where patients looked for reprieve in alcohol, painkillers, or a solid knockout. The surgeon could purchase kits that contained all the tools necessary for the operation. When the surgeons allowed themselves more time, the finesse of an amputating chain saw allowed them to saw through the bone, while not damaging as much of the surrounding tissue.

Trepanning involves drilling a hole in the skull, and was practiced as early as 8000 years ago. The reason behind the drilling is not completely clear, explanations have included expelling bad spirits from the body, relieving pressure from headaches, curing epilepsy and fixing a broken skull. Drills such as trephines were an alternative to larger, less precise trepans.

Image of an amputating chain saw being used to remove part of the ulna. Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 56. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Image of an amputating chain saw being used to remove part of the ulna.
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 56. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

A more common occurrence for surgeons was bloodletting, which used heated metal or glass cups, to draw the blood to the surface and scarificators pierced the skin, and allowed the blood to flow. Teeth pulling instruments were also very common, and specialized tools for each type of tooth were invented to facilitate the operations. Surgical catalogues would often have many pages of dental equipment, such as tooth forceps, and excavators.

Tooth Keys were a somewhat archaic device sold alongside forceps. They would grasp a tooth in its claw, and with a sharp twist, the tooth would hopefully become dislodged.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: Tooth Keys were a somewhat archaic device sold alongside forceps. They would grasp a tooth in its claw, and with a sharp twist, the tooth would hopefully become dislodged.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

The collection on display also recalls the delicate, fine motor skills refined by surgeons. Cataract surgery is another ancient surgical practice, dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. The tools for these procedures were small (compared to the amputation instruments) with refined workmanship, materials and decorative features. The delicate procedure needed a specific series of precise tools to detach the lens from the eye, and push it down into the eye in the earliest known cataract procedure known as couching. Needles were eventually invented to extract the lens. At the end of the 19th century, eye instruments were still noted for their elegance. Kits were a handy purchase for surgeons, who could also choose from a selection of virtually indistinguishable knives.

When anaesthetic was invented, and proven to work, it was revolutionary for surgeons and, of course the patients. Within the span of just a few years, every surgeon was using anaesthetic on their patients.

Image: One type of ether inhaler used to administer the anaesthetic to the patient before a surgery. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: One type of ether inhaler used to administer the anaesthetic to the patient before a surgery. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

As the sense of touch was removed for patients, surgeons started to explore new dimensions of their use of touch and instruments.

The trade literature reflects a rapid growth in the diversity and complexity of the techniques and instruments during this period, as well as several different versions of the same instrument, and instruments named after an inventor of famous surgeon.

Image: Surgeons would have appreciated this spring-loaded double bistoury only 150 years ago because the folded blades were compact and remain sharper than exposed blades.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: Surgeons would have appreciated this spring-loaded double bistoury only 150 years ago because the folded blades were compact and remain sharper than exposed blades.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Surgical theatre also went through several changes in the 19th century that impacted the evolution of surgical touch. Before antiseptic surgery, surgeons rarely washed their hands and they wore blood-soaked smocks with pride. Sawdust was strewn on the floor of operating theaters in an attempt to manage the blood.

Inventions such as the Revolving Flushing Table were an attempt at modernizing the surgical theater and collect the blood. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Inventions such as the Revolving Flushing Table were an attempt at modernizing the surgical theater and collect the blood. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

As antiseptic surgery emerged in the latter nineteenth century, instruments in the collection and trade literature reveal a new emphasis on materials and sterilization. Organic materials for the tools gave way to solid, nickel-plated handles that could be sterilized between each procedure. Nickel-plated tools gave way to stainless steel in the mid-20th century. Doctors started washing their hands, and wearing gloves, masks and hats, while they operating in clean, organized, private theaters. They adapted to the gloves that significantly changed their sense of touch, and the simple, sterile, solid metal tool, and the clean, careful and cautious surgical operation that is recognized today materialized.

See some of these changes in the exhibition in November 2017, or now in the sample of images from our extensive trade literature collection.

Erica Nadeau is a Student Intern from the Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College working on the Medical Sensations Exhibit.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

Hope and Fear in a Glass Capillary – Connecting over the History of Vaccination with the Osler Library

This unassuming glass capillary of fluid represents much more than meets the eye. In addition to protection against smallpox, it represented hope for the eradication of a disease that T.B. Macaulay once described as being “always present, filling the churchyard with corpses, tormenting with constant fear all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives it spared the hideous traces of its power…”[1] To some, it may even represent the potential to wipe out all infectious diseases. To others, it represents fear and distrust of modern medicine. To still others, it could represent combinations of the above in varying degrees.

Capillary tube containing smallpox vaccine manufactured by Connaught Laboratories in Toronto, Ontario circa 1939. Medical Technology, Canada Science and Technology Museum, art. no. 2002.0101.

In 1798, Edward Jenner, an English country physician, published the results of his experiments on the use of cowpox inoculation in the prevention of smallpox, a procedure Jenner named vaccination. Although it was quickly taken up around the world, the benefits of vaccination were hotly contested from the beginning. Many, including physicians, were wary of “introducing a beastly humour into a human frame.”[2]

Picture of Sarah Nelmes’ hand, from which Jenner took material to inoculate James Phipps in 1796. Edward Jenner, An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolae vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox, London: D.N. Shury, 1800.

Picture of Sarah Nelmes’ hand, from which Jenner took material to inoculate James Phipps in 1796. Edward Jenner, An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolae vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox, London: D.N. Shury, 1800.

As early as 1802, caricaturists and satirists captured the fears of the public “that the human subject, when inoculated with cowpock matter, becomes contaminated; and is transformed into a brute…that an infant, when vaccinated, will have a face like an ox; and hair all over its body like a cow.”[3] The controversy surrounding vaccination would continue throughout the nineteenth century and persist until the present day, even after the hope of smallpox eradication was fulfilled in 1980.

The Cow-Pock ÔÇô or ÔÇô the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation high res

Satirical cartoon by James Gilray depicting the effects of vaccination. The Cow-Pock – or – the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! London: H. Humphrey, 1802. The British Museum.

The museum collection’s vial of smallpox vaccine, a remnant of the fight against the disease, is currently on display at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. Their new exhibition, Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998, highlights the arguments that have been made by both pro-vaccinationists and anti-vaccinationists over the two hundred years following Jenner’s publication. Here, items from the Canada Science and Technology Museum connect with the library’s rare books collection to showcase how the dispute manifested in early nineteenth century Britain, during the 1885 Montreal smallpox epidemic, and the 1919 smallpox epidemic in Toronto. The exhibit engages with the history of vaccination controversy in an attempt to understand vaccine hesitancy and the fears that are attached.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

Cynthia L. Tang, 2016 CSTMC-McGill Research Fellow

[1] T. B. Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James II, Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske & Co., 1831, 424.

[2] Benjamin Moseley, Commentaries on the Lues Bovilla or Cowpox, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1806.

[3] Anonymous, “Satirical poem on Moseley’s “Commentaries on the Lues Bovilla, or Cow Pox,” in The Vaccine Phantasmagoria, London: J. Murray, 1808.