SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, February 10, 2000, Chandigarh, India
 

Cryonics and immortality
by Sarabjeet Singh

IT was just another of the hi-fi ideas of science fiction writers and first popularised by R.C.W. Ettinger in 1964. And finding it to be an extraordinary business the Cryonics Society of California began freezing newly dead bodies in 1967. There were around 40 subjects till mid eighties who paid $ 60,000 each. Today there are several such companies, charging somewhat around $ 80,000 per body but the number of clients has not even reached 100.

Digital audio: How it works
by Balraj Singh
SINCE the development of phonograph in 1877, the audio systems have evolved a long way. The introduction of plastic tapes in 1935, first use of transistors in 1948, development of Dolby System in 1968 and the launch of a Walkman by Sony in 1979 are just a few major milestones. However, all these systems, being analogue in character, are incapable of providing 100% fidelity.
   
 
NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES


CYBERSURFING


SCIENCE QUIZ





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Cryonics and immortality
by Sarabjeet Singh

IT was just another of the hi-fi ideas of science fiction writers and first popularised by R.C.W. Ettinger in 1964. And finding it to be an extraordinary business the Cryonics Society of California began freezing newly dead bodies in 1967. There were around 40 subjects till mid eighties who paid $ 60,000 each. Today there are several such companies, charging somewhat around $ 80,000 per body but the number of clients has not even reached 100. In general there could be only two categories of people who opt for this choice viz.; the people who are fully satisfied with the speed of advancement of technology and others who are almost totally unfamiliar with science but are fully convinced or influenced by someone else showing them the bright futures and big prospects of cryonics (provided both of the subjects are rich enough to pay the fee).

The merest hint of legal difficulties in cryonics came to light in 1981 when the Cryonics Society of California was ordered to pay $ 1 million to the relatives of frozen people (the bodies of whom accidentally or by carelessness started decaying). The main motive behind the cryonics was its use in long distance space travel. Assessing the vast distances between any two stars and the slow speed of out rockets there arose a need to invent a method of keeping people alive say for 1000 years or more so that they could reach their destination. The method was named suspended animation, and by this way, as it was proposed, the long journeys could be made with only the quiet vault-like silence of rows of people sleeping out light years until their spaceships reach the destinated planets (and then the automatic controls would wake up the crew — in their new homes — quite oblivious of the thousands of years that have passed since they left the earth.)

Work is already going on in laboratories in freezing the rabbits as stiff as wooden boards for an hour, and then reviving them unharmed! The life span of 60-80 years is indeed a small lifetime for a man to satisfy his appetite for knowledge, power, pleasure and adventure. No one has yet volunteered to be frozen live but R.C.W. Ettinger argued that the main benefits of cryonics would be to those suffering from incurable diseases-who want to wait (in liquid nitrogen at = 196C) until the cure becomes available.

But doesn’t the freezing process itself damage the body? Till date research has not yet reached at the break-even stage. We leave aside the technical difficulties involved and think of whether all alone subject could be able to cope with, after having been frozen for 500 or 1000 years, his present super technological and miraculous world — when all his friends and relatives would have been buried long ago.... (Surely the idea is not appealing.)

But for the time being, couldn’t the key to immortality come from any other field of science? The organ transplantation is done, of course, to replace the old worn-out or diseased organs but why should the bodies wear out at all? Or why shouldn’t they repair themselves? A good deal of present-day research is also dedicated to above questions.

A biologist, W.D. Denckle who associates ageing with some kind of “internal clock” in the body suggests that the pituitary gland may produce a hormone which blocks the activity of some of the body’s other hormones, thus causing gradual failure of human system. If this is true then the key to longevity may simply be a matter of neutralising the pituitary gland’s “suicide hormone”.

Some writers go even further. They suggest that immortals would get intolerably bored or would go mentally sick. And also it would become terribly expensive to manage and feed such a huge population of immortals, and they would rather have to give up having children altogether. So if in the future some kind of immortality serum is invented, we would all be in favour of a world in which only nice people can be made immortal.
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Digital audio
How it works
by Balraj Singh

SINCE the development of phonograph in 1877, the audio systems have evolved a long way. The introduction of plastic tapes in 1935, first use of transistors in 1948, development of Dolby System in 1968 and the launch of a Walkman by Sony in 1979 are just a few major milestones. However, all these systems, being analogue in character, are incapable of providing 100% fidelity.

In a digital audio system, an A/D (analogue to Digital)) converter samples the incoming electrical signals from the microphone at a very high rate (e.g. 44,100 samples/second) and records instantaneous signal voltages in the form of a stream of numbers against a time scale. During playback, these numbers are read and converted back into an audio signal by the D/A (Digital to Analogue) converter and sent to the speakers after amplification. Higher sampling rates give better fidelity but consume more space on the recording media. Unlike a cassette player, here is no chance of interference or mixing between the left and right channels.

