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In the Boston Globe‘s new “Stat” offering, Melissa Bailey has a story about a Boston doctor’s cost-effective bed for treating jaundiced African babies with blue-light.

“The invention looks like a space-age bassinet: A basket of reflective material, covered with canvas dotted with blue LED lights. It aims to treat an ancient problem. Jaundice — an excess of bilirubin that turns the skin yellow — kills 100,000 babies per year, many in developing countries. But exposure to plain blue light can cure it.

“The device, called the Bili-Hut, was inspired by inventor Donna Brezinski’s experience as a neonatal doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. One day, about ten years ago, she was caring for a pair of jaundiced newborn twins at a community hospital that partnered with Children’s — but found only one available phototherapy lamp, the standard treatment for severe cases. When she looked into buying another lamp, she was shocked by the $4,000 price tag.

“Sewing together simple materials at her kitchen table in Winchester, she set about creating a cheaper and more portable alternative that could be used in the developing world. She came up with a bassinet that reflects blue light around the baby’s body. She started a company, Little Sparrows Technologies, to produce and distribute the device. It weighs less than three pounds, can be rolled up to fit inside a FedEx tube, and costs only $250 to make.

“While the device awaits clearance from the Federal Drug Administration for use in the United States, a rural hospital in Burundi has been testing out a prototype and has reported promising results.

“Dr. Alyssa Pfister, a pediatrician at Kibuye Hope Hospital in east central Burundi, found the Bili-Hut on the Internet and e-mailed Brezinski. The inventor sent a free prototype to the hospital, which started using it in September. …

“Brezinski said the device provides the same intensity and quality of light recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and used by other blankets and lamps approved by the FDA. She has tested it on synthetic skin samples and expects to hear back from the FDA within 18 months.” More here.

Interestingly, John’s company, Optics for Hire, was involved in a successful device for treating babies in the developing world called Firefly. See it here.

Photo: Alissa Ambrose/Stat

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Early this month, my colleague Bo went to Tennessee with friends to see synchronous fireflies.

The one week of firefly watching is a real happening. Bo told me that, to get tickets, he went online twice at exactly 10 a.m. The first time he missed out. They go fast. He said that these special fireflies (which start flashing together and stop together) were long known in Southeast Asia but thought to exist nowhere in North America.

The way he heard it, one day a woman from Tennessee was chatting with a firefly expert somewhere in the South and happened to mention the behavior of some fireflies she loved to watch back home. And that was the first time the word got out to the scientific community that synchronous fireflies existed in North America. Now it’s practically Disney World out there — controlled, but crowded.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park website posted this before the great annual event: “The firefly shuttle operating dates for 2015 will be June 2-9. Advance reservations of parking passes have sold out, however an additional 85 passes will be available for each day of the event. These 85 passes will go on sale online at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved. Passes can be purchased at www.recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777.

“During the program operating dates, a parking pass is required for evening access to the Sugarlands parking lot and the firefly shuttle to the Elkmont viewing area. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. …

“Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.

“Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. …

“Their light patterns are part of their mating display. Each species of firefly has a characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other. … Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in late May to mid-June.”

More at the great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Personally, I’d be happy to see any kind of firefly at all. There used to be so many. They were like fairies. I’ve read that lawn chemicals are responsible for their decline. The video below covers both the science and the happening. See the fireflies flash.

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