SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, November 9, 2000, Chandigarh, India

Curbing pollution vermiculture way
by Harsharan Singh
HE garbage produced in the cities, depending on the city’s size, amounts to hundreds and thousands of ton per day. This, not only results in high costs for hauling to landfills but disposal through “landfills” is creating additional ecological problems. At the same time, suitable landfill areas adjacent to the cities are fast diminishing. Faced with this problem, countries such as the USA, Cuba, France and Australia are moving towards nature’s way to recycling the garbage.

Plinth level and dampness
by Ved Parkash Takyar

OST of the dream houses constructed with hard labour and hard-earned money are sickeningly damp due to unequal plinth floor levels between two houses and not having a single common wall.

Science Quiz
by J.P. Garg

1. This saviour of the “dying” Russian space station Mir has established a company, named MirCorp, in partnership with Walt Anderson. MirCorp now has definite plans to start commercial flights to Mir in 2001. Name this Punjabi whose brainchild the whole project is.

New products & discoveries



Curbing pollution vermiculture way
by Harsharan Singh

THE garbage produced in the cities, depending on the city’s size, amounts to hundreds and thousands of ton per day. This, not only results in high costs for hauling to landfills but disposal through “landfills” is creating additional ecological problems. At the same time, suitable landfill areas adjacent to the cities are fast diminishing. Faced with this problem, countries such as the USA, Cuba, France and Australia are moving towards nature’s way to recycling the garbage. In pursuance of their concern the municipal committees of Vancouver (Canada) San Jose (California, USA) and Sydney (Australia) have already given themselves a time frame, within which the creation of disposable biodegradable waste in these cities will come to zero level. Only recyclable waste would need to be collected and sent to recycling plants for processing and put to industrial reuse.

The reduction of garbage disposal in the city will result from following commonly known three Rs. Firstly- reduce the material that flows into and out of one’s home. Second, reuse what you can and third, recycle what one can. Vermiculture biotechnology is the key to it.

The Cuban Government started its cost-effective waste management strategy based on vermiculture biotechnology towards the end of 1980 with very little expense. By the year 1992, this country was producing 93000 tons of compost from the biodegradable waste. This not only resulted in savings in haulage costs of the garbage, but also reduction in chemical fertiliser expense. How did they do it? By putting humble worms — the nature’s fertiliser, factory workers — to work through the practice of vermiculture. Vermi means earthworms and culture means farming-hence vermiculture means farming of earthworms. Though it is in its infancy stage but it is growing rapidly and we Chandigarhians can be part of that rapid growth.

Let me clarify, as to what is biodegradable material. All organic wastes, of vegetables, fruits, food refuse, garden waste, soiled paper waste are biodegradable. This waste can be returned to the soil through conversion into good manure, with the help of cost-effective vermiculture biotechnology.

There are nearly 3000 different species of earthworms. These can be divided into two main types. “Deep burrowing types” are normally found in the ground at a depth of three metres. “The surface feeders” mainly feed on plant detritus and animal dung near the land surface area. It is with the latter species that we are presently concerned with. Out of many such species, the worms, commonly called by names such as — Tiger worms, Garlic worm, Manure worm, Red wiggler or by their scientific name of “Eisenia Fetida” are our primary concern.

These worms are heavily pigmented on the top side and have a different pigmentation on the underside. They are extremely hardy, easy to grow, reproduce quickly and tolerate a wide range of temperatures. They are tough and will process in a day, half of their weight in organic material making excellent fine grained castings. Red worms’ natural desire is to move up and into fresh food material and produce vermicastings, thereby converting normal soil into rich “living soil”. Their population is dependent on food availability and population density. They are our number one choice for vermicomposting.

Vermicastings are enriched with beneficial soil micro organism which produces plant nutrients, vitamins, antibiotics and plant growth hormones. They vermicompositing technology will:

1) put an end to the burning of plant residues, by the road sides, causing pollution in the air.

