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The Joy Of Seeing Your Gooey Innards


I love going to the radiologist. It's a physicist's favorite doctor gig. After all, where else do you get to see the inside of your body? And if you're doing an ultrasound, like I was last week for some pain in my ankle (just in time for hiking season), then you even get to see the squishy, sticky, bony interior of YOU in real time.

Sometimes the ultrasound technician doesn't want to deal with my nonstop questions:

  • "Why do you apply that clear gel first?"
  • "Is that my ankle bone? Dang!"
  • "Is that bright region an artery? That is so cool!"
  • "Oh, can we see the blood flow with the Doppler thingy?"
  • But usually the techs are pretty happy to explain what's going on, and I'm grateful to them. It is, after all, pretty strange to be living out our lives in these soggy bags of bones and organs. We think of ourselves as separate, higher beings with concerns above and beyond this mundane physicality. But a few minutes with the ultrasound and it's pretty clear what a miracle these bodies really are.

    With that in mind, I offer you one minute and 18 seconds of embodied cosmic weirdness. It's an MRI of baritone Michael Volle singing Wagner's "O du, mein holder Abendstern" (Oh Thou, my fair evening star). It's both beautiful and gross at the same time, which is exactly the point. Even our highest aspirations are always grounded in the raw stuff of the world.

    We are goop, even as we yearn to be gods.

    Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.