How are the scores of The Lost Weekend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Loki related?

Short answer: They feature the theremin.

Yesterday, I came across this incredible collaboration between Gregoire Blanc and a glass harp-playing duo from Poland. I mostly associate the sound of the theremin with “Good Vibrations” and science fiction soundtracks – so it was refreshing to hear it in a different context. The two ethereal instruments in harmony perfectly fit into the whimsical world of Miyazaki…

Carolina Eyck playing the theremin. Source

The theremin is a unique instrument that can be controlled without physical contact. It was invented in 1920 by a Soviet physicist and cellist, Leon Theremin (aka Lev Termen), who was researching proximity sensors. It consists of a box with radio tubes producing two ultrasonic sound waves. One oscillator operates at a fixed frequency, and the other oscillator’s frequency varies based on the performer’s distance from the instrument. Together, these oscillators use the heterodyne principle to generate an audible signal. Pitch is controlled by moving one’s hand away from an antenna on the right of the box, while the amplitude is controlled by a loop (the pitch circuit). Harmonics can also be filtered out to generate a variety of tones.

Theremin and Clara Rockmore.

After inventing the theremin, Termen was sent on a world tour by Vladimir Lenin to share the modern Soviet sound (and to spy on Western countries). Theremin then patented his invention in 1928 and granted commercial production rights to RCA. Although not a commercial success due to the Great Depression, the theremin did fascinate audiences in both American and abroad. Clara Rockmore, an early virtuoso of the theremin, helped to further popularize the instrument. In addition, Rockmore worked with Theremin to improve the instrument; changes included increased sensitivity to allow for rapid staccato, increasing the range, and aesthetic changes to make the performer more visible.

The theremin’s breakthrough in film scores came with the works of Miklos Rozsa, a Hungarian composer. Rozsa first pioneered the use of the theremin with Hitchock’s Spellbound. Perhaps the greatest effect was with The Lost Weekend, a poignant tragedy about a writer, Don Birnam, struggling with alcoholism. Initially scored to a jazzy soundtrack, test audiences assumed the film was a comedy. Rozsa’s score changed this perception, with its tense, jarring score reinforcing Don’s anxiety and desperation.

Later on, the theremin became associated with science fiction movies of the 1950s. In one of the most famous examples, Bernard Hermann worked with thereminist Samuel Hoffman to create the menacing soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still. The typecasting of the theremin as “flying saucer sound” (along with the rise of the synthesizer) probably lead to its decline. However, it can still be heard in a variety of more modern soundtracks including Frank and Loki (on Disney+).

Ondes Martenot. Source

As an aside, the opening of the Ghostbusters soundtrack does not actually feature the theremin. Instead, Elmer Bernstein used the ondes Martenot (musical waves), an electronic instrument played with a keyboard and a ribbon. It was patented the same year as the theremin and appears like a cross between an organ and a theremin. This allowed more accuracy, as well as preset timbres. In addition, the groundbreaking Moog synthesizer was also invented by theremin enthusiast Robert Moog.

If you’re looking for some more beautiful theremin music, Mr. Blanc playing the main theme of “Schindler’s List” is a must-listen. In my opinion, it is almost comparable in emotional depth to even Itzhak Perelman’s rendition.

Bonus Quiz

  1. Who sang “Good Vibrations”?
  2. Who directed The Lost Weekend?
  3. How many Oscars did Miklos Rozsa win?
  4. Which director is Bernard Hermann best known for collaborating with?
  5. Who composed the soundtrack to Schindler’s List?




  1. The Beach Boys
  2. Billy Wilder
  3. Three. For Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1947), and Ben-Hur (1959).
  4. Alfred Hitchcock (including Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest).
  5. John Williams

What percentage of elected female world leaders have had their husband or father precede them?

World map indicating elected female world leaders since 1918. Dark green indicates a country with at least one female leader with a male relation who was also a leader. Otherwise, light green indicates a country with at least one female leader. Grey indicates countries without an elected female leader since 1918. Source: My own work created using MapChart

Short answer: 29.2% (19/65)

Medium Answer: I only considered modern leaders (those since 1918). I started from Wikipedia’s list of elected and appointed world leaders, then removed all leaders who were either acting leaders or appointed. I also removed all leaders who did not practically hold executive power (prime minister in presidential systems, president in a parliamentary system, see details below for semi-presidential systems) or were leaders of countries with collective executives (San Marino, Switzerland). This left 65 elected world leaders, of which 19 had either a husband or father precede them as a leader of their country.

Xiomara Castro. Source: The Guardian

Honduras has just elected its first female president, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, ending 12 years of rule by the National Party. She has long been a representative of the left-wing Libre Party, running for president in the 2013, 2017, and 2021 Honduran general elections. Her defeat of the fabulously corrupt Juan Orlando Hernandez will hopefully help reverse Honduras’ slide into a narco-state that has seen almost 3% of its population try to escape to the United States in 2020 alone. Of interest, Ms. Castro’s husband, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was formerly the president from 2006-2009 until he was ousted in a coup. This of course has led to (likely overblown) accusations that Ms. Castro will simply be a front for her husband’s even more left-wing policies.

This had me wondering about which percent of elected women leaders had a male relation (either husband or father) precede them. Let me be clear that merely having a relation also be a leader by no means indicates a diminished capacity. As brief examples, consider Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, and Aang Sun Suu Kyi (before her autocratic backslide in recent years).

