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Showing posts from September, 2014

Bacteria to clear up PCBs [Coffee-byte]

Labelling PCB-containing transformers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Polychlorinated biphenyl or PCBs are man-made compounds that were first made in 1881 and were extensively used as cooling agents in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors and also as additives in paints, pesticide extenders, flame retardants etc.  Monsanto was a major producer of this chemical in the early phases. 
Although PCBs had extensive applications. just like other man made plastics, they do not breakdown naturally. As early as 1922,  preliminary studies revealed that exposure to PCBs was detrimental to human and animal health. While initial reports suggested that the dangers extended to skin conditions alone, further reports linked PCBs to liver damage and poisoning. In the year 1968, about 400000 birds died after the feed that was supplied to them had been contaminated with PCBs. Detailed studies later also linked the exposure of PCBs to cancer. 
Multiple such incidents around the globe, finally l…

Technology for safety and a little bit of fun [Coffee-Byte]

We usually discuss science here and it can get a little heavy at times. So for a change, here is an application of technology for purposes of safety. No, this is not about driver less car that Google is making or some kind of hi-tech device that ensures safety in aeroplanes. This is for the safety of pedestrians at the riskiest place for them in the world, the traffic signals!
The video comes from Smart, a smart car maker, which is part of the Daimler AG in Germany.

What colour is a mirror? [Coffee-byte]

Have you ever wondered what colour is a mirror? Why does it appear silver? Does it absorb any light? 
Watch this video to seek answers to your questions about the everyday mirror! 

Treat 2 genes to beat jet lag and cancer too! [Coffee-byte]

The circadian clock is the clock that we were born with. As kids it helped us sleep and wake up on time and as adults it keeps us awake when we travel to different time zones. It is more efficient than any clock ever made by man for it keeps adjusting itself for every little change that we make and now we know how it works! 
The circadian clock has been associated with four genes, namely CLOCK, Period, Cryptochrome and BMAL1. It is the work of these genes (their respective proteins) that help us maintain our circadian rhythm. When a take a flight through different time zones, these genes take a while to adjust to new environs and this is why we experience 'jet-lag'. But researchers Rui Ye and Aziz Sancar at the University of North Carolina, were able to show that CLOCK and BMAL1 were the most important genes needed to maintain our circadian rhythms. Now, that we know how the clock works, we can design drugs that can help us to set the clock quicker or later as we need and get in…

Plants, too, have microbiomes you know [Coffee-byte]

If you have read our post about being in sync with your microbes, you are well aware of 'microbiomes', the role they play in our lives and how unique they are to us. Researchers at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Oregon, have now found that just like us, plants, too, have microbiomes! 
Plant leaves, especially, are home to millions and millions of bacteria. Using modern sequencing technology, researchers mass sequenced the multitude of bacteria found there and identified these bacteria using unique sequences called 'barcodes'. While there were some microbes that were found on most plants, there were also some that were unique or rarely found. 
The role of all the bacteria is not well understood but these microbes could be responsible for helping plants evade pathogenic infections or even help in faster growth. Certain bacteria were also found is certain areas where the air composition was markedly different, thereby showing that plants are wor…

Earth images in 4K [Coffee-byte]

4K displays made quite a furore at tech shows this year and there are many models of 4K TVs that are available in the market to buy. For the uninitiated, 4K resolution, also called Ultra High Definition (UHD), is the next big thing after HD. But what is the use of these TVs or displays when you do not have the content to see.
Well, the European Space Agency has recently released a video of the Earth Images, taken from the International Space Station (ISS) by astronaut, Alexander Gerst. Images that are part of this video were shot through a high resolution (4256 X 2832 pixels) camera on top of the ISS every one second and then sent back to the Earth.
A team at ESA then made this video by playing the still pictures at 25 frames per second and also taking the liberty to add some artistic touches to it.
The resolution for the video here can be raised all the way to 4K but the video is enjoyable even at lesser resolutions! Do post your reactions in the comments section below and subscribe…

Rosetta update: Philae's landing site chosen and a 3D model of the Rosetta mission!

