medical technology

Today I bring you one example of how medical technology and body modification are converging.

The Tongue Drive System uses magnetic field sensors to track the movement of a magnetized tongue piercing.

The image above comes from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where they have engineered a new form of wheelchair mobility through the use of a tongue piercing. The Tongue Drive System uses a dental plate that captures the movement of the tongue piercing below, which is fashioned with a tiny magnet on top. more...

Photo by Howard Schatz

My post today comes from a class on ableism and disabled bodies that I taught earlier this past semester in my Social Problems course. Its inception came from the point at which I wanted to introduce my students to Donna Haraway’s concept of cyborgs, because I saw some useful connections between one and the other.

My angle was to begin with the idea of able-bodied society’s instinctive, gut-level sense of discomfort and fear regarding disabled bodies, which is outlined in disability studies scholar Fiona Kumari Campbell’s book Contours of Ableism. Briefly, Campbell distinguishes between disableism, which are the set of discriminatory ideas and practices that construct the world in such a way that it favors the able-bodied and marginalizes the disabled, and ableism, which is the set of constructed meanings that set disabled bodies themselves apart as objects of distaste and discomfort. In this sense, disabled bodies are imbued with a kind of queerness – they are Other in the most physical sense, outside and beyond accepted norms, unknown and unknowable, uncontrollable, disturbing in how difficult they are to pin down. Campbell identifies this quality of unknowability and uncontainability as especially, viscerally horrifying.


Scientists in London  are working on an oral (rather than topical) form of sunscreen. Specifically, they are synthesizing sun-propelling properties from coral to work in the body as a  defense for the human skin against the sun’s damaging rays. This truly is a cyborg technology in Donna Haraway’s use of the term. It is a melding of human, animal, and machine. By ingesting the pill, the human biology is altered. This biological alteration in the human body is caused by its interaction and so enmeshment with the body and biology of the coral–an animal that was altered and synthesized using machine technology in a lab. Beyond a nice illustration of Haraway, the coral-based, human altering, technology reminds us that “nature” and “technology” are not mutually exclusive.

Just a quick link I came across over the weekend before the hurricane knocked out my power. In the video below, we see Chloe Holmes displaying her new prosthetic hand, a $62,000 piece of technology that allows her to move each digit independently of one another through sensors embedded in the sleeve. Chloe lost her fingers at age 3 as a result of septicemia, a complication from chicken pox.

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Photo Credit: John A. Rogers

I have written before about the (new) cyborg body, mostly in the form of tattoos and body modification, but new technologies are pushing this trend further in the form of epidermal electronics. John Rogers and his research colleagues, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne have developed rubbery sheets of “elastometer” that mimic the mechanical properties of the human skin. This allows them to embed circuits and semiconductors into the material and apply it to the human skin much like one applies a temporary tattoo. Jon Cartwright reports that this material more...

New Millimeter-scale computer. Photo Credit: Greg Chen
New Millimeter-scale computer. Photo Credit: Greg Chen

I have terrible eyesight. Correctable medium myopia, with a heavy dose of astigmatism, keeps glasses on my head for 90% of my waking hours. (The remaining 10% is split between showers and punctuating dramatic one-liners.) My first eye doctor made a point to remind me of, upon each visit,how hard it is to repair a damaged eye. Thus, fueled by a fear of losing my eyesight, I always get excited about new technology for the eyeballs.

Researchers at The University of Michigan have successfully developed one of the first millimeter-scale computer systems. They aim to use the technology to monitor eye pressure in glaucoma patients, by inserting this tiny computer near the eye. Their overall goal for the technology however, has much broader implications. Dr. David Blaauw explains:

“The next big challenge is to achieve millimeter-scale systems, which have a host of new applications for monitoring our bodies, our environment and our buildings. Because they’re so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer. There could be 10s to 100s of them per person and it’s this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry’s growth.”