24 Apr 2012

When Venus keeps its date with the Sun

Planet Venus will have its date with the sun on June 6. The inferior planet (called that as it is closer to the sun), will be seen to move stealthily across the disk of the rising sun. Called a transit, this is a rare astronomical event. A transit of Venus occurs, when Venus passes directly between the sun and the Earth. The last time this thrilling event occurred was in 2004, and the one which will occur in June will be the last one in your lifetime, as the next such alignment will occur only in 2117.
“Transits of Venus are much rarer than those of Mercury. Transits of Venus only occur approximately four times in 243 years. This rare alignment, come in pairs that are eight years apart, but separated by over a century,” said Dr. Iyamperumal, Executive Director, B.M. Birla Planetarium.
What is the importance of this transit? “It helps give accurate estimates of the all important distance scale – the astronomical unit – of the distance between the Earth and the sun. This distance serves as a basis for all other distance determinations in the Universe.
Astronomers at the Birla Planetarium, Chennai will be teaching representatives of every State in India about how to view the transit and the importance of the event.
In connection with this, a special programme called ‘Training the Trainers' has been arranged at the B.M Birla Planetarium, Chennai, on April 24 and 25, for Science Communicators.

Offshore wind energy panel formed

In a bid to give a big thrust to wind power, the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has constituted an Offshore Wing Energy Steering Committee (OWESC) under the chairmanship of Secretary, MNRE to steer the offshore wind power development in India in a directed and focused manner especially in Tamil Nadu, Maharahstra and Gujarat.
This committee will work out a roadmap for offshore wind power development in the country. It has been pointed out in various studies carried out by C-WET and others which suggested offshore wind power potential in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
A Technical Committee has already been constituted to analyse the available data with various agencies for preliminary assessment of potential including identification of pockets for offshore wind power development.
The Offshore Wing Energy Steering Committee will focus on issues like allotment of offshore wind sites which requires multilayer clearances, coordination with various government departments/agencies such as Environment, Shipping, Defence, Maritime and Civil Aviation. The Committee will include various stakeholders including government department/agencies.
According to the terms and reference of OWESC, it will provide policy guidance for tapping offshore wind energy potential on sustained basis; approve plans and proposals relating to offshore wind energy development in the country; develop policy framework/guidelines for offshore wind resource assessment through public/private entities and guidelines for awarding the sites to private sector for establishing offshore wind power projects.
It would also work to create an institutional mechanism for inter-agency coordination for integration of offshore wind power with established uses of the sea; evaluation of the potential partners (private/public sector) for setting up of pilot offshore wind power projects of 100 m size in a period of 2-3 years and evaluation of PPP mode for offshore wind energy development.

Switch off fridge for 3 hours a day and avoid load shedding

Keep them switched off for three hours a day and avoid load shedding. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar.
The Hindu Keep them switched off for three hours a day and avoid load shedding. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar.
K. Radhakrishnan, former Member (Generation) of the Kerala State Electricity Board said that if all the electricity consumers in Kerala switch off their fridge for three hours during the evening peak hours the State can ward off load shedding for the next three years.
“Switching off the fridge can reduce at least 300 Mega Watts of electric load in the State during the peak load hours thus bridging the supply-demand gap” Mr. Radhakrishnan said while speaking at an energy conservation awareness programme organised by the Manayilkulangara unit of the Nair Service Society here on Monday.
Keeping the fridge switched off during the peak hour will also bring down the purchase load of the KSEB because the peak load energy purchase costs go above Rs. 15 per unit. It has other advantages as well. There will be reduction in energy consumption by the fridge up to 15 per cent thereby cutting down the electricity bill. This fact has been authenticated through a detailed study by the research wing of the KSEB, Mr. Radhakrishnan said.
Also making the fridge operate during the low voltage period reduces the life of the compressor. Thus switching off the fridge during low voltage hours increases the life of the fridge by 50 per cent, studies have proved. This is also applicable to other equipments like water pump, air conditioners, washing machines and blenders.
He said that switching over to high efficiency equipment can further reduce electricity consumption to a large extent. Equipments with energy labels having three stars or above can save much energy. When an old fridge consumes up to 4 units per day a new generation four star fridge consumes less than one unit per day.
Another field in which revolutionary changes have occurred is lighting. The ordinary bulb converts two per cent of energy into light and the rest into heat. Fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps are much more efficient. Replacing ordinary tube lights with thinner T8 tubes bring about ten percent reductions and with still thinner T5 tubes with electronic chokes can reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent.
Mr. Radhakrishnan said that that the light emitting diode (LED) lamps, the comparatively new addition are claimed to be more efficient but they are yet to be technologically refined for economic use or general purpose lighting. Many other modern lighting types of equipment are reaching the market every day.
“Kerala with extravagance in domestic electricity consumption has tremendous scope for energy conservation and social organisations should come forward to spread the message of energy conservation”, Mr. Radhakrishnan said.

