SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY


Grassroots inventions
Deepak Shourie
I
N terms of spirit, creativity and innate ability to devise effective solutions for day-to-day problems, India’s rural and small town innovators are second to none.

Trends
Milky Way’s warp
T
HE Milky Way is warped — like a bowl, a saddle or the brim of a fedora hat, depending on when you look — and a pair of interloping galaxies may be to blame, according to astronomers said.

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

Is it true that the smoke out of the “Havan Kund” when “Samagri” is used as a fuel is health friendly and does not pollute the atmosphere?


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Grassroots inventions
Deepak Shourie

Amphibious bicycle developed by Mohammad Saidullah of Motihari, Bihar
Amphibious bicycle developed by Mohammad Saidullah of Motihari, Bihar

IN terms of spirit, creativity and innate ability to devise effective solutions for day-to-day problems, India’s rural and small town innovators are second to none.

It is abundantly clear that our village visionaries - their tribe is growing at a fair pace — are powering a grassroots revolution that could go a long way indeed in altering the face of rural India. With an array of new product ideas, improvised technologies and ground-breaking innovations, these natural- born scientists are making a lasting impact on the quality of life and economic well-being of India’s villages and small towns.

A series of short films, to be telecast during the Discovery series, Beyond Tomorrow, from February 20, will showcase nearly a score of remarkable need-driven products and functional daily-use technologies that grassroots innovators have developed in different parts of India.

Remya Jose of Mallapuram, Kerala, with her pedal-operated washing machine
Remya Jose of Mallapuram, Kerala, with her pedal-operated washing machine 

Necessity has clearly been the mother of invention in each of these innovations. Take the amphibious bicycle developed by Mohammad Saidullah of Motihari, Bihar, as a case in point. It is retrofitted to negotiate rivers, ponds and other water bodies. During floods and in areas that have large water coverage (like the Kerala backwaters), Saidullah’s cycle can help the rider surmount all elemental obstacles.

As all these innovations have happened in response to a long-felt need, everybody stands to benefit. While the enterprising individuals behind the unique breakthroughs can benefit financially once their inventions are adapted for large-scale production, members of the community at large, being the potential end users, will get access to low-cost technologies tailored to their specific needs.

Grassroots innovators start with an inherent advantage. Since they live and work among the people, and not in rarefied research labs, they know the problems and needs of the community better than anyone else. Their inventions reflect just that. Remya Jose of Mallapuram, Kerala, has, for instance, fulfilled a basic household requirement by inventing a pedal-operated washing machine that provides a “tumble wash” without consuming a single unit of electricity. This is one innovation that will hold much water if it does get into homes around the country. It deserves to.

As does Gujarati innovator Mansukh Prajapati’s Miticool — Village Fridge. Made of special clay, this is a refrigerator with three chambers, one of them designed to deliver cool water at any time of day or night. Like Remya’s washing machine, Miticool needs no electricity. In rural areas where power supply is erratic, if not non-existent, a clay fridge is a Godsend. Therefore, mass replication of the product is only a step away.

Much the same could be said about the wind-powered mobile phone charger that Sathyanarain of Hyderabad has developed. Its commercial potential is beyond doubt. It’s a very small hand-held windmill that operates when a draft of wind is generated either artificially or by the crosscurrents that blow through a moving vehicle.

Sathyanarain’s invention can charge mobile phones, laptops and other battery-operated appliances that require low amperages. It has the makings of a major success story for it can ensure that you will never again be caught in the middle of nowhere with your mobile battery dying on you.

The range and nature of these grassroots innovations are truly astounding. An UV ray-protected moga silk umbrella from Assam, a manual milking machine from Karnataka, a scooter for the physically challenged from Gujarat and a remote firecracker bursting device from Haryana are just a few of the other grassroots inventions that are set to go places in the years ahead.

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Trends
Milky Way’s warp

THE Milky Way is warped — like a bowl, a saddle or the brim of a fedora hat, depending on when you look — and a pair of interloping galaxies may be to blame, according to astronomers said.

Earth is in a fairly non-warped neighborhood, because it lies relatively close to the centre of the Milky Way’s disk, says Leo Blitz of the University of California, Berkeley.

But the far-flung reaches of the galaxy could be caught up in a warp of as much as 20,000 light-years. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km), the distance light travels in a year and a standard astronomical measurement.

To figure out what causes the warp, Blitz and his colleagues analysed hydrogen gas emissions in the warp area, and found that not only is the galactic disk bending, but it is vibrating like a drum-head, in three distinct ways.

One mode is like a bowl, with the galactic plane bending up all around; another is like a saddle, and the third is like the brim of a fedora hat, bent up in the back and down in the front, Blitz said at a briefing.

The various modes of warping correlate closely with the orbit of two satellite galaxies, known as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, that make a looping orbit around the Milky Way. As they go, they plow through a halo of dark matter that encircles the Milky Way, scientists said at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Dark matter is invisible, but it is definitely something to be reckoned with, since it makes up 90 per cent of all matter in the universe. Normal matter, which is everything we can see and feel, makes up the rest.

Perfect duets

As the morning mists rose on the slopes of Ecuador’s Pasochoa volcano, the burbling of plain-tailed wrens came through the bamboo thickets. Two researchers started their standard procedure of catching wrens, banding them, and letting them go. Soon, however, they were startled when a small cluster of wrens settled into a bush and began singing together. It turned out to be “one of the most complex singing performances yet described in a nonhuman animal,” says Nigel Mann.

Mann, of the State University of New York at Oneonta, and a colleague had gone to Pasochoa in the summer of 2002 as part of a team that was surveying of the 28-or-so species of the bird genus Thryothorus. That genus is famous for musical duets, in which a male and a female alternate phrases, sometimes so rapidly that it sounds like one song. — Reuters

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THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

Is it true that the smoke out of the “Havan Kund” when “Samagri” is used as a fuel is health friendly and does not pollute the atmosphere?

It is true that to many of us the smoke coming from Samagri burning smells nice. Also “Havans” are often accompanied by recitation of many religious mantras. It is natural, therefore, to assume that, that particular result of combustion must be beneficial. To the extent it keeps mosquitoes and other flying insects away it is certainly useful. But let us not forget that all combustion of hydrocarbons must produce carbon dioxide and other gases that cannot be very good for the atmosphere.

Having said that one must keep some balance. It is obvious that the amount of oxides of carbon and other three atom molecules that we produce during all the “havans” that are done is miniscule in quantity as compared to what we produce in generating electricity, cooking food and running all manner of industry.

Therefore, I would not proceed to ban all “havans” on the excuse of protecting our atmosphere. Particularly, because the fragrance is liked by many humans and apparently disliked by many unwanted insects hungry for our blood.

The other day when I inserted the key of my scooter to start it I got a shock. This also happened when I opened the door of my car, came out and closed the door I again got an electrical shock. Why did this happen?

What you have described is a frequent experience of people who live in cold dry climates. This is highly accentuated when we are in heated rooms and it is cold and dry outside. You would remember that you do not get a similar experience when the weather is humid and warm.

The reason is that the voltage produced due to static electricity produced through friction of unlike materials can be thousands of volts. It is high enough to cause a discharge across several millimeters of air. When the humidity of the air is high it becomes slightly conducting and the electrostatic voltage cannot build up to a high level.

I remember that when I lived in Europe and America during winters with warmed up interiors, one had to learn to first touch the metallic doorknob with a key or some other metallic object before opening. Otherwise a rude shock surprised you.

Incidentally the total power involved is not high and shock is never lethal. But it is very annoying.

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