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John Moore/Getty Images

15 Unexpected Facts About Military Research From Mary Roach’s Grunt

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

Science writer Mary Roach has explored some unexpected corners of the scientific world, from Elvis’s constipation issues to a sheep rancher determined to test the weight of the soul. In her latest book, Grunt, she dives into the world of military science. Roach learns just how much research goes into every aspect of preparing for war, from figuring out how to deal with diarrhea in the field to designing a camouflage pattern that doesn’t get men killed to finding ways for service members on submarines to get some shut-eye. Here are just a few of the quirky, unexpected things we learned about the science of war and the U.S. military from the book.

1. ZIPPERS CAN POSE A MAJOR PROBLEM.

By nature of his occupation, a sniper spends a lot of time laying on the ground. If he’s wearing a jacket that closes in the front with a zipper, sand, dirt, and other rubble will end up grinding its way into the zipper's teeth, and it will get stuck. It will also probably stab him uncomfortably in the stomach. Nor is Velcro an option. “I have heard stories of Special Operations guys whose Velcro put them in danger by revealing their position,” Roach writes. As a result of these complicated considerations, the Army has a Hook and Loop Task Group to figure out how to fasten clothing for soldiers in a safe, comfortable way. The latest sniper suits close on the side, rather than in the front, with a flap to protect the buttons, which are themselves tested for durability in the face of weapons like steel blocks, hot irons, and boiling water.

2. MILITARY FASHION CAN BE ARBITRARY.

While Army uniforms are rigorously tested and thoroughly regulated—button regulations alone require 22 pages of specifications—there are aspects of military dress that are less about function and more about the fashion decisions of certain high-ranking officials. In 2005, for instance, a high-ranking general picked an untested camouflage pattern to be used to hide troops in all terrains, whether it be deserts, cities, or the woods, eschewing all of the 13 patterns developed and tested by a committee created just for this purpose. It didn’t work out so well. “The new camouflage performed so poorly in Afghanistan that in 2009, the Army spent $3.4 million developing a new and safer pattern for troops deployed there,” Roach explains.

That’s not the only military fashion decision that seems arbitrary. The blue camouflage worn by Navy personnel doesn’t actually serve a useful function, according to one commander, since it just makes it harder to see people who fall overboard. And those fancy black berets Army soldiers wear? They may be less useful than a cap with a brim, but man, they look cool. In 2011, responding to soldiers’ complaints, the Army began providing its soldiers with patrol caps again.

3. EARPLUGS ARE CONTROVERSIAL.

War is loud, whether you’re on the battlefield or just training. A Black Hawk helicopter emits a din of 106 decibels, and the sound of firing an ATT4 anti-tank weapon clocks in at 187 decibels. For reference, you can only be exposed to 115 decibels for 30 seconds before incurring hearing damage. But just how to protect soldiers’ ear drums is complicated. Earplugs cut sound by about 30 decibels, but they dampen noise indiscriminately, meaning that just as explosions get quieter, so do the your commander’s orders and the sound of enemy fire. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to shove an earplug far enough into the ear when you’re wearing a combat helmet. As a result, the Veterans Administration spends $1 billion a year treating hearing loss and tinnitus.

4. STUDYING IEDS REQUIRES MORE THAN YOUR TYPICAL CRASH DUMMY.

Right now, there’s no good way to study how improvised explosive devices affect the human body, or how different military equipment could protect against them. The crash dummies currently available are made for testing the physics of car crashes on the human body. Car crashes come from the front, back, or side, but explosive devices impact the body from below, exploding beneath someone’s feet or under their vehicle. So the Army is building its own, IED-specific dummy called the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan. The device won’t be ready until 2021, and in the meantime, the Army has to use cadavers if it wants to understand the ways that IEDs affect the human body realistically.

5. WOUNDED SOLDIERS ARE VERY WORRIED ABOUT THEIR JUNK.

The widespread use of IEDs in combat zones has invigorated military research in another unexpected direction. An Iraq vet who works as a surgeon at D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center told Roach that wounded men usually have the same two questions after an explosion. “The first thing they ask is, ‘Where’s my buddy? Is he O.K.? … The second thing they say is, ‘Is my penis there?’”

Thanks to advanced technology and medical science, soldiers are surviving traumas that would have left them dead on the battlefield in past wars. And some of the injuries these men have to live with are very intimate.

While it may sound superficial to be concerned with your manhood over more deadly losses, losing your genitals can be more traumatic than losing a limb in some ways. You can get a prosthetic leg. You can get a wheelchair. But making up for the loss of that most personal of organs, the penis, is a bit more complicated. Luckily, the science is making big strides. The first U.S. penis transplant was performed in May 2016, and the patient, a cancer survivor, was released from the hospital less than a month later.

