SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Science needs greater recognition in India
By Papri Sri Raman

Less than 25 per cent of the country’s students opt for pure science in India today, according to the University Grants Commission. Students prefer instead to opt for technology, whether biotechnology or nanotechnology.

Can Mars sustain life?
By Radhakrishna Rao

For sometime now, Mars is being viewed as a possible futuristic outpost for human civilization. After earth, Mars is considered to have a climate that could be favourable to life forms. However, there is still no clarity on whether the planet harboured life forms and throbbed with abundance of water at some points of its evolution. As such there is a renewed interest in further probing Mars with a focus on studying its environment in depth and assess its suitability for human settlements.

Trends

  • Climate change might impact species’ geographic ranges

  • New therapy prevents heart failure


Prof Yash Pal
Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

I would like to know whether it is essential to have a sound knowledge of all branches of science in order to become a successful scientist.?
I would suggest that it might be better if you do not set yourself a goal to first master all the branches of science. That will never do and it would be boring. Start somewhere, from things that interest you deeply and then begin to wander. You will learn many things on the side.

 


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Science needs greater recognition in India
By Papri Sri Raman

Less than 25 per cent of the country’s students opt for pure science in India today, according to the University Grants Commission. Students prefer instead to opt for technology, whether biotechnology or nanotechnology.

The problem perhaps is also because there are too many with MBA degrees in India who are waiting to manage innovation. But there is not enough innovation and research and development. There are far smaller countries devoting almost 15 per cent of their GDP to science and technology.  

One reason behind the perception that technology is science is perhaps because we rarely use the word technocrat. When India sends a spacecraft to the Moon, the words of reference generally are ‘Indian scientists succeed’. More than a scientific achievement, any Moon Mission today is in fact an engineering super feat.

Less known is the fact that almost 1,500 Indians have been to Antarctica and over 300 research papers have been produced following the country’s Antarctica programme. Similarly, 20 of the 120 new microbes discovered in Antarctica have been by Indian scientists.

The low profile of India’s scientific achievements rarely comes in the way of it competing for international recognition such as the Nobel Prize.

A Brisbane-based scientist, Ian Frazer, from the University of Queensland, who along with his team developed cervical cancer vaccines, was awarded the 2008 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Australia’s top science award worth $ 300,000. Frazer’s cervical cancer vaccines — Gardasil and Cervarix — went on the market in 2006. Since then, 80 per cent teenage girls in Australia have been vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV) responsible for causing cervical cancer. 

Canada’s top science award, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, awarded ‘for sustained excellence and overall influence of a body of research’, went to physicist Paul Corkum this year. The award comes with a guarantee of $1 million in research funding over the next five years.

But no such awards exist for Indian scientists.

Recipients of the Nobel Prize in 2008 were European scientists who found the viruses that lead to AIDS and cervical cancer. In 1983 Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of France tracked AIDS to the HIV. The two shared the award with the German scientist Harald zur Hausen, who discovered human papilloma viruses that cause cervical cancer. Nominees for the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics were scientists who worked on understanding the dark matter and searched for new planets and particles that were active as nano material.

In 2007 Albert Fert of France and the German scientist Peter Gruenberg received the Nobel award for their discovery of the giant magneto-resistant (GMR) effect. It is a quantum mechanical magneto resistant effect observed in thin film structures and composed of alternating ferro-magnetic and non-magnetic layers. Their science was to explain how this giant magneto-resistance works.

Our technology choice is a transparent 2.2 gallon flush tank for the toilet with ornamental fish swimming in it. It is called the Fish ‘n Flush concept, which costs nearly $500. A plumber in India could create one for about $100. But that would be technology, not science.
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Can Mars sustain life?
By Radhakrishna Rao

For sometime now, Mars is being viewed as a possible futuristic outpost for human civilization. After earth, Mars is considered to have a climate that could be favourable to life forms. However, there is still no clarity on whether the planet harboured life forms and throbbed with abundance of water at some points of its evolution. As such there is a renewed interest in further probing Mars with a focus on studying its environment in depth and assess its suitability for human settlements.

The Indian Space Research Organisation has hinted at plans to build and launch a 500-kg orbiter to the Red Planet. The mission objective of this Mars mission would be to gain a deeper insight into the various features of the planet.

The US has decided to send a manned expedition to Mars. The biggest problem for this mission will be to insulate the spaceship from searing radiation during its journey across a mind boggling distance. There is as yet no clarity on the extent and nature of water on Mars. Measurements of soil samples of Mars carried out by robotic probes at different points of time have yielded far from uniform results. While measurements conducted at one place did point to presence of water, subsequent measurements indicated only dry soil.

