SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                                                                Interactive science series

Q: Do you ever look up information that contradicts your views, or do you just seek out info that confirms them?  

Krishna: In science you have to look for information that contradicts your theory. Otherwise it won’t be science.

Pseudo-science, religion, superstitions, some alternative medical practices, astrology, paranormal theories look for confirmations.

As a true person of science, I also look for information that contradicts my ‘facts’ so that I can improve myself. My mind is always open for falsification. But information that confirms facts is welcome too as it establishes a fact more firmly. That is what science is all about.

Q: Why is it difficult to have medicines for viruses?

Krishna: The problem with viruses is that they have very few biochemical mechanisms of their own and therefore, they take over host cellular mechanisms for their replication. This makes it difficult to find targets for the drug so several drugs that block viral replication can have serious side effects on the host. 

The viruses are small and this makes difficult to deal with them.

DNA viruses have lower mutation rates and are easier to develop antivirals for than RNA viruses. Most antiviral drugs do not destroy their target , instead they inhibit stages in their development.

With the onset of molecular biology, it has become relatively easy now to develop anti-viral drugs too. We have about hundred anti-viral drugs now but they are very expensive because of the difficulties scientists face to develop them. 

For more information watch this video:

Q: Is blood rejuvinated in human bodies?
Krishna: The cells that make up the majority of the non-watery bits of your blood have a fairly short lifetime. The lifespan for red blood cells is generally 120 days. WBCs live for about 3 to 4 days in the average human body. The average lifespan of a platelet is normally just 5 to 9 days. Blood cells like red and white and platelets are constantly produced mostly in the bone marrow. Other major components of blood are various proteins: mostly hormones, enzymes, & coagulation factors & they are also produced constantly by the liver and in some cases, the kidneys. The rest of the blood is the plasma, which is mostly water you take.

Q: Why can't scientists just cover or manage properly hell holes like Darvaza gas craters?

Krishna: The gas crater you mentioned is located near the village of Derweze,  also known as Darvaza. It is in the middle of the Karakum Desert,  about 260 kilometres (160 mi) north of Ashgabat,  the capital of Turkmenistan. The gas reserve found here is one of the largest in the world.  The name "Door to Hell" was given to the field by the locals, referring to the fire, boiling mud, and orange flames in the large crater, which has a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft).

The site was identified by Soviet engineers and geologists in 1971. It was originally thought to be a substantial oil field site.  The engineers set up a drilling rig and operations to assess the quantity of oil available at the site. Soon after the preliminary survey they also found a natural gas pocket,  when their equipment - drilling rig - collapsed into  the ground beneath - into a wide crater and was buried. This event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters . And natural gas started to leak.

Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which, though not toxic, does displace oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. This wasn't so much an issue for the scientists, but for the animals that call the Karakum Desert home—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the area began to die. Dangerous releases of poisonous gases from the cavern into nearby towns too can happen. The escaping methane also posed dangers due to its flammability nature—there needs to be just five percent methane in the air for an explosion to potentially take place. So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks' time. 

 It was estimated that the gas would burn out within a few weeks, but it has instead continued to burn for more than four decades. Local geologists say the collapse into a crater happened in the 1960s, and the gases weren't set on fire until the 1980s. There are however no records available for any version of the events. Turkmenistan Government ordered that the hole be closed.

 In oil and natural gas drilling operations, this happens all the time to natural gas that can't be captured. Unlike oil, which can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed—if there's an excess of natural gas that can't be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas to get rid of it. It's a process called 'flaring' and it wastes millions of dollars worth of natural gas around the world.

Unlike drillers elsewhere, the scientists in Turkmenistan weren't dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don't know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire. 

Although the Turkmenistan Government ordered that the hole be closed, this is not going to be easy, they have to carefully study, plan and execute and it takes time - a lot of it.

Q: How does science help modern day human beings in understanding things around?

Krishna: In several ways. Without science people would have been still living in caves in forests, waiting to get killed by wild animals, falling prey  for unknown diseases and fearing everything happening around them. 

Take for example, eclipses. Before scientists explained them,  everyone was just trying to come up with an explanation on why the sun or moon temporarily vanished from the sky.

Many cultures explain eclipses as a time when demons or animals eat the sun or the moon -- often, the animal involved was a dragon. In fact, the Chinese word for an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat. In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the sun. Indians believed demons Rahu and Ketu gulped them.

In order to combat this so-called "eating of the sun," people in many cultures used to make noise in order to scare the demon or animal away. Those including the ancient Chinese and the Incas banged on pots and pans or played on drums to get whatever was swallowing the sun or the moon to go away. This was the case during both solar and lunar eclipses.