Soon, solar powered clothes from natural fabric to charge cell phones

A team of designers, including one of Indian-origin, is developing solar-powered clothes from natural fibres that can charge a number of devices, including phones, tablets and GPS units.
Eulanda Sanders and Ajoy Sarkar in Colorado State University’s Department of Design and Merchandising, as well as four of their students, are making prototypes for solar-charging apparel that can be worn while biking, snowboarding, skiing or hiking.
Clothing with solar panels has been developed before, but these duds usually rely on petroleum—based materials rather than natural fibres, Discovery News reported.
A prime example is California-based Silvrlining’s GO Solar Power Collection, which puts solar power into microsuede sportswear. While certainly cool-looking, the director’s jacket costs 1,180 dollars.
Instead, Sanders and Sarkar want to produce clothes from cotton and linen that are safe and strong enough to handle the elements. According to the university, the group was able to modify natural materials to make them more durable. From there, they incorporated flexible solar panels within the apparel.
Their goal with these greener clothes is ultimately to make solar clothing that’s not only comfortable and cool looking but also highly functional and easy to clean. With help from a 15,000-dollar grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the CSU group has already made several prototype jackets and a vest. This weekend, that apparel will go on display at the EPA’s National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC. The team has also entered a sustainable design competition there, competing with entries from across the nation. Winning means a shot at taking their solar clothing to the market.

18 Apr 2012

Solar system mystery 'solved'

(File image) Solar system - Wikimedia Commons
(File image) Solar system - Wikimedia Commons
Planetary scientists claim they may have discovered how 'chondrules', tiny particles found in meteorites, formed at the beginning of the solar system, thus solving the decades-old cosmic conundrum.
Chondrules are spherical particles of molten material found in meteorites but their origins have long been a mystery.
No longer than about one millimetre in diameter, they melted at temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, while the cooler materials surrounding them only experienced temperatures of a few hundred degrees Celsius.
Now, an international team, led by Australian National University, has cracked the mystery as to how 'chondrules' could have actually formed in extreme heat, especially when the meteorite structure surrounding them remained cold.
"Most of the solar system is cold, so it's been unclear for decades what caused the chondrules to experience such extreme heat. We believe that chondrules formed in jets of material ejected from flattened discs, called 'protostellar discs', which encircle young stars."
"These discs are somewhat like the rings around the planet Saturn. The modern planets are the remnants of material of these discs clumping together. In observations of the formation of new stars, we can see jets of material accelerating out of protostellar discs."
"We show that as these jets shoot out of the discs, from about the Earth-Sun distance away, the materials brought with them are heated to the point of melting. The heavier items in them then drop back into the discs, where they cool and re- form," Raquel Salmeron, who led the team, said.
The scientists said that their theory challenged old assumptions about the formation of chondrules.
"For decades it has been assumed that jets could only form chondrules through the heating of materials in the vicinity of the Sun, followed by their transportation into protostellar discs," Salmeron said in a varsity release.
"We believe that our new theory explains how chondrules -- among the earliest materials in the solar system -- reached the temperatures required for melting, even though the early solar nebula was cold. It also explains the fairly uniform size of chondrules and provides a means for them to mix and combine with unheated material," Salmeron added.

14 Apr 2012

Save the green

Aparna Menon

Get down to greening: Students on a tree planting drive Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
Get down to greening: Students on a tree planting drive Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
Create a cool spot by planting trees.
It's going to be a tough summer thanks to the trees that have been axed, boulevards cleared of canopies and replacement of green cover with concrete jungles. But undeterred by all this, young green thumbs of the city are making it a point to make the city clean and green.
At Abhaya School, Kompally, every Monday during the gardening class the children clear the dried leaves and junk around the base of the trees and even climb and pluck out dried leaves. They participate in the tree planting drives as well.
Great change
Raghav, a Std. IX student, was a part of the tree planting drive held at his school three years ago and can see the difference. “The greenery around has changed the environment around the school. The flowers and fruits attract butterflies and many small birds which are a pleasure to see. We have noticed the difference in the pollution level of the air between our school and our homes. These trees that we nurtured have made a difference.”
In the heart of the city, where construction work is at its peak with skyrises everywhere, students of Learnium School make it a point to celebrate World Wetland Day, Vanamahotsavam and other festivals to create awareness about the importance of various ecosystems. Apart from planting saplings, they also come up with songs that bring out awareness on environment that they present on these occasions.
Lotus Lap Public School had 5,000 children attending the “green drive.” This event was conducted to sensitise children, their parents and the residents around about the need to plant more trees. Most of the children carried saplings during the walk. Rasee Reddy, a Std. IX student who participated in the drive suggests, that the most important step that they can do is to restore some balance in nature by planting more trees.

Science concepts come alive

Finding the force: A successful experiment Photo: R. Eswarraj
Finding the force: A successful experiment Photo: R. Eswarraj
The Science exhibition brought out the talent of the students.
The students of Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School Pilimogaru (DKZPHPS), in Pilimogaru village, Chennithodi gram panchayat, Bantwal taluk, recently held a science exhibition in their school.
Making of models
The science exhibition had various models and paper cut-outs that explained science concepts. Students had put on display charts that showed, with drawings, the working of various organs of the body. Masks of animals and paper cut-outs of animals were displayed. There was also a model of a computer and a laptop, both of which were made of thermocol.
Akshay, Std. VII, had created a model of an excavator. Using the model, he demonstrated how the principle of hydraulics worked to make the excavator and its tipper move. He used water-filled syringes, which were connected to the excavator in the model to show how the force of the water helped the excavator move.
Ashwith and Primson, both of Std. VII, had made a model of a seismograph using a pen and a vibrating contraption, which could be operated with the help of a battery. As the movement of the contraption grew more, the pen made more jagged lines on paper, indicating the intensity of an earthquake. Uday Kumar and Theja of Std. VI and Ranjith of Std. VII, showed the working of a :charkha” (made of plastic spoons) using a battery.
A cultural programme and a food festival followed. The students had brought different kinds of foodstuff and told visitors about the qualities of each food item.

