Monday, July 21st — Zugzwang and Henrietta Lacks

July 21, 2008

***Special Double-Shot!***

Today I Learned…

…a new word.  Zugzwang, which is German for “compulsion to move.”  It originally comes from chess, but now applies to any situation in which you are forced to do something when not doing anything is a more advantageous decision.  Generally in chess it refers to having no move that does not worsen your position — i.e. going from a drawn position to a loss or a winning position to a draw or a loss.  I found this word on this post on Nate Silver’s electoral polling blog, FiveThirtyEight.com, one of my favorites.  If you’re a political junkie, or enjoy the kind of statistical analysis Nate does for Baseball Prospectus, it’s a fantastic one.

…I also learned a cool fact about medical research.  In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and died shortly thereafter.  Without her knowledge, her doctor took a sample of her cellular matter.  Those cells were later found to have the ability to reproduce indefinitely outside of the body — which is not normally possible.  Ms. Lacks’ cells are the only known case of cell immortality in medical history, and her line, known now as HeLa cells, have been completely invaluable to medical research.  They were used to create the cure for polio by Jonas Salk, and are found in almost every laboratory.

Further Reading…

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One Response to “Monday, July 21st — Zugzwang and Henrietta Lacks”

  1. Tyler Says:

    I’m curious as to who found this site from chessvibes.com…?


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