An audio CD (Compact Disc) recorder impinges marks along the tracks of a CD using a LASER beam, which is modulated in accordance with the signals received from the A/D converter. A less powerful LASER beam later ‘reads’ these marks during playback. This media is so compact that just 90 square centimetres can hold 60 minutes of audio, which would otherwise occupy 4320 square centimetres on a conventional audio tape. Further, storing music as data allows the use of Reed Solomon error correcting codes, thereby ensuring redundancy. Drill a hole of up to 2 mm diameter in a CD and it will still play!

A computer stores an audio signals in the form of a file. As, it is not the signal itself, but its values that get recorded, there is no scope of any difference between the original and copied files! Further, copying one hour of audio may take just 30-35 seconds over a fast line. A computer CD can be made to hold over 15 hours of stereophonic audio by reducing sampling frequency and using compression techniques. Sounds are very easy to edit on a computer — deleting a section, copying it from one place and pasting it elsewhere, joining two parts, mixing two or more sounds, changing speed, creating effects like echo and fading etc. become a child’s play. Such things would require a very careful re-recording on an analogue system and surely lead to some loss of fidelity.

A computer can perform Fourier Transformation on a recorded sound to break it into its constituent frequencies and then individually alter their amplitudes. If done in real time, it gives the effects of an equaliser. Same technique is also used in noise filtering. For example, a low band-pass filter can remove high-pitched hiss, while a narrow band, notch filter centered at 50 Hz can selectively suppress the humming of a transformer. Some unusual effects like changing the pitch without varying speed or modulating somebody’s voice over someone else’s previously recorded speech are also possible.

Standard instrumental music can be stored in an extremely compact form, popularly known as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Instead of recording the sounds, it only stores the devices and their notes against a time-scale. A single MIDI CD may hold 500 hours of audio. While playing back such sounds, the sound-board of the computer actually synthesises the individual notes in real time from its wave-table memory chip and produces a very clean music in the process. Many softwares are also available which can synchronise and combine recorded sounds with MIDI data.

In short, the digital audio offers a very powerful set of tools, which greatly simplify the cumbersome task of sound editing. The amount of freedom offered by this technology is limited only by one’s own imagination.
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CYBERSURFING

with Amar Chandel

Inside the PMO

FOR more than half a century, the offices of top functionaries of the government remained out of bounds for the common man. With the advent of the Internet, there has been some opening up. You can enter the cyberworld of the forbidden area at the click of a mouse. In fact, there is a mad race among various ministries to have their own websites. Some of these are so dull and unimaginative that one will have to be a compulsive netohlic to open them. But when the Prime Minister's Office itself hosts a website, one cannot help taking a peep. However, one's curiosity is covered with a wet blanket at every step.

The frustration starts gathering right from the start. The site cannot be accessed at the officially given address of http://www.pmindia.nic.in. One has to first eliminate the three w's. And even when it is found, it takes so long to load. A typical sarkari venture, indeed.

Then the positioning of various items gets your goat. To press the site map icon, one has to shove the mouse to the extreme right of the screen, where only a portion of the logo is visible. The upper half of the screen remains static while all the information comes up on the lower half. The result is that even to view a single column official photograph of the Prime Minister one has to do a lot of scrolling. That problem does not arise while viewing the photos of the PMO, because these open in separate windows.

The photos and biographical details of previous Prime Ministers are also available. The site is crammed with details of the functions of the PMO, updates on the PM's development initiatives and Press statements (yawn, yawn).

What is more interesting is the provision to write to the PMO. One can also vote on current issues.

If the site is receiving considerable hits, it is partly because of the novelty value and partly because there are links to the sites of other ministries.

The modest effort of Mandi, a district in Himachal Pradesh, is a study in contrast. The site www.indiatourism-mandi.com satisfies one's queries in an efficient manner. There are a lot of details about Mandi, its temples, fairs and festivals, accommodation etc. There are a large number of pictures to attract potential visitors.

For those bitten by the armchair travel bug, the various sites of the world are available at www.fat.co.uk. Besides art and architecture related material, it has a facility to provide the visitors a view of various places of the world. Since the photographs change every 20 seconds, one can see the scene at the western wall in Jerusalem as well as a used car shed in the USA. How one wishes the photo quality was a little better.
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NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES

Two-in-one laser

US researchers have built the world’s first bidirectional semiconductor laser — a single experimental light source doing the work of two — that may be used to detect pollutants in the atmosphere and increase the capacity of lightwave communication systems.