Indira Gandhi (PM 1966-1977, 1980-1984) surrounded by her ministers. Source

To dig further into this question, I perused Wikipedia’s list of elected women leaders. It quickly became clear that there would be no good way to parse this data, except to make some value judgments by hand. For obvious reasons, this list already excluded other heads of state such as monarchs. I also excluded female members of collective head-of-state bodies (Soviet Union presidiums, other Soviet Republic State Councils, San Marino, and Switzerland) and female viceregal representatives (as there are appointed). I also excluded leaders in acting capacities only and omitted leaders from states that were not widely recognized (Transnistria, Tannu Tuva). I did include states with more widespread recognition (Taiwan, Kosovo).

I then cross-referenced this list with the type of government a country has (parliamentary, presidential, or semi-presidential). For parliamentary and presidential systems, it was easy to exclude the ceremonial executive. However, there were a few states with semi-presidential systems that were a bit more of a value judgment. For Lithuania, I considered it as leaning more towards a presidential system; I considered its Baltic neighbors of Latvia and Estonia as more parliamentary. I also tried to omit leaders that were appointed – but did make some exceptions for leaders who were both elected and markedly contributed to acquiring their own leadership roles (e.g. Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan, who was interim president in the wake of the 2010 April revolution). I also included leaders that were elected in a deputy role, but took the top spot via succession (e.g. Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, who took over after John Magufuli died of COVID-19). Finally, I tried to assess whether a country’s system of governance had changed (e.g. for Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranaike was Prime Minister when the country was a parliamentary system, even though the country is now a presidential system).

Samia Sulhu Hassan of Tanzania. President from 2021-. Source

Determining whether a leader had a preceding male relative was generally quite straightforward. I did not count cases where a female elected leader had a prominent male relation that was assassinated before they held the top role (e.g. Corazon Aquino). In most cases, the relation was either a husband or a father. Two interesting cases were: the grandfather of Kaja Kallas of Estonia was also PM (but so was her father) and Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka had both a mother and father that preceded her as leaders.

South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America seemed to have particularly high rates of elected female leaders with a male relation, whereas Europe had much lower numbers. I think a future project might be to correlate these findings with the propensity of various countries to elect people from political dynasties in general (without regard to gender). Not exactly sure how to do this yet, but would appreciate any reader tips!

Golda Meir. Israeli PM from 1969-1974. Source: Wikipedia

For some notable firsts with regards to elected women leaders:

  1. Khertek Anchimaa-Toka of the defunct and largley unrecognized Tuvan People’s Republic can lay some claim to being the “first elected woman head of state,” chairing her country’s presidium in 1940.
  2. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was the first democratically elected world leader. She was elected as prime minister in 1960. Her husband S. W. R .D. Bandaranaike, “The Silver Bell of Asia”, preceded her as prime minister from 1956 until his assassination in 1959.
  3. Golda Meir was the first elected female world leader without a male relation. She was prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974.
  4. Angela Merkel is the longest serving elected female world leader. She has been the German Chancellor since 2005. She will be stepping down, likely next week, after holding the top spot for an astounding 16 years.

For those interested in a full list and my rationale for including/excluding each person, please see my table here. Red indicates a world leader that doesn’t count (for reasons explained above), light green indicates a former world leader without a preceding male relation, dark green indicates a former world leader with a preceding male relation, light blue indicates a current world leader without a preceding male relation, and dark blue indicates a current world leader with a preceding male relation. I counted Ms. Castro as a current world leader (although she is technically still president-elect).

Beginning of the spreadsheet with more details.

Final note: Ms. Castro’s initial campaign promises to break ties with Taiwan were worrisome, but it seems she has backed away from the temptation of autocratic money.



What is the reoperation rate for strabismus surgery in patients with thyroid eye disease?

Short answer: Approximately 25%

I’d like to share a paper I’ve been working on recently that was just published by the American Journal of Ophthalmology!

I had the opportunity to observe numerous strabismus surgeries during my ophthalmology rotation this summer. This included several operations for patients with thyroid eye disease (aka Graves’ disease), one of which was a reoperation. Working with my mentor, Dr. Lambert, I developed a project using insurance databases to examine risk factors for reoperation after strabismus surgeries among patients with thyroid eye disease. I’d previously worked on some projects investigating the cost of various treatments for non-infectious uveitis using insurance databases, making this project much easier.

Bette Davis Eyes - Wikipedia
Two-time Best Actress winner Bette Davis (1908 – 1989). Source.

As some background, Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces an antibody that overstimulates the thyroid. This can cause symptoms including swelling in the neck, diarrhea, heat intolerance, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and insomnia. In a minority of patients, Graves’ disease also leads to scarring of the muscles of the eye and expansion of the tissue behind the eye (retro-orbital tissue). Scarring of the muscles of the eye leads to misalignment of the eyes (strabismus or squint) and double vision (diplopia). Expansion of the tissue behind the eyes can lead to the eyes bulging forward (proptosis). Famously, the actress Bette Davis was suspected to suffer from thyroid eye disease.

Thyroid Eye Disease In Your Exam Lane
Strabismus and proptosis in thyroid eye disease. Source.

In some cases of strabismus that leads to double vision, surgery may be required. Some previous studies have examined the rate of strabismus surgery reoperation – however, our study is the largest reported in the literature thus far. More specifically, our study examined patients in a large commercial insurance claims database between 2003 and 2019 with thyroid eye disease who underwent at least one strabismus operation. We extract information about patient characteristics (age at diagnosis, sex, race), primary surgery characteristics (number of muscles operated on, which muscles were operated on, use of adjustable sutures), and timing of reoperations. We then used this information to examine associations between time to reoperation and patient/surgery characteristics.

