Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mythology: Does it have scientific answers?

When one talks about religion, it's scientific aspect is never discussed. A scientist would probably define religion or a religious ritual as some act which is performed without understanding the exact reason for doing so. It is not necessary for the performer (of a particular ritual) to understand the reason for using different steps involved in that ritual. The exact reason may be only known to the developer of that ritual. As time passes, the reason or the exact meaning is lost and what we are left with is just 'a ritual". This is more likely or very old religions like Sanatan (सनातन) or Hinduism. Let us take an example of the fabrication of a microelectronic chip in a semiconductor (or similar) industry. Hundreds of steps are involved during this fabrication which is performed by a process engineer (or a team) without knowing the exact reason for a particular step. He only follows the steps written in the fabrication protocol. 

Next comes the mythological stories, normally treated as a literature material or sometimes a science fiction. Possibly, mythological stories in any religion not merely be a story or a piece of science fiction. I personally believe so because of correlation between some Hindu mythological stories and well established scientific facts. A few stories in Hindu mythology may be of scientific importance if analyzed closely. If we are lenient enough to start a discussion and exploration using these stories, we can get answers of a few of the scientific issues.

To start a discussion, let me elaborate this point a little more with the example of the birth of Lord Hanuman (The monkey God as said commonly). Brief story is as follows. Once Lord Shiva released his sperm and wanted it to be transplanted into a womb so that a child can take birth with powers of Shiva. The responsibility of carrying the sperm was given to Pawan (god of Air) who successfully did it and Lord Hanuman was born with Anjani and Kesari as his parents (Details about this story can be found in various Purans which are religious scriptures in the Hinduism).

Keeping aside all the religious matters for a while, here comes the scientific issue related to the sperm, a liquid, being transported by Pawan, which is gas. This story suggests that a liquid can be transported using a gas. In current science, the same concept is actually used very widely and successfully for transporting a liquid reactant (hydrocarbons etc.) for thin film deposition by "Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)" technique using a carrier gas (Nitrogen, argon etc.). This correlation between Hindu Mythological story and scientific method is not trivial because the inventor of CVD method possibly was not aware of these stories.

Even if one does not want to get excited with the above-mentioned analogy, some time can be devoted on this issue. It can be helpful in understanding  the structure of life long long ago in its earlier stage. Other Mythological story says that "human body is made up of soil". This is usually explained by saying that after death our body is transformed into various forms and gets decomposed into the earth. Looking at a different angle it also indicates that a live human body is possible with silicon (major component of soil) other than carbon, which we see now. Of course this will happen under different environmental conditions as of now. There are some studies on this issue with the consideration of the mixing capabilities of silicon with other elements in nature. Prof. E. Reynolds in his article published in Nature in year 1893 says that the possibility with silicon as building block for life can be explored. Discussion on possibility of silicon based life are available in literature also. Keeping these two points in mind, I think mythological stories can be helpful in getting answers of some of the scientific problems if not all. It is worth giving a thought.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

National Technology Day: 11 May

On 11 May 1998, then Prime Minister Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened a press meet at his residence in New Delhi and made the following short statement:
"Today, at 1545 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran range. The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. These were contained explosions like the experiment conducted in May 1974. I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out these successful tests."

After these successful tests, the nuclear program (started by Indira Gandhi in 1974) was declared finished. In all five tests were carried out with name "Operation Shakti" in Pokhran in Rajasthan (INDIA) on 11th and 15th MAy 1998. A team of scientists from Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) and Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) were lead by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (scientific advisor to the prime minister and head of DRDO) and Dr. R. Chidambaram (Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, India). Since then, May 11 has been officially declared as National Technology Day in India. Same day, Prime minister added a phrase "Jai Vigyan" in to the slogan "Jai Jawan- Jai Kisan" earlier given by Former Indian Prime Minister Sri Lal Bahadur Shashtri.