Discover the world


BOND WITH BOOKS: The main reading room of the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. Photographs: In the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
BOND WITH BOOKS: The main reading room of the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. Photographs: In the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
A library is a wonderful place, where you can lose yourself in a breathtaking world of science, travel, fiction and more. Here is a walk through some of the best libraries in the world.
It was Harold Edward Holt, Prime Minister of Australia, who said, in 1966, during a stone laying ceremony of a library that, “We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.” How true! This brings us to looking at some of the great libraries of the world.
Scattered across the great continents, they are where some of the world's greatest collections of documents, books and manuscripts lie, to be read, seen and researched. What they have include print, audio, and visual materials, as maps, prints, documents, microform, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, video games, e-books, audio-books and other electronic resources.
Yale University Library:
The first in the list is theYale University Library, at New Haven, Connecticut, is a part of the Yale University. It is said to be the second-largest academic library in North America (after Harvard) and has about 13 million volumes. This also makes it “the fifth largest library collection in the U.S.”.
Some of its specialised collections include: the ‘Babylonian Collection,' which has the largest collection of cuneiform inscriptions in the U.S., clay tablets in all sizes and shapes, stamp and cylinder seals, the complete library in the fields of Assyriology (the study of ancient Mesopotamia) and Hittitology, and early manuscripts and rare books in literature, theology, history, and the natural sciences. Another section, called the ‘Divinity Library Special Collections,' has records of Christian missionary activities. Further, there are: the ‘Government Documents and Information Center' (documents from the U.S., Canadian governments, United Nations and the European Union.), the ‘Lewis Walpole Library' (18th Century English books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, watercolours and paintings); the ‘Lillian Goldman Law Library' (rare books on Anglo-American common law materials; the ‘Manuscripts and Archives,' which looks after material on the U.S., Latin America, South Africa, East Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.); a ‘ Holocaust Testimonies' section; a ‘ world map' collection (from the 15th Century); a ‘Medical Historical Library' (on the history of medicine); a ‘Music Library Special Collection' (early publications of opera scores, chamber music, and works for keyboard and plucked-string instruments); ‘ Historical Sound Recordings,' the very famous ‘Peabody Museum of Natural History'; the ‘Yale Center for British Art'; the ‘Yale University Art Gallery' and the ‘Yale Collection of Musical Instruments.' That is truly a very impressive stock in a library.
The New York Public Library:
Historian David McCullough described the New York Public Library as “one of the five most important libraries in the United States” — others being the Library of Congress, the Boston Public Library, and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale. With over 16 million volumes, it is said to be the third largest public library in the U.S., behind the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library. It originated in the 19th Century and has a very interesting history. It advertises itself with a one-liner: “In fact, the Library has but one criterion for admission: curiosity.”
It calls itself “one of the great knowledge institutions of the world, with its myriad collections ranking with those of the British Library, the Library of Congress, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.” The library's 90 locations include four research centres that look at the humanities and social sciences; the performing arts; black history and culture; and business and industry. It stores about 65 million items, which even the visually handicapped can access, and holds exhibitions and programmes. The library's collection of old newspapers includes the New York Atlas. It also has historic children's materials, including the original stuffed animals that inspired the “Winnie-the-Pooh” children's classics.
Russian State Library:
The national library of Russia, located in Moscow,is the largest in the country. It is said to store more than 43 million items including over 17 million books, 13 million journals, 350 thousand music scores and sound records, 150,000 maps, and other items in 247 global languages.
Harvard University Library:
The Harvard University Library system covers more than 70 libraries, with nearly 17 million volumes. It is said to be the oldest library system in the U.S., and the largest academic as well as the largest private library system in the world. Some of its collections form an important part of “Google Books Library Project.”
British Library, London:
It asks readers, visitors and researchers to explore its 14 million books, 9,20,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, three million sound recordings, and much more in hundreds of subject areas. It gets a copy of every publication produced in the U.K. and Ireland. Its collection includes over 150 million items, in most known languages, with three million new items added every year, Its sound archive has recordings from 19th-century cylinders, to CD, DVD and MD recordings. It has eight million stamps and other philatelic items. All this is kept on 625 km of shelves! It says that if a visitor reads five items each day, it would take him over 80,000 years to see its entire collection. It also operates the world's largest document delivery service. Its treasures include the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook and first edition of The Times, from March 18, 1788. In addition it has material over 3,000 years old, that include Chinese oracle bones.
Deutsche Bibliothek:
The German National Library or the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek or just DNB) is the national bibliographic centre for the Federal Republic of Germany. Its task is to collect and document all German and German-language publications from 1913, foreign publications about Germany, translations of German works, and the works of German-speaking emigrants published abroad between 1933 and 1945. It has a major role in the development of international library standards. It also looks at music-related archiving (both printed and recorded materials). Its “Anne-Frank-Shoah-Bibliothek” is its most recent special collection that records the literature published worldwide on the persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe.
National Library, Canada:
In 2004, the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada were clubbed together to form the Library and Archives Canada.
Here are the facts about it: 20 million books, periodicals, newspapers, microfilms, literary texts and government publications, three million architectural drawings, maps and plans, 24 million photographs, 350,000 hours of film, 4,25,000 pieces of art (paintings, drawings, watercolours, posters, prints, medals and caricatures), 5,47,000 musical items and more than a billion megabytes of digital content. Some of its rich subject areas include genealogy and family history, portrait collection, aboriginal peoples, exploration and settlement, literature, military and peacekeeping, philately and postal history and sports. It has periodicals, microfilms, manuscripts and theses. Added to these are portraits of over one million Canadians since 1689, and a vast collection of medals, seals, posters and coats of arms. In addition, there are over 71,000 hours of short and full-length films, documentaries, silent films and “talkies” (black and white, colour) dating back as far as 1897, and over 2.5 million architectural drawings, plans and maps, some of which date back to the beginning of the 16th century.
National Library of China:
The National Library of China is said to be largest library in Asia, and one of the largest in the world with a collection of over 23 million volumes. It has some of the largest and richest global collections of Chinese literature and historical documents. Its collections are a treasure trove — inscribed tortoise shells and bones, ancient manuscripts, and block-printed volumes, rare documents and records from past dynasties in Chinese history and foreign language material in over 115 languages. It also has copies of Buddhist documents, the most complete surviving documents from the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. Most of these libraries have social media links as well. This includes YouTube channels.
The National Diet
Library, Tokyo, Japan:
Its primary role is to collect and preserve Japanese publications. It has two main facilities in Tokyo and Kyoto, and other branch libraries across Japan. Its major sets include historical documents helping to trace the development of Japanese modern politics in and after the latter half of the 19th century; materials on the post-war occupation of Japan, science and technology documents (includes nuclear power reports); parliamentary documents, maps (topographic, geological and hydrographic), sound recordings of phonographic records produced in Japan and foreign books about Japan and Asian language books. There are also the “Ito Bunko” and “The Shirai Bunko” — two collections of manuscripts and wood block-printed books on medicinal herbs, and the “The Shinjo Bunko” (collections of old writings on astronomy and calendars.)
Library of Congress, Washington D.C.:
It wouldn't be wrong to call it the Emperor of Libraries, “the largest library in the world.” The Library of Congress was established by an Act of Congress in 1800 with the seat of power moving from Philadelphia to Washington. The need for a library found mention in this, where it stated it should contain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress -- and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…” In 1814, invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning the contents of the small library. But President Thomas Jefferson stepped in, offering his personal library as a replacement. As he had spent years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science,” his collection was said to be “one of the finest in the U.S.” Congress accepted his generous offer and the library set roots. The Library of Congress building welcomed the world on November 1, 1897, and it was hailed “as a glorious national monument and the largest, the costliest, and the safest library building in the world.” It now has more than 144 million items that include more than 33 million catalogued books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 63 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings. It is not without reason that it is called a world resource. It has 21 reading rooms and calls itself “more than a library.” It also focuses on children and teachers. Its annual ‘ National Book Festival' brings together famous authors, storytellers and book-lovers. A Poet Laureate is appointed each year to promote the art of poetry. Teams from the library visit schools across the country to show how its collections can be used in classrooms and enrich teaching and learning. It also says that it has commissioned hundreds of original musical works.

