SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, September 28, 2000, Chandigarh, India

X-raying the cosmic mysteries
by Radhakrishna Rao
HE origin, evolution and dynamics of universe has fascinated and puzzled man down the centuries. The science of cosmology, whose origin goes back to the first quarter of the last century, continues to be far from clear while elucidating the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. 

Health hazards from pollution
by Y.P. Gupta
ODAY, the world is facing a serious challenge to save its environment from pollution, as the very survival of life on this planet is threatened. Many animal species in India have become extinct. The National Institute of Oceanography has reported that shrimp, prawn and fish yield off Kerala coast has declined by 25 per cent due to coastal pollution.

Surface cleaning made easy
EMOVING stains, rust, paint coatings, graffiti, all without damaging the surface has become easier than before, thanks to a new surface cleaning technology which is considered to be a huge advance.

New products & discoveries

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg



X-raying the cosmic mysteries
by Radhakrishna Rao

THE origin, evolution and dynamics of universe has fascinated and puzzled man down the centuries. The science of cosmology, whose origin goes back to the first quarter of the last century, continues to be far from clear while elucidating the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. Notwithstanding the tremendous strides man has made into the frontierless outerspace and the massive success he has achieved in scanning a large part of the universe, many of processes and phenomena taking place in the depths of the cosmos continue to be a “mystery wrapped in a riddle”.

In the shifting sand of theories and hypotheses explaining the dynamics of universe, the most recent argument is that our universe bubbled off from some pre-existing universe, thereby implying that universe never actually began. Many cosmologists are veering round to the viewpoint that our universe never had a beginning and as such will never have on end. According to Andrei Linde, a leading cosmologist, “If life in our parts of universe were to disappear, it will appear again somewhere else.” The brand new universe theory of Linde brushes aside the conventional and widely accepted Big Bang theory which says that the universe came into existence with a big bang some 15 million years ago. Linde’s logic is that Big Bang has failed in toto in explaining why the universe remains much the same in all directions. Linde’s so-called Inflation scenario projects that one extremely small fragment of space expanded to an area far, far larger than the visible universe in an unimagineable fraction of a second and everything is that space-atoms, stars and light-condensed out of the colossal energy released by inflation.

All said and done, no one is sure as yet whether our universe is finite or infinite in shape and size. The age of universe is calculated by measuring the time it takes for the light emanating from quasars — the bright, unusual and most distant objects in the universe — to reach the earth. Some of the quasars are as far away as 16-billion light years from earth.

The possibility of the universe becoming extinct due to a natural or man made catastrophe has been ruled out by a section of cosmologists. The long term view is that for another 100-billion years our universe will remain hospitable for all forms of life. All said and done, nothing certain can be said about the fate of our universe. For according to the physicist Freeman Dyson, “It is impossible to calculate in detail, the long range future of universe, without including the effects of life and intelligence.” For the human beings through their intelligence have been manipulating the spaceship earth for their own benefit. Who knows in the distant future marked by the advancement of civilisation, man will not indulge in manipulating the universal forces, triggering off a catastrophe?

That the universe is far more complex and baffling that it has been perceived by man is an inescapable reality. Now astrophysicists hint that there could be in all probability a “parallel universe”. In 1980, researcher, Stephen Hawking, put forth the theory pointing out to the existence of a “baby universe” with its own self contained reality of space-time. Further, American physicist Alan Goth, realised in late 1980s that one could create a baby universe in the lab from just a few pounds worth of matter by compressing the stuff to blackhole density.

Yet another theory advanced by Richard Gott veers round the view that the flow of time loses its meaning when one moves from one universe to another. With science of cosmology bombarded by a spate of “conflicting and contradictory” theories, the reality of the “real universe” continues to remain masked.


Health hazards from pollution
by Y.P. Gupta

TODAY, the world is facing a serious challenge to save its environment from pollution, as the very survival of life on this planet is threatened. Many animal species in India have become extinct. The National Institute of Oceanography has reported that shrimp, prawn and fish yield off Kerala coast has declined by 25 per cent due to coastal pollution. A Washington-based World Watch Institute had earlier warned that there is a beginning of an unprecedented biological collapse worldwide because three-fourths of the world’s bird species are threatened with extinction.

The Supreme Court had taken a serious view of the alarming air pollution in Delhi. It had directed the government to upgrade fuel quality and to run vehicles with compressed natural gas (CNG) kits. It has also ruled that any person found polluting the environment and disturbing the ecological balance is liable to pay damages.

Pollutants have been adversely affecting the atmosphere and the climate and thereby, affecting the human society. High inputs in agriculture such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides have been creating a variety of pollution problems, affecting the development of flora, and fauna, accumulating harmful chemical substances in food having deleterious effects when consumed. Some of them are cancer-causing or carcinogens, and thereby posing a great risk to the health of the people.