2) reduce the necessity of garbage disposal and save costs involved.

3) protect our environment

4) fertilise the land with vermicasts, thus avoiding chemical

5) fertiliser costs.

The practice of vermiculture can be adopted only with the active help of the citizens. Therefore, first of all we must create awareness among the citizens and its community leaders at sector and village levels, the municipal corporation officials and city counsellors.

Having created the awareness we should teach the art of vermicomposting to the creators of garbage i.e. the house holders, farmers and the “malis”. Towards this aim vermicomposting demonstration units should be established firstly in the city’s main gardens where the future trainers can be trained thereafter demonstration units should be established in each sector and village to impart training to housewives and young children. The vermicomposting system can be easily adopted by the house holders by following the under mentioned steps. It is fun and easy way to recycle your food scraps and garden wastes.

Step 1:- For the size of an average household, you need a container of the size 1/½’x1½’ and 2ft deep. It may be even a discarded container, made of wood or galvanised sheet or a plastic tub. Having obtained the containers, have it holed all around about two inch high from the base for ventilation and drainage of any excess liquid.

Step:-2 Prepare a bedding for the worms which should remain moist, but not soggy by covering the bottom of the container for about 3 to 4 inch thick. You can use rice straw or coconut fibre for this purpose.

Step 3:- Obtain worms from a grower or a “bed run”. This term is use for vermicompost, which contains mature worms, larvea and cocoons. These cocoons will hatch in about 20 days if the conditions in the soil are favourable. This “bed run” should be spread over the prepared bed and thereafter cover it with fibrous manure (cowdung) at least one month old) as it serves as excellent baby food for young earthworms. Remember that, at this stage you are only growing your worms, proper temperature and moisture will promote effective germination, hatching and growth of worms. In about 2½ months time, you will have grown your own worm stock to put them to work — to eat your garbage.

Step 4: Place your bin in a well ventilated area, such as garage, balcony under the kitchen sink or outside in any shady place.

Step 5:- Feed your worms slowly at first. As the worms multiply, you can begin to add more food. Worms are happier on vegetarian food. Therefore, do not add to the garbage meat, bones and other dairy product wastes. Worms need calcium to reproduce hence add egg shells once in a while.

Step 6: Harvest the finished compost by making a small heap of the castings — worms will move down in about 1/2 hrs time and you can remove the compost for use in your garden. Remember that recycling is not only good ecology, it is also good economy. By adopting it, we not only will improve the ecology of the town, but the municipal corporation will also save much needed funds by saving expense on haulage to the landfills.

If the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh does decide to act on this suggestion, it will only be effectively meeting the main highlights of the notification issued recently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on sold waste-management much earlier than the stipulated date of December, 2003.


Plinth level and dampness
by Ved Parkash Takyar

MOST of the dream houses constructed with hard labour and hard-earned money are sickeningly damp due to unequal plinth floor levels between two houses and not having a single common wall.

The plinth level of the row of houses in a street has either not been fixed by the Corporation, Improvement Trust and PUDA or these have no control over its implementation even in their approved colonies other than Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula in this region. Everyone is free to keep the plinth level as high from the road as he wants without bothering about the dampness from their raised plinth/floor level to the wall of their neighbour. In addition to this, the high plinth/floor level from the road has another problem i.e. to approach/enter the high floor level of houses, ramps are made in the area of road which not only lead to traffic hazards but also obstruct the flow of rain water during heavy rains. Sometimes storm water enters the houses having lower plinth/floor levels.