Solar mates

Bharat Dogra

Barefoot women solar engineers of Rajasthan train their African sisters on how to light up their villages with the renewable resource
It's an unexpected scene that you come across in the dusty plains of Kishangarh block in Rajasthan's Ajmer district -- women from several African countries being trained by their Indian sisters to become barefoot solar engineers.
Welcome to the world of solar energy in Tilonia village. Here the campus of Barefoot College has emerged as a leading international centre for training barefoot solar engineers. Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme of the External Affairs Ministry, women from many underdeveloped countries come here regularly in small batches for training.
Speaking to trainees from Chad, Sierre Leone, Zambia, Nambia, Kenya and Tanzania, you learn that most of them are grandmothers from African villages who hoped to light up their hamlets with solar energy after returning from Tilonia. The necessary equipment would be sent in huge parcels even before they themselves leave Tilonia.
Follow-up records maintained at the Barefoot College reveal several success stories. Fatuma Ababker Ibrahim from Beyahile village in Afar (Ethiopia) made very good progress and returned to her village to install 90 fixed solar units. She also helped to start a rural electronic workshop in her village.
Gul Zaman, a 26-year old from Afghanistan, came to Tilonia with her husband Mohammed Jan. They returned to their community to provide solar electricity to around 50 houses.
The Tilonia project serves as an amazing example of women-to-women communication skills that can overcome in innovative ways despite crucial language barriers.
Most barefoot solar engineers under the project are provided six month training on vital technical details such as fabrication of charge controllers and inverters, printed circuit boards, testing, wiring, installation of solar panels, repair and maintenance.
Trainers Leela and Magan Kanwar, who are currently active at the college, underwent the same training a few years back. They also coped with many initial problems and found their own innovative ways of overcoming them. Having gone through the entire process themselves, they are better able to understand problems faced by their sisters of Africa.
The involvement becomes so close that many trainees are in tears at the time of leaving, reveals Leela.
At a time of increasing involvement with decentralised rural energy systems particularly solar energy, such a system of training barefoot solar engineers can prove very useful in increasing the self-reliance of rural communities in installing and maintaining solar energy systems.
While there is fierce debate about the transfer of renewal energy technology from rich to poor countries, Tilonia's training provides a great example of how much can be achieved by South-South technical cooperation.
Tilonia also conducts regular courses for trainees from remote areas within the country, including villages of Ladakh and other Himalayan areas.
The training has paid off. Several women with experience of solar energy work have got together to set up the Women Barefoot Solar Cooker Engineers' Society -- a registered association of rural women involved in fabrication and production of parabolic solar cookers.
This cooker can do the most environmental-friendly, cost effective, day time cooking on sunny days. Its design too is unique. The in-built spring and clock system is accurately set to complete one rotation in fixed time, and this in turn rotates the cooker to track the sun automatically, making the sunlight fall on all the 300 (9cm x 12cm) reflectors throughout the day. So once the cooker has been adjusted in the morning, uninterrupted cooking can be carried out the rest of the day. At Tilonia workshops cookers are fabricated using precise measurements by bending, welding and cutting. Such 2.5 sq.m parabolic solar cookers have been installed in nine villages and some institutions.
It is indeed remarkable that rural women with little formal education have not only learnt to make the cookers, but also travelled to other places to install the system successfully.

