By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte
Australian allergist Dr. John Weiner has written an informative and entertaining guest editorial for us. His account of using a pollen trap to help American soldiers stationed near Alice Springs reminded me of this story, which appears in our book.
During the Cold War, I was a student allergist working on a study of ragweed allergy injections with a group of scientists at Johns Hopkins. We needed to know the ragweed pollen count. At that time, allergists counted ragweed by the gravity method. A microscope slide was placed outside and the number of pollen grains falling in 24 hours was counted. A scientist pointed out the number of grains on the slide did not accurately reflect what was in the air because of wind currents.
I was dispatched after security clearance to an atomic research center. They were growing ragweed in a circular patch and studying how the pollen spread out as a model of what would happen to the radioactive particles coming from an atomic bomb blast.
Being physicists, they had designed a better counter than the allergist’s gravity slide, one that spun around in circles to cancel the effects of wind currents. This rotoslide pollen counter is now standard.