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

                                                                     Interactive science series

Q: My son is good at maths and science. Can he become a scientist?
MR: If your son is bright, check whether he has these qualities too : high motivation, curiosity, good personality - ability to cope with stress, creativity, capacity to work hard.
In case he fits the bill well, encourage him and support him. He can if he thinks he can become a scientist!

Q: Which antibacterial soap/ hand sanitizer is good for my children?
MR: You can use any ordinary soap and water to wash the hands of your children.
Antibacterial soap sale surged due to increased marketing and media reports on dangerous infections. But there is no scientific evidence to show that they are more effective than ordinary soap and water.
Min-Suk Rhee and colleagues at Korea University, Seoul, say they have found compelling evidence that triclosan-containing soap is no better than plain soap. They think their study is more accurate than previous work because they only used one variable – the presence or absence of 0.3% triclosan – and fixed all of the other factors which can affect the results. The team exposed 20 bacterial strains to plain and triclosan-containing soaps for 20s at room temperature and then slightly warmer temperatures – conditions that were chosen to simulate home hand washing. They also contaminated the hands of volunteers with Serratia marcescens bacteria to test how well each soap removed bacteria.
The results revealed there was no significant difference in bactericidal activity between plain soap and antibacterial soap at either test temperature, although after 9 hours the soap containing triclosan showed significantly greater bactericidal effects. Others too found similar results :

Moreover, there is also significant evidence to show that chemicals like triclosan used in antibacterial soaps , which act like antibiotics, might worsen the problem of antibiotic resistance.
There is no definitive research on whether triclosan adversely affects human health, but animal studies suggest that exposure to it and similar chemicals has the potential to disrupt hormones in the body, trigger allergies and be associated with some types of cancer. It was found in human urine.
Triclosan has been linked to environmental concerns too. Once antibacterial soaps get washed down the drain, the chemicals they contain can persist in nature for decades . And their reach is far—triclosan has been found in lakes, streams, oceans and even house dust.
So forget about antibacterial soaps, your children will be safe with ordinary soaps and clean water, provided the procedure you follow is good.

Q: What is a tachyon?
MR: Tachyon is a hypothetical particle that travels faster than light.
Most physicists think that faster-than-light particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics
In vacuum, a tachyon is expected to emit Cherenkov radiation, the analog to the sonic boom of exceeding sound speed. The dynamics of a tachyon are such that as it loses energy to Cherenkov radiation, it speeds up. (Lower energy tachyons go faster; the highest energy ones are the ones that have a speed comparable to the speed of light.)
There have been experimental searches for Cherenkov radiation as a means of discovering tachyons, but none have succeeded so far in detecting such light.
In order for Cherenkov radiation to occur, it is not enough for a particle to exceed the speed of light in that medium: it also has to interact electromagnetically.

Q: Who do you think are the enemies of science? How do you deal with them?

MR: Scientific community doesn't call them enemies but it complains that some people are against science and are causing harm to societies we live in with irresponsible behaviours mostly originated from ignorance or selfish thoughts.

Who are these people? Some politicians, religious leaders, titans of industry who are polluting the world recklessly, and people who practice pseudo-scientific methods. When  these people think science can dislodge their power, they are resorting to  anti-intellectualism.

Although scientists are good at spotting where the stupidity is coming from, it is difficult to deal with people who have completely closed minds and simply refuse to consider what you say. Moreover, these people have lots of power and sometimes complete grip over their followers.

But still scientists are trying their best to deal with their unfriendly responses to science.

Q: Why do some people still believe in flat Earth theory despite the scientific evidence contrary to it?
MR: I met some people who believe in 'Flat Earth Theory' some time back. Some of them are even science and technology-trained!
They say they have a different way of looking at things, undoubtedly they don't consider scientific evidence at all to arrive at these conclusions!
These beliefs are cultural and religious in origin and evidence has no place in them. There are also a large number of pranksters and trolls in the flat-Earth movement that try to mislead these people. At least some of them appear to be motivated by a heartfelt sense that the scientific approach is not a collection of theories and facts but a subjective, atheistic (or liberal) interpretation of the world.
People who cannot think critically, who depend on emotional support from the groups/ societies they live-in, people who want to feel one with the crowd surrounding them fall prey to these theories and believe in them unconditionally.

Q: How do gold and silver form in the Earth's interior?

MR:  You will be surprised to hear this ...