Researchers are also surprised by data provide by Pheonix Mars Lander of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration which showed that there is not much water on the Red Planet. However, images provided by the High Resolution Stereo camera of Mars Explorer of the European Space Agency reveals a patch of water ice in a crate under the Maritan south pole.

A few years ago, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft had found signs of vast quantities of water ice below the planet’s surface. Planetary researchers discovered that unlike on earth, water would not freeze into crystal ice with a fall in temperature and a drop in the moisture level in the air but instead remain more liquid like.

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder in the US has hinted at the existence of a 50 km long canyon. The identification of the shoreline and accompanying geological evidence allows us to calculate the size and volume of the lake, which appears to have formed about three to four billion years ago, according to Dr.Gaetano Di Achille, the team leader. The lake, he says, could have either evaporated or frozen over after cataclysmic climatic changes on the planet during the periods of evolution. But then what transformed Mars from a warm and wet planet into a frozen desert no one is sure as yet. A deeper investigation of the planet is vital to unravel the mysteries surrounding Mars. 
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Trends
Climate change might impact species’ geographic ranges

Washington: A new study by a team of researchers has provided insights into how climate change might impact geographic ranges of species. The study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame offers interesting insights into how species may, or may not, change their geographic range - the place where they live on earth - under climate change.

Researchers have hypothesized that populations near the northern boundaries of geographic ranges in the Northern Hemisphere would be pre-adapted to warming and thus will increase with warming, facilitating range expansions.

If these northern populations do not increase under warming, species may not track changing climatic conditions and instead decline under climate change.

New therapy prevents heart failure

Washington: Scientists have suggested a new therapy that will help in preventing heart failure or deaths in patients with heart disease. The study showed a 29pct reduction in heart failure and mortality risk in patients who received an implanted cardiac resynchronization therapy device with defibrillator (CRT-D) compared to patients who received only an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD-only).

The new generation of cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators (CRT-Ds) was designed to stop dangerous, life-threatening heart rhythms and improve the heart’s contraction, thereby enabling the device to improve survival and prevent heart failure.

The MADIT-CRT (Multicenter Automatic Defibrillator Implantation Trial with Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy) involving more than 1,800 patients showed that defibrillator along with cardiac resynchronization device reduced deaths by nearly one-third in patients with mild heart failure. “Now we can prevent sudden cardiac death and inhibit the development of heart failure, thus improving survival and outcome in patients with heart disease,” Dr Arthur Moss, professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who led the MADIT-CRT. — ANI
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THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

I would like to know whether it is essential to have a sound knowledge of all branches of science in order to become a successful scientist.?

I would suggest that it might be better if you do not set yourself a goal to first master all the branches of science. That will never do and it would be boring. Start somewhere, from things that interest you deeply and then begin to wander. You will learn many things on the side. New subjects would come in a connected way and you will end up learning new things. One does not simply sit down and decide to become a great scientist and then start collecting books. You start in some corner because it intrigues and interests you. Just hard work is not enough. Imagination and dreaming is also required. Besides it is also fun.

We know that Ozone molecule consist of three Oxygen atoms, i.e. one atom more than oxygen gas. Hence, molecular mass of ozone is more than oxygen. We also know that oxygen is found in lower portions of atmosphere and ozone in the upper most portion of atmosphere. But being heavier, ozone should be in lower portions. What is the reason?

It is true that ozone is heavier than oxygen and should be more abundant in the lower atmosphere. The fact that it is not so is due to another set of facts. Ozone, with three oxygen atoms is a weakly bound molecule. It easily loses one of the oxygen atoms in collisions with a variety of atoms, as also in collision with soft ultraviolet. If it is produced at high altitude and starts descending due to its higher molecular mass, it is easily destroyed in collisions. But then you could ask why does it start at high altitude?

To convert a molecule of oxygen into one of ozone you need to add one atom of oxygen. These oxygen atoms can be produced at very high altitude through breakup of molecular oxygen by the impact of high energy ultraviolet or soft x-rays. The released atoms of oxygen are sometimes captured by ordinary oxygen molecules to form ozone. This ozone would be stable and remain undisturbed unless destroyed while protecting us from low energy ultraviolet. (Indeed this low energy ultraviolet cannot be destroyed by ordinary molecular oxygen because it does not have enough energy to break up those molecules). But the ozone molecules have other enemies. One of these are chlorofluorocarbons that release atoms like that of chlorine. Chlorine can easily pick off the extra oxygen atom from ozone and convert it back into ordinary molecular oxygen. This way ozone that is created at high altitude dies soon after a few minutes while protecting us from the damaging ultra violet; an average ozone molecule lives only for about three minutes. Therefore it has no time to descend to a lower level of the atmosphere. The drama of birth and death of ozone is primarily enacted above the stratosphere.

Readers wanting to ask Prof Yash Pal a question can e-mail him at palyash.pal@gmail.com
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