For many years Julian Headlong has been famed for his talks at conventions, telling you about the damage you're doing to yourself with all that beer and pontificating on the exact nature of Spock's liver and so on. We thought this could be extended to the youngest member of the cabal, and he duly sent us the following.

Pod's Liver Oil

"Why?" I hear you ask, "Why is a baby like a wrist watch?"

No. Not "they both have faces, hands, and itty bitty knobs" No. A baby is like a wrist watch because they both rely on phospholipids to communicate with the outside world.

Damned superfluous microtechnology"What?" I hear you ask, "What is a phospholipid?"

A phospholipid is a long chain molecule derived from oils or fats with a hydrophobic (water hating) fatty "tail", and a hydrophilic (water loving) phosphate "head" which can carry an electrical charge. They are made naturally in the liver, or, superfluotechnologically, in a factory in Taiwan.

"When?" I hear you ask, "When are you going to get to the point?"

OK. Consider the wrist watch. Nowadays it will almost certainly tell you the time digitally using a "Liquid Crystal Display". This will use compounds cleverly derived from phospholipids which exhibit traits of both crystalline order and liquid mobility. The long chains order themselves into sheets with all the chains perpendicular to the sheet ,and all the charged "heads" at the same end. These ordered arrays can be re-arranged using their charged ends under the influence of an electric field. These long molecules also have an effect on any light that reflects from them -- they polarise it. And the angle of polarisation varies with the orientation of the liquid crystal, which varies with the electric field. So if you arrange an array of liquid crystal elements with an overlay of polaroid material, then the reflected polarised light will be either passed or blocked by the polaroid layer, giving you either black or grey blobs. String these together and you get things that almost look like numbers. All very clever and wonderfully superfluous.

Now consider the baby. Babies are clever things, even Pod. They spend their first nine months completely underwater. Well, I say "underwater", I really mean "underurine", the amniotic fluid consisting mainly of babypee, which they spend a lot of time producing and re-ingesting.

"I didn't need to know that," I hear you say. No, but I needed to share it.

So here we have baby, with baby lungs just full of... no, it doesn't bear thinking about. But we do have a problem. Have you ever tried to separate two panes of wet glass? It can't be done by main force. You have to slide them apart "horizontally" before they will let go. This is due to surface tension. Now imagine the baby, with all the little baby alveoli filled with... no, just imagine them filled with water. It's easier. At birth all these wet surfaces have to part and allow air to circulate freely between. This is hard. This will require a deal more effort than baby chest muscles or diaphragm can provide, even with that "encouraging" slap on the... back.

So, how does baby perform this breathtaking feat?

The answer lies with the same long chain molecules as used in a liquid crystal display. As well as being half-crystal and half-liquid, as well as re-arranging in an electric field, as well as variably polarising light, they can also reduce a liquid's surface tension. Is there no end to their talents?

Yes, just a dash of this "magic potion", this "enchanted fluid", this "fairy liquid" will reduce the surface tension of the... amniotic fluid-filled lungs of the new born; allowing that all important first cry of "Stop Hitting Me You Bastard!" Yes, phospholipids are also detergents!

Premature babies, those whose livers haven't had enough time to produce sufficient phospholipid surfactant (superfluotechnical term for detergent) have trouble breathing. Early experiments to help them involved getting them to inhale fluid washed from sheep's lungs. Neither the babies nor the sheep were consulted about this practice. Later synthetic mixtures of phospholipids were used, which pleased the sheep.

So, with a good supply of these versatile phosphorylated liver oils, young Pod's healthy lungs can perform that other "watch-like" service, and ensure that the 3 am screams are bang on time!

-- Julian Headlong

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