The headline findings are that 111/448 patients in our study (24.8%) underwent a reoperation. The number of muscles operated on initially was the only independent predictor for undergoing a reoperation. Similarly, the number of muscles operated on initially was associated with a shorter time to the first reoperation. Other factors such as age at diagnosis of thyroid eye disease, the time between diagnosis of thyroid eye disease and surgery, gender, race, and other characteristics of the primary surgery were not associated with a time to reoperation.

Strabismus Surgery - American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and  Strabismus
Recession of an extraocular muscle (type of strabismus surgery). Source: AAPOS

Overall, I think our work contributes to the literature by providing an unbiased look at the rates of strabismus reoperation in thyroid eye disease. It also confirms that disease severity (which dictates the number of muscles operated on initially) likely drives the rate of reoperation. Finally, adjustable sutures did not reduce the rate of reoperations in patients with thyroid eye disease, which is consistent with previous work. Hopefully, this work will help with patient education and surgical decision-making!

I wish I could discuss the paper in more detail, but it’s still an “Article in Press” and only the abstract is available for non-subscribers to the American Journal of Opthalmology. If you have institutional access and have an interest in strabismus surgery, I encourage you to check out the paper!

Jezebel (1938) - IMDb
Bette Davis and George Brent in a 1938 movie in which Davis won Best Picture. Source: IMDB

Bonus quiz:

  1. For which movies did Bette Davis win Best Actress?
  2. Who sang “Bette Davis Eyes” (1981)?
  3. Which new treatment for thyroid eye disease was FDA approved in 2020?


  1. Hwang B, Heo H, Lambert S. Risk Factors for Reoperation after Strabismus Surgery among Patients with Thryoid Eye Disease. American Journal of Opthalmology. November 2021.
  6. Zhang MS, Hutchinson AK, Drack AV, Cleveland J, Lambert SR. Improved ocular alignment with adjustable sutures in adults undergoing strabismus surgery. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(2):396-402. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2011.07.044

Quiz Answers

  1. Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938). A scene from Jezebel is pictured above.
  2. Kim Carnes
  3. Tepezza (teprotumumab-trbw). IT’s an IGF-1R antagonist.

How are Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz related?

Short answer: Both were the names of de facto leaders of the Guerilla Girls.

Sorry in advance if I don’t post as regularly for the next few days – I am currently in the middle of residency interviews!

Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room. Alice Neel. Source: Christie’s

I wrote about the Guerilla Girls and the art market a few days ago. Today, I was listening to the newest Freakonomics episode discussing the art market. In it, they discussed the phenomenal rise in the auction prices of Alice Neel (1900-1984), a portraitist of everyday people. Although she was somewhat well-regarded in her own lifetime, Neel’s Communist leanings, expressionist style, and progressive subject matter never lead to any great financial success. One dealer even remembered finding two of her works on the sidewalk. Today the price and total sales of her work have risen astronomically. Her works have now sold for up to millions of dollars – including her Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room which sold in 2021 for $3.5 million. The Met just put on a large retrospective of her work- which was probably further boosted the value of her paintings.

Total Sales of Alice Neel works. Source: Artnet

From my reading a few days ago, I remembered that Alice Neel was a pseudonym used by some of the Guerilla Girls. She was also listed on the When Racism And Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable poster! The conclusion of the folks interviewed on the Freakonomics podcast is that most people in the art market don’t make any money (as most lion’s share of sales go to just a few artists). However, the example of Alice Neel suggests that strategic investments in artists overlooked for their progressive views or subject matter might still yield value. One decent way might be to look at the names of the Guerilla Girls, especially the ones less well known to the general public.

Frida Kahlo in Coco. Source: Disney Fan Club

Frida Kahlo is of course far too well known. But Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) could still be an underappreciated gem. Kollwiz was born in an era when women were denied access to art academies; instead, she learned from schools for women artists. Her first big break was “A Weavers’ Uprising” which was almost awarded a prestigious national prize until a personal veto by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. This cycle of works depicted Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers (not to be confused with the folk group targeted during the Red Scare), a sympathetic portrayal of the uprising of Silesian weavers during the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Germany. Kollwitz wouldn’t look back, with her work focusing on poverty, hunger, and other social ills.

March of the Weavers, Käthe Kollwitz | Mia
March of the Weavers. Kathe Kollwitz. Source

Kollwitz became the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts and gained international recognition in her lifetime. Unfortunately towards the end of her life, her works were largely censored by the Nazis as Degenerate Art and removed from museums. Nonetheless, she persisted in making pacifist art, and to this day she has remained very well known in Germany (there are 4 museums, 40 schools, and even a Google Doodle in Germany in her honor). In the broader art community though, Kollwitz is still relatively undervalued. Per artnet:

Today, art’s status as a viable form of protest and resistance is being critically challenged more rigorously than it has been for a long time, but so far, Kollwitz has been strangely absent from this discussion. Unlike similarly politically progressive and articulate artists like Corita Kent (1918–1986) and Alice Neel (1900–1984), or Kollwitz’s coeval, the American painter Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944), the familiar art-world dynamic of obscurity, rediscovery, and reevaluation doesn’t seem to be so easily set in motion for Kollwitz.

