SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Nanotechnology revolution
Dr S.S. Verma
Nanotechnology means the manipulation of individual molecules or groups of atoms towards nanostructure engineering, research, and development in creation of useful materials, devices, and systems at nanometre-size scale and is attracting an increased attention in the world today.

Digital fingerprinting
As people type messages on their computer keyboards and browse Web sites, they leave a trail of electronic fingerprints. Scientists are investigating those keystroke and mouse-use patterns to develop methods to strengthen security and reduce online fraud.

Surprises from Titan
Two years ago, planetary scientists across the world watched as Europe and the US did something amazing. The Huygens descent module drifted down through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, beaming its data back to Earth via the Cassini mothership. Today, Huygens’s data are still continuing to surprise researchers.

Polymer art of spiders
A team of MIT engineers has identified two key physical processes that lend spider silk its unrivaled strength and durability, bringing closer to reality the long-sought goal of spinning artificial spider silk.

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL
Hindus believe that if a Manglik marries a non-Manglik then one of the partners would die. Is there a scientific basis for this belief?

 


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Nanotechnology revolution
Dr S.S. Verma

Structure of a buckyball
Structure of a buckyball

Nanotechnology means the manipulation of individual molecules or groups of atoms towards nanostructure engineering, research, and development in creation of useful materials, devices, and systems at nanometre-size scale and is attracting an increased attention in the world today.

Ø In medicine, we are already seeing research on: new ways to deliver drugs with contact lenses; the directing of drugs to tumours with tiny “smart bombs”; gold “nano-bullets” that seek-and-destroy tumours; starving cancer with nanoparticles; diagnosing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, monitoring health and fighting sickness with tiny probes; and growing new organs from scratch. Biochemists are hoping to deploy viruses as “nanocameras” to get a clearer picture of what is going on inside cells.

Ø In computing nanoscience may lead to smaller or more powerful microchips with increased capacity and dramatic reductions in the size of hard discs. Some experiments have even shown that it might be possible to manufacture tiny parts for computers inside bacteria. Quantum computing and quantum cryptography also rely on advances in nanotechnology.

Ø In environmental science nanotechnology is providing ways to detect and filter bacteria and toxins out of water supplies and clear up heavy metal and organic chemical pollution.

Further innovations are leading to smaller, more efficient batteries, advanced solar power and fuel cells and catalytic diesel additives that improve fuel efficiency. In addition, new and powerful light-emitting diodes (LEDs) may soon replace conventional light bulbs, offering huge energy savings. LEDs are built with semiconductors, increasingly developed at the nanoscale.

Ø In military technology governments are splashing cash on developing new, lightweight equipment and weapons, bullet-proof battle-suits that can morph to provide camouflage or even stiffen to provide splints for broken limbs, and nanosensors that might detect chemical or biological perils.

Ø Sensor development: nanotechnology has become a key technology in sensor development. The small size of these sensors leads to reduced weight, low power requirements and greater sensitivity. India needs to look at nanotechnology to tackle issues like wanting pure, dependable and continuous water supply (since it has tremendous impact on the healthcare system). The recently-developed ‘Silicon Locket’ by Indian Institute of Technology Bombay is a wearable electrocardiogram monitoring system which can record, store and download ECG signals of patients onto a personal computer, transmit it to a central server and then alert a doctor via SMS (mobile) about a patient’s abnormal heart condition.

IITB is also working on a Rs 50 crore project to improve the quality of water in our cities and villages with the help of a network of sensors, which send signals to a central server that monitors the water quality. Nanotechnology is now regarded as the core scientific technology.

The worldwide government spending on nanotechnology is expected to increase by 15-20 per cent this year and global business may grow to $1 trillion in the next 10 years. The largest growth expected to be in materials at about $340 billion followed by electronics at $300 billion. The others are pharmaceuticals ($180 billion), chemical manufacturing ($100 billion) and aerospace at $70 billion.

It’s time for the industry to now take a look at the nanotechnology applications. The understanding of markets, applications and technologies is crucial for successful commercialisation of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is extremely powerful, and if developed will play a central role in the survival of humanity — or its extinction. It will end scarcity, give peace and immortality.

Despite the fact that it still has relatively few commercial applications, nanotechnology has generated criticism from environmental groups and others who fear as-yet-unknown risks to human health and the environment. Critics have called for a moratorium on research, arguing that we know little about the toxicological effects of nanoparticles, and that there are no regulations to control them.

The writer is from Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal


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Digital fingerprinting

As people type messages on their computer keyboards and browse Web sites, they leave a trail of electronic fingerprints. Scientists are investigating those keystroke and mouse-use patterns to develop methods to strengthen security and reduce online fraud.

The scientists kept track of the time between strokes as seven trained typists each entered three passages of about 300 words. Four months later, the volunteers repeated the task.

The researchers found that even without any sophisticated analysis, a person could look at the grids of data showing average pauses between pairs of letters and, without fail, match each pair of samples from each of the typists.

Several companies already sell software packages that take advantage of this phenomenon to strengthen password security.

Steven Bender, chief operating officer of iMagic Software in Solvang, Calif., says that because people type passwords so frequently, “we start to move it from the conscious mind to the unconscious, just like a dance step or golf swing.” As a result, password typing has a nearly identical rhythm every time a person does it.

The typical typeprint-security package asks a user initially to type in his or her password several times. The program then derives statistics, such as the average time between the strokes.