Wish all the Indians, Happy Technology day. On this occasion let us have a look at the scientific fact sheet of these tests done by India. As described by Dr. R. Chidambaram (one of the chief project coordinators of the program) the first three detonations took place simultaneously on 11th May. Two tests (Shakti-I and Shakti-II) out of three, done on 11th, were having yield of 45 kt and 15 kt respectively. Whereas, the third one (Shakti-III) was a sub-kiloton device with a yield of 0.2 kt. Full description can be found here.

Shakti-I was for test purposes and that is why the yield was downgraded from theoretical value of 200 kt to 45 kt. The device tested in Shakti-II was an actual nuclear warhead that can be delivered by bombers or fighters. This was the actual test which was planned based on improvements in the 1974 devices. This test was canceled earlier in 1994 due to international pressure on India. At the end, the new design proved to be a successful one. Shakti-III used Plutonium for test purposes so that it can be used as alternative nuclear fuel for reactors for getting clean fuel. In my personal opinion, this research will get a setback after the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. Shakti-IV and Shakti-V were carried out to get more data to study the performance of these devices. Shakti-V used U-233, which is an artificial isotope of Uranium. This isotope was produced in India itself from Thorium. 

Successful experiments on May 11 were followed by two more on May 13 which also was successful and India became a nuclear weapon state and capable of carry out research on utilization of nuclear energy for fuel. With all pride, here is a word of caution! A lesson should be taken from Japan Nuclear meltdown and security measures should not be neglected for these weapons and reactors.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Orion - losing it's brightest member

I was trying to see one of the most beautiful constellations, Orion ('Mrigsiraa', meaning "head of deer" in Hindi), for last few days. I failed to see it because I was not brave enough to face the below freezing temperatures of Edmonton, Canada. Nevertheless, I saw it few days ago, thanks to my tenacity, and I arranged a photograph too (with the help of Jerry, one of my colleagues). I was curious to know about it because of news that discusses Betelgeuse, one of the stars in the constellation (Photograph below). This photograph was taken from the city of Edmonton on 2nd February 2011 around 9 PM. The star is marked in photograph for easy identification . The next photograph is to help you identify the constellation in the evening sky.

The Orion as taken from the city of Edmonton on 2 February 2011 around 9 PM (Click on the picture to see enlarged for better viewing.)

                                 The Orion (picture courtesy Google)

Let us come back to the news which was all about the life cycle of this star. This star can be recognized as the one which is brightest and a little red in color. Betelgeuse (Ardra, meaning moist in Hindi) is in its last stage of life or you can even say that it has already died and what we see is probably the light which it emitted around 500 years ago just before it died. Some scientists say that the light generated due to this supernova explosion will appear as a second sun and there would be light in the sky even in the absence of the sun. I do not want to go into scientific details because it has been already discussed at many forums. 

In summary, the discussion mainly deals with the scientific facts and evidences about this star's stage. On one hand, many people relates this phenomenon with the end-of-the-world-2012 story. On the other, there are also believers who think the story of Star Wars coming true, which fantasizes the presence of two suns in the sky.

I think I will not be able to tell you more than what is already available through various sources, but I will definitely advice the reader to witness the beauty of the this constellation whenever you get the time, if not with the help of a telescope then definitely with your naked eye. 

This would be a great fun for those who are fascinated by what lies beyond our insignificant (in terms of size) earth.

To conclude, I will add few basic facts about this phenomenon:

1) The star itself is roughly 18 to 19 times the mass of the Sun, with a brightness of 100,000 times greater than the Sun itself.
2) Betelgeuse, the tenth brightest star in terms of apparent magnitude--the brightest stars one can see from earth is indeed going to transform from a red super-giant into a supernova explosion.
3) Claims about the second sun seems to be a myth because its believed that the intensity of the supernova will be less than the 1/100000th of the brightness of the SUN.

So have fun and enjoy watching it.... and do put in your comments to lets me know your experiences.