6. THE ARMY WOULD REALLY LIKE BOMB-PROOF UNDERWEAR.

Because of what one study called the “unprecedented” rate of genital injuries experienced by soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has been trying to develop underwear that could protect its soldiers’ crotches from harm. In 2010, a company called BCB debuted “Blast Boxers,” a product marketed as “bomb-proof underwear.” Unfortunately, no underwear is really bomb-proof. Even the Blast Boxers’s Kevlar can’t stop shards of metal blasting out of an IED. But it can stop dirt that blasts out of the ground when the bomb goes off, helping stave off infections in the resulting wounds. However, the Army has been researching the protective qualities of silk, which despite its reputation for delicacy, might be useful in the event of a bomb from below—it’s strong enough that bits of fiber won’t get embedded in the wound. However, the effort has run into some sourcing and development issues, and soldiers still don’t have their protective undies.

7. MARCHING IS EVEN WORSE THAN YOU’D THINK.

When in combat, soldiers typically carry around 95 pounds of body armor, batteries, weapons, and ammunition. As a result, soldiers sweat a ton, and researchers have quantified exactly how much. In the 1940s, military experiments found that carrying a 68-pound pack increased soldiers’ sweating by more than 20 fluid ounces per hour. Even when not in immediate combat, soldiers have a lot of weight on their soldiers. On a two-day loaded march, a soldier in Afghanistan would be expected to carry around 30 pounds. The weight modern soldiers have to bear on a regular basis can lead to abdominal strain and pelvic organ prolapse, according to a 2010 report of new medical challenges facing military hospitals.

8. DIGESTIVE ISSUES ARE ALMOST UNIVERSAL.

Poop is no joke on active duty. If you think traveler’s diarrhea is bad when you’re a tourist, imagine being in a combat zone. In one military survey of service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, 32 percent of respondents had been hit with a violent case of diarrhea in a situation where they couldn’t get to a toilet. More than three-quarters of soldiers in Iraq and 54 percent in Afghanistan came down with diarrhea at some point, and 40 percent of those cases were so severe they required medical attention. As one Special Operator told Roach, “I have many stories where I’ve soiled my pants on missions. In Iraq, I’ve soiled my pants. In Afghanistan, I’ve soiled my pants.”

Obviously, military researchers are hard at work figuring out how to toughen up soldiers' stomachs for when they inevitably eat questionably sanitary meals in remote locations. In the meantime, soldiers improvise. For those who expect to be stuck in one spot for a long time—like in a hole surveilling a specific intersection—one air strike controller told Roach that a double layer of gallon Ziploc bags and kitty litter have to do the trick if a digestive emergency arises.

9. ON SUBMARINES, MISSILES ARE BUNKMATES.

On some submarines, space is at such a premium that crew members have to sleep with the missiles. That’s the case on the USS Tennessee, a sub that needed to add some bed space when technology upgrades required an increase in people on board. So people sleep in the missile compartment, wedged between Trident II nuclear missiles. Apparently, it’s a pretty peaceful place to get some shut-eye, as far as submarine sleeping quarters go. And that's particularly important, because ...

10. SUBMARINE-BASED SOLDIERS DON’T GET TO SLEEP MUCH.

For better or worse, the crew of subs like the USS Tennessee don’t get to spend much time napping between the missiles. On average, they get about four hours sleep a day. When they are scheduled to have some down time, their sleep is more often than not disrupted by fire drills, training, maintenance, and more. Junior crew members sleep even less than most, because they have to study for qualification, an extensive test of all the major systems across a submarine that every submariner has to pass. And as we all know, a lack of sleep can impair your judgment just as much as a few drinks would, making the military very, very interested in sleep research.

11. SUBS CARRY MORE PAPER THAN PEOPLE.

In 1987, Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III calculated just how much paperwork is involved with working on a submarine. According to his figures, a smaller warship has to carry 20 tons of technical manuals, forms, crew logs, and shelves. He campaigned for paperless ships, but subs still carry more pounds of paperwork than crew, according to Roach.

12. SAILBOATS ARE PRETTY DANGEROUS TO A SUBMARINE.

When submarines surface, it’s hazardous to anything else around, despite the use of technology like sonar. In 2001, a U.S. submarine came up right under a 191-foot-long, 499-ton Japanese trawler, ripping the ship in half and sinking it in just minutes. Subs navigate by sonar, but there are limits to what sonar can detect, which is why periscopes exist. If a ship’s engines are off or if it’s pointed right at the sub’s sonar array, it might go undetected. Furthermore, it doesn’t reflect distance quickly enough to let crew members know whether they should immediately dive or if the ship they’re trying to avoid is miles away. These limits to visibility and object detection might explain how in 2005, a $1 billion U.S. sub crashed into an underwater mountain at 40 miles per hour.