In India, people would immerse themselves up to the neck in water, an act of worship they believed helped the sun fight off the demons.

The Vikings (who lived from about 750 AD to 1050 AD) 'saw' a pair of sky wolves chasing the sun or the moon. When one of the wolves caught either of the shining orbs, an eclipse would result. So simple explanation!

 The Koreans (time period unclear; likely 3rd or 4th century spun a mythology which involves fire dogs that try to steal the sun or the moon. The Koreans weren’t the only ones who used tales of theft or deception to explain the sun’s disappearance during an eclipse. You’ll see a theme as we continue to go down the list of cultures. “On orders from a king, the mythical canines try their best to capture the fiery sun or the ice-cold moon,”  according to Nat Geo . “They always fail, but whenever they bite either orb, an eclipse results.”

 The Hindus (6th century)  came up with the story of demons Rahu  and Ketu, who disguise themself as Gods in order to steal a taste of an elixir that grants immortality. The sun and moon see what Rahu and Ketu are up to, and they report him to the god Vishnu.

"Vishnu slices off their head before (the elixr) can slide past his throat. As a consequence,  the demons' heads turn immortal, but their bodies die. The demons' heads continues to move through the sky, chasing the sun and the moon because they hate them. "Every now and then they catche them and swallow them." But because Rahu and ketu has no throat, the sun and the moon fall out of the bottom of their head.  Highly creative story, Isn't it?

 The Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin: In Africa (time period unknown)  came up with another version. In this myth, the sun and the moon are fighting during an eclipse. The people then talk to the sun and the moon into making an agreement to stop the quarreling, and the whole thing is seen as a time of coming together and resolving old feuds. It's a myth that has held to this day.

 Navajos (time period unknown) - A Navajo tradition has lasted into current times, as well. The Navajos regard the cosmic order of the universe as revolving around the idea of balance, or as being part of nature's law. It’s about pausing for reflection on the order of things. Some Navajo still observe traditions associated with an eclipse by staying inside with their family, singing songs and refraining from eating, drinking or sleeping.

Eclipses appear often in the mythology and literature of different cultures and different ages, most often as symbols of obliteration, fear, and the overthrow of the natural order of things.  the word eclipse comes from a Greek word meaning "abandonment." Quite literally, an eclipse was seen by some as the sun abandoning the earth.

People feared eclipses during earlier times. They worshiped several unrelated things, did things that have no meaning or effect at all on them. Thought they caused several dangers - especially to pregnnat women.

Then came science. The scene has changed.

Scientists and astronomers around the world have debunked these earlier myths. They explained in detail what really caused them. They also clarified that there’s no evidence that eclipses can affect human behaviour, health or the environment. 

The fear is gone. Now we look forward to eclipses, study and make use of them to understand the world in a better way and watch them with wonder that reality brings. 

That is the magic of science!

Q: What problems do we face if we plan a trip to Mars?

Krishna: Exposure to radiation, communication - because of huge distance between Earth and Mars it takes a very long time, storage spaces for food, water and other essentials that we have to carry - which might take lots of fuel consumption, building a suitable atmosphere to live on Mars, growing food on the planet etc.

It is not going to be easy.

Q: Does chocolate cause heart burn?

Krishna: Yes, it does! Chocolate causes more reflux than any other food. It’s a triple whammy:

1. Chocolate contains caffeine and other stimulants such as theobromine, which cause reflux.
2. Chocolate is high in fat, and fat causes reflux.
3. Chocolate is also high in cocoa, and cocoa causes reflux.

Theoretically, dark chocolate isn’t as bad as high-fat milk chocolate, but all chocolate is bad for reflux.

Q: How do superstitious scientists justify their superstitions?  

Krishna: They can’t, properly and realistically!

But scientists are human beings too with weaknesses. If they don’t get proper critical thinking training, they can’t resolve their weaknesses, conditioning of mind and fears with their reasoning in the right way and resort to irrational ways. They might take the help of pseudo-science to justify their behaviour like people from other fields do.

Q: Was Kumbhakarna a scientist?

Krishna: There were no real scientists in the modern sense during the time of Kumbhakarna. The story related to him was highly creative. That’s all! 

Q: Why did life originate?

Q: What are the origins of life purpose?  

Krishna:  According to some physicists, origin of life is an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. Their equations suggest that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of “entropy” or disorder in the universe. This restructuring effect, which they call dissipation-driven adaptation, fosters the growth of complex structures, including living things. The existence of life is no mystery or lucky breakbut rather follows from general physical principles and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” (1,2,3)

Citations:

1. https://www.quantamagazine.org/first-support-for-a-physics-theory-o...

2. http://www.pnas.org/content/114/29/7565.abstract

3. https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-computational-foundation-of-life...

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