Plants react to sound, make noises


Communication: The role of sound in plants is yet to be fully explored. Photo: Nagara Gopal
The Hindu Communication: The role of sound in plants is yet to be fully explored. Photo: Nagara Gopal
It was established that young roots of corn made regular clicking sounds.
When South African botanist Lyall Watson claimed in his 1973 best-seller “Supernature” that plants had emotions that could register on a lie detector, scientists scoffed and branded it as hippie nonsense.
But a new Australian research at The University of Western Australia has claimed to have discovered that plants appear to react to sounds and may even make clicking noises to communicate with each other.
Monica Gagliano of UWA has teamed with colleagues Daniel Robert at the University of Bristol (UK) and Stefano Mancuso at the University of Florence (Italy) to show that the roots of young plants emit and react to particular sounds.
“Everyone knows that plants react to light, and scientists also know that plants use volatile chemicals to communicate with each other, for instance, when danger — such as a herbivore — approaches,” Gagliano said in an university statement released recently.
Gagliano and fellow researchers established that young roots of corn made regular clicking sounds.
They also found that young corn roots suspended in water leaned toward the source of a continuous sound emitted in the region of 220Hz, which is within the frequency range that the same roots emitted themselves.
Their findings, published in the leading international journal Trends in Plant Science, conclude that the role of sound in plants has yet to be fully explored, “leaving serious gaps our current understanding of the sensory and communicatory complexity of these organisms.”
In addition to other forms of sensory response, “it is very likely that some form of sensitivity to sound and vibrations also plays an important role in the life of plants”. Gagliano said.

13 Apr 2012

‘A blood test could crack Alzheimer’s code’

The earlier the detection of Alzheimer’s disease the more likely it is that decline could be slowed or even stopped.
The testing currently on offer is invasive and expensive, and scientists around the world are looking for a cheaper and easier method. Researchers at Newcastle University say they are making progress in coming up with a blood test that could complement brain imaging.
“We detect it very late with imaging techniques,” said research leader Pablo Moscato. “When a lot of damage has been done in your brain, it’s unlikely we can come up with a solution.” The aim is for a 50-dollar blood test with a high level of accuracy.
“If we can catch this early, then the possibility of drug intervention is there because the drug companies would see a market and try and come up with one,” Professor Moscato said.
In a paper published in the PLoS (Public Library of Science) ONE journal, the team delivered a progress report on their work in developing a cheap two-part blood test that could determine whether a mild intellectual impairment was going to progress to Alzheimer’s.
“We’re looking at pairs of markers,” Moscato said. “The best possible measurement is if you take them at the baseline and then again in 12 months. Then you compare the variation between the pairs of proteins over that 12 months.” What the team look for acceleration. “It’s the rate of change of values that rings the bells,” he said. “If it grows and grows exponentially then we know we have something wrong.”
People with mild cognitive impairment do not inevitably develop Alzheimer’s. Some maintain a level of functioning and some progress to another form of dementia.