13. SOLDIERS REQUIRE LONGER NEEDLES THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON.

Soldiers tend to be weight-lifting, muscular fitness buffs, with an emphasis on the “buff.” Over the course of the 6000 autopsies on service members since 2004, doctors found that in about half of cases where men were treated in the field for a collapsed lung—involving a needle inserted into the chest to relieve pressure—the soldier’s pecs were so immense that the needle wasn’t long enough to reach past the layer of muscle into the lung. In response, the military began issuing longer needles for buff patients.

14. EVERY DECEASED SOLDIER GETS AN AUTOPSY, EVEN DOGS.

Currently, everyone in the military who dies while on duty gets an autopsy. The rule applies to service men and women, but it also applies to military dogs. While this wasn’t the case before the War on Terror, in 2004, the military decided to examine every service member in order to find new treatments and technologies for wartime injuries. These autopsies allow military doctors to see if the medical devices and techniques they’ve been using worked the way they were supposed to, and to determine if anything could have been done to save the fallen soldier.

15. MILITARY TECHNOLOGISTS HAVE SOME PRETTY OUT-THERE IDEAS.

“They think a lot of harebrained things are good ideas,” sleep researcher Greg Belenky, a retired colonel, told Roach of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a military research arm perhaps best known among civilians for its annual robotics competition, where futuristic, top-of-the-line robots go head-to-head in tough tasks like walking on soft dirt without falling over. Besides all-terrain robots, DARPA hopes to create technology that would allow soldiers to stay awake for up to seven days without showing any adverse side effects, allowing those sleep-deprived submariners, for one, to work more efficiently to avoid deadly mistakes.

Roach tracked down a NATO symposium list of far-off, hypothetical technologies the military would love to develop to help its soldiers be at their best, including prosthetic limbs that would provide superhuman strength and eye implants that would allow soldiers to see in infrared and ultraviolet frequencies. “The wish list also included ‘surgically provided gills,’” Roach notes.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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10 Treasures From the New York Academy of Medicine Library
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Tucked away on a side street near Central Park, the New York Academy of Medicine Library is one of the most significant historical medical libraries in the world. Open to the public by appointment since the 19th century, its collection includes 550,000 volumes on subjects ranging from ancient brain surgery to women's medical colleges to George Washington's dentures. A few weeks ago, Mental Floss visited to check out some of their most fascinating items connected to the study of anatomy. Whether it was urine wheels or early anatomy pop-up books, we weren't disappointed.

1. FASCICULUS MEDICINAE (1509)

The Fasciculus Medicinae is a compilation of Greek and Arabic texts first printed in Venice in 1491. While it covers a variety of topics including anatomy and gynecology, the book begins with the discipline considered most important for diagnosing all medical issues at the time: uroscopy (the study of urine). The NYAM Library's curator, Anne Garner, showed us the book's urine wheel, which once had the various flasks of urine colored in to help aid physicians in their diagnosis. Each position of the wheel corresponded to one of the four humors, whether it was phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic. The image on the left, Garner explains, "shows the exciting moment where a servant boy brings his flasks to be analyzed by a professor." Other notable images in the book include one historians like to call "Zodiac Man," showing how the parts of the body were governed by the planets, and "Wound Man," who has been struck by every conceivable weapon, and is accompanied by a text showing how to treat each type of injury. Last but not least, the book includes what's believed to be the first printed image of a dissection.

2. ANDREAS VESALIUS, DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (1543)

Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Andreas Vesalius, born 1514, was one of the most important anatomists who ever lived. Thanks to him, we moved past an understanding of the human body based primarily on the dissection of animals and toward training that involved the direct dissection of human corpses. The Fabrica was written by Vesalius and published when he was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Padua. Its detailed woodcuts, the most accurate anatomical illustrations up to that point, influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries to come. "After this book, anatomy divided up into pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian," Garner says. You can see Vesalius himself in the book's frontispiece (he's the one pointing to the corpse and looking at the viewer). "Vesalius is trying to make a point that he himself is doing the dissection, he believes that to understand the body you have to open it up and look at it," Garner explains.

3. THOMAS GEMINUS, COMPENDIOSA (1559)

Flap anatomy from Thomas Geminus's Compendiosa
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

There was no copyright in the 16th century, and Vesalius's works were re-used by a variety of people for centuries. The first was in Flemish printer and engraver Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa, which borrowed from several of Vesalius's works. The first edition was published in London just two years after the Fabrica. Alongside a beautiful dedication page made for Elizabeth I and inlaid with real gemstones, the book also includes an example of a "flap anatomy" or a fugitive leaf, which was printed separately with parts that could be cut out and attached to show the various layers of the human body, all the way down to the intestines. As usual for the time, the female is depicted as pregnant, and she holds a mirror that says "know thyself" in Latin.

