SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, October 11, 2001,Chandigarh, India
 

Solar weather forecasting
Geoffrey H. Lindop
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HE sun, as is well known, is the source of light and heat that enables life on earth to thrive. But beneath the benign facade lurks a sinister side. It also produces solar storms which can cause havoc with the world’s communications systems, cripple its electricity supply networks, and jeopardise the health of astronauts.

Intelligent transportation systems
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ITH a view to easing traffic bottlenecks, scientists are developing and testing “intelligent transportation system” that can use information about traffic to speed up travel and make it safer.

Tall men have more kids
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ESEARCHERS have indicated from a study that tall men have more wives and consequently more children than shorter men, a trend which could have an evolutionary aspect resulting in even taller men as height is estimated to be up to 90 per cent genetic.

NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES

  • 6-ft screen before your eyes

  • Novel drip monitor

  • Water purifying technique

  • 3-D map of the universe

SCIENCE QUIZ
J.P. GARG TESTS YOUR IQ


 
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Solar weather forecasting
Geoffrey H. Lindop

Scientists are moving forward by leaps and bounds in their ability to predict so-called “solar storms” which can disrupt the earth’s communication and power systems. Soon they hope to be able to forecast the sun’s weather and its impact on the earth up to a month in advance.

THE sun, as is well known, is the source of light and heat that enables life on earth to thrive. But beneath the benign facade lurks a sinister side. It also produces solar storms which can cause havoc with the world’s communications systems, cripple its electricity supply networks, and jeopardise the health of astronauts.

Several teams of scientists worldwide have been set up to try to understand and forecast the solar storms.

“This is the golden age of solar discovery,” said Dr Andrew Coates, head of Space Plasma Physics at the University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, addressing a British science convention in Glasgow, Scotland, in early September.

“We can now observe an event as it starts on the sun, track it as it travels outward, and monitor its effects as it interacts with earth. Previously, we could only view these phenomena in a fragmented fashion.”

Storms are caused when the sun spews out quantities of material into space, which reach the earth via a solar wind that continuously blows between the Sun and the Earth.

The wind is made up of electrically-charged particles. These act like an electric current, creating a magnetic field which reacts with the earth’s own magnetic field.

Two “populations” of particles in the solar wind, the “heavies” and the “lightweights”, change the speed of the wind and the way it reacts with the earth.

The “lightweight” protons are a menace. Coates describes them as “killer particles”, because they can paralyse satellites and expose astronauts to dangerous levels of radioactivity — especially those “spacewalking” outside the vehicle. These particles take just 30 minutes to reach the earth, and scientists cannot give much advance warning of them.

The sun also releases enormous quantities of “heavies” in what is called a coronal mass ejection. Each CME is made up of around 10 billion tonnes of searingly hot gas which takes 24 to 48 hours to reach the earth.

Sometimes particles manage to enter the earth’s atmosphere at the magnetic poles. When this happens they can have a dramatic impact.

The electric power in the solar wind during such storms is more than the total capacity of all electric power stations on earth. Power lines can act as aerials and if a solar storm hits the cables it creates a power-surge that shuts down the networks.

The long cable runs of Canada and the USA — particularly those that run east to west — are most at risk. On March 23, 1989, a solar storm caused a nine-hour blackout in Quebec, Canada.

Scandinavia, too, is prone as are all countries on similar latitudes. The exception is Finland, whose power distribution system is better designed to withstand these effects.

The highly charged particles can also produce spectacular auroral displays — also known as the northern or southern lights — when they interact with the upper atmosphere.

A recent dramatic display of the northern lights was on March 31, which was seen as far south as Nice, on the south coast of France.

But most of the time, solar storms have little or no impact on the earth, because of its ingenious defence system. Just as the atmosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, so the earth, magnetic field protects us from the effects of solar wind. Gemini
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Intelligent transportation systems

WITH a view to easing traffic bottlenecks, scientists are developing and testing “intelligent transportation system” that can use information about traffic to speed up travel and make it safer.

Several research groups are using a system called “Predictive Traffic Modelling”, to reach a stage when they will be able to predict what will occur on a road. For this they measure several variables through devices like loop detectors embedded in and processing systems and compare them to those of days when similar events occurred.

One such project, Smart Trek, is being run by ITS Research programme at the University of Washington, Seattle. The project uses a tracking algorithm, developed by the university, to compare the positions of city buses with those obtained through data generated during previous trips, a report in IEEE Spectrum said.