Rice and reason

Health » Medicine & Research

According to a recent study. the more polished white rice poeple eat, greater is the risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes. File Photo: Nagar Gopal
The Hindu According to a recent study. the more polished white rice poeple eat, greater is the risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes. File Photo: Nagar Gopal
There’s no denying that South India loves its rice. But latest studies warn us to use caution while piling our plates with the refined version of this staple grain
Have you ever wondered why over 40 per cent of the people in India are diabetic? Some doctors say that this is because the Indian body is prone to diabetes, just like some cars may guzzle more fuel or give you less mileage, because that’s simply how they’re built. Sedentary living and bad eating habits have only made the problem worse. However, a recent and disturbing study conducted by Harvard University has established that consuming just one cup of white rice (polished rice) everyday can put you at risk to diabetes, regardless of your nationality or whether you have a family history of the disease. Since rice is our staple food, the implications of the study can have a great long-term impact on the way India eats.
Polished Rice, Hello Diabetes
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed four previous studies conducted in China, Japan, US and Australia on the impact of white rice in the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The researchers also analyzed whether the Asian population were more at risk to diabetes and whether there was a higher risk of contracting the disease if you ate greater amounts of rice. All the participants had been diabetes free when the studies began. The results of the study proved that the more polished white rice a person eats, regardless of their nationality, they are at great risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes. The authors of the study estimate that the odds increase by 10 per cent with each additional serving of white rice. And interestingly enough, women seemed more at risk than men. The full study "White Rice Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review" (PDF), was published in the British Medical Journal.
If you are a typical South Indian in your choice of foods, you would have grown up with that bed of rice on your plate during most meals. The creative rice preparations in this part of the world can really tempt you. What does the Harvard study mean to us? Should avoid rice altogether or switch to the jaw-breaking unpolished rice? Extensive research on this subject has been conducted by Dr Vishwanathan Mohan, head of the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, a WHO Collaborating Centre in Gopalapuram, Chennai. His findings were published recently in the British Journal of Nutrition. “I don’t fully agree with the observation that just taking one cup of white rice per day can cause diabetes,” says Dr Mohan. “One food item in isolation cannot cause a disease. But controlling the amount of rice we consume is very important because our research shows a strong epidemiological link between the amount of rice consumed and the risk of diabetes. When the rice consumption doubled from about 200 gms to 400 gms per day, the risk of diabetes increased fourfold. It was 400 per cent higher even after correcting issues (faced by participants of the study) such as obesity, physical activity, family history of diabetes etc. So there seems to be some kind of link.”
What we can do
We know that the foods we eat are converted to glucose by our bodies. White polished rice (in the parboiled or non-parboiled form) raises blood sugar levels quickly. These are called high GI (Glycemic Index) foods. In comparison, brown rice has a lower GI. When the body processes brown rice, it releases glucose in the blood stream more slowly. The foods that create high GI levels in your body are known to put you at risk to diabetes in the long run.
“However, rice isn’t the only culprit,” says Deepshikha Agarwal, dietician and sports nutritionist. “Most people have sedentary lifestyles today. When this is coupled with too much rice consumption, it exposes them to the risk of diabetes. Stay more active and instead of completely boycotting rice, substitute white polished rice with brown rice. Remember, white rice primarily consists of starch which can be easily converted into fat and stored in the body. With little nutritional value, it is best avoided.”
“We have conducted studies where we have substituted healthier whole grain rice such as brown rice for white rice and have shown that the blood glucose responses are much lower after the meal,” says Dr Mohan. “The serum insulin levels are also reduced by substitution of brown rice.”
How polished your rice is can also be affecting the health of your family. If your rice is an attractive, dazzling white, it will not providing you with the nutrients your body needs. “Ideally, we should consume the whole grain in rice with the bran intact as it contains plenty of nutrients. Once you remove the bran completely, this makes the rice whiter and whiter. It becomes pure starch and all the other key nutrients like vitamins, minerals, functional nutrients (phytonutrients), protein and fibre content of the rice are lost. Traditionally in the past, rice used to be only 2 per cent polished, but today, we have varieties that are polished as much as 12 per cent,” says Dr Mohan.
The Plate Principle
If you love rice, you’ll be happy to learn that experts don’t recommend cutting it out of our diets permanently. “A balanced diet with the right kind of rice is important,” says Agarwal. “Follow the plate principle,” advises Dr Mohan. “Take quarter plate of rice and fill up the remaining part with vegetables, lentils and other nutritive foods for a healthy diet. Remember, what you consume with your rice is equally important, so ensure that your plate is piled up with plenty of vegetables, lentils and pulses such as bengal gram, green gram, black gram. All this will that will add protein and fibre to your meal, so its not all starch.”

Why there was no tsunami

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) initially estimated Wednesday's earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, at 8.9 magnitude. But it was subsequently lowered to 8.7 and then to 8.6. Similarly, the focus of the quake was first thought to be 33 km from the surface, but was later changed to 22.9 km.
The signals from a high-magnitude quake flood the nearby earthquake recording station, leading to an initial estimation of high magnitude.
Click here, for a PDF version of the graphic.
Explaining why tremors were felt in several Indian cities, R.K. Chadha, Chief Scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, said: “Tremors are felt at faraway locations due to surface waves produced by an earthquake. Surface waves cause a lateral movement of the particles in the earth's medium. The earth behaves like an elastic medium when seismic waves are travelling.”
Unlike the December 26, 2004 quake caused by a thrust fault, Wednesday's quake was caused by a strike-slip fault. The fault had moved in a north northwest-south southeast direction. In the case of a strike-slip fault, the fractured crust slides past each other laterally.
“The movement along the fault should be in the order of a few metres,” said Dr. Chadha. “Only a detailed modelling using data from 40-50 stations can reveal the actual amount of displacement.”
The reason why the 8.6-magnitude quake did not cause killer tsunami waves was the nature of the faulting. “To generate giant tsunami waves, there should be great vertical displacement of the water column,” Dr. Chadha said. “This happens only in the case of a thrust fault [the December 2004 quake] or a dip-slip fault. Strike-slip fault will not generate tsunami waves.”
According to him, though the quake was a strike-slip fault, there should have been a small amount of oblique movement along the fault. This is the reason why Wednesday's quake caused small tsunami waves.
Even the 7.2-magnitude quake of January 10, 2012, at a depth of 20.5 km from the surface off the west coast of northern Sumatra, was due to strike-slip faulting.

