SCIENCE REPORTER

ISSN: 0036-8512                                                                                              

VOLUME 47                                                      NUMBER 4                                                 April 2010

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CONTENTS

 

COVER STORY

 

Airports at Risk!

M.S.S. MURTHY

 

 

8

FEATURE ARTICLES

Fly Attacks!

AMANDEEP SINGH & DEVINDER SINGH

 

19

Spewing Venom!

SAGARIKA CHAUDHURI

 

28

Unending Journey of Pi

RAMDAS IYER & BHARAT BHUSHAN SRIVASTAVA

 

40

SHORT FEATURES

Strange World of Parasites

G.S. UNNIKRISHNAN NAIR

 

 

14

Biocolours—Safe Food Colours

S. SRIVASTAVA & BANGALI BABOO

 

45

SUPERHYDROPHOBICITY—THE ART OF NATURE

KULAMANI PARIDA

 

47

FICTION

Host

Soumya Sucharit Das

 

36

DEPARTMENTS

 

REACTIONS

6

EDITORIAL       

7

SPECTRUM       

16

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

24

CARTOONS

42

 

PUZZLE CORNER

50

 

BIOPROFILE:  Memory Enhancer

          

53

LIVING FOSSILS                                                                 

55

NATURAL HAZARDS

56

 

FUN QUIZ

58

WHAT’S NEW   

60

CROSSWORD                     

62

 

Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 8-13

Airports at Risk!

M.S.S. MURTHY

Securing airports against troublemakers is a tough job. Because of limitations of current screening methods, security personnel around the world, including those in India, are recommending the widespread use of what are called “full body scanners” that would see through the clothing and detect concealed metallic as well as non-metallic objects without touching the passenger.

 

ON 25 December 2009, a Nigerian passenger on board a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam was arrested on charges of attempting to blow up the plane. Sewn to his underwear was a pouch containing an explosive powder known as pentaerythriol tetranitrate. During the flight, he tried to ignite the explosive powder by adding a liquid chemical he had carried in a syringe. In the process, it made a popping sound and his trouser caught fire. Alert passengers immediately overpowered him and prevented what could have been a disaster for the 278 passengers.

Following the incident, the question that everyone asked was how the Nigerian managed to smuggle on board the explosive powder. Though he had passed through the routine security check at the Amsterdam airport, it had failed to detect the explosives carried on his body.

This was not the first time that terrorists attempted to smuggle explosives on board. In 2001, a British passenger on board an American Airline plane was caught in the act of igniting an explosive hidden in his shoes. On 10 August 2006, authorities at the Heathrow Airport in Great Britain foiled an attempt by some passengers to smuggle liquid explosives in shampoo bottles in their cabin baggage.

 

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 14-15

 

Strange World of Parasites

G.S. UNNIKRISHNAN NAIR

WE all know that a parasite lives in or on a second organism, called a host, usually causing it some harm. The world of parasites is unique and quite interesting. Let us take a look at some of these really strange parasites.

Cymothoa exigua, a Crustacean, is the only known parasite that efficiently replaces a body organ. It makes its home in the mouth of a single species of fish, the spotted rose snapper, where it feeds on blood until the tongue withers and dies. It attaches itself to the remaining stub, and can be used by the fish as a replacement tongue to maneuver food.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 19-22

 

Fly Attacks!

AMANDEEP SINGH & DEVINDER SINGH

Infestation of humans by fly larvae could even lead to death. It poses a major threat to the livestock industry in India as well. But the same deadly fly larvae could also be used to treat non-healing wounds and as a possible solution to fight the increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics

 

DID you know that humans and other animals are not only attacked by numerous adult insects but also by their larval stages. Such an invasion of human and animal tissues by dipterous larvae (‘dipterous’ meaning insects having usually a single pair of functional wings, including the true flies and mosquitoes) is known as ‘fly strike’ or myiasis. The larvae, at least for a certain period, feed on the host's dead or living tissue, liquid body substances, and ingested food.

The term myiasis was first used in 1840 to refer to disease of humans and animals originating specifically with fly larvae as opposed to those caused by insect larvae in general. Accordingly, infestation with larvae of moths is called scolechiasis and with those of beetles canthariasis. Myiasis may not show any symptoms, but sometimes it may result in more or less severe problems and even death when larvae invade body cavities or areas where they cannot be directly examined.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 28-33

Spewing Venom!