The use of excessive nitrogenous fertilisers has increased concentration of nitrates in the river waters. As a result, their concentration in the drinking water has increased. These nitrates in high concentration are toxic and promote stomach cancer. The continuous use of pesticides has affected the ground water sources through seepage into the soil. As a result, rivers, streams and ponds have become polluted with these harmful chemicals affecting the drinking water. Some of these pesticides have been characterised as carcinogens. Their accumulation in different foods is hazardous to human health. The level of accumulated DDT in the body tissue of an average Indian is the highest in the world.

The use of petroleum as a fuel in over 630 million automobiles in the world has been a cause of large-scale pollution. Over 15 million tonnes of carbon monoxide, one million tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 1.5 million tonnes of hydrocarbons are added to the environment every year. The amount of carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere due to the burning of fossile fuels, comes to billions of tonnes per year. The developed countries account for 70 per cent of the atmospheric pollution in the world.

In India, which is a relatively underdeveloped country, the pollutants in the form of sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, lead oxide and hydrocarbons belched out into the atmosphere amounts to a few million tonnes per year. Delhi is ranked fourth among the 41 cities of the world monitored for air pollution caused mainly by automobiles numbering over 30 lakh.

These pollutants have been causing global changes. The nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide gases are responsible for acid rains in the various parts of the globe. These together with the hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight, lead to the depletion of the ozone layer. Carbon dioxide gas is one of the main contributors of the greenhouse effect, which is slowly raising the temperature of the world. Fourteen per cent of the carbon dioxide comes from the fossile fuels.

These pollutants cause of number of diseases like lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, etc. In the affluent residential areas of Bombay, a large number of people have been suffering from bronchitis, asthma and lung cancer. Delhi is at the top in the country in respect of lung diseases with 30 per cent of its population suffering from respiratory diseases. In Delhi, people have a 12 times higher chances of respiratory and throat diseases because of pollution by poisonous gases. 80 per cent of cancer is attributed to environment polluted with toxic and hazardous chemicals. Smoke from petrol, diesel, coal, wood, charcoal, cow dung and cigarettes is carcinogenic.

Lead pollution from industry and automobiles has been on the increase posing a serious environmental hazard. Automobile & diesel engine exhausts contain lead which is a carcinogenic. Lead from automobile exhausts accumulates in the form of dust. On inhalation, organic lead emitted from cars, gets easily absorbed in brain, liver, kidney and blood, which becomes cumulative poison leading to brain damage, muscular paralysis, convulsions and even death. 50 per cent of the Bombay City’s population contains 30 microgram of lead in 100 ml of blood; while 50 microgram is enough to cause brain damage.

The Gulf War created the world’s worst ecological disaster. Such a large-scale ecological and human tragedy was almost equal to the combined disasters of Hiroshima, Bhopal and the Chernobyl. Burning of Kuwait oil wells, petroleum refineries and oil slick polluted the vast areas surrounding Kuwait with suspended particulate matter, poisonous gases and other toxic substances. Iraq became a “poisoned desert” as many of its parts were contaminated with highly toxic chemicals causing epidemics. Cholera & diarrhoea diseases were widespread because of polluted drinking water. Hundreds of children died.

Petroleum and industrial hazardous wastes have increasingly polluted oceans adversely affecting the sea life. As a result, fish became contaminated with poisonous matter. Consumption of these fish caused diseases of the spinal cord. Oysters (shellfish) from water polluted with petroleum wastes are found to contain potential carcinogens. Consumption of contaminated seafoods by humans causes numbness, giddiness, incoherence of speech and gastro-intestinal disturbances. In extreme cases, it may lead to death due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Combating pollution has been receiving worldwide attention. The world bodies have proposed to imposed taxes and levies on the industrial units causing pollution. The Supreme Court has issued directions to take suitable action against those polluting the environment and disturbing the ecological balance. If such a large-scale pollution is not checked, it would be difficult to achieve the goal of health for all. 


Surface cleaning made easy

REMOVING stains, rust, paint coatings, graffiti, all without damaging the surface has become easier than before, thanks to a new surface cleaning technology which is considered to be a huge advance.

The new device called System 2000 uses water along with special non-toxic abrasives called ‘granulex’ which have been carefully selected for their specific properties and which are either refined or lab-grown to achieve high levels of purity. This ensures that the system works to its full potential, particularly when used in sensitive environments.

With particle sizes ranging from five microns to over 3000 microns, the system has a material suited to almost every type of cleaning operation.

The other applications of ‘System 2000’, which offers one of the most advanced methods of commercial surface cleaning include removing limestone traces from windows, cleaning steel car panels, marble buildings and even aluminium boat hulls.