For this, a fleet of 1000 buses has been fitted with transponders that allow their position to be continuously monitored. The system continually updates a given bus’s projected arrival time at the remaining stops along the route and displays it at five of the area’s busiest transit centres, where several routes intersect.

Thus, it provides the travelling public the information how long they may have to wait for the next bus or train. Bus location and progress are also displayed on a map in real time at the ITS programme’s web site, the report said.

In another predictive traffic modelling-based project, under way in Vancouver B.C. on a 20-km route between Vancouver and the neighbouring town of Richmond, information about when buses would arrive at stops is transmitted to electronic message signs at shelters along the route.

In this project, buses can prevent delays by communicating via infrared transponders along with roadside to keep a green light from turning red as it approaches an intersection or turn a red light to green if there is no oncoming traffic in the cross street, the report said.

One problem, however, in the system is that the small liquid-crystal displays of pagers and mobile phones may not be able to accommodate the detailed information like the map of an entire city that gives an accurate spatial representation of the routes comprising the user’s travel options, necessary for travellers to make decisions.

Researchers are now looking at better ways to collect traffic data necessary for predictive analysis as devices like loop detectors turn out to be costly because they need to be buried in a pavement, the report said.

They intend to use cameras and image collection software for data collection and tracking the location of cellular phones that many drivers have in their cars.

The tracking data would come from mobile phones equipped with global positioning system receivers or through triangulation from nearby cell base station towers. PTI

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Tall men have more kids

RESEARCHERS have indicated from a study that tall men have more wives and consequently more children than shorter men, a trend which could have an evolutionary aspect resulting in even taller men as height is estimated to be up to 90 per cent genetic.

Ulrich Mueller from the University of Marburg in Germany and Allan Mazur from Syracuse University, New York, studied a group of men who graduated in 1950 from the US military academy at West Point.

They found that the taller men tended to have more children, no matter what their rank a report in New Scientist said.

Taller men were also more likely to get divorced and remarry, and their was a good chance that their second wife would be younger than the first. The findings are to be published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

“The more attractive a man is, the more chance he gets to destroy his first marriage,” says Mazur. “Tallness is pretty much universally attractive. I don’t know why.”

Other studies have shown that tall men are often more successful in the workplace, and can appear more intimidating to potential aggressors. But these advantages may be more imagined than real, Mazur says.

It’s still not known if women are making a logical decision by preferring taller men, he adds. John Lazarus of the Evolution and Behaviour Research Group at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne says the preference is probably a hangover from our distant ancestors.

“It’s pretty irrelevant in current lifestyles,” he says. “One has to be careful in making an evolutionary interpretation from just one or two modern studies.”

Dan Terp of the Tall Club of New York City is also sceptical about whether tall men marry more often. “You don’t see a lot of divorces in the Tall Club crowd,” he points out. PTI
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NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES
6-ft screen before your eyes

It’s been over a century since motion pictures were invented, and the industry has seen some dramatic changes. Now, an innovative electronics company has created the world’s first personal movie theatre. By combining advanced image projection technology with the flawless digital signal of DVD, i-glasses may revolutionise the way we watch movies.

The amazing “Televizer” is like having a private big-screen theater. It features twin embedded LCDs with 375 lines of resolution and a 180,000-pixel display to create the illusion of an 80-inch screen floating 11 feet in front of you. You can use i-glasses with any video source, or, when you use them with the portable Pioneer DV-10, you can watch your favourite movies anywhere, anytime.

This breakthrough product is perfect for everyone from frequent travellers to couples with different sleeping habits. You can even use i-glasses to watch a film while you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair. What’s more, i-glasses are perfect for playing video games, including PlayStation and N64. Private virtual theater.

The all digital i-glasses are the ultimate private entertainment system to provide a virtual screening room. They shut out distractions during flights and while playing video games. The lightweight glasses feature over-the-ear headphones with stereo sound capability, foldable ergonomic frame design and an adjustable elastic head strap, The i-glasses connect to almost any video source and include the cables and adapters for a wide range of components. They accept both composite and s-video input, so you can view images generated by everything from a miniature TV to a laptop computer.

Novel drip monitor

Scientists have invented a novel drip monitor that ensures dispensation of blood, saline solutions and drugs at the correct rate and gives a warning if there is any interruption, thereby overcoming the need to check the drip constantly.

The monitor was devised by George Gallagher, using his knowledge gained in the process control industry, after his wife Jenny fell ill.