The common or separate walls between two houses where there is difference in levels of floors, the problem of dampness will become a permanent headache because the dampness from the higher floor will enter the wall, above the DPC of the lower floor and in some cases goes upto the roof level of ground floor due to capillary action. If technical precautions are taken during the construction by the owner who starts the construction at later stage and keep his floor level higher than already built neighbour house, the dampness can be sealed by providing vertical DPC as shown in the sketch i.e. from the DPC of already built house up to the raised DPC. The owner of already built house should be very careful when a new house is going to start, adjoining his house. He should either not allow his new neighbour to keep the floor higher than his floor along with his wall or get the vertical portion of his wall from his floor (DPC) level to the raised DPC level of new house under construction sealed with permanent treatment of dampness by providing vertical DPC to his satisfaction. It is the moral duty of the new builder to seal the dampness from his floor to the neighbour wall otherwise he will also suffer from dampness due to the contact of each others’ walls. If he (new owner/builder) does not agree to provide permanent dampproof treatment on the portion i.e. to the height he intends to raise his floor then his neighbour, the owner/builder of the existing building can get stay order from the civil court with the apprehension of dampness from the higher floor of the new building adjacent to his walls. Higher floor, whichever type it may be, will lead to dampness in the walls of lower floors if not sealed by providing vertical DPC on the wall with the side of higher floor.

It is a matter of regret that most of the masons and contractors do not have the knowledge of the occurrence of the above explained unsolvable dampness and those who know it do not bother to carry out or execute the vertical DPC in the interest only to save labour cost. Inhabitants, mostly layman, do not have the knowledge of this dampness which later on becomes a headache and irritates them. Costly paint applied on walls begins to wither off. “Shora” will appear on the walls. Where there is dampness, there will be “shora”. Otherwise “Shora” cannot appear. Some contractors have told me that they are executing the building work on lampsum labour rate which can very low and the owner will never pay them if such extra items are executed by them i.e. to seal the dampness by providing vertical DPC.

Actually a single common wall between two houses is to be constructed. Where separate walls are constructed, problem of dampness also occurs from the top of parapet. Cracks at parapet between two walls occur due to their unequal settlement on account of different loads on them and other expansion and contraction factors also.

Dampness can be treated from the place from where it originates and not from the place where it appears. That is why aforesaid causes of dampness are not solvable afterwards. The waterproof chemical which is to be used in cement should not be acidic or basic but should be neutral i.e. having PH value 6-7. Permanent treatment should be applied and not the bitumen of tarfelt etc. which is not entirely satisfactory because of the vast difference in temperature, the bitumen expands in summer and contracts in winter which leads to cracks and decay with lapse of time. The polythene sheet is also not dependable because it can’t become part of the concrete/plaster surface. The water can penetrate underneath its whole area even from a single escape.



Science Quiz
by J.P. Garg

1. This saviour of the “dying” Russian space station Mir has established a company, named MirCorp, in partnership with Walt Anderson. MirCorp now has definite plans to start commercial flights to Mir in 2001. Name this Punjabi whose brainchild the whole project is.

2. Now a spacecraft on a comet! This spacecraft, planned by the US space agency NASA for a launch in 2005, will get down on to the surface of the fast moving comet P. Wild-2. It will then bombard its surface with bullets, collect the pieces and particles of the soil of the comet and then return to the earth. Can you name this spacercraft?

3. A pearl is a lustrous and beautiful bead and quite expensive due to its ornamental value. From where is a pearl obtained? What is ti chemically? How much time is required for its formation?

4. This animal has been nicknamed “sulphur bottom” and is also known as Sibbald’s rorqual, because it was first classified separately by the Scottish scientist Sir R. Sibbald. Can you identify this animal?

5. Talc, gypsum, clacite, fluorite, apatite, orthoclase, quartz, topaz, corundum and diamond are 10 common mineral substances listed according to a physical property on which a scale is base. Which is this scale?

6. To evaluate the fitness of the heart of a patient, the patient is made to have a stationary run on a platform which can move at different speeds and at different inclines. Thus the electro-cardiogram of the patient can be recorded at different levels of exercise using this platform. What is this platform called?

7. What is the blue precipitate obtained commonly called when a ferric sulphate solution is added to a solution of potassium ferrocyanide? What is the precipitate called when a ferrous sulphate solution is added to potassium ferricyanide solution? Are the precipitates obtained in the two cases different?