Following tips can be helpful in watching it

1) If you are in Northern hemisphere, by looking south east after the sunset, you can see it just above the horizon It will look like picture 1 above.

2) If you are in southern hemisphere, just see above your head little towards south.

3) Take help from the pictures and images shown above.

People more comfortable in Hindi can read more about it among other places here or here...

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Time for a light post. I saw a website while surfing the net. This website shows pictures of glaciers shot in early 20th century and very recently. I am putting one of the pictures here. I think this picture says there is a huge effect of global warming on glaciers.

I saw the following picture from my personal experience. I am putting this picture here. This picture shows the image of the same place in Canada taken in 2009 and 2010. Difference in the amount of snow in both the image is clear.
In the upper picture, street is covered with snow in 2009 whereas no snow can be seen on the street at all in 2010. I would have jumped to the conclusion that its due to global warming but this is the half story. Story completes once I give you the complete data. Again look at the same image with more details on it.

Ha ha ha... interesting! right? Statements loose its importance and conclusions are incomplete if a little information is missing. I can not say anything about the situation of global warming. but here there is a piece of GLOBAL WARNING!! think carefully before we conclude something....

I do not know what is the current situation about GM....
God bless all of us.

Note: Last two above pictures shows the street on which my house is situated.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The solution: Binary numbers

So what is the way to convert a binary number, say, 11011 to its decimal equivalent? A basic simple question for anyone who has gone through high school mathematics. Since I am one of them let me solve it here.

1*16 + 1*8 + 0*4 + 1*2 + 1*1 = 27

In words, number 27 is the sum of 1, 2, 8, and 16. More importantly any decimal number can be seen as a sum of numbers that are powers of two. And the binary equivalent of the number decides which of the power of two numbers take part in the summation. Like in the above case it was 1, 2, 8 and 16. Basic binary number concept right?

Lets take a fresh look at the puzzle I shared at this link. And the solution would become obvious to you. So all numbers less than 128 (binary equivalent of 128 is 1111111) can be seen as summation of numbers 1,2,4,8,16,32 and 64.

Off-course I didn't come to the solution through this route. I picked 1 and 2 and then kept including all the numbers that I could not sum up by using the numbers I already had. So 3 I got from 1+2. Because I could not get 4 from 1 and 2, I included 4 and marched on. By the time I reached 8, I noticed the pattern and  tried 16 to verify. And then the above concept of binary numbers came to my mind. And so I was sure I had the answer.

Also I would like to share one interesting solution Rajesh gave. I will quote his response directly here. You can find his answer at this link in the comment section.

The answer is:
ONE each weight of 1,3,9,27 and 81 kg.
I want to weigh 2 as 3-1 and 4 kg as 9-(3+1).
I think this sequence can be extended up to 1000. If fact 1,3,9,27 and 81 can weigh up to 121 kgs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Science in India and a few stories

The rich scientific and technical heritage, which our country possesses, is unknown to a major section of the people in our country. In this article, my endeavor is to put across few facts and achievements made by Indians in the field of science and technology. Let us start with the field of mathematics.

This dates way back to 1000 BC when Indian scientists first proposed what the number system is and how does it assist us in day-to-day life. In this respect, the Nalanda University (presently in Bihar and earlier known as state of Patliputra) did a commendable job in creating a high value learning atmosphere and was a unique institution of that era. Amongst the luminaries of that period was Apastamba (about 600 BC) who first proposed how to calculate the values of irrational numbers upto fifth decimal place so that the measurement of microscopic particles in those days could be made with appreciable accuracy. Then came the gift of “ZERO” (the number “0”) by Aryabhatta-I. He solved the mystery of “NOTHING” in mathematics. Actually, it is still a very interesting topic of research amongst mathematicians what this “0” is? His topics covered arithmetic, algebra, plane geometry and spherical trigonometry. He developed the whole concept of QUADRATIC equations, and continued fractions. Around 600 AD, Bhaskara (Saurashtra) played a crucial role in correct estimation of the number “” (called ‘pie’). His efforts lead to the expansion of trigonometric functions using polynomials and estimated the possible errors in these expansions. Around the same time, Brahmagupta stepped in with his brilliant postulates on the digit “0”. He gave reasons for all the possible operations, which were done using “0”, and still today they are not questioned. One of his quotes were,