Some of her work seems to be selling for more now with her most expensive artwork, Selbstbildnis en face, selling for a little under $800,000. Still, I feel like her subject matter should lend itself to more growth in years to come…

Mother with her Dead Son 01.jpg
Mother with Dead Child. Kathe Kollwitz. Source

Final note: For what it’s worth, Freakonomics also mentioned that there were perhaps 100,000 art advisors in the world, the vast majority of which are “art history majors that have not made a single sale.” And I don’t even have a degree in art history…



Can vegans get sufficient vitamin B12 from kombucha alone?

Answer: Probably not (unless you’re drinking a B12 fortified kombucha).

One of my friends, who is a vegan, mentioned recently that kombucha might be a good source of vitamin B12. Confusingly, when we went to a local market, we encountered numerous brands of kombucha that did not mention vitamin B12 on the nutrition label. Only a single brand had a substantial amount of Kombucha (Humm). We couldn’t figure out why this brand was different – if it was a special SCOBY they used or some other production secret.

Humm Kombucha. Note the Vitamin B12 content of 1750%…

As a brief introduction, kombucha is tea fermented with co-cultures of yeast and bacteria. The specific yeast and bacteria vary from study to study but almost always include the bacteria Komagataeibacter xylinus (formerly Gluconacetobacter xylinus). This bacteria ferments alcohols produced by other yeasts into organic acids such as acetic acid, which increases kombucha acidity and limits ethanol content. For those interested Jayabalan et al. review the microbiology and composition of kombucha. In their review, Jayabalan et al. discuss an older study by Bauer-Petrovska et al. quantifying water-soluble vitamins in kombucha. This study showed that kombucha made with black tea and sucrose contained ” vitamin B1 74 mg/100 mL, vitamin B6 52 mg/100 mL, vitamin B12 84 mg/100 mL, and vitamin C 151 mg/100 mL.” A typical 16 fluid ounce container of kombucha is around 500 mL (473.2 mL), for an estimated 400 mg of vitamin B12 per bottle. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin, B12 is 2.4 mcg/day so a bottle should exceed the RDA by an astounding 166,000 times. A more recent study from Turkey by Arikan et al. determined that the mechanism was biologically plausible; Komagataeibacter indeed “carrries complete pathways for the biosynthesis of vitamin B1, vitamin B7, vitamin B12 “

Wanting to investigate this further, we directly contacted Humm. To our surprise, we actually received a reply! It turns out that “due to inconsistencies in the vitamin levels that naturally occur in our kombucha, we add Vitamin B12 to provide 1,000% of recommended daily intake of Vitamin B12.  Accurate labeling is extremely important to us, as is the consistency and quality of our kombucha.” It’s like the natural variability was also too high from other brands that did not supplement vitamin B12 to make any claims on the nutrition label. The full reply from Humm is below:

Of course, this doesn’t indicate whether or not kombucha is a good source of B12 in practice. A small study (n=42) from Romania by Zugravu et al. compared different strategies of vitamin B12 supplementation in vegans. This study found that vitamin B12 supplementation was superior to supplementation with alternative products (algae, kombucha, other fermented products).

Values of serum transcobalamin in vegans who supplemented with cyanocobalamin (group 1), methylcobalamin (group 2), and natural products (group 3). Source: Zugravu et al. Figure 1

My overall conclusion is that for vegans, vitamin B12 supplements are probably still superior to drinking kombucha alone. Although the mechanism of vitamin B12 in kombucha is plausible, the response from Humm suggests that actual vitamin B12 levels in Kombucha vary wildly in practice. Furthermore, the limited clinical evidence seems to suggest that vitamin B12 supplements are superior to alternative strategies of supplementation.

Note: Humm’s email also mentions they supplement with the “natural” form of vitamin B12, methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin (often derided as “synthetic” B12) is readily converted to methylcobalamin in the body. Per Zugravu et al., cyanocobalamin supplementation was actually superior to methylcobalamin supplementation for maintaining serum B12 levels.


  2. Jayabalan R, Malbaša RV, Lončar ES, Vitas JS, Sathishkumar M. A Review on Kombucha Tea-Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2014 Jul;13(4):538-550. doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12073. PMID: 33412713.
  3. Arıkan M, Mitchell AL, Finn RD, Gürel F. Microbial composition of Kombucha determined using amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomics. J Food Sci. 2020;85(2):455-464. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.14992
  4. Zugravu CA, Macri A, Belc N, Bohiltea R. Efficacy of supplementation with methylcobalamin and cyancobalamin in maintaining the level of serum holotranscobalamin in a group of plant-based diet (vegan) adults. Exp Ther Med. 2021;22(3):993. doi:10.3892/etm.2021.10425

Were the Guerilla Girls right that Jasper Johns’ art was a poor long-term investment?

The Guerrilla Girls Talk Art, Activism and New Book | HYPEBEAST
Guerilla Girls poster from the Guerilla Girls Talk Back collection (1989). Source: Tate

Short answer: Probably not…yet?

Jasper Johns. False Start I. 1962 | MoMA
False Start I by Jasper Johns (1962). Source: MoMA

Medium answer: The specific Jasper Johns painting in question (False Start) sold for $17.05 million in 1988. It was most recently sold in 2006 for $80 million. Since that time, the blue-chip art market has seen over 300% appreciation (Artprice100 Index). Although the true price of this painting won’t be known until the next auction, we can conservatively estimate a 1,000% return in less than 35 years.

