A foreign trip for the 30-year-old glass baby that never ages

26 October 2011

Bobbitt, the glass baby, is 30 years old today.
And on his birthday he has travelled by rail to Europe with Professor David Phillips, OBE, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Bobbitt will even attend an RSC Chemical Landmark in Ghent honouring the organic chemist Friederich Kekule.

Professor Phillips and Bobbitt, who are well-known on the science lecture scene in the UK, will perform to a university audience in Belgium.
Professor Phillips, a specialist in photodynamic therapy - who was a guest on Desert Island Discs last July - will be taking Bobbitt by Eurostar from St Pancras tomorrow morning.

Bobbitt, who was made by a glass-blower in University of Southampton, is used to demonstrate how neo-natal jaundice is treated with blue light. 

Professor Phillips said today:  "We always call him Bobbitt, after the unfortunate gentleman in the USA who had his appendage cut off by his wife when she discovered he had been unfaithful. 

"The most frequent breakage of the baby is in that nether region because the stopcock breaks off. To avoid it happening again I am transporting him this time in a metal trunk, lined with polyurethane soft foam."
Jaundice is caused by a build up of bright yellow bilirubin (the breakdown product of old red blood cells) in the fat just under the skin. 
Adults have an enzyme in their liver and bile, which converts fat-soluble bilirubin into a water-soluble form for excretion. However, in premature babies and those with reduced liver function, it takes a while for this enzyme to develop, so these infants develop jaundice. 
By exposing the skin to blue light, a photochemical reaction occurs that makes bilirubin water-soluble. 
"The glass baby simulates this," said Professor Phillips. "Initially, there is a fat solution of yellow bilirubin in the baby's legs. Then I give the baby a 'drink' of water to show that the bilirubin remains in the 'fat' solution and doesn't dissolve in water. 

"By irradiating the baby with a blue/ UV lamp for a few minutes the bilirubin is rendered water-soluble, and it migrates to the water layer above the flask's stopcock. 

"The demonstration's finale then shows the baby 'peeing' the bilirubin into a potty." 

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