The medical profession has a staggering array of gadgets, gizmos and devices for just about every purpose. But if you haven’t been to the doctor as a young man, you might have never seen the orchidometer. It’s remarkably low-tech – just a string of wooden beads on a cord – but it’s been the go-to tool for determining puberty stages for generations.
Its inventor was Swiss scientist Andrea Prader, who devoted much of his life to understanding the changes that happen in a young person’s body as they transition to adulthood. As puberty transforms your genitals, the testicles grow and descend into the scrotum. Their diameter can offer valuable clues to other internal developments, so Prader wanted to create a quantitative scale that doctors could use to discuss them.
The result was the orchidometer, also known as “Prader’s beads” and the “endocrine rosary.” Introduced in 1966, it has become the go-to methodology for measuring and understanding developing balls. Each bead corresponds to a different size, allowing doctors to use their sense of touch to compare them and determine their level of development. Digital variants exist, but many doctors feel like nothing will replace the old-school hands-on method.
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