4. WILLIAM COWPER, THE ANATOMY OF HUMANE BODIES (1698)

Illustration from William Cowper's The Anatomy of Humane Bodies
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

After Vesalius, there was little new in anatomy texts until the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in 1685. The work was expensive and not much of a financial success, so Bidloo sold excess plates to the English anatomist William Cowper, who published the plates with an English text without crediting Bidloo (a number of angry exchanges between the two men followed). The copperplate engravings were drawn by Gérard de Lairesse, who Garner notes was "incredibly talented." But while the engravings are beautiful, they're not always anatomically correct, perhaps because the relationship between de Lairesse and Bidloo was fraught (Bidloo was generally a bit difficult). The skeleton shown above is depicted holding an hourglass, by then a classic of death iconography.

5. 17TH-CENTURY IVORY MANIKINS

17th Century Ivory Manikin
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

These exquisite figures are a bit of a mystery: It was originally thought that they were used in doctors’ offices to educate pregnant women about what was happening to their bodies, but because of their lack of detail, scholars now think they were more likely expensive collector's items displayed in cabinets of curiosity by wealthy male physicians. The arms of the manikins (the term for anatomical figures like this) lift up, allowing the viewer to take apart their removable hearts, intestines, and stomachs; the female figure also has a little baby inside her uterus. There are only about 100 of these left in the world, mostly made in Germany, and NYAM has seven.

6. BERNHARD SIEGFRIED ALBINUS, TABULAE SCELETI (1747)

Illustration from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae Sceleti
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

One of the best-known anatomists of the 18th century, the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus went to medical school at age 12 and had a tenured position at the University of Leiden by the time he was 24. The Tabulae Sceleti was his signature work. The artist who worked on the text, Jan Wandelaar, had studied with Gérard de Lairesse, the artist who worked with Bidloo. Wandelaar and Albinus developed what Garner says was a bizarre method of suspending cadavers from the ceiling in the winter and comparing them to a (very cold and naked) living person lying on the floor in the same pose. Albinus also continued the dreamy, baroque funerary landscape of his predecessors, and his anatomy is "very, very accurate," according to Garner.

The atlas also features an appearance by Clara, a celebrity rhinoceros, who was posed with one of the skeletons. "When Albinus is asked why [he included a rhinoceros], he says, 'Oh, Clara is just another natural wonder of the world, she's this amazing creation,' but really we think Clara is there to sell more atlases because she was so popular," Garner says.

7. FERDINAND HEBRA, ATLAS DER HAUTKRANKHEITEN (1856–1876)

Circus performer Georg Constantin as depicted in Ferdinand Hebra's dermatological atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

By the mid-19th century, dermatology had started to emerge as its own discipline, and the Vienna-based Ferdinand Hebra was a leading light in the field. He began publishing this dermatological atlas in 1856 (it appeared in 10 installments), featuring chromolithographs that showed different stages of skin diseases and other dermatological irregularities.

"While some of the images are very disturbing, they also tend to adhere to Victorian portrait conventions, with very ornate hair, and [subjects] looking off in the distance," Garner says. But one of the most famous images from the book has nothing to do with disease—it's a depiction of Georg Constantin, a well-known Albanian circus performer in his day, who was covered in 388 tattoos of animals, flowers, and other symbols. He travelled throughout Europe and North America, and was known as "Prince Constantine" during a spell with Barnum's Circus. (The image is also available from NYAM as a coloring sheet.)

8. KOICHI SHIBATA, OBSTETRICAL POCKET PHANTOM (1895)

19th century Obstetrical Pocket Phantom
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Obstetrical phantoms, often made of cloth, wood, or leather, were used to teach medical students about childbirth. This "pocket phantom" was originally published in Germany, and Garner explains that because it was made out of paper, it was much cheaper for medical students. The accompanying text, translated in Philadelphia, tells how to arrange the phantom and describes the potential difficulties of various positions.

9. ROBERT L. DICKINSON AND ABRAM BELSKIE, BIRTH ATLAS (1940)

Image from Robert Dickinson's Birth Atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Robert Dickinson was a Brooklyn gynecologist, early birth control advocate, and active member of NYAM. His Birth Atlas is illustrated with incredibly lifelike terracotta models created by New Jersey sculptor Abram Belskie. The models were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where they became incredibly popular, drawing around 700,000 people according to Garner. His depictions "are very beautiful and serene, and a totally different way of showing fetal development than anything that had come before," Garner notes.

10. RALPH H. SEGAL, THE BODYSCOPE (1948)

The Bodyscope
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

This midcentury cardboard anatomy guide contains male and female figures as well as rotating wheels, called volvelles, that can be turned to display details on different parts of the body as well as accompanying explanatory text. The Bodyscope is also decorated with images of notable medical men—and "wise" sayings about God's influence on the body.

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