The Lucky Iron Fish

27 Mar

Sometimes marketing is just as important as the science behind it.

Chris Charles had recently grabbed a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Guelph and had decided to do a short summer program before heading off to grad school. With big plans for his future, Charles flew to Cambodia. One of the major medical challenges Cambodia faces is anemia, so rampant that roughly 60% of women face dangers of premature labor, hemorrhaging, and pre-natal development issues. A lack of dietary iron is the most common cause and scientists had the idea of distributing small iron ingots to at-risk communities.

This might not make sense at first, but it was actually an ingenious idea. One of the big changes to occur during the spread of iron working actually came about through cooking. Replacing copper cookware with heavy iron pots and pans seems like a simple change, but it vastly improved diets. When acidic food is cooked in iron pots atoms leech into the food, supplementing vital nutrients that are often lacking in heavily vegetarian or aquatic diets.

All the locals had to do was toss the ingot into their pots while cooking, but the idea just was not taking. A simple iron circle didn’t work, nor did metal shaped into a flower. It had to not just be simple or attractive, but something memorable. Charles’ team hit upon the idea of shaping it into the image of a local lucky fish. This was a hit.

Charles’ idea was a great mix of local knowledge and social marketing. It’s become a regular thing throughout the local villages. Charles even changed his graduate program in order to see the project to completion.

A simple iron good luck charm at the nexus of folklore, science, and medicine, the lucky fish is a great example of science interacting with the real world.

Sources: Toronto News, Boing Boing

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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Biography, Modernity


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