The next time the user logs in, the program permits access only if the keystroke timing is sufficiently similar to its initial data.

A major advantage of this kind of identity verification, unlike retinal scanning and other forms of biometrics, is that it doesn’t require any sophisticated equipment at the user’s end, Bender says.

Researchers are now developing the technique for application beyond password verification. Daniele Gunetti and Claudia Picardi of the University of Torino in Italy are creating a system that examines typing rhythms—sometimes called keystroke dynamics—while a person uses a computer, not just at log-in. “We are particularly interested in applying the system to track illegal activities around the Internet,” Picardi says.


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Surprises from Titan

Two years ago, planetary scientists across the world watched as Europe and the US did something amazing. The Huygens descent module drifted down through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, beaming its data back to Earth via the Cassini mothership. Today, Huygens’s data are still continuing to surprise researchers.

Titan holds a unique place in the Solar System. It is the only moon covered in a significant atmosphere. The atmosphere has long intrigued scientists as it may be similar to that of the early Earth but the deeper mystery was: what lies beneath the haze?

The European Space Agency built the Huygens spacecraft to find out. The probe, carrying scientific investigations involving both sides of the Atlantic, hitched a ride on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Together Cassini and Huygens make an unprecedented joint space mission - as a major milestone, Huygens parachuted to the surface of Titan on 14 January 2005.

While Cassini keeps flying by this moon of Saturn collecting new amazing data, one can say that the data collected by Huygens’s six instruments during its 2.5-hour descent and touch-down have provided the most spectacular view of this world yet and first dramatic change in the way we now think about it.

“When you put all the data together, we get a very rich picture of Titan,” says Athéna Coustenis, Observatoire de Paris, France, “The Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) pictures were an enormous surprise. We had expected a much smoother landscape.” Instead, they saw a varied landscape of channels that had been formed by some kind of flowing liquid.

“At the landing site we also saw rounded ice pebbles,” says Jonathan Lunine, University of Arizona. The Surface Science Package (SSP) provided the final piece in this particular puzzle. The impact it detected when Huygens touched down indicated that the spacecraft had come to rest in compacted gravel. “Put it all together and it is clear that Huygens landed in an outflow wash,” says Lunine.

The Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer (GCMS) instrument confirmed the nature of the liquid that shapes the surface of Titan. It detected methane evaporating from the Huygens landing site. “Methane on Titan plays the role that water plays on Earth,” concludes Lunine. But there are still mysteries. It is not yet clear whether the methane falls mostly as a steady drizzle or as an occasional deluge.

The GCMS also detected two isotopes of argon. Both have important stories to tell. The Ar40 indicates that the interior of Titan is still active. This is unusual in a moon and indicates that perhaps an insulating layer of water ice and methane is buried in the moon itself, close to the surface, trapping the heat inside it. Occasionally, this heat causes the so-called cryo-volcanoes to erupt. Icy ‘lava’ flows from these cryo-volcanoes have been seen from the orbiting Cassini spacecraft. Because Ar40 is so heavy, it is mostly concentrated towards the base of the atmosphere, so having Huygens on the surface was essential for its detection.

Daniel Gautier, Observatoire de Paris, France, thinks that the other isotope, Ar36, is telling scientists that Titan formed after Saturn, at a time when the primeval gas cloud that became the Solar System had cooled to about 40 ºK (-233 ºC).


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Polymer art of spiders

A team of MIT engineers has identified two key physical processes that lend spider silk its unrivaled strength and durability, bringing closer to reality the long-sought goal of spinning artificial spider silk.

Manufactured spider silk could be used for artificial tendons and ligaments, sutures, parachutes and bulletproof vests. But engineers have not managed to do what spiders do effortlessly.

In a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Gareth H. McKinley, professor of mechanical engineering, and colleagues examined how spiders spin their native silk fibers, with hopes of ultimately reproducing the process artificially.

McKinley heads the Non-Newtonian Fluid Dynamics research group in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Non-Newtonian fluids behave in strange and unexpected ways because their viscosity, or consistency, changes with both the rate and the total amount of strain applied to them.

Spider silk is a protein solution that undergoes pronounced changes as part of the spinning process. Egg whites, another non-Newtonian fluid, change from a watery gel to a rubbery solid when heated. Spider silk, it turns out, undergoes similar irreversible physical changes.


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THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

Hindus believe that if a Manglik marries a non-Manglik then one of the partners would die. Is there a scientific basis for this belief?

None whatsoever. What can poor Mars sitting at such a large distance do? Even if it could think it would have no interest in individual humans, leave alone who is marrying whom. Mars is currently a dry planet looking slightly red because its surface has been rusted. Its gravitational tidal effect on the earth is miniscule as compared to that of the moon and the sun. Modern astrologists have developed a lucrative practice, exploiting this primeval belief of some innocent people. Incidentally, not all Hindus are so gullible. It is wrong to call it a Hindu belief.

Why is a golf ball dimpled?

When a round ball is traveling at high speed through air it faces a higher pressure in front that would tend to slow it down. In addition behind the ball there would be a partial vacuum created because the moving ball pushes out air. Lower pressure there would exert a backward force on the ball that would also restrain its forward motion. When the ball is dimpled the region of low pressure at the back is reduced because of the turbulence created by the dimples. As a result the restraining backward force is reduced and the ball can travel out further than it would if it were completely round. This in simple words is the reason for putting dimples on golf balls. One could use technical words for explaining this, but I have refrained from using them.


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