— Vincent Van Gogh
Lungs ≡ Trees
Above is a resin cast of a lung. Notice its fractal nature - how it displays self similarity at smaller and smaller scales. You might also notice how this structure is quite ‘tree-like’. Why are they so similar?
Well actually, both lungs and trees want to maximise the surface area of their functional components while constrained to some maximum volume. For lungs this strict constraint is the size of the thorax, but for trees is more relaxed and is to do with the mass they can achieve through photosynthesis and mineral uptake and density of trees around them.
Interestingly, nature has solved both these mathematical problems of optimisation using the mathematical solution of fractals. This is a great example of complexity and universality. Complex structures such as trees and lungs emerge from very simple mathematical rules, laws and constraints. The result is some kind of universality to the structures that we humans see and assume to be very different, though they are fundamentally the same.
Check out this animation I made of a simple fractal construct being transformed into a ‘tree-like’ (or ‘lung-like’!) structure.
“A picture began circulating in November. It should be “The Picture of the Year,” or perhaps, “Picture of the Decade.” It won’t be. In fact, unless you obtained a copy of the U.S. paper which published it, you probably would never have seen it.
The picture is that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas, who is being operated on by surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The baby was diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother’s womb. Little Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta. She knew of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure. Practicing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, he performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb.
During the procedure, the doctor removes the uterus via C-section and makes a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.
The photograph captures this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture begins, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from the mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the gift of life.”
Little Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said, “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn’t about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person” Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful. Now see the actual picture, and it is awesome…incredible….and hey, pass it on! The world needs to see this one!”
Doctor: (noun) The health career used to save the lives of people.
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