Three available models of the new system are based on an advanced slurry system in which the abrasive medium is mixed under controlled pressure with water. After mixing, the water-coated particles are fed through an agitation system and then into the main output airstream through valves. Water is injected further depending on requirements.

The same advanced wet-abrasive cleaning technology has been used in another machine which is used for high-speed cleaning, particularly in off-shore oil and gas industries where wet blasting is far safer to use than dry blasting. 


New products & discoveries

World’s largest water slide
This time around the Japanese have something that is not the smallest in the world but the largest. The world’s largest water slide is now located at Kobe in Japan.

The superb feat in designing the water slide is not just to provide thrills for those who disappear into its folds. The sheer size of the slide together with its twists and turns is enough to make one marvel.

The water slide’s vital statistics will help outline its size. It has no fewer than 50 tobular one metre wide slides. The longest of these is 151 metres long and 16 metres high. As an engineering feat too it is said to surpass similar water slides elsewhere in the world.

Fatigue meter for fighter aircraft
An indigenous fatigue meter to test the fatigue life of fighter aircraft, information of which is vital to airforce maintenance authorities, has been developed at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) in Bangalore.

The NAL device measures 16.5 cm x 16.5 cm x 10 cm and weighs about 2 kg. It has been developed to measure the fatigue life of Jaguar aircraft.

The fatigue meter can be mounted in the under-carriage of aircraft, and the accumulated reading of the meter can then be read to estimate the used up fatigue life.

Before the fatigue meter is actually mounted on the aircraft, it is required to pass a large number of — about 30 — type certification tests prescribed by major certification authorities.

The approval for most of these 30 tests has been obtained without difficulty, including one of the most difficult ones — the water splash test. The test facility for this test was developed indigenously as no test centre in India offers this facility.

New material for broken bones
A new polymer that could speed the healing of severely fractured bones and reduce the need for invasive surgery has been developed by US scientists.

The polymer with the consistency of putty could replace the cements and metal devices now used internally to hold broken bones together, says the study’s principal researcher Amy Burkoth, from University of Colorado at Boulder. The research was reported at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The polymer could “revolutionise” the way bone injuries are treated, says an ACS release. 


Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

1. This German mathematician and physicist made many discoveries when he was still in his teens. He made valuable contributions to a number of branches of mathematics. He also contributed to many areas of physics, including electricity and magnetism. Who was this poor child prodigy after whom the unit of magnetic flux density has been named?

2. If we take the square of the charge of an electron and then divide it by the speed of light times Plank’s constant, we get a pure number. What is the name of this number? What is its value?

3. UMTS is based on convergence of communications, computing, information, commerce, entertainment, etc. It will deliver pictures, graphics, video communications and other wide-band information as well as voice and data, direct to the users. What does UTMS stand for, which will open up new vistas of communications?

4. Which disease is caused due to the destruction of pancreatic beta cells by the body’s immune system, leading to the deficiency of insulin? What are the three major symptoms of this disease?

5. A lady’s gold ring becomes discoloured with some minute droplets of mercury that fall on it from a broken thermometer. Which simple treatment would you suggest to restore the ring to its original condition?

6. This plant having bunches of small-sized, almost circular green leaves is used as a hedge for plant and flower beds in home gardens. It is also usually used in decorative hanging baskets. The popular name of this plant comprising two words is Baby———. Supply the missing word.

7. A constellation is a group of stars. Can you tell how many constellations have been recognised by the International Astronomical Union? The Latin names of three of these constellations are “Corona Borealis”, “Hydra” and “Volans”. What are their English names?

8. Recently researchers have warned that prolonged listening to loud stereos for more than an hour a day could lead to premature deafness, whether a pain is caused or not. What is the value of universally accepted noise level which constitutes the pain threshold?

9. Found only in Manipur in India, this rare animal is believed to have become extinct in 1950, but was rediscovered in 1959. Locally known as Sangai, it has only a single habitat in Manipur and faces the danger of extinction again due to a multiplicity of factors. Which animal are we talking about?

10. CAPE is a Chandigarh-based organisation which undertakes regular activities concerning preservation of environment. What is the full name of this organisation?


1. Karl Friedrich Gauss 2. Alpha; Just slightly more than 1/137 (It is one of the mysteries of physics why it is not exactly 1/137) 3. Universal Mobile Telecommunications System 4. Diabetes; excessive urination, excessive thirst and general fatigue 5. Heat the ring gently in a sand bath (mercury droplets will evaporate) 6. Tears 7. 88; “The Northern Crown”, “The Sea Serpent” and “The Flying Fish” 8. 115 decibel (db) 9. Brow-antlered deer 10. Childrens’ Alliance for Protection of Environment.

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