8. A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. What does a volt meter basically measure? Suggest another name for a voltmeter.

9. Niacin is found in milk, meat, whole grains and green vegetables. Its severe deficiency results in pellagra, a kind of leprosy. To which main class of compounds does niacin belong? Suggest other two names for niacin.

10. “Mr Tompkins in Wonderland” and “Mr Tompkins Explores the Atom” published first in 1940 and 1945, are two classics which provide a delightful explanation of the central concepts its in modern physics like atomic structure, fission, fusion, quantum theory and relativity. Name the author of these two books.


1. Chiranjeev Singh Kathuria 2. Stardust 3. From the shell of certain molluscs like oyster; calcium cabonate; minimum three years 4. Blue whale 5. Mohs scale of hardness devised by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs 6. Treadmill 7. Prussian Blue; Turnbull’s Blue; No, both are potassium ferric ferrocyanide 8. Magnitude of electric charge; coulometer 9. Vitamins; vitamin B4 and nicotinic acid 10. US writer Geroge Gamow.


New products & discoveries

Idea grand prix
A novel concept of encouraging technologial development is to encourage scientists and researchers to compete in idea contests in Japan. It is popular among car companies like Honda, Mazda and Nissan. The company engineers are asked to devise technology marvels by giving a free rein to their impossible ideas and dreams. The thinking behind this concept is that these ideas may be impossible today but could become a possibility tomorrow.

It also gives a chance to the engineer, computer designers and researchers to escape from the daily monotony of manufacturing cars in the factory. To ease their stress, the companies give them not just a chance to challenge and develop their ideas but also offer rich cash incentives for those who come out with plausible products.

One of the leading organisations promoting this is the Mitsubishi Automobile company which recently held an ‘‘Idea Grand Prix’’ contest at its Okazaki plant in Aichi Pref, 300 km west of Tokyo. There were 33 participants in the contest, among them, 25 vehicles were demonstrated and introduced in the final contest. Each team was supported by the company for 250,000 yen to produce their idea.

Though Mitsubishi spent 30 million yen on this event, none of the vehicles is planned to be marketed in the near future though the designers have been asked to continue their research into the novel projects. 

Tougher plastic 
Mixing heat-resistant plastic with silica, US scientists have developed a new material that is four times tougher than the plastic and can be used in car and aircraft engines, which are currently made using iron, steel and aluminium.

Plastic engine parts would mean lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and airplanes, but today’s heat-resistant plastics are not tough enough — they shatter at the smallest impact.

The new composite material is tougher than plastic as it divides the force of an impact into many small interactions involving millions of individual silica particles, says researchers from Ohio State University in Columbus, who have developed it.

‘‘We think that as a crack starts travelling through the composite, it breaks up into finer and finer cracks, until the material has dissipated the energy of the impact,’’ says Johan Lannutti, one of the researchers.

Using a method, which they term as ‘‘synergistic toughening’’ or toughening across scales as it strengthens material down the scale of the individual particles, the researchers force melted plastic to fill tiny pores in silica particles, creating strong bonds between silica atoms and plastic over a large surface area, according to a university release.

Home sweet (-smelling) home
German researchers have come up with a special method to investigate the composition of odours produced by various materials which would help assess the risk to health associated with the substance and improve the odour quality.

The method is of interest to manufacturers of paint floor coverings and furniture, who can incorporate the results of the olfactory tests in their product development process and modify formulations where necessary.

The new method, developed at Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Holzkirehen, enables the scientists to find an answer to the difficult question of what it is that determines an odour which is an extremely complex subject.

A single material can emit a large number of different substances and it is often not possible to know which of them is responsible for the unpleasant smell.

First gas chromatography separates the individual substances contained in the overall smell emitted by a material and then the human nose is used to test each substance for its smell-related activity, for the human sensor organ is more sensitive than any chemical analysis apparatus and can detect concentrations below the detectability limit.