Artprice’s index of the price of works by “blue-chip” artists. Source

On my recent trip to the Cantor Arts Center, I came across a packet explaining some research by Jennie Waldow. Ms. Waldow is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford’s Department of Art and Art History and a student curator at the Cantor. For this particular project, Art/Object: Contemporary Works between Mediums, Ms. Waldow explores objects that defy easy classification into mediums. This includes posters, documents, and invitations to exhibits that were not created primarily for art. For example, Ms. Waldow notes that some artists’ intense artistic sensibilities carry over into all their work, even mundane things such as invitations to exhibits, elevating otherwise disposable pieces of paper into art. Other artists, such as Jacob Lawrence, created an original poster design for the Whitney Exhibition that clearly had great artistic merit. Finally, there are written certifications for installation projects that could otherwise easily be copied and thus are integral components of these works of art (reminds one of NFTs in art…)

Artwork Title: Poster Design for the Whitney Exhibition - Artist Name: Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence. Poster Design for the Whitney Exhibition. 1974. Source

In any case, Ms. Waldow also discussed how to classify the gorilla masks used by the Guerilla Girls (personal conclusion – probably not art?). This reminded me of some of the groups’ posters, including the one at the top of the article that I first saw at the Tate Modern a few years ago. As some background, the Guerilla Girls are an anonymous activist group who highlight discrimination in the art world. Soon after the group was founded in 1985, the Guerilla Grils started producing posters inspired by flyposting to highlight the systemic inclusion of women and artists of color from museums, galleries, and exhibitions.

Guerrilla Girls | Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? |  Whitney Museum of American Art
Guerilla Girls. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met? (1989). Source

In 1989, the Guerilla Girls launched the Guerilla Girls Talk Back collection of posters. As explained above, one of these posters singled out the recent sale of a Jasper Johns painting for over $17 million, setting a record for most expensive artwork by a living artist. The group then listed a variety of other artists whose works could have been purchased for the same price. I was curious to see how much the works of these 67 other artists would be worth today. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find good auction information – there is a database available at, but it both doesn’t include private sales and is not easily searchable. However, this website did put together a great article examining the value of artwork by male and female artists. The overall conclusion is that works by female artists are still valued less than work by male artists.

Median prices for female vs. male artists by region. Source

This trend holds true both around the world (above) and across a variety of mediums (below). We certainly have a long way to go before there is greater parity between sales prices of male and female artists. As a final note, Jasper Johns continues to hold the record for most expensive artwork by a living artist; his Flag was sold in 2010 for $110 million.




List of artists in the Guerilla Girl poster.

  • Bernice Abbott
  • Anni Albers
  • Sofonisba Anguissola
  • Diane Arbus
  • Vanessa Bell
  • Isabel Bishop
  • Rosa Bonheur
  • Elizabeth Bougereau
  • Margaret Bourke-White
  • Romaine Brooks
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Emily Carr
  • Rosalba Carriera
  • Mary Cassatt
  • Constance Marie Charpentier
  • Imogen Cunningham
  • Sonia Delaunay
  • Elaine de Kooning
  • Lavinia Fontana
  • Meta Warwick Fuller
  • Artemesia Gentileschi
  • Marguérite Gérard
  • Natalia Goncharova
  • Kate Greenaway
  • Barbara Hepworth
  • Eva Hesse
  • Hannah Hoch
  • Anna Huntington
  • May Howard Jackson
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Angelica Kauffmann
  • Hilma af Klint
  • Käthe Kollwitz
  • Lee Krasner
  • Dorothea Lange
  • Marie Laurencin
  • Edmonia Lewis
  • Judith Leyster
  • Barbara Longhi
  • Dora Maar
  • Lee Miller
  • Lisette Model
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker
  • Tina Modotti
  • Berthe Morisot
  • Grandma Moses
  • Gabriele Münter
  • Alice Neel
  • Louise Nevelson
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Meret Oppenheim
  • Sarah Peale
  • Ljubova Popova
  • Olga Rosanova
  • Nellie Mae Rowe
  • Rachel Ruysch
  • Kay Sage
  • Augusta Savage
  • Vavara Stepenova
  • Florine Stettheimer
  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp
  • Alma Thomas
  • Marietta Robusti Tintoretto
  • Suzanne Valadon
  • Remedios Varo
  • Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun
  • Laura Wheeling Waring

How are sharing pears, ice fishing, and…breastfeeding a mother-in-law related?

Short answer: Filial piety

Chinese Idiom Story: 孔融让梨Kong Rong Gave Away Bigger Pears
Kong Rong leaving the better pears for his elders. Source:

When I was a child, I often heard the phrase 孔融讓離 (Kong Rong Rang Li), “Kong Rong yields pears.” As the legend goes, when Kong Rong, a distant descendant of Confucius, was a mere four years old he would only pick out small pears to eat. When asked by his parents about this, he replied that he felt it was his duty to leave the larger, juicier fruits for his older brothers. This anecdote highlighted Kong Rong’s filial piety towards his elder siblings.