The device developed by scientists at Bell Labs, the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies, emits light at two widely different wavelengths, or colours, depending on the direction of electrical current flowing through it.

The direction is changed by switching between negative and positive voltage applied across the device, the researchers report in Science.

The prototype laser, primarily designed by Bell Labs researcher Claire Gmachl, emits light in the invisible region of the spectrum, where most gases and vapors have telltale light-absorption ‘‘fingerprints,’’ so that it can find applications in pollution detection in the atmosphere.

Electronic label

Researchers in Germany are working on a new kind of electronic label, different from the conventional barcode, which does away with the need to handle products individually to scan them and store the relevant transaction information.

The barcode is today the most widely used and the most economic form of automatic identification. The characteristic set of stripes can be placed with ease anywhere on an item and can be accurately read by scanners which do not necessarily have to be right next to the items.

This is a handicap as the barcode can only hold a small amount of information and needs a clear line of sight to the barcoded object. This means, for example, that a cashier still needs to pass goods across the scanner one at a time, sometimes even several times.

The new electronic label, called a transponder of tag, responds to stimulation with radio waves and transmits data to a storage system across a distance of up to one metre without a clear line of sight using a tiny antenna.

Tags can be reprogrammed as required and several transponders can be read at the same time-without separating or lining up the items.

Content-based video retrieval

Japanese researchers have developed a video retrieval technology that allows searching of video based on the video content i.e. moving pictures.

Existing technologies search videos based on video titles or annotation about video contents attached to them.

The new technology, developed by researchers of MPT Communication Research Laboratory (CRL) and Tokyo Research Laboratory of IBM Japan Company Limited, allows video retrieval without appended annotations, by focusing mainly on moving objects within the video and by defining their movement based on speed, position and shape changes.

The technology will help retrieve desired titles from a large volume or videos in a world of digital television and video-on-demand in the near future, reports Science & Technology in Japan.

Checking each video in detail and giving annotations for all of them is not only an enormous burden for video providers, but also makes it difficult to maintain uniform quality of the annotations.

Overhead lenses for projector

German researchers have developed a new type of overhead projector lenses (Fresnel lens) that have microstructures to prevent undesired reflections so that images produced will not lose their sharpness and contrast ever after years of use.

Fresnel lens is a thin lens specially constructed to have the optical properties of a much thicker lens.

The new lenses were jointly developed by researchers of Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy System (ISE) in Freiburg and Fraunhofer Institutes for Silicate Research and for Mechanics of Materials, reports Fraunhofer Gesselschaft Research News.
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SCIENCE QUIZ

by J. P. Garg

1. Name the Chairman of Indian space Research Organisation under whose pilotship India is making rapid strides in space technology. Which two awards were bestowed upon him recently?

2. A Dutch astronomer proposed in 1950 that comets exist in a spherical region of space surrounding our solar system. What is this region called? Who was the astronomer?

3. An intercom device fixed at the entrance of a building by which callers may identify themselves to gain admission is likely to come to India in the near future. What is this device called?

4. Laser refers to amplification of light. What can be possibly amplified in a Raser? In a Graser?

5. Name the first non-human primate cloned by the US scientists using a method that splits the original cells in a very early embryo into pieces to create multiple identical animals.

6. Special photographic films on developing show portions affected by ordinary red light as green, ordinary green light as blue, infra-red light as crimson red and the rest of visible light as black. What general name is given to such films which are used in modern scientific research?

7. Mushrooms are immensely rich in proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and low in carbohydrates and fat, making them highly nutritional and very useful in some medicines. About how many varieties of edible mushrooms are found in the world? About how many in India?

8. Constantan wire is generally used for making standard resistances and in laboratory equipment like a potentiometer, metre bridge etc. Which two metals does constantan alloy contain and why is it useful for such purposes?

9. The compounds of this element are used as poison for rats, pigments for paints and as drying agents. A salt of it is also administered to patients for X-ray examination of the stomach and intestines because it is opaque to X-rays. Can you name this silver-white, poisonous metallic element?

10. Mars Polar Lander space probe has ultimately been declared lost by NASA scientists. Name the space probe, orbiting Mars since 1997, which is still taking photographs of the place on the surface of Mars where the Polar Lander was expected to have touched down.

Answers

1. Dr K.K. Kasturirangan; M.N. Saha Birth Centenary Award at the Indian Science Congress and Padma Vibhushan on Republic Day 2. Oort cloud; Jan Hendrick Oort 3. Entry phone 4. Roentgen or X-rays; Gamma rays 5. Tetra (a female rhesus monkey) 6. False colour films 7. 2000 and 200 respectively 8. Nickel and copper; because its resistance does not change appreciably with change of temperature 9. Bartum 10. Mars Global Surveyor.
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