|SCIENCE TRIBUNE||Thursday, May 10, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES
Quakes and traditional designs
HOLD your hands parallel to the ground. Let the fingertips of each rest atop their counterparts of the other hand. The classic steeple of hand gestures now lies on its side and the energy of one pours to the other. Translate this to building methods and tall towers, some several stories high and hundreds of smaller houses and temples have been created in the hills of the western Himalaya using wood in place of fingers — and all without the standard structural device of vertical members.
Locally called "kathkuni" or "Kathkundi", this style of architecture is quite unique to this part of the world. The word is derived from "kath", wood and "kuni", corner. Most visibly present in the hills of Himachal and in protions of Uttranchal, its singular characteristic remains the complete absence of diagonal and perpendicular members in the construction of a building. A mesh of interlocking — horizonatally placed — wooden sleepers is created. These slabs of wood vary from half a dozen inches to over a foot in thickness and their length determines the dimensions of every plinth. The end are mortised or crudely dovetailed. In this solid frame, dressed or raw stone — shale, quartzite or grey sandstone — is packed without the use of mortar.
This lacing owes most of its character and strength to the presence of "deodar", Himalayan cedar forest in the area. The cedrus deodara is one of the four "true cedars’" to be found in the world, and the others belong to the Mediterranean shores — the celebrated cedars of Lebanon, the tall trees on the Atlas mountains of Morocco and shorter species from the island of Cyprus. The wood of the deodar, even when untreated — like teak — is insect and termite resistant. It can comfortably withstand weather corrosion for long periods.
Using the basic elements of design, variations have been created. The residential form is normally single or double storied, and normally, cattle is housed in the lower floor with the family occupying the chambers on the first floor. In these cold tracts, this allows the heat from the animals to warm the rooms above and adds its mite in keeping the chill at bay. The attic or loft is used to store fodder and dry grass — and may house the family deity and the kitchen. Temples and the famous "towers" of these hills can be several stories high. These towers, which normally functioned as both temples and "thakurdwaras", the semi-sacred residences of the local chiefs, normally have the shape of a gabled mushroom. Over a stone plumb. Using wooden cantilevers, the upper section balloons over the lower stem and houses the chamber where the deity is housed. This also acts as a canopy and offers some protection against the snow and rain at ground level. Often enough, these structures had to discharge defensive functions too and their height and solidity gave them a level of impregnability. More often than not, staircases are still absent and the upper floors are connected by notched logs and trapdoors.
Internally, the ground floor will stick to dry stone walls. The rooms above are normally plastered with a mixture of pine needles, clay and ash. The resinous quality of the scented pine needles adds the virtue of being a partial disinfectant and repeller of insects. Windows are tiny and doors require a stoop to enter. Chimneys are absent in the older homes and smoke could only worm its way out through the roof boards and slate tiles.
The roof, invariably draped with slate or with slabs of quarzite, moves with a wide obtuse angle at the edges. This transforms itself into a sharp, though curving acute angle to finally hold the ridge beam, Embellishments have come from carvings on the beams, lintels and eaves boards and unusual wooden tassels that dangle from the fringes.
Elaborate rituals accompany the construction of these buildings. Ideally, the main aspect of a house should face east, the direction of the rising sun. Given the topography, this is not always possible, and a northern or western orientation is acceptable. The house must never face south as that is considered to impoverish the family. Also, Yama, the Hindu god of death, is associated with the south and that is the direction from which he is said to come. The "goor" or "chela", the principal worshipper of the local deity plays a major role in the site-selection and in placing the foundations of a house. He prays either at the site itself or over a sod or stone brought from the place where the house is to be built. He then divines an auspicious time for the start of construction. Along with the master builder ("chanahara" or "thavi"), the person who is building the house, goes to the site well before dawn. Certain auspicious items like sweets, vermilion, sacred threads and a lit lamp are carried along. Prayers are offered at the site. The corner stone is then placed. The attempt is to lay the first line of stones before light and allow the corner stone to merge with the others so that the key stone remains secret.
Similar rituals are followed when the main door-frame of the house is fixed and when the ridge beam is placed. The ridge beam, normally a complete tree-trunk, is accorded singular tributes. In temples, this may be brought from a specific "sacred grove" and instances have been recorded where the worshippers have hammered in the nails using the bare soles of their feet. And even a house will have special prayers offered when this is being placed.
It is difficult to pinpoint the orignins of these remarkable buildings, yet it seems safe to assume that the style is quite indigenous and follows a tradition that is centuries old. A remarkable feature of the "kathkuni" structures is their seismic response. These rib-cages where stone and wood play out a fairly symmetrical pattern, have an inherent elasticity that has allowed them to stand even after severe earthquakes. There are cases where the dry-packed stones have quivered and even dislodged after a quake and have been hammered back into the intact wooden frame once the tremor was over. An interesting example is the case of the tower of the old Bhimakali temple at Sarahan, in Himachal Pradesh, which went out plumb during the severe earthquake of 1905. A subsequent one is regarded to have restored this to a considerable extent!
Given the inherent properties of wood
and the design, these structures have high insulation and are well
suited to the climate. And yet, we may soon see these structures
slowly fade away for wood, which is used in such a large measure to
build them, is today at both a financial and an ecological premium.
NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES
ASTRONOMERS have pinpointed the day when Vincent van Gogh painted one of his canvases thanks to the position of the planet Venus in the tableau.
"The White House at nights," which hangs in St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, shows a house at twilight with a prominent star with a yellow halo in the sky.
Astronomers at Southwest Texes State University in San Marcos calculated that the star is Venus, which was bright in the evening sky in June 1890, when Van Gogh is believed to have painted the picture.