Earlier people used to think rare heavy metals like silver and gold, need the most extreme stellar environments to form—found only during the explosions of massive stars, or supernovae. When these stellar titans die and explode, they spew new materials into space—the origin of most heavy metals.

Most studies have shown that gold is actually formed by the collision of dead stars.

But recently LIGO detected a neutron star collision, alerted the world, and astronomers were able to quickly turn their telescopes to observe the aftermath of the collision. One of the things that they observed were massive amounts of heavy elements! 

So Earth's gold too came from colliding dead stars! Gold is rare in the Universe. Unlike elements like carbon or iron, it cannot be created within a star. Instead, it must be born in a more cataclysmic event - like  a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Observations of  GRBs provide evidence that resulted from the collision of two  - the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae. Moreover, a unique glow that persist for days at the GRBs locations potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements - including gold. A gamma-ray burst is a flash of high-energy light (gamma rays) from an extremely energetic explosion. Most are found in the distant universe. Gamma-ray bursts come in two varieties - long and short - depending on how long the flash of gamma rays lasts. 

Scientists estimated that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses - quite a lot!  About one-hundredth of a solar mass of material was ejected by the gamma-ray burst, some of which was gold. By combining the estimated gold produced by a single short GRB with the number of such explosions that have occurred over the age of the universe, all the gold in the cosmos might have come from gamma-ray bursts.

The most common natural method of concentration of gold is through the ancient action of hot fluid inside the Earth's crust. (Fluids deep in the crust are heated by the Earth's internal heat. As they move towards the surface they cool down.)
The fluids moved through the rocks over a large area and "dissolved" the gold. When these fluids cooled or reacted with other rocks the dissolved gold precipitated (came out of the fluid) in cracks or fractures forming veins.
In any of event, gold in its natural mineral form almost always has traces of silver, and may also contain traces of copper and iron. A Gold nugget is usually 70 to 95 percent gold, and the remainder mostly silver. 
Another peculiarity, Gold is usually associated with Pyrite and other sulfides, and sometimes may not be noticed because of the association with these resembling minerals. In certain localities, minerals that contain these sulfides are heated high enough for the sulfides to dissolve, enabling the Gold to remain intact on the matrix. Such Gold is known as "Roasted Gold", and is occasionally sold to collectors.

Silver was also found to form in distant star explosions! Stars with masses eight to nine times that of the sun may explode at the end of their lives as faint low-mass  supernovae and create elements up to palladium and silver, but not heavier.

Silver is found in pure metal deposits such as horn silver or argentite and can also be obtained together with deposits of ores comprised of copper, lead or gold.

Deep in the Earth's crust, silver is one of the important metals that can be found, along with gold, copper, lead and zinc. It is formed by forming compounds with sulfur. Due to hot temperature, salty water called brine dissolves, collects and concentrates silver into the brine. Once the brine mixes with cold sea water, the metal does not stay dissolved and precipitates on the sea floor as minerals.

Deep in the Earth's crust, where it is very hot, salty water (called brine) circulates and dissolves these metals, collecting them up and concentrating them in the hot brine. The brine can be as hot as 350°C. Sometimes, on the sea floor, this brine comes up through the surface out of holes we call vents. When the hot brine comes into contact with the cold sea water the metal sulphides cannot stay dissolved and precipitate onto the sea floor as various minerals. Copper is precipitated as chalcopyrite (copper sulphide), lead as galena (lead sulphide), and zinc as sphalerite (zinc sulphide). Silver precipitates as a mixture with the other sulphides. The sulphides build up on the seafloor around the vents, like chimneys.


                                 Supernova remnants ( Art work by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa )


Update on this: In the past few years, a debate has erupted. Many astronomers now think that the space-quaking merger of two neutron stars can forge the universe’s supply of heavy elements. Others hold that even if garden-variety supernovas can’t do the trick, more exotic examples might still be able to (1).

Q:  Why-we-get-dumb -and -contradictory-reports-in-science - this article of yours made me think scientists are not that intelligent. If they cannot overcome even small mistakes while doing research, how can they take us into the future that is right?

MR:  Good Question. But let me assure you not all research in science is dumb and results contradictory to each other. There are good researchers that do wonderful work. It is the careless ones that bring bad name to science and news papers report them more making your thoughts go heywire!

One of my scientist friends told me a story:  Scientists in the USA were very curious to understand the various parameters that could influence cancer. Hence they decided to correlate it with some dimensions of our body. Someone chose the foot size among all parameters. And surprisingly they found that People with a shoe size ‘7’ have a high resistance to cancer.

