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Read Oliver Sacks’s Academic Work for Free

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Chris McGrath, Getty Images

Renowned neuroscientist and author Oliver Sacks passed away in his New York City home this summer at age 82, but his legacy of empathy will live on. In honor of Sacks’s life and work, the science publisher Elsevier will make a selection of his academic papers accessible for free beginning December 1.

After completing his studies in his native England, Sacks came to the U.S. and began a career as a researcher. He soon learned that research was not for him. “I lost samples,” he said in a 2005 interview. “I broke machines. Finally they said to me, ‘Sacks, you’re a menace. Get out. Go see patients.’” 

And he did. Sacks saw his patients through a lens of curiosity and care—and he wrote about them, bringing their stories and lives to the public. Each of his “neurological novels,” as he called them, invited viewers into the experiences and struggles of his patients. His unique perspective and lyrical narratives made books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings popular bestsellers, and many were adapted for stage and screen. 

The neuroscientist defied categorization and specialization in his work, instead pursuing a huge range of subjects, including hallucinations, amnesia, swimming, pre-Columbian history, and ferns. 

Sacks was beloved for his contributions to both science and literature. The New York Times called him “the poet laureate of neuroscience.” His list of honors and recognitions is lengthy. Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Commander of the British Empire. Sacks even had an asteroid named after him: 84928 Oliversacks.

By the end of his life, Dr. Sacks was receiving about 10,000 fan letters a year, according to The New York Times. “I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90, or in prison,” he said. 

An interviewer once asked Sacks how he would like to be remembered. “I would like it to be thought that I had listened carefully to what patients and others have told me,” he said, “that I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for them, and that I tried to convey this. And, to use a biblical term,” he added, “bore witness.” To that end, among those papers is a letter written to the medical journal The Lancet condemning the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

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Medicine
The World's First VR Brain Surgery Is Here
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A lot of consumers are focused on virtual reality as a means of immersing themselves in games or traveling to exotic locales, but the technology holds some incredible potential as a learning tool. One recent—and graphic—example is VR brain surgery, which allows viewers to examine the amygdala like they never thought possible.

In the experience, which was produced and overseen by Fundamental VR at the Royal London Hospital, users will be able to follow along with surgeons as a patient is wheeled into the operating room and undergoes a real neurosurgical procedure to repair two aneurysms (balloon-like bulges in an artery that can rupture). Cameras installed in the OR and GoPro units on the surgeons provide a first person-perspective; you can also switch to the POV of the patient as instruments enter and exit your field of view.

The idea was embraced by surgeons at Royal London, who see it as having the potential to be a valuable training tool for neurosurgeons by mimicking "hands on" experience. Although the footage is best seen using a VR headset, you can get a feel for the experience in the YouTube footage below. Did we mention it's very, very graphic?

More sophisticated versions of the program—including tactile feedback for users—are expected to be implemented in Fundamental VR's surgical training programs in the future. Currently, programs like Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP) are being used at major institutions like Stanford University and University of California, Los Angeles to map the brain prior to incision.

If this whets your appetite for witnessing brain operation footage, don't forget we filmed and broadcast a live brain surgery in partnership with National Geographic. You can still check it out here.

[h/t Wired]

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Health
How Dangerous Is a Concussion?
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It's not football season, but the game is still making headlines: In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, neuropathologist Ann McKee and her colleagues examined the brains of 111 N.F.L. players and found 110 of them to have the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The condition has been linked to repeated blows to the head—and every year in the U.S., professional and novice athletes alike receive between 2.5 and 4 million concussions. This raises the question: What happens to the human brain when we get a concussion or suffer a hard blow to the head, and how dangerous are these hits to our long-term health?

Expert Clifford Robbins explains in the TED-Ed video below:

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