FOSSconnect


Health Research: Inquiry in Action!

Guest Contributors
September 14, 2001 | Science News

Top image: Paracelsis (1493–1541) was a member of an illustrious group that included Nicholas Copernicus, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others associated with the shattering of medieval thought and the birth of the modern world.
(Image credit: Washington University Collection)

Paracelsus was a 16th century physician who was the first to realize that a chemical can be safe at a low dose but poisonous, or toxic, at a higher dose. He came up with this hypothesis: The dose of a chemical determines the type and severity of the body's response to it.

Paracelsus (1493–1541) was born in Einsiedeln, Switzerland in 1493, one year after Columbus's first voyage to the New World. Paracelsus was a member of an illustrious group that included Nicholas Copernicus, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others associated with the shattering of medieval thought and the birth of the modern world. The scientific debates of the late sixteenth century were centered more frequently on the innovations of Paracelsus than they were on Copernicus's theory of a heliocentric system.

Paracelsus laid the groundwork for scientists, like Dr. Goldsmith, in the study of environmental health issues. Environmental health specialists continue to conduct inquiries into possible health risks from different materials that may be part of our daily lives, whether at work, in our homes, schools, and places of commerce, or within the environment in which we live and maintain our existence.

Environmental health scientists employ the same techniques that students are introduced to in FOSS modules. They ask questions such as "How much of a certain chemical (e.g., silica) is in the air, water, soil, sediments, or organisms?" Or "How much exposure do people have to chemicals when they breathe air, drink water and milk, garden, build highways, etc., and when does this exposure become a health hazard?" They gather information to help answer the question by reading about research that other scientists have done and about techniques and instruments that other scientists have used to study the chemical. They form testable hypotheses, i.e., those that can be answered with the available techniques and instruments. They may have to develop new techniques and instruments to explore a hypothesis. They can use methods that have been used before or validate or prove that their new methods work. They conduct controlled experiments and report their results, describing their methods and their conclusions based on evidence and assumptions they collect and make.

These were the methods Dr. Goldsmith employed in his studies of silicosis and agricultural cancer prevention for farm-workers and farmers in California's Central Valley. His research now focuses on the science and epidemiology for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) new national silica dust standard and a new study of pesticide exposure and the risk of ovarian cancer. These are the types of concerns that your students may address in their future careers as scientists and lives as well-informed citizens. These are the methods of inquiry which they learn as they are involved with FOSS modules and courses.

Resources

  • Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) Website
    This website for teachers and students includes a tutorial on how OEHHA scientists study possible hazardous substances plus links to information about common art supply hazards and other educational resources.
  • Paracelsus, Five Hundred Years: Three American Exhibits
    If you'd like to learn more about Paracelsus, visit this website from the National Institute of Health. This is an online version of an exhibit held at three sites in 1993 and 1994 (the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, PA; and Washington University, St. Louis, MO).