They then organised a field trip to the small town of Auvers-sun-Oise, northwest of Paris, and located the white house itself, thus enabling them to work out the position from where Van Gogh made the painting.
The researchers, Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, say the canvas was painted from the bottom up during the course of an afternoon and early evening.
"You can see it’s about 7:00 p.m. from the sunlight on the house, but as the Sun sets, Venus becomes bright and obvious," said Doescher, who added that he was astonished by the accuracy of the star’s position in the picture.
Using computer programmes, the astronomers calculated that Venus was in the position shown in the painting at around 8:00 p.m. on June 16, 1890 — just six weeks before the artist killed himself. PTI
Lost city of Incas faces destruction
Machu Picchu, the "lost city" of the Incas in the Peruvian Andes that has been declared a world cultural asset, is in imminent danger of being destroyed by landslides, Japanese geologists warn.
Ground movement sensors placed by Kyoto University researchers have shown the part of the site’s back slope is moving downhill at a rate of up to one centimetre (0.4 of an inch) per month.
"This is quite fast, and it is a precursor stage of rockfall or a rockslide," Kyoji Sassa of the university’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute, warned.
"It’s not possible to say exactly when the landslide might occur, but that will be the focus of the next stage of our research."
Machu Picchu, located 80 km (50 miles) northwest of the city of Cuzco, was the last stronghold of the Incas after their empire was overrun the Spanish conquistadors. PTI
Keep cat, reduce asthma risk
The mice might be playing when the cat’s away, but there is a good chance they will be wheezing, too, which says keeping a feline reduces the risk of asthama.
According to the US National Institutes of Health, high levels of cat allergen in the home reduce the risk of asthma by changing the immune response to cats.
The more a person is exposed to allergens such as dust mites or pollen, the more likely he or she will be to produce allergic antibodies, increasing the risk of becoming allergic and developing asthma.
With cats, however, according to the study from the University of Virginia’s Asthma and allergic diseases Centre, high levels of exposure to cat allergen reduced allergic antibodies and the likelihood of asthma, which causes an inflammation of pulmonary airways that can lead to recurrent shortness of breath.
"This result alters the advice we give patients," said Thomas Platt-Mills, the study’s lead researcher. "I would not recommend that parents get rid of their cat because they are concerned their child might develop asthma." PTI
How engineers can see through oil
A new ability to see through oil is all set to alter well-inspection technique and produce sizeable cost savings.
Scientists in the United Kingdom have adapted the imaging technology used to analyse weather systems from space to enable oil and gas industry engineers to literally see through oil.
The imaging development work led by the UK-based Proneta company and co-sponsored by many companies including Chevron, combined expertise in space-imaging technologies with knowledge of oilfield industry needs to create an imaging technology that can take pictures of oilwell interiors with the oil still in place, so avoiding the time and cost of flushing the oil out first. In an early test of the new technology, a coin was clearly visible through normally opaque crude oil, a report in British Commercial News said. PTI
Fuel from palm oil
Indonesia, the world’s second largest crude palm oil (CPO) producer, is currently developing a fuel from the commodity, reports AFP.
"We are currently conducting tests on CPO converted into bio-diesel oil at the CPO research Centre in Medan (north Sumatra)," Agriculture Minister Bungaran Saragih, said.
He said the fuel had been tested last week on a tractor and "the results were quite good".
The fuel had also been tested in several other tropical countries and was found to be satisfactory, and similar tests were now being initiated in non-tropical countries.
Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, he said, had issued instructions to prepare a feasibility study for the new fuel.
"Technically, it (the fuel) is okay, environmentally, it is clearly friendly ... and economically, it is clearly so. It (the production cost) is much lower than current oil prices," Saragih said.
1. This India-born British researcher worked both in India and England and proved that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. He also identified the particular kind of mosquito responsible for spreading the disease. Name this scientist who was also an artist, a musician, a poet, a writer and a brilliant mathematician.
2. To conduct research about some latest ideas in physics, scientists are eagerly awaiting the commissioning of LHC at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research) near Geneva. What is the full name of LHC, which is slated to be ready by 2005?
3. This gas is used for sterilisation and purification of water. It can kill viruses, fungi, parasites etc. Which is this gas that is prepared commercially by passing high-voltage discharge through oxygen?
4. The pulp of the ripened fruit of this tree contains carbohydrates, moisture, fibre and proteins. It is also rich in vitamins A, B and C and calcium, phosphorus, iron etc. Because of the presence of tartaric acid in good quantity, the pulp has a characteristic taste and is used in our homes for making "chatni". Which is this tree that is found throughout India?
5. Sometimes when the external environmental temperature falls suddenly and the part of the brain called hypothalamus is not able to respond properly to this change, the body temperature may decrease below the normal. This may result in decrease in breathing and heartbeat rates and lowering of blood pressure. What is this condition of the body called?
6. The dry cell based on a wet cell is widely used in torches, radios, calculations, etc. Which wet cell are we talking about? Who invented this cell?
7. What does the term "Trojan Horse" remind you of?
8. Name the hormone that is released by our brain when we encounter stressful situations like an examination, an interview, a dreadful sight, etc.
9. Scientists have recently found that this biggest satellite of Saturn is more like earth than any other place in the solar system. Which is this only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere?
10. Name the 12-year old 9th class student of a Delhi school who has become the youngest software engineer of the world.
1. Ronald Ross 2. Large Hadron Collider 3.
Ozone 4. Tamarind (imli) tree 5. Hypothermia 6. Leclanche cell; French engineer
Georges Leclanche in 1867. 7. A computer programme which is like a virus 8.
Cortisol 9. Titan 10. Gursimran.