“When zero is added to a number or subtracted from a number, the number remains unchanged; and a number multiplied by zero becomes zero”

By far, in the nineteenth century, India produced one greatest mind in the field of mathematical sciences, Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan. In his short span of life (only 33 years, 1887-1920), he made some remarkable contributions in the field. His most significant contributions were:
1) Elliptic functions, continued functions and infinite series.
2) How to solve cubic equations, and his own method to solve quadratic equations.
3) Calculation of Euler’s constant upto 15th decimal places and his own investigations on Bernoulli’s number.
4) Proposition of Hypergeometric series, which is the basis of large problems encountered in the field of Science and engineering (especially Chemical and Electrical).
5) Foundation of “Indian Mathematical Society”.

There were a few more, genius of whose work, have not been quoted here like, Brahamdeva, Harish Chandra, Ramanujam, Yatirbhasava etc. etc.

The field of physical sciences is equally rich as their mathematics counterparts. It started again way back in 1000 BC and continued till the 15th century. However, all the evidences related to scientific developments taking place in India were destroyed during British colonization of India by East India Company. Moreover, India never saw an Industrial Revolution as it happened in the west. Therefore, in that respect we abysmally lagged far behind the west as far as our development on scientific and technical prowess was concerned during the 17th and 18th century. But, once the ruling power was taken over by the Queen (after 1857); there came some hope of revival on this front. Starting it all was, Meghnath Sircar (1833-1904), a lower middle class lad from the state of Bengal. Even though, his contributions did not lead to some cutting-edge research, he fought fiercely for establishment of Universities in India. Due to his sincere and pain-staking struggle, Calcutta University became the first University to be established on 24th January 1857 in modern India. It was essentially meant for exploiting the huge pool of talented young individuals of this country (as was thought by the Queen of the Britain). During its initial days, Calcutta University saw an unprecedented growth in terms of availability of foreign scientific literature, better experimental facilities and many more. In those days, this was only hub in the entire country to get access to the world class journals and articles (selected ones), which were easily available in the west. The presence of the facilities of this kind enthused the young generation to fulfill their desire to learn. Dr. Meghnath Sircar’s research mainly included application and understanding of the newly developed Maxwell’s equations at that time.

He was followed by great many researchers/scientists but most of them were from the state of Bengal and nearby. Most of them were classmates and showed tremendous camaraderie to take India to a commendably strong position in the field of Science and Technology. They were Meghnath Saha, Satyendra Nath Bose, Nikhilranjan Bose, J.C. Ghosh, Girijapathy Bhattacharya and many more like them. They came in contact with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose during the freedom fighting movement who bolstered their confidence and encouraged them to create a better learning atmosphere. As all of you must have heard the name of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee (famous for his Devdas and other novels), also shared the same period at Calcutta University.

I will start with Meghnath Saha whose work was mainly focused on ionization of atoms at high temperature environment as it is found in stellar matter (sun, stars etc.). His work led to determination of temperature of different stellar objects in terms of all existing physical parameters. In 1919, the Premchand Raychand Scholarship took Saha to Europe for about two years. He spent five months in Imperial College, London, where he developed his theory further with the help of Professor A.Fowler. In November 1921 Saha returned to Calcutta as Khaira Professor of Physics, a new chair created from the endowment of Kumar Guruprasad Singh of Khaira. He left for Allahabad in 1923, to return in 1938 as Palit Professor of Physics at University of Calcutta. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1927 at the age of thirty-four. Saha took keen interest in the establishment of Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS which is presently located at Jadavpur, Calcutta), and became its first full-time director in 1952. He also established what is now known as the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) in 1948 and installed a 38-inch cyclotron or atom smasher, the first of its kind outside America and Europe. “Saha’s ionization formula” is something which one cannot escape while studying basic Nuclear physics.