SAGARIKA CHAUDHURI

 

Lethal, venomous vertebrates occupy an important niche in the ecosystem. Although their venom could even be fatal, some venoms have proved to be very important as pharmacological and biomedical compounds.

 

THINK venom and you cannot help thinking of snakes. But there are innumerable other species of animals equally capable of spewing venom and dealing a lethal blow.

            Originating from the Latin word Venenem meaning poison, venom can be defined as a zootoxin or a variety of poisonous substance secreted by an animal, produced by specialized glands and associated with spines, tooth or stings. It may primarily be used for killing prey or may be defensive or may even function as a digestive fluid. The venom may cause localized skin inflammation or almost instant death.

            But is there any difference between venomous and poisonous animals? Or are they both the same? Well, while venomous animals deliver or inject venom into their prey either while hunting or while defending themselves, poisonous animals are harmful when consumed or touched. Venom is generally produced in organs specialized for the purpose whereas poison is generally distributed over a larger part of the body of organisms producing it.

            Now let’s take a look at some of these venomous animals that could be equally poisonous as snakes.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 40-43

 

Unending Journey of Pi

RAMDAS IYER & BHARAT BHUSHAN SRIVASTAVA

 

Throughout the history of mathematics, there have been many efforts to determine Pi more accurately and to understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into non-mathematical culture. Many countries in the world even celebrate Pi Day and Pi Approximation Day to commemorate the significance of the value of Pi.

Pi has been known for almost 4000 years—but even if we calculate the number of seconds in those 4000 years and calculate pi to that number of places, we would still only be approximating its actual value. It is very much rational to talk about this irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction m/n, where m and n are integers. Consequently, its decimal representation never ends or repeats. It is also a transcendental number, which implies, among other things, that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers (powers, roots, sums, etc.) can be equal to its value.

π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. It is approximately equal to 3.14159 in the usual decimal notation. π is one of the most important mathematical and physical constants: many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π. It also appears in many different formulas that have nothing to do with circles.

Throughout the history of mathematics, there have been many efforts to determine π more accurately and to understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into non-mathematical culture.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 45-46

 

Biocolours—Safe Food Colours

S. SRIVASTAVA & BANGALI BABOO

BIOCOLOURS or natural dyes are derived from plants, insects and minerals. The use of such colouring matter is rooted in antiquity. Relics from the excavations of Harrapan Culture have yielded evidence of ropes and fabrics dyed with natural colours. The caves of Ajanta (the earliest dating back to the first century B.C.) still preserve the beauty of biocolours in their fullest splendour. In short, use of biocolours through the art of dyeing and printing is one of our richest heritages.

Biocolours had to pay a very heavy price due to the development of the synthetic genre of dyestuff. Synthetic dyes made their advent in India in the 18th century and gradually pushed natural dyes into oblivion due to their superiority in the speed of dyeing or printing and the fastness of colours.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 47-48

SUPERHYDROPHOBICITY - THE ART OF NATURE

KULAMANI PARIDA

“Human ingenuity may make various inventions, but it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting and nothing is superfluous.”

Leonardo da Vinci, 16th century

“LIKE water off a duck’s back” is a phrase that generally means unheeded criticism. But does water really roll of a duck’s back? Yes, it does, and this is what keeps the duck dry and its feathers in place even when it has been waddling in water for hours. How does that happen? Well, the duck needs to thank a phenomenon called ‘superhydrophobicity’ for keeping its feathers dry and clean.

Superhydrophobicity is a high-sounding word that simply refers to the property of extreme non-wettability of certain surfaces. This interesting phenomenon gives rise to some of the most fascinating sights in nature. It also has several applications in daily life.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, April 2010, pp 36-38

 

Host

Soumya Sucharit Das

 

8 June 2009

The world of science is always so alluring.  The more you learn….the more you want to learn…

I must note down everything from now on in this diary as it might lead to a greater discovery for mankind as a whole.  It would help mention the facts correct in my thesis too.

Today it was a sort of serendipity for me.  I found it growing on the carcass of some dead rodent on the countryside.  I had not visited the place for quite some time after my spine injury, and you know, there are some biologists who just want to look up everything under the microscope!

I always carry my equipments for that purpose only.  So, out of curiosity and enthusiasm I scraped the rodent’s skin and brought the slimy growth to my lab on a Petri dish.  It was a microbe…about which I had never studied.  I took out my whole collection of books, materials and looked up the Internet too. Nobody mentioned about a microbe with such specifications ever.  I don’t know where it had come from on the rodent’s body or how it grew on it.  

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