SCIENCE REPORTER

ISSN: 0036-8512                                                                                              

VOLUME 47                                                      NUMBER   3                                               MARCH 2010

CONTENTS

 

COVER STORY

 

The Science Of Sherlock Holmes

N.S. ARUNKUMAR

               

8

FEATURE ARTICLES

Traumatic Turn

JAIMINI SARKAR

 

19

Bandra-Worli Sea Link: An Engineering Marvel

MRITYUNJAY BOSE

               

29

HOSTILE HEMOPHILIA

P. CHEENA CHAWLA

 

40

The Chemistry of Love

SHOA ABBAS NAQVI

 

46

SHORT FEATURES

Education Stress Syndrome

NIDHI CHOPRA

 

15

FICTION

Curtain

S.M. Ghatak 

 

36

DEPARTMENTS

 

REACTIONS

6

EDITORIAL

7

 

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

24

CARTOONS

26

PUZZLE CORNER

50

 

LIVING FOSSILS                                                                                 

55

NATURAL HAZARDS

56

 

FUN QUIZ

58

WHAT’S NEW   

60

CROSSWORD                     

62

 

 

Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 8-14

The Science Of Sherlock Holmes

N.S. ARUNKUMAR

The English movie Sherlock Holmes dealing with the exploits of the legendary fictional detective released recently in India. It is perhaps the right time to take a close look at the science behind some of Holmes’s forensic exploits.

 

 

“How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

“How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.

 

THAT was Sherlock Holmes, the legendary consulting detective of all time, created by the Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This conversation happens when Holmes’s chronicler and life-long friend Dr. Watson meets him for the first time, more emphatically, in a chemical laboratory. Watson is a medical man well talented and well read but until he had this startling acquaintance with Holmes he didn’t believe in the ‘inductive method of reasoning’ employed by the master detective.

At first he was reluctant to accept that ‘the science of deduction’ can carry a person from the present to the past, from the present effect to an absent cause. For the bewildered Watson, Holmes explains: “From a drop of water… a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other.”

Sherlock Holmes first makes his appearance in A Study in Scarlet published in 1881, modeled against Inspector Duplin of Edgar Allan Poe, who is only an ‘illusion’ of the scientific method as per Doyle. Largely making Duplin an icon of the Scotland Yard, Doyle believed that he had succeeded where Poe had failed. That’s why he made Watson remark: “Holmes has brought criminal investigation as near an exact science as it will ever brought into the world.”

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 15

Education Stress Syndrome

NIDHI CHOPRA

HAS the modern education system led to an increasing dependence on coaching institutes? It seems to be so.

Modern parents are putting their children into coaching classes or tuitions at a very early age. Right from the time of primary schooling these kids start going to tuitions for English, Mathematics and so on. Even in ‘single income’ families nobody sits with these kids. Of course, a housewife has a right on rest and entertainment but the kids are over-burdened by these extra hours of study and are robbed of their rest and entertainment.

Why do we need these coaching institutes? Population, employment, age restrictions etc. are major reasons that force children to become a part of the rat race. There are a few hidden reasons as well. Our children need to get more than 90%. But, they get more than 90% and still don’t get admissions and jobs. The result is depression, stress and suicide. We saw all this in the recently released movie 3 Idiots.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 19-23

Traumatic Turn

JAIMINI SARKAR

Traumatic events such as the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti may also lead to post traumatic stress disorder in survivors. It is important for everyone to be aware of the disorder to be able to help sufferers after such traumatic events or even take charge of their own emotions if they happen to be caught in the midst of such a situation.

 

OPEN any newspaper these days, and you find it difficult to overlook news of traumatic accidents, destructive natural disasters, terrorist strikes, and untold casualties in war zones. Traumatic events like earthquakes and tsunamis, rail and air accidents, militant strikes and terrorist hold-ups often lead to widespread loss to property and heavy fatalities. The most recent earthquake in Haiti led to unprecedented casualties.

Such events also leave deep psychological scars on survivors unfortunate to have been caught in the vortex of such calamities but fortunate to survive. In most of these cases, it leads to a psychological disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) usually results from exposure to traumatic events or series thereof and is characterized by long lasting problems with many aspects of emotional and social functioning.

PTSD is different from general traumatic stress or combat stress reaction. The latter one has less intensity and duration as compared to PTSD. In the past, PTSD has also been recognized by various names like railway spine, stress syndrome, shell shock, battle fatigue, traumatic war neurosis, or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS).

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 29-33

Bandra-Worli Sea Link: An Engineering Marvel

MRITYUNJAY BOSE

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link is a marvel of engineering technology and has also led to considerable easing of traffic in Mumbai.

 

IT is gigantic. It is majestic. It is an engineering marvel and an architectural wonder too. The first-of-its-kind in India (first bridge to be constructed in open-sea conditions), the 5.6-km-long, eight-lane, approximately Rs 1,600-crore Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL), which has now been renamed as the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, is an engineering marvel that aims to ease traffic in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital.

The construction is a miracle on the Arabian Sea that has an imposing presence on the Western horizon of Mumbai. One can imagine the strength and might of the bridge given the fact that it weighs nearly 50,000 African elephants and the length of steel wires used in the project is equivalent to the circumference of the Earth. And it has made the difference: the distance which earlier took nearly 45 minutes – from Bandra till Worli if one uses the old road – now takes just eight minutes.