10 Apr 2012

Stephen Hawking joins institute set up by BlackBerry


British physicist Stephen Hawking during the 2010 World Science Festival in New York on June 2, 2010.
AP British physicist Stephen Hawking during the 2010 World Science Festival in New York on June 2, 2010.
Stephen Hawking, the world’s best known physicist, has joined a “distinguished research chair” created for him by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at Waterloo near here.
The Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics has been set up by BlackBerry—maker Research In Motion (RIM) — which is headquartered in Waterloo — to foster culture of innovation in Canada.
The physicist, who is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University — a position once held by Isaac Newton — started work at the Canadian institute Friday.
He will spend many weeks working alongside Canadian researchers and divide his time between Canada and Britain.
The legendary physicist will be officially welcomed into Canada by Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement and Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty at a ceremony June 20.
Announcing this, Neil Turok, director of the institute, said, “We are very happy to have Stephen here doing science with other researchers at Perimeter Institute. On June 20, he will take time out to be welcomed by our many public and private partners, including the governments of Ontario and Canada, and to give a special broadcast lecture.
“Stephen is an exceptional communicator, and we are delighted to be able to share his talk on television. We are also looking forward to his impressions of the ‘Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute’ now under construction.”
After the ceremony, Dr. Hawking will make a special presentation on his work.
Accepting the Canadian institute’s offer last year, Dr. Hawking had said, “The Institute’s twin focus, on quantum theory and gravity, is very close to my heart and central to explaining the origin of the universe. I look forward to building a growing partnership between PI and our Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, at Cambridge.
“Our research endeavour is global, and by combining forces I believe we will reap rich rewards.”

How safe Kudankulam nuclear power reactors are

K S Parthasarathy

SAFETY PRECAUTION: The reactor has double containment and the annulus between the two is kept at negative pressure to prevent any radioactivity if released, from escaping. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
The Hindu SAFETY PRECAUTION: The reactor has double containment and the annulus between the two is kept at negative pressure to prevent any radioactivity if released, from escaping. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
Twenty-five 1,000 MW VVER reactors are in operation in five countries. Kudankulam plants have more advanced safety features
The Unit 1 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) is under advanced stage of commissioning. Construction of Unit 2 is progressing well. In the meanwhile, sections of the public have expressed apprehensions about the safety of these reactors. Lack of understanding, misconceptions and misinformation contribute to this. Apparently, the Fukushima accident and other issues influence them.
Twenty-five VVER 1,000 MW reactors are in operation now in five countries. Nine more are under construction. The version offered to India is more recent and has more advanced safety features.


Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) satisfied itself that the plant is of proven design. Indianspecialists visited Russia and had significant exchange of information from nuclear power plant designers. Indian engineers had completed licensing training process in either Balakova nuclear power plant (NPP) or Kalinin NPP.
The AERB and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and specialists from reputed academic institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, the Boilers Board and the Central Electricity Authority have spent over 7,000 man-days in carrying out the safety review and inspection of the Kudankulam reactors.
These system-wise reviews were comprehensive. AERB used relevant documents from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and IAEA's peer reviews of VVER for safety assessment of these reactors.
These reactors belong to the Generation 3 + category (with more safety features than Generation 3) with a simpler and standardised design.
The Kudankulam site is located in the lowest seismic hazard zone in the country. The water level experienced at the site due to the December 26, 2004 tsunami, triggered by a 9.2 earthquake was 2.2 metres above the mean sea level. The safety-related buildings are located at higher elevation (SafetyDiesel Generators,9.3 metre) and belong to the highest seismic category and are closed with double sealed, water leak tight doors.
The reactors have redundant, diverse and thus reliable provisions needed to control nuclear reactions, to cool the fuel and to contain radioactive releases. They have in–built safety features to handle Station Black Out.
Besides fast acting control rods, the reactors also have a “quick boron injection system”, serving as a back-up to inject concentrated boric acid into the reactor coolant circuit in an emergency. Boron is an excellent neutron absorber.

Retains radioactivity

The enriched uranium fuel is contained in Zirconium-Niobium tubes. It can retain the radioactivity generated during the operation of the reactor. The fuel tubes are located in the 22 cm thick Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) which weighs 350 tonnes. RPV is kept inside a one metre thick concrete vault.
The reactor has double containment, inner 1.2 metre-thick concrete wall lined on the inside with a 6 mm layer of steel and an outer 60 cm thick concrete wall. The annulus between the walls is kept at negative pressure so that if any radioactivity is released it cannot go out. Air carrying such activity will have to pass through filters before getting released through the stack. Multiple barriers and systems ensure that radioactivity is not released into the environment.
KKNPP-1&2 has many new safety systems in comparison with earlier models. The Four-train Safety-System instead of just one system leads to enhanced reliability. The reactors have many passive safety systems which depend on never-failing forces such as gravitation, conduction, convection etc.

