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Showing posts from 2013

Beetle Beauty!!

050 Namib Ground Beetle_1 (Photo credit: tok tokkie) Ever seen a water bottle the size of a beetle? What if, we told you that the bottle fills itself? Sounds like a miracle, doesn't it? The Namib beetle belonging to the Stenocara genus is here to demonstrate this miracle. Found in the world’s oldest desert, the Namib desert, this beetle demonstrates an indigenous method of obtaining water from the arid surroundings.

Alzheimer's disease: The peanut butter test!

A tablespoon of peanut butter might help determine if you are developing Alzheimer's disease. As bizzare as it might sound, researchers at the University of Florida have been successful in demonstrating that a dollop of peanut butter and a ruler is all you to need to test patients for early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Development of such a simple test will greatly help clinicians diagnose Alzheimer's earlier and give them an opportunity for earlier intervention.

The idea of using peanut butter came to a graduate student, Jennifer Stamps, who while working in the department of neurology at the University of Florida, noticed that patients suspected for Alzheimer's were not being tested for their sense of smell. The idea behind testing patients for their smelling ability came from the fact that the first cranial nerve in the brain has an olfactory function, or in simple terms carries the smell from the nasal cavity to the brain and is one of the first nerves to be affect…

Lightning charges Nokia Lumia!

Although it sounds like an advertisement for the mobile company, it is the work of the researchers at the University of Southampton that is creditable. Prompted by the phone company, the researchers attempted to charge a mobile phone using lightning as the source of energy.
Lightning strikes the Earth around 40-50 times per second and each lightning bolt carries anywhere between 1000 - 5000 joules of energy, enough to send a tennis ball at 23,000 km per hour.  While we are aware of the energy potential of lightning, we have never managed to harness this energy because we do not know how to control it (much like Fire was for a man of Stone Age).  Through these efforts, Nokia and The University of Southampton are looking for ways to harness this energy and also charge phones wirelessly. (You can read more about it in our previous post, about wireless charging).
While we might be decades away from harnessing this energy successfully for everyday use, it does make for an interesting vide…

Dancing water on a hot pan - here's why?

Ever wondered why water droplets suddenly start dancing on a hot pan, while they simmer away most of the times.  As if they have a mind of their own, water droplets seem to act like this in a random fashion. Well, you are not the first one to have observed this or to have dismissed it as an random act. In the year 1796, Johann Leidenfrost, found some order in this randomness, which is now known as the Leidenfrost effect.
Image from Wikipedia Initially, as a hot pan reaches the boiling point of water, water evaporates slowly. As temperature increases and goes beyond 100 degrees Celsius, water evaporates immediately, usually accompanied with a hissing sound. As the temperature is increased further, water continues to evaporate quickly, except that the water closest to pan heats up quicker, evaporates and makes a small cushion of vapour between the pan and water droplet. Since, vapour conducts heat poorly, heat from the pan takes much longer to reach and completely evaporate the water d…

Sildenafil citrate: How Pfizer sold the wrong drug to the right people!

In 1989, researchers Peter Dunn and Albert Wood, working at the Pfizer’s research facility at Kent, England, were able to synthesize a drug that could be used to treat patients with high blood pressure and chest pain. Called Sildenafil citrate, this drug could inhibit functioning of the enzyme, cGMP-specific phosphodiestrase type 5, simply called PDE-5, making blood vessels more receptive to nitric oxide in the blood, further leading to the relaxation of the arterial wall and regulation of blood pressure. Like every other drug discovery, Sildenafil citrate, too, now had to go through rigorous clinical trials before being able to actually help patients. Phase I clinical trials were conducted at a hospital in Wales which did not progress very well. In addition to the regular side-effects such as headache, impaired vision and indigestion, sildenafil was also found to result in unintended penile erections in male subjects. What was even worse for Pfizer is that the study found that the d…

Are you in sync with your microbes?

Bacteria, fungi and viruses are better known for the harm they cause and are usually associated with the words such as infections, fever and at times, even cancer.  The pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars every year in attempts to develop new antibiotics, new methods of treatment for ailments caused by infections of these micro-organisms while health care providers spend resources to prevent such infections from occurring in first place.  But what if, the microbes are not meant to be kept away? What if we are looking at the problem the wrong way? What if the microbes are not the problem at all? Confused? Let us explain!
Why micro-organisms?