Filial piety plays a central role in Confucian role ethics and Chinese society more broadly. Perhaps the most famous text about filial piety is 二十四孝 (Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars) written by 郭居敬 (Guo Jujing). I had always believed the story about Kong Rong and his pears was a part of this collection – but in fact, it is not. However, this short collection is filled with numerous bizarre stories. These include:

  1. Yu Qianlou resigned from his magistrate after ten days and returned home to find his father sick. In order to prognosticate the course of his father’s illness, his doctor said “…one must taste the patient’s dung. If it is bitter, then there is hope.” Qianlou dutifully tasted his father’s feces – finding it sweet, he was very anxious. He kowtowed to the North Star of longevitiy, asking it to let him die in father’s place. Alas, his wish was not granted, and his father died anyways.
  2. Guo Ju was poor and was forced to have his mother share food with his 3-year-old son. Lamenting at his inability to feed his mom, he told his wife he would bury their son. His wife’s response is not recorded (perhaps she was either very filial or knew something about the son that Guo Ju didn’t). In any case, Guo Ju dutifully went out to the yard and began digging a pit. Luckily for his son, he quickly struck a cauldron of gold and was able to feed both his child and mother thereafter.
  3. Wang Xiang of the Jin dynasty had a mother that died early. Unfortunately, his stepmother only had two defining traits – her dislike for Wang Xiang and her love for fresh fish. Despite her animosity, one day when the river froze over, Wang Xiang decided to go fishing in the nearby river for his stepmother. Finding the river frozen over, he removed his clothes and melted the ice with his body heat. He was then able to catch some carp for his stepmother.
Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety: Yu Qianlou Tasting His Father's Stool  out of Grave Concern for His Health
Yu Qianlou. Perhaps he should have hired a different physician. Source: [3]

Many other stories in this collection are no less strange – there is Cui Nanshan who breastfed her mother-in-law, Wu Meng who let mosquitos bite him to prevent them from biting his parents, and Huang Tingjian who insisted on personally washing his mother’s bedpan. Perhaps it is no surprise that while this collection was the prime folk document on filial piety and widely known throughout China, it was not part of the Confucian canon and attracted scorn from Chinese intellectuals.

When the Chinese Communist Party took over the mainland, it sought to suppress the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars as part of its campaign against “traditional thinking.” Under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and 1990s, the CCP relaxed prohibitions against traditional thinking and these examples of filial piety made a comeback. In more recent years, the CCP has even sought to rescue the collection from irrelevance. An updated version in 2012 exhorted children to teach their parents how to surf the Internet, buy health insurance for retired parents, to take their parents on vacation. In 2013, the CCP even passed a law on filial piety – mandating children regularly visit their parents and avoid “neglecting the elderly” (which concomitantly lightens the burden on the state to provide for the elderly).

Despite the updates, representations of the stories in the Twenty-Four Exemplars can still be found in China and places with prominent Chinese diaspora. Earlier in 2021, a statue of Cui Nanshan breastfeeding her mother-in-law was taken from a park in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. In the Haw Par Villa in Singapore, a 24 Filial Exemplars diorama is found adjacent to the “10 Courts of Hell.”

Tour the Ten Courts of Buddhist Hell at Haw Par Villa in Singapore
A scene from Hell at Haw Par Villa. Perhaps this gentleman didn’t wrestle enough tigers for his parents. Source: Atlas Obscura (link below)

On a side note, for all Kong Rong’s filial piety, he still met a sticky end. After insulting Cao Cao (the infamous warlord from the Three Kingdoms period), Kong Rong and his entire extended family were murdered.



SDS: Bubble baths, toothpaste, and imaging the brain

A photo showing a 3D appearance of colored dots and swirls
The hippocampus of a transgenic mouse was imaged using the CLARITY technique. Part of this process uses SLS. Source:

I was reading the labels on my shampoo today and toothpaste today, and I noticed that the toothpaste had sodium lauryl sulfate as an ingredient, while the shampoo had sodium laureth sulfate. I initially assumed the two were corporate-speak for the same thing, but to my surprise, they actually were not.

Contrast this with sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Note the extra ethoxyl groups. Source:

Both sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are anionic detergents found in a variety of cleaning products, including soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste. SLS is produced by treating lauryl alcohol (a hydrogenated derivative of coconut/ palm oil) with sulfur trioxide gas, oleum, or chlorosulfuric acid. Of note, lauryl alcohol in the commercial form actually consists of a variety of chain lengths, so SLS in soaps is actually a mixture of sodium alkyl sulfates. By contrast, SLES is created by ethoxylation of lauryl alcohol, which is then converted to a half ester of sulfuric acid.

Confusingly, both SLS and SLES go by other names. Sodium lauryl sulfate is also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), of electrophoresis fame (discussed more below). Sodium laureth sulfate is a contraction of sodium lauryl ether sulfate (which certainly lends more clarity to the structure).

Functionally, SLES is less abrasive and has better foaming characteristics compared to SLS. However, 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen, is also a by-product of the ethoxylation step of SLES production. Although no federal regulations require the removal of 1,4-dioxane, New York state has recently passed laws decreasing the acceptable concentration of 1,4-dioxane in cleaning products to 1 ppm by 2023. California is considering something similar.

An unwelcome throwback to organic chemistry. Inadvertent production of 1,4-dioxane in making SLES. Source:

Other Applications

SLS has a variety of other applications including as a food additive that aids in emulsification, an ionic stabilizer in creams/lotions, and as a medium to suspend carbon nanotubes.

Perhaps the application most familiar to the biology student is SDS-PAGE. Complex mixtures of proteins are dissolved in a solution that includes SLS/SDS. SLS is an excellent detergent that unfolds proteins, rendering all proteins a similar shape. Moreover, the amount of SLS bound to each protein is proportional to the length of the protein. SLS-solubilized proteins are then run through a slab of polyacrylamide gel subjected to an electric field. Larger proteins move slower through the gel than smaller proteins, allowing for separation by size.