During his wife’s stay in the hospital; Gallagher noted that checking intravenous drips occupies a good deal of the nurses’ time. Every 15 to 20 minutes a drip has to be checked to make sure that it is flowing at the correct rate and the nurse has to count the drips over 15 to 20 seconds to work out the rate a minute.

Other problems included — the dilation or contraction of the patient’s veins as they warm up, tissue forming in the needle that blocks the flow, decrease in volume in the feeder bag lowering the pressure due to gravity and the container emptying completely — a report in London Press Service said.

Gallagher came up with a relatively cheap concept that counted the drips as they dropped from the fluid bag as well as keeping a constant check on the flow rate. PTI

Water purifying technique

Researchers have developed a new water-purifying technique which promises re-use of waste water at affordable prices without harming the environment.

The technique, called daylight-powered photocatalytic conversion, has been developed by researchers from Netherlands’ TNO Environment, Energy and Process Innovation and enables organic contaminants as well as some inorganic ones to be removed so that waste water can be re-used or discharged without harm. The technology relies on an inert catalyst, titanium dioxide, daylight and air, as the oxidising agent, a report in TNO Magazine said.

Most of the organic contaminants are fully removed on the surface of the catalyst and under the right conditions the microorganisms and the viruses are also destroyed.

It is critical that the titanium oxide be optimally exposed to the Ultra Violet part of the daylight spectrum since it functions best at wavelengths shorter than 380 nanometres, the report said. PTI

3-D map of the universe

By exploiting the phenomenon of “gravitational lensing,” astronomers plan to build up a three-dimensional map of the distribution of mass, including the mass of dark matter which produces no light at all for the entire universe.

Taking advantage of the gravitational lensing, in which light from very distant galaxies is distorted by the gravity of massive objects situated in a direct line between them and earth, astronomers have succeeded in locating and weighing a galaxy cluster solely by the effect its gravity had on light from more distant objects.

Getting a boost from this, researchers hope that within a decade their work could lead to a three-dimensional map of the universe’s dark matter, which outweighs visible stars and galaxies by at least a factor of 10.

To prove that the technique works, a team led by David Whittman and Anthony Tyson of Lucent Technologies’ Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, found distorted images of distant galaxies and used a computer programme to figure out that a cluster of 15 galaxies must have caused the distortion.

It also allowed them to discover the arrangement of the cluster in three dimension, its mass and its distance from the earth, a report in New Scientist said. PTI
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SCIENCE QUIZ
J.P. GARG TESTS YOUR IQ

1. An American engineer worked out the basic principles of the world’s first electronic computer while drinking in a roadside hotel. The computer was called ABC after the partial name of the engineer. Can you tell the full form of ABC?

2. From tiny algae to a high coconut tree, from a small ant to a giant elephant, from a swimming fish to a flying eagle, all members of the plant and animal kingdom have this element as a major constituent and their characteristics depend on it. Which is this element?

3. Sun bears are the smallest but the most aggressive bears in the world. They have a yellow crescent on their chest, strong paws, long curved claws, flexible snouts and long tongues. Their gestation period is 96 days. By what other two names are these bears known which are one of the rarest animals of the world?

4. If you want to keep your lungs healthy and protect yourself from respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma, which other part of your body should you keep clean?

5. SCADA is a computer system for gathering and analysing real time data. These systems are used to monitor and control a plant or equipment in industries such as telecommunication, water and waste control, energy, oil and gas refining and transportation. What does the acronym SCADA stand for?

6. What is common between “barbs”, “Portuguese men-of-war” and “by-the wind sailors”?

7. What are the two alternative representations of the rhombohedral crystal systems?

8. This technique represents a group of techniques, including photography, used in the manufacture of integrated circuits, thin-film circuits, printed circuits, etc. What is this technique called?

9. What is the general name given to a particle the speed of which with respect to a particular object is comparable to the speed of light?

10. The Environment Society of India (Chandigarh) has recently launched NADEP compost which involves the use of agriculturally biodegradable waste and also helps keep the area clean. This compost has been named after a progressive farmer of Maharashtra with a view to recognising his contribution in the field. Can you name this farmer? 

Answer

1. Atanasoff-Berry Computer
2. Carbon
3. Honey bears or Malay bears
4. Teeth
5. Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition
6. These are creatures which have stinging cells that they use as weapons against their victims
7. Trigonal and hexagonal systems
8. Lithography
9. Relativistic particle
10. Narayan Deorao Pandhari-pande.

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