Thereafter, it was the genius Satyendra Nath Bose. Satyendra Nath Bose was born on the first of January 1894 in Calcutta. His father Surendra Nath was employed in the Engineering Department of the East India Railway. Satyendra Nath was the eldest of his seven children; the rest were all daughters. Though Surendra Nath Bose lost his wife at an early age, without losing heart, he brought up his children well. It is said that, when Satyendra Nath was hardly three years old, a Bengali astrologer made this prediction: "This child will face many obstacles all through his life; nevertheless he will overcome them with his exceptional intelligence and attain great fame." The father, naturally, took a special interest in his son's progress. Though he had seven children he took care to see that nothing came in the way of the boy's education. At this young age, he never seemed to be eyeing for anything big but once he was trapped in the competitive environment of Calcutta University, he molded himself from an ordinary student to an extraordinary one. During his stay at the Presidency College, Calcutta he caught the eyes of all the Professors and teachers there. Once in paper of mathematics, he scored more than 100 (exactly 110) and the teacher was bound to award him the extra marks as he solved couple of problems (correctly!!!) in more than three ways. He joined Calcutta University in 1916 as lecturer and remained there till 1921 (in his first stint). After that, he joined Dacca University where he did something which created history. In the spring of 1924, he sent a six-paged letter to the great Sir Albert Einstein (then in Germany), in which discussed few issues related to “Planck’s law of radiation” and “Light Quantum Theory” which were themselves in an infant stage. Sir Einstein was so impressed with the content of the letter that he, himself translated it in German and got it published in the famous German Journal “Zeitschrift fur Physik”. Even though Satyendra Nath had only Master’s degree, the German government got ready to bear all the expenses for his trip. In Germany, he worked with Sir Albert Einstein and gave the scientific community “Bose-Einstein Statistics” which was absolutely a new way to perceive the concept of “Light”. They also gave a theory for a unique kind of condensation known as “Bose-Einstein” condensation. In fact, those particles, which follow Bose-Einstein Statistics, are known as Bosons.

(Bose first visited Paris in 1924. He stayed there for a year. He conducted research in the Madame Curie Laboratory, which had special facilities. Here he became acquainted with several physicists. The next year, he left Paris for Berlin to join Einstein and worked with him. There he came into close contact with noted scientists like Schroedinger and Heisenberg. He participated in all the meetings and discussions held there. While Bose was in Berlin, the post of a professor fell vacant in Dacca University. J. C. Ghosh and other friends persuaded him to apply for the post. Bose had not yet got his doctorate. It was, therefore, difficult for him to secure the professorship. A recommendation from Albert Einstein to select him would have made things easy for him. So, with great hesitation, Bose approached Einstein. Einstein was surprised. He said, “You are so proficient in your subject; is there a need for any other certificate or recommendation?” He wrote a letter to the authorities of Dacca University in which he said, “Can you find another scientist as proficient as Satyendra Nath? He is quite fit for the post” It had the desired effect. In 1926, Satyendranath Bose was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Physics).
… more to follow

Silicon: life beyond carbon

I visited Drumheller (Alberta, Canada) last month to see the fossil of dinosaurs at Royal Tyrell Museum. I am attaching some of the pictures. Most of the fossils were bones of different parts (of the dinosaurs), different species and different times. The bones that I saw were hard to believe that they are actually "bones". Mainly because we are used to see bones, which are white or yellowish or brownish at some extent. During that visit, I could not distinguish between an EGG and a ROCK kept side by side and I identified incorrectly (unbelievable ehh...?).
Believe me they (the bones) look like rocks.....hard solid rocks. My post starts now.