SDS is also used in CLARITY, a method of imaging neuronal tissues. In its original formulation in 2013, a tissue sample is first prepared into a nanoporous hydrogel-tissue hybrid which preserves the location of proteins and nucleic acids. This is then rendered transparent by dissolving lipids in detergents such as SLS. The process is quite time-consuming but yields gorgeous images!

Not at all related to SLS, but on the subject of Prof. Deisseroth (who I am certain will win a Nobel Prize within the next decade)- a slightly older, but fascinating article from StatNews about the origins of optogenetics.


  1. Chung K, Wallace J, Kim SY, et al. Structural and molecular interrogation of intact biological systems. Nature. 2013;497(7449):332-337. doi:10.1038/nature12107
  5. Alberts, B. (2015). Molecular biology of the cell. Page 452-455.

Do students perceive they learn more by lectures or active learning?

Short answer: Students perceive they learn more by lectures. However, students actually learn more by active learning!

I recently came across a PNAS paper comparing active to passive learning for college students taking an introductory physics course at Havard (Deslauriers et al. PNAS 2019) [1]. In short, active learning has long been known to be superior to passive learning (e.g. lectures); however, STEM instructors generally choose traditional teaching methods. To investigate this discrepancy, the researchers randomly assigned students (total n = 157) to active learning (group problem-solving session) and passive learning groups (lectures). Students tended to prefer passive learning and felt like they were learning more from lectures (higher perception of learning). However, students in the active learning group actually performed better on tests. The researchers hypothesize that the increased cognitive load of active learning may have led to decreased perception of learning.

Figure 1 reproduced from Deslauriers et al. Comparing test scores and survey questions assessing the feeling of learning in active and passive learning groups.

Personally, this research was quite concerning. Most of my learning is passive – especially from lecturers who excel at addressing misconceptions (thus depriving me of the chance to actively clear up misunderstandings or construct my own opinions). This phenomenon may also explain why medical students tend to better remember diseases that they have seen in an actual patient, rather than only read about in a textbook. This gap between the perception of learning and actual learning is not only a problem for aspiring physicists and medical students, but also for patients.

It is not uncommon to hear a patient say, “He didn’t tell me anything,” when describing an encounter with their physician. So either the specialist did not explain things well, or the patient did not hold onto the details. Patients typically do a good job of following what is being said while it is being explained. However, they may not be able to recall the details of the discussion later.

Rishi Gupta, Reflections of a Pupil, Page 157.

This quote comes from Dr. Rishi Gupta’s book, Reflections of a Pupil, a compilation of life lessons from a vitreoretinal surgeon in Halifax. At first, the book may seem to only contain platitudes and obvious advice (treat patients like how you would treat a family member, constantly strive for self-improvement or you’ll be left behind, never operate on the wrong eye). Nonetheless, the book grew on me for the following reasons:

  1. There is great value in reviewing life lessons through the lens of a more experienced surgeon’s perspective
  2. The book helps one understanding implicit values held by senior physicians.
  3. Obviously, I haven’t had the opportunity to reinforce each pearl in the book through real life examples – and while the specifics might differ for every trainee – these “missed” lessons are precisely the most important to pick up on! For example, I will never say “oops “again in the operating room…

If you don’t believe the perspective of a medical student, Dr. Uday Devgan of CataractCoach fame gives a glowing review of the book below.

Anyways, Dr. Gupta continues the quote above with an especially apt analogy: “I liken this to being driven through an unfamiliar area of town. We all follow the left or right turns as they are happening. However, when asked to drive that same route again on our own, many of us would have a tough time.” A few suggestions (from Dr. Gupta and other research) to combat this discrepancy between perceived and actual learning in patients:

  1. Summarize every encounter with a few bullet points and a brief plan so patients don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
  2. Provide handouts that patients can slowly digest at home with the help of their friends/family/the internet.
  3. Encourage patients to teach back what they have understood (this can be time consuming though!).
  4. Reinforce the same concept multiple times. Don’t be afraid to bring patients back for a second visit.
    1. People tend to remember the gestalt of a visit (how they felt) more than the specific information given. Ensuring patients feel like their concerns are being heard at the initial visit 1) more likely they will return 2) less likely to file a malpractice claim

For those interested in other suggestions for promoting active learning for students in general, this Edutopia article provides suggestions such as:

  1. highlighting the benefits of active learning to students
  2. encouraging students to see the struggle of learning as productive
  3. helping students develop metacognitive skills to more accurately gauge their own level of understanding.


  1. Deslauriers L, McCarty L, Miller K, Callaghan K, Kestin G. Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sep 2019, 116 (39) 19251-19257; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821936116
  2. Gupta, Rishi. Reflections of a Pupil. Pages 155-158.
  3. Huntington B, Kuhn N. Communication gaffes: a root cause of malpractice claims. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2003;16(2):157-161. doi:10.1080/08998280.2003.11927898

Note: I feel like my introduction to the Deslauriers et al. paper may have come from some popular STEM Youtuber, IFL Science, or just something random on Twitter. Apologies I’m unable to remember the exact source, but I won’t pretend I remember this paper from a careful perusal of the primary literature about learning.

Note 2: The research of Deslauriers et al. is similar, but not entirely the same as the illusion of explanatory depth (which is more just a metacognitive deficit/ bias).

Who invented commercial meat extract? Bouillon cubes?

Answer: Justus von Liebig (commercial meat extract). Auguste Escoffier or Julius Maggi (bouillon cubes)

Happy Thanksgiving! In an effort to cook more, I recently started a trial of Hello Fresh (not sponsored). Multiple recipes from this week have called for stock concentrate – which got me wondering about the origin of stock concentrates, meat extracts, and bouillon cubes.