Although we first became aware of micro organisms in the year 1675, microbes are estimated to have occupied Earth almost 4 billion years ago. Not only are they the earliest inhabitants, they are also the most versatile and the most ubiquitous of all life forms. The total number of micro organisms on our Earth is estimated to be 50000…

Is Sci-Fi turning into reality? The Story of Suspended Animation

From sleeping beauty to dragons; grizzly bears and squirrels to viruses and bacteria, hibernation seems like nature’s best way to keep tough times at bay. Come to think of it, the idea of putting the protagonist in sci-fi movies, in a state of suspended animation in order to transport him to far off planets or reemerge when the time is right is not something unimaginable. This hyper sleep that the characters are put through is something that happens quite a lot in nature!
If you are getting a little confused with the whole concept, let me put it simply- hibernation (or hyper sleep) is when an organism’s metabolic activity is reduced to the minimum (almost zero), where by it enters a state of suspended animation. In mammals there is a drop in temperature (almost 2-4 degree C), oxygen consumption drops down to 2% and there is a serious fall in the heart rate as well. And how does it help, you may ask, well imagine you are waiting your turn to get a table in a fancy restaurant on a Saturd…

Its not the complex talk but the attitude that matters!

On a lazy Sunday evening, I stepped out of the house for some weekly chores and on my way back, saw a couple of kids play in the open. Irrespective of the size of the open space, kids in India are usually seen playing cricket, but these two 5-7 year-old kids, were doing something different! With some readily available materials like a polythene bag, a small plastic skateboard and a thin string, these kids were attempting a scaled down version of kite boarding.
If you do look up kite boarding, it is an adventure sport and needs all sorts of complex safety gear. But the science behind kite boarding is quite simple. Wind that gets caught up in the kite/ sail, pushes the boarder forward.  The kids got this right; and by neatly tying up the polythene bag at its mouth it created a giant sail for a toy skateboard that was merely 5 cm long. Taking advantage of the monsoon winds, this toy skateboard tethered to the polythene sail, slowly inched forward as the winds picked up, giving immense j…

Survival of the smallest!

In a billion years from now, the Earth will be inhabited just by microbes. Not animals, not cockroaches but microbes. This conclusion is a result of a computer model used by researchers to predict the status of life on Earth after a few billion years.

As years pass by, the augmenting luminosity of the Sun will create an unfavourable rather intolerable environment for humans, plants and animals alike on our planet. The increased temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius  will lead to the evaporation of oceans which in turn will lead to increased salinity of large water bodies, high atmospheric pressure and a drastic reduction in oxygen and carbon dioxide content. The poisonous, high pressure, high salinity and zero-oxygen condition will only be withstood by organisms that already survive under such extreme conditions and are called “extremophiles”.
Desert ants sprinting on scorching sand, spiders in snowy areas and beetles with antifreeze blood are some of the creatures identified as ext…

Who needs dollars?... We have alternate money!

History textbooks have spoken of the Barter system as our first medium for exchange of goods but paper money has been our medium of exchange for goods for over three to four centuries. While each country issues its own paper money, the US dollar has been globally accepted as a genuine currency and even countries have a demand for the US Dollar for their day-to-day transactions.  But a series of events that have occurred in the recent past might have just started shaping our new future. A future independent of US dollars, a future independent of national bank notes, a future that involves the use of alternate money.
Alternate money has been in use for a long time, mostly complementing regular money in the markets. Everyday, we collect units of alternate currencies in the form of loyalty points at fuel-stations, supermarkets and frequent flier miles on our air-tickets.  We are quick to use this alternate currency to buy more fuel, more groceries or get a free-trip, without much realizi…

Italy amends law to allow Stem Cell Therapy!

On the 22nd of May 2013, the Italian Senate took a bold and first-of-its-kind step in promoting stem cell therapy. After a public and media uproar against the therapy, the ruling party temporarily allowed patients who were already undergoing this therapy at a hospital to complete their scheduled treatment and also promised a purse of 3 million euros to setup a clinical trial for a therapy it has already given approval to.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem Cell Therapy takes advantage of pluripotent (capable of giving rise to different cell types) nature of stem cells and works on the principle that introduction of such cells into damaged tissue can help in repair of the damaged area and thereby in treatment of a disease.  Stem Cell Therapy is being looked up to as being the mode of treatment for several disorders such as Parkinson's disease, various cancers, cardiac failure and even genetic disorders such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
What is happening in Italy?
A private lab called St…

The story of bottled water!

This video is courtesy of Story of and assumes special significance in the wake of major companies like TATA and Bisleri rolling out new campaigns to attract consumers to their new products. Of course, we have nothing against these companies, its is just about saying 'NO' to things we just do not need.

Like and Share this post as much as you can and remember to carry a bottle of water with you every time you step out!
Related articlesBisleri launches digital campaign for 500 ml bottle ( Bisleri Celebrated 'World Shabaash Day' On Social Media (

Does lack of plants mean End of Photosynthesis on Earth?

Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and a few other organisms to make their own food by harnessing the energy from the sun’s light and converting it to chemical energy. The process of photosynthesis is dependent on a lot of factors and a change in any of these could actually prevent it from occurring normally, as we would like it. Major factors which could stop the process of photosynthesis include- absence of sunlight, carbon dioxide or water, since these are basic requirements for the process. While you might be aware that the process occurs in a small organelle inside the plant’s cells known as chloroplast, chlorophyll is an important pigment for the process. Any loss of this pigment due to genetic or biochemical factors would also prevent photosynthesis. Also, the end result is photosynthesis is the production of glucose. So, if a plant has enough glucose, there will be a halt in the process.

Of more interest is the optimum temperature range in which photosynthesis occurs-…

Is the Earth's gravity same everywhere?

Earth's gravity measured by NASA's GRACE mission, showing deviations from the theoretical gravity of an idealized smooth Earth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)When you drop something, it falls downwards towards the ground. Why does it fall down? Why not up? All such questions were answered with a 7 lettered word-GRAVITY. Gravity is an attractive force and is stronger on Earth as compared to our Moon due to larger mass. When you drop an object it falls towards the ground and when it is dropped from a greater height it falls towards the ground with greater speed and impact. The greater impact and speed is attributed to acceleration (the rate of change of speed) which is higher due to gravity.
The force of gravity is inversely proportional to the radius of the Earth, that's what our textbooks said in school. But a recent press release from the European Space Agency, showed that the shape of the Earth is not a perfect sphere but a geoid or ellipsoid, bulging slightly at the equator a…

'Building in a bag' - the ingenuity of concrete canvas

Imagine a future where a piece of cloth that you lay down and  spray some water on turns into a slab of concrete! This is the magic of 'concrete canvas' and it is about to change some basic rules of civil engineering.
Concrete canvas is a great innovation from engineering students Will Crawford and Peter Brewin, that feels like a normal canvas but put some water on it and it hardens in a few hours to give you a robust construction.  The cloth, impregnated with concrete,  is easy to transport and just needs water and some air to complete a construction. It doesn’t need heavy equipment, good working surfaces and is not labour intensive at all. You will need lots of water, which need can be sourced from a bore well or even the sea, an air blower (if the construction is big and you are in a hurry)  and some labour to put the cloth in desired places. You can roll the sheets on to slopes and it will take up the contour of the land, making it truly easy to use.

What’s more, unlike norm…

Leptin can help you lose weight?

Leptin is a small hormone produced by the adipose tissues (fat cells) in our body and functions as a signal for the amount of fat present in the body. Depending on the 'Leptin' signal received, the brain can instruct our stomach to stop demanding food or our mouth to stop eating, thereby reducing food intake. So, in theory, more the amount of leptin in your body, lesser will you eat and it would be a a breeze to keep your weight in control. Of course, there is a catch.
The effect of Leptin was discovered in 1994 in a study involving voraciously eating obese mice. When these mice were given leptin injections, their craving for food dropped and they returned to normal body weight. So, scientists attempted to cure obesity in humans with the help of leptin injections. But, during trials, large amounts and frequent doses of leptin had to be injected to gain significant weight loss in highly obese patients. Also, large doses resulted in redness of skin at the site of injection for c…

The science of Consumerism

We live in a world where television, billboards, magazines and even toilets are hoarded with sales pitches trying to convince us that a particular brand of soup is what will rid us of our loneliness and make our lives happier. Every day we are bombarded with ideas and concepts to such an extent that we subconsciously start accepting them (almost like Inception). ‘Advertising’ is selling the viewer the idea that consumption (of a particular product) will lead to gratification. In fact, almost all advertisements tap into our insatiable appetite for prestige, power, happiness and status, making the idea quite seductive. Consumerism today has become a pastime, ideology and even a source of addiction.  In fact lots of economists and philosophers like to think of consumerism as the singular idea that has successfully taken over the world we live in today. People from all regions, religions and ages indulge in the idea that  - more is always better!

But really… is it?

Over the years we have …

7 facts about Polyomaviruses

Over the last few decades, cancer has become a commonly known disorder. Advances in modern medicine have brought in newer methods of cancer detection and treatment thereby improving the quality of life. But two facets  of cancer still remain elusive to us, a permanent cure as well as a well defined cause.
Different theories have been hypothesized to explain the emergence of cancer in first place. Various studies have been conducted around these theories and we have managed to come up factors such drinking, smoking, gene mutations etc. that might increase one's susceptibility to cancer but no defined cause. One of the tangible cause we have so far are viruses.
Known to us since 1950s, Polyomaviruses are viruses that possess the ability to cause multiple (poly) tumors (-oma). These are close relatives of the Papillomaviruses that are known to cause warts or non cancerous tumours in humans. For quite some time, we knew of only two Polyomaviruses that could infect humans. But studies…