All of us know, life was not like this 200 millions years ago. What about the earth and life on earth before that? How was it? I do not know and no one is SURE about the answer. Basic elements that constitutes life are mainly Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen. (Of course many elements like nitrogen, calcium, phosphorous etc etc.. also are vital part of life on earth.. I think all of you will agree that the way these elements make bonds now, were different long back ago. Let us think of an alternative to this system of carbon-hydrogen based life.

I remember a line in Sriramcharitmanas by Tulsidaas, a well known and one of the most popular Hindu script, which reads... छिति जल पावक गगन समीरा, पंच रचित अति अधम शरीरा। it means our body is made up of SOIL, WATER, FIRE, SKY AND AIR. In simple words, it is said in Hindu mythology that our body is made up of soil. This is also interpreted as follows. after death our body is disposed and it goes into these above-said five components. Sometimes I wander whether it gives us some more information other than this. Is it possible to have a life with soil? There is no answer to this but there are hints from the mother nature to decode. Silicon and silicates are main constituent of soil and is in abundance in the nature on earth. Can we imagine a life system with silicon and its derivatives as the basic unit instead of carbon and its derivatives as we see it in present.

Keeping all these questions in mind I started searching what our scientific knowledge says about this. While searching, I saw a literature by Prof. E. REYNOLDS published in NATURE in year 1893. That paper is about looking at silicon analogues of carbon compound. Periodic table is of help for this kind of comparison. I am writing some of the matter from that paper because I think it is important. "..Carbon, whether combined with hydrogen, oxygen or nitrogen or with all three, is the great element of organic nature, while silicon, in union with oxygen and various metals, not only forms about one-third of the solid crust of the earth, but is unquestionably the most important element of inorganic nature....." he further writes.. "....The chief functions of carbon are those which are performed at comparatively low temperatures;hence carbon is essentially the element of the present epoch. on the other hand, the activities of silicon are most marked at very high temperatures;hence it is the element whose chief work in nature was performed in the distant past, when the temperature of this earth was far beyond that at which the carbon compounds of organic life could exist......."

Silicon's ability to make stable bonds with elements like nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen indicates the possibility of a silicon based life possibly in other atmosphere other than oxygen (as it is now). Other possible atmosphere could be SULFUR. I suggest sulfur because it shows properties similar to oxygen due to their presence in the same group (group 16). Also sulfur is related to silicon in period third in the same way as oxygen is related to carbon in the second period. Apart from this silicon is capable of making long chains, multiple bonds and good bond strength with oxygen. Moreover, silicon also has an edge over carbon because of its solubility in aluminum. as it is said "silicon dissolves freely in aluminum". In a way Aluminum resembles nitrogen in directly forming bond with silicon at higher temperatures (here the comparison is between Si-Al and C-N). Si-Al dissolution and ability to stay together with ease and stability can be understood in terms of there coexistence in the crust of earth which has been named with them as SIAL (refer to the other part of crust called "Sima", consisting of silicates and magnesium).

Before saying final words for this post, I would like to make two points about the importance of silicon (and its derivatives) in our life. First, a complex derivative of silicon made up of Silicon, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon is used in many medical application including cosmetic implants. This material is called "polymerized siloxene" or more commonly known as "silicone". This material shows know side effects in our body if implanted in our body. Secondly, recent research shows the importance of SILICON in our nutrition for strong and healthy bones (Journal of Nutrition and health aging, Vol 11, page 99 (2007)).

Finally, Its time to think on the possibility of a life with silicon, aluminum and oxygen as basic building blocks instead of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen. Life in terms of this silicon and group can be thought to be present in past on earth or may be the world outside our reach.  Science gave the answer about our evolution, courtesy Charles Darwin. But it reminds me of a statement by George Bernard Shaw.
Science never solves a problem without creating ten more.

Mythology: Does it have scientific answers?

When one talks about religion, it's scientific aspect is never discussed. A scientist would probably define religion or a religious r...