How Physics Saved Two Million Premature Babies
This video is in collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates. You can check out the Gates Annual Letter here:
Doctors beat back a disease that was killing tens of thousands of babies a year with a machine based on a simple principle of physics.
Thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates for their financial support. Thanks also to our supporters on
FYI: We try to leave jargon out of our videos, but if you want to learn more about this topic, here are some keywords to get your googling started:
Preterm Birth: The leading cause of death of children under five years old, prematurity occurs for a variety of different reasons.
Respiratory Distress Syndrome: A syndrome in premature babies caused by insufficient production of pulmonary surfactant.
Alveoli: Tiny air sacs in the lungs that allow for rapid gas exchange
Pulmonary Surfactant: A mixture of lipids and proteins that decreases surface tension in the alveoli.
Law of Laplace: A law of physics stating that the pressure within a sphere is inversely proportional to its radius.
CPAP: A ventilator that provides Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) to keep the airways open.
Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Script Editor: Emily Elert (@eelert)
Video Illustrator: Ever Salazar (@eversalazar)
Video Director: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
Video Narrator: Emily Elert (@eelert)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Alex Reich, Peter Reich
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:
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Gregg, R. Bernstein, J. (1961). Pulmonary Hyaline Membranes and the Respiratory Distress Syndrome. American Journal of Diseases of Children 102 (871-889). Retrieved from:
Gregory, G., Kitterman, J., Phibbs, R., Tooley, W., and Hamilton, W. (1971). Treatment of the Idiopathic Respiratory-Distress Syndrome with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. New England Journal of Medicine 284 (1333-1340). Retrieved from:
Kamath, B., MacGuire, E., McClure, E., Goldenberg, R., and Jobe, A. (2011) Neonatal Mortality From Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Lessons for Low-Resource Countries. Pediatrics 127 (1139-1146). Retrieved from:
Mai, C., Yaster, M., Firth, P. (2013). The development of continuous positive airway pressure:an interview with Dr. George Gregory. Pediatric Anaesthesia 23 (3-8). Retrieved from