Having analysed all the landing site options in depth, the European Space Agency (ESA) has finally made its choice for the landing site for Rosetta's probe, Philae. After shortlisting five probable sites earlier, the ESA had to go back to its longer list of probable landing sites after the sites were found not be be safe for landing Philae
After much deliberation and rethinking,  the ESA is looking at site J as the possible landing place for Philae and will now make its decision final by September 26 after completing trajectory analysis. If our readers recollect, the landing mission of Philae is going to be completely autonomous with no possibility of real time maneuvering after the probe leaves Rosetta. The ESA therefore needs to be absolutely sure that the landing site is perfect for probe, not only to land, but also have sufficient lighting for Philae to be able to charge its batteries and continue his analysis of the comet's surface after landing. Also, site C has been …

Fractals- the Bizarre and Beautiful pattern to chaos [Coffee-byte]

I have always loved how everywhere you look, you cannot help but notice how symmetric everything in nature really is. I have been fascinated with repetitive pattern and I have always managed to find inspiration all around me for my doodles.

Fractals - they are called, and they are made up of the simplest patterns forming complex larger patterns. They are, as fractalfoundation puts it, - ' never ending patterns that are infinitely complex and self similar across different scales.' The term 'fractals' was first used by the mathematician - Benoit Mandelbrot, who worked on the "theory of roughness"- which argued that like everything else in nature, roughness, chaos and mess also have a pattern.
The Mandelbrot set, that is a never ending loop of the same pattern within the pattern, which may sometimes gives you a headache after staring at it for a while, was first displayed by him and rightfully named so in his honour.

 Here are some that are quite interesting

You ca…

The beauty in symmetry

Have you ever wondered why you are sometimes attracted to some piece of art, and not to the other? Or why you find something visually appealing while another almost repulsive. Well next time, you do find yourself in such a situation, just take a moment, and see if what you are staring at, is symmetric or not. If you like it, chances are that the piece of work is very symmetric. Studies show that, when given an option to choose between symmetric and asymmetric pictures, people are more likely to choose symmetry over asymmetry. And this phenomenon is gender independent, so whether you are man or a woman, you will pick symmetry where possible
If we look around, we find that symmetry seems to be a very important part of nature almost like a rule. Every organism is an example of symmetry, right from viruses that show radial symmetry, to fruits and flowers that have perfectly aligned parts, there is symmetry everywhere. Biologists believe that symmetry is nature’s way of displaying fitness…

Rosetta Update: Landing site options not very safe [Coffee-byte]

In an interesting turn of events, scientists at the European Space Agency are having a difficult time determining the perfect landing spot for Rosetta's probe, Philae. An earlier update from the agency at the beginning of the month had revealed that 5 landing spots had been shortlisted from the the probable list of 10 chosen first. 

But further analysis of these sites has shown that none of them seem safe enough for Philae to land. Rosetta has been returning high resolution images of these probable sites of landing and the comet 67P seems to have layered cliffs along most of the landing sites that have been identified so far. Philae needs a landing strip close to 1 km long and hitting one of the layered cliffs might end its mission prematurely. 

The comet's duck shaped body does not make life easier as well. There is sufficient landing space on some other sites on the comet but due to their location, they do not have access to sunlight which means that batteries on the probe …

Feeling low at work? Add a plant to your workspace [Coffee-byte]

If you have been feeling low at work for some time now, do look around to see if there is some greenery to cheer you up. If there isn't, do step out and get yourself a potted plant. Well, this is no 'feng-shui' advice that we are giving away, but the result of three elaborate studies carried out by researchers at in UK and Netherlands and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
Studies on the effects of indoor plants date back to late 1990s but evidence for introducing green environs takes us back to the Burolandschaft movement in Germany in the 1950s when office landscaping was done to make working environment more collaborative and humane. 
The obvious benefits of having a plant in closed spaces such as an office would be active replenishment of carbon di-oxide with oxygen thereby increasing productivity. 
The other explanation for explaining this benefit is attributed to the attention restoration therapy (ART) that was proposed by Kaplan in 1995. …

Smartphone case that's harder than steel [Coffee-byte]

When buying a smartphone, a protective case is almost a reflex buy. Available in a variety of colours, forms, shapes, these smartphone cases are pleasing to the eye but do not offer us the comfort that they will protect the phone forever. The smartphone case bears the brunt of everyday usage and does not have a very long life. But researchers at Yale University have now been successful in making cases out of bulk-metallic glasses (BMGs) that will be 'around 50 times harder than plastic and 3 times harder than steel and yet remain lightweight to be made into cases.' 
Researcher Jan Schroers, spent over a decade, trying different approaches to work with bulk metallic glasses and make them malleable. While the standard method of working of metals would be to heat them and then mold them to desired shapes, Prof. Schroers used the technique called 'supercooling' to soften the metal by cooling, enough for it to be molded. Not only can BMGs then be molded as plastic, the met…