It is for the first time that cable-stay bridges have been attempted on open seas in India. Coupled with the fact that the aesthetically designed pylons have an extremely complex geometry and one of the longest spans for concrete deck, the challenges encountered were indeed formidable. With its cable-stayed towers soaring gracefully skywards, the bridge was constructed by Hindustan Construction Co Ltd (HCC), an engineering, construction, infrastructure and integrated urban development and management giant and designed by UK-based Dar Consultants for Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). It has today emerged as one of the prominent landmarks of Mumbai and also a popular tourism destination.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 40-45

HOSTILE HEMOPHILIA

P. CHEENA CHAWLA

Adequate government support coupled with public awareness is crucial to tackle the myriad concerns about hemophilia.

 

BLOOD — the river of life — flows through a network of channels spread all over the human body called blood vessels, which bring to the doorstep of every cell the right amounts of food and oxygen. The sight of oozing blood, whether it is a mild bruise or a serious injury, is truly distressing, particularly if bleeding occurs non-stop. It could prove fatal in no time if the natural clotting power of the blood is flawed. Millions of victims of a genetic disorder called hemophilia bear the harassment of unstoppable bleeding even for a minor wound, as their blood lacks certain crucial proteins that normally work with special cells in blood — the platelets — till the wound is finally sealed to form a clot. 

            A child born with hemophilia simply lacks clotting factors that help platelets stick together to plug the cuts at the site of injury to stop bleeding. This happens as the child inherits defective genes for these clotting factors from one or both parents. There are two main types of hemophilia: hemophilia A (classic hemophilia) where there are low levels of clotting factor VIII and hemophilia B (Christmas disease) where victims have abysmally low levels of clotting factor IX. About 9 out of 10 victims suffer from hemophilia A. 

Depending on the level of deficiency of these clotting factors, hemophilia is classified as mild, moderate or severe. About 7 out of 10 people who have hemophilia A have the severe form of the disorder. In some persons with hemophilia A, the Factor VIII replacement therapy is identified as a foreign substance by their defence machinery. When this happens, antibodies are made against Factor VIII, which inhibit the ability of the infused Factor VIII to work in the clotting process. This faulty process of raising an immune response against body’s own proteins is called autoimmunity. Clotting factor levels are also measured when a patient is suspected of having an acquired condition that is causing excessive bleeding, such as vitamin K deficiency, liver disease or cancer to name a few.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 46-48

 

The Chemistry of Love

SHOA ABBAS NAQVI

Love is confusing indeed. But it becomes easier to comprehend when you delve deeper into the chemical changes set in motion inside the body when love strikes.

 

IT was their best time of the day. The walk through the Club Park. He held her hands gently and with a heavy heart started humming the lines of the latest song “We were both young when I first saw you, I close my eyes and the flashback starts.” It was Love Story by Taylor Swift and described almost vividly the romance between Romeo and Juliet. She just smiled, like always.

Yes! Almost instantly, he knew the feeling that gripped him. He had often wondered about it when he was young. He had been dazed and perplexed since the first time their eyes had met. And after all these years of togetherness, now he knew for sure, that it was indeed Love. Love that was exquisite but yet so complex to understand in the beginning. Love that had bound them together, in sickness and in health, till death do them apart.

Love is confusing indeed. For how can you explain the sudden attraction and feeling of compassion for someone who is but a stranger to you? How can you decipher the complex cascade of emotions that flow through your heart when you come across that someone special? Love is a beautiful feeling, but as complicated as beautiful. They say, “It’s all about the hormones”. May be it is. Let’s see how.

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Science Reporter

Vol. 47, March 2010, pp 36-38

 

FICTION

Curtain

S.M. Ghatak

In the final quarter of the twenty-first century, the asteroid Ceres, diameter 768 kilometres, was forced out of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter by the gravitational field of a rogue comet.  NASA’s computation of the asteroid’s flight path showed it headed directly towards Earth, with the likelihood of collision getting a score of 10 on the Torino scale.  Meaning an almost-certain disaster a thousand times worse than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and other life of the Mesozoic era.  Worse, the impact would very likely knock Earth off its near-circular path round the sun into an elliptical orbit.  With the extremities of the ellipse’s axes being either too distant from the sun or too near to permit life.

            Efforts were made to change the asteroid’s course by firing nuclear missiles at it.  That did not work.  A group of volunteer astronauts landed on Ceres and tried to alter its track by operating ion thruster engines from it.  The men perished, the asteroid’s path remained unchanged.  And it became evident that only another cosmic event would alter Ceres’s flight path.

            Another cosmic happening did not occur; and Ceres hurtled into naked eyesight on the last day of September 2087 like a gigantic rocket.  At a height of 500 kilometres it began to emit the red glow of burning hydrogen.  Behind it streamed a 100 kilometre trail of burning gases.  Within a minute it entered the densest part of Earth’s atmosphere and blew up.  Two gigantic sections, each weighing thousands of millions of tonnes, struck Earth.  One plunged into the Pacific off the Phoenix Islands, and the other hit the Asian land mass around Khyzl, capital of the little known Republic of Tuva bordering north-western Mongolia. Some fragments, weighing a million times and more impacted Europe, North and South America, Australia and Antarctica.

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