Hah, what a cheap and effective way to find your vulnerability to cancer! 

Lesson: thou shalt not misinterpret data to support your own conclusions.

In statistics there is a thing called spurious relationship which is a  mathematical relationship in which two or more events or variables are not causally related to each other (i.e. they are independent), yet it may be wrongly inferred that they are, due to either coincidence or the presence of a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a "common response variable", "confounding factor", or "lurking variable"). A well known case of spurious relationship can be found in the time-series literature, where a spurious regression refers to a regression that provides statistical evidence of a linear relationship  between independent non-staionary variables. Nonstationarity may be due to the presence of a unit root in both variables.

(There are also things called  Spurious correlation is a term coined by Karl Pearson to describe the correlation between ratios of absolute measurements that arises as a consequence of using ratios, rather than because of any actual correlations between the measurements. The phenomenon of spurious correlation is one of the main motives for the field of compositional data analysis which deals with the analysis of variables that carry only relative information, such as proportions, percentages and parts-per-million. Pearson's definition of spurious correlation is distinct from misconceptions about correlation and casuality, or the term spurious relationship.)

A good researcher will be  very careful about these things.

That is why the checks and balances like peer reviewing, reproducibility of results, retraction of papers when mistakes are found, are important in the field. These are the things that make science trust-worthy unlike other fields that don't have these self-correcting mechanisms.

 Q: How did ancient people lift rocks to build huge structures like pyramids, temples, Machu-Pichu, stonehenge etc. without any technical assistance?  Science had no place in their achievements. Science couldn't  explain several mysteries like these.

MR : People in ancient  times too did it using scientific and technological ways. Only thing is they didn't know they were taking S & T's help! Watch this video that tells you how they might have done what they did:

Isn't it science and tech?

My art work "Science and technology then and now" 

(Although satellites, space shuttles and genetic engineering are modern day representation of science at its zenith, long ago the science and technology used in the construction of pyramids and the preservation of dead bodies by ancient cultures are as fascinating and advanced as modern day science.)

However, I want to add that there are misconceptions and false propaganda - at the cost of science - to add some mystery and attract more tourists.   The biggest ‘mystery’ I’ve heard is where did they get the materials from and how did they carry them to the site. Some even say that aliens came all the way from somewhere  in the Universe and helped the people there to build these marvels. But there is a quarry / brick factory located very near to the Pyramids. You don’t see the pictures always because it’s better to think they were carried by slaves for thousands of kilometers! That is suppressing the information to add to the mystery.

And how did the Incas take the giant rocks to the top of the mountain to build Machu Picchu? By getting the rocks from a higher place, so they just had to roll the rocks down the hill. There is a Machu Picchu quarry if you don't know about it already.

 How were the pyramids (or Machu Pichu, Easter Island statues or Stonehenge etc) built? It is basic mathematics and lots of people - slaves who thought their king is their God. No mystery in it, actually.

Watch the NG video " The Great Pyramid Mystery Solved"  here :

So, science has explained a ton of things that you may not yet know about. It is your lack of knowledge that makes you say this.

Q: You don't seem to support vaastu shastra, which is also a science. Why do you think it doesn't fit the bill?

MR: By naming something as shastra, although you make it sound more authentic,  Vaastu is not real science!

Science is developed by observation, hypothesis, experiment, and verification. Whatever you state has to be verifiable repeatedly, objectively, and by multiple independent experimenters. Most importantly, it should be falsifiable. If you object to the last one, that means what you are propagating  is pseudo-science!

Does vastushastra fit the bill of science? No, definitely not! Here is the answer to the Q why...

 Vastu shastra is an outdated science, even if it is one like you say. Its not relevant any more in today's world with today's technologies. Vastu had a meaning in those days when people were dependent more on nature for light and air. So they had to plan everything accordingly, so that every place will be properly lit by natural light and will have passage for wind, easy access to water etc. 

People in ancient times didn't have air conditioners or even electric fans. They didn't have sophisticated kitchens. They had wells (not borewells). They didn't have water pipes or motors or storage tanks. Those were different days.

These are days people live in pigeon holes and call it home. Vaastu is absolutely irrelevant in today's world even if you happen to dwell in an independent large bungalow. Placing certain things at certain places to bring good luck etc are just another load of nonsense, free yourself  from such dogmatic and outdated ideas. 
Science is about evidence, not wishful thinking.
Science is not a stagnant pool, it is a  fresh river and gets updated in time. Don't ever use water from a stagnant pool, you might get harmed!



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