Decay heat removal

Its Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) is capable of removing decay heat of reactor core to the outside atmosphere, during Station Black Out (SBO) condition lasting up to 24 hours. It can maintain hot shutdown condition of the reactor, thus, delaying the need for boron injection.
It works without any external or diesel power or manual intervention.
The reactors are equipped with passive hydrogen recombiners to avoid formation of explosive mixtures .The reactors have a reliable Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS).

Core catcher

Located outside the reactor vessel, a core catcher in the form of a vessel weighing 101 tonnes and filled with specially developed compound (oxides of Fe, Al & Gd) is provided to retain solid and liquid fragments of the damaged core, parts of the reactor pressure vessel and reactor internals under severe accident conditions.
The presence of gadolinium (Gd) which is a strong neutron absorber ensures that the molten mass does not go critical. The vessel prevents the molten material from spreading beyond the limits of containment. The filler compound has been developed to have minimum gas release during dispersal and retention of core melt.Rat
Fukushima plant spread gloom; the Onagawa plant close to it, in contrast, shut down safely; its gym served for three months as a shelter for those made homeless (Reuters, Oct 21). The plant showed that it is possible for nuclear facilities to withstand even the greatest shocks and to retain public trust.
Kudankulam reactors are more modern and safe. Exercising due diligence, AERB issued clearances to it at various stages. Public may rest assured thatIndian scientists and engineers will operate the reactor safely.AERB shall continue to enforce measures to maintain safe operation of these advanced nuclear power reactors.
The author is Raja Ramanna Fellow, Department of Atomic Energy and can be reached at ksparth@yahoo.co.uk
The byline for this article has been corrected

Keeping an eye on your safety

Cameras are increasingly used as a part of security and surveillance solutions at commercial structures and homes. These cameras can be used via internet to monitor homes and factories from any place in the world. Photo: Abhijit Dev Kumar
The Hindu Cameras are increasingly used as a part of security and surveillance solutions at commercial structures and homes. These cameras can be used via internet to monitor homes and factories from any place in the world. Photo: Abhijit Dev Kumar
Technopark-based One View Systems Pvt. Ltd has developed a new video surveillance system
For families travelling on vacation during summer, one of the biggest headache is ensuring the safety of their house and household possessions. If you thought surveillance cameras and electronic security are for malls and uppity high rises, you thought wrong. Here comes an electronic surveillance system that keeps an eye on your house and business establishments and, more importantly, is easy on the pocket.
How about a new surveillance device where in you get an SMS as well as an email alert once the camera detects an intruder? This has been developed by Technopark-based One View Systems Pvt Ltd. “An intelligent network video solution,” in the words of C.K. Sasikumar, company chairman and chief executive officer.
Set the time
This system comes with a night-vision camera, a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and the SMS/e-mail alert service. “You can fix the time limit, say midnight to 6 a.m. If there is an intruder in your house or office, you get an SMS on your mobile. However, there is every chance that you might miss out on the SMS. In that case, we have set up a special programme, for android phones. In the event of a break-in, it gives an alarm and you could even get a photo of the intruder,” says Sasikumar.
Closed circuit television (CCTV) and Internet Protocol (IP) surveillance dominate the electronic security market in India which is one of the world's fastest expanding video surveillance markets. He adds: “It is a giant step forward in CCTV/IP video surveillance. The advantage is that this system does away with the need for a guard or a watchman at night.” The equipment is priced at Rs. 9,900 (three-camera solution costs Rs.14,500).
One View was formed in 2005 as a technology-driven network video surveillance solution provider in Technopark and now it has associations with academic and industry leaders in India, Japan and the United States (U.S.). While the Technopark unit makes the software products, it has a marketing and implementation division in Chennai. The company offers comprehensive software and hardware solution to cater to the growing video surveillance market in India and neighbouring countries.
“While our Video Management Software (VMS) enables customers to choose customised solutions for their video surveillance needs, we've an indigenously developed web-based client-server application software to manage, record and play back the video streams from network cameras and video servers. This is one of the first video surveillance solutions, fully designed and developed in India,” says Sasikumar.
A success story
An alumni of the College of Engineering Trivandrum, Sasikumar went to Japan in 1968 on a scholarship in the area of quality control, and moved to the United States (U.S.) on an immigrant visa a year later. He has worked in the U.S., Japan, and Israel. He had started a company, Britek India, in Technopark in October 1998 and managed it from the U.S. when he was working as a consultant for another firm. One View Systems Private Limited was formed in 2005 by Sasi and his team at Britek. In January 2008, One View and Britek was combined. It was later split into One View Systems and CellApp.in. Now One View focusses on network video surveillance and CellApp on mobile applications development.
One View's clients in Kerala include government institutions, public sector undertakings, banks, hospitals and educational institutions. Department of Tourism, Commercial Taxes department and Kerala Police fall in the list. “We've provided surveillance cameras for the wireless repeater mobile unit of the Kerala Police. The department also uses our technology to monitor the CCTV cameras installed at Sabarimala. The Commercial Taxes Department uses our video solution for monitoring the check posts,” he says.
Other clients include hospitals, finance and banking institutions, industries, police departments, hotels, resorts, educational institutions in places like Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai,in addition to the Ministry of Defence and Indian Railways. The company also has clients in South Africa, Turkey and Singapore.