Marco Pierre White, legendary chef and Gordon Ramsay’s mentor, now turned corporate shill for Knorr stock pot. Source.

First off, some basic definitions of broth, stock, and bouillon. Broth is made by simmering vegetables and/or meat in water. Bouillon is synonymous with broth. Stock is similar to broth, with the addition of bones. This makes a substantial difference as bones contain ample quantities of gelatin (~20% by weight vs. 1% in muscle). Gelatin is a collection of peptides/proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen and gives mixtures a definite body without overly thickening a sauce (at low concentrations). Glace de viande (literally “meat glass”) is a stock reduced to approximately 10% of its original volume (demi-glace is approximately 25-40% of original volume). Bouillon cubes, also called stock cubes, broth cubes, or stock pot, originally consisted of further dehydrated broth or stock.

Dehydrated broth/stock has been known in the English-speaking world since the 17th century. For example, dehydrated meat stock was known to Anne Blencowe, a 17th-century compiler of recipes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a dehydrated meat broth called “portable soup” became a common ration for sailors and explorers. Townsends, a channel dedicated to recreating historical foods, demonstrates how to make portable soup below (with a slow cooker!).

The first person to try to create mass-produced meat extracts was Justus von Liebig (apparently he was also a leading proponent of the theory that searing meats “seal juices in”). He also held the mistaken view that the soluble substances in meats contain the majority of the nutritional value. Hoping to feed the undernourished, Liebig attempted to create a commercially viable meat extract. Unfortunately, his process was an inefficient use of meat (30kg of meat for 1 kg of extract), making manufacturing in Europe difficult. Taking advantage of cheap cattle prices in Uruguay (where cattle was being raised for hides and not meat), Liebig was finally able to create a financially viable meat extract (Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company – today Oxo).

The origin of bouillon cubes is unclear. Wikipedia credits the invention to Auguste Escoffier, a great popularizer of French cooking in the late 19th century (pretty much every other article online on the subject almost certainly draws from the Wikipedia page). However, the source cited is a single line from an article from the International Wine and Food Society. This article opens with the line “I was dimly aware of the name Auguste Escoffier just a few months ago, but if I had been asked to give any kind of summary of his life or importance, I would have been unable to do so, other to say he was an pioneer [sic] in French cuisine.” No further sources are cited in this IWFS article. Another article claims Benjamin Thompson invented a proto-bouillon cube of solidified stock of bones and meat trimmings in the late 18th century.

However, the history of mass-produced bouillon cubes seems more clear. Maggi in 1908 (lead at the time by Julius Maggi), Oxo in 1910, and Knorr in 1912 began commercial production of bouillon cubes. Their products became ubiquitous worldwide as these companies provided bouillon cubes to soldiers during the World Wars, and as European countries spread bouillon cubes to their colonies.

Julius Maggi
Julius Maggi and his products. Apparently, he not only made bouillon cubes, but also mock-turtle-flavored instant soup and truffle-flavored Maggi. Source: a hagiographic article by Nestle

The big players in the bouillon cube business are predictably all owned by food conglomerates: Knorr (a subsidiary of Unilever), Maggi (a subsidiary of Nestle), and Oxo (licensed by various companies around the world). These companies have been very secretive about the actual manufacture of bouillon. However, Wikipedia linked to an intriguing patent from Unilever that suggests that bouillon cubes are created by directly mixing salt, fat, flavor extracts, and myriad other ingredients. Modern bouillon cubes are certainly very unhealthy, consisting primarily of salt (>50%), fat, and MSG; there is often less than 3% of actual meat extract.

Seasonings, salt, and additions such as glutamate, separately or premixed, are introduced first into the extruder through feed funnels. The liquid extract, for example meat extract and vegetable extract, which can also be added in powder form, however, is then added. The fat, which can be fed in liquefied form to the extruder Screw, is added next. Finally, the garnishes are added, such as vegetable strips or herbs e.g. parsley, which are added to the paste under mild conditions.

Patent US6099888A

For anyone with some more time, Danish national television presented a show investigating bouillon cubes with the help of a professional chef, food scientist, a meat extract manufacturer, and a Knorr representative (below). The interview portion with Unilever (parent company of Knorr) opens with the reporter asking why the Knorr test kitchen is filled with numerous ingredients like carrots and fennel not present in beef bouillon cubes. Watch as representative wilts as she is asked why they Knorr leads in both market share… and salt and fat percentage.

Some other random facts I came across while reading about bouillon cubes:

  1. Liaison. In the cooking world, a liaison is a thickening agent made of egg yolks and cream (it can also be a verb to describe the act of thickening). The word is originally French; when borrowed into English in the 17th century, it was the culinary sense that came first.
  2. Stock derives from an old Germanic word meaning “tree trunk.” The word was first used in a culinary sense in the 18th century. Broth derives from a Germanic root, bru, meaning to prepare by boiling.
  3. Stocks should be cooked uncovered from a cold start with slow heating. This allows soluble proteins to coagulate slowly, to be skimmed off later. Cooking uncovered also further dehydrates the scum (as well as concentrates the stock).
  4. Ikeda Kikunae derived MSG from kombu in 1908 (the same year Maggi developed bouillon cubes). Kikunae also coined the term “umami” as a portmanteau of “umai” (delicious) and “mi” (taste).


  4. McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, 2nd edition. Page 762-841.
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