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Archives – March, 2011

Robert Bunsen: More Than The Inventor of Bunsen Burner

If you had googled today, you must have already seen the above Google doodle. This was Google’s way of celebrating 200th birth anniversary of Robert Bunsen who is known as the inventor of ubiquitous Bunsen burner. Anyone who has been to high school has used his namesake invention. It was not like burners didn’t exist before he invented his own version, but for his studies and experiments, he needed a hot, clean and colorless flame which other burners couldn’t provide. So he designed his own. The reason he wanted a colorless flame was because he wanted to study how different elements emit different colors of light when heated in a flame, in short he wanted to perform atomic emission spectroscopy, one of the first systematic spectroscopic studies. He along with Gustav Kirchhoff invented the first spectrograph in which they used prism to split the light emitted from the flame into different wavelengths and thus were able to identify the element present in the flame. He was able to detect Sodium, Lithium and Potassium. He also discovered new elements– Caesium  in 1860 and Rubidium in 1861. For studying cesium, he carefully and laboriously distilled 40 tons of mineral water to get 17 grams of cesium! He named these elements based on the color of light they emitted– Caesium after caesius in Latin which means “light blue” and Rubidium after rubidus which means “red.” Caesium today is used in atomic clocks while Rubidium gives the purple color in your fireworks.

Besides pioneering contributions to spectroscopy, he also developed gas- analytical techniques to analyze gases coming out of furnaces, volcanoes etc. He also invented jet pumps, ice and vapor calorimeters and Bunsen battery (predecessor to dry cells we use). He also found antidote to Arsenic poisoning which is still used till day– Iron oxide hydrate. Later in his life he focused mainly to study the problems in the field of geology and mineralogy. Thanks to Google Doodle for making us think about contributions Robert Bunsen made to the field of science and our daily lives in general.

Leave a Comment March 31, 2011

Cricket World Cup 2011: Chak De India

What an awesome semi-final game! And most importantly, India won the game and are now in the finals of Cricket World cup which will be played in Mumbai against Sri Lanka. I have been a bit delayed in posting about the game as I was sleeping most of yesterday after being awake all night to watch the India Pakistan semi-final game. For people who don’t know much about cricket, World cup is organized every four years, just like FIFA world cup and the 10th edition of cricket world cup is being currently held and co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Cricket World cup is the 3rd most watched sporting event across the globe after FIFA world cup and summer Olympics. So that must give you some idea of how big the event is. Being immensely popular  in the second largest populated country in the world helps in adding to the viewership numbers. In India cricket is religion, Sachin Tendulkar is god and India-Pakistan World cup game brings both the nations to halt. I did not watch most of the games this time, but did not miss the chance to watch the semi-final game between the arch rivals. The game was not best in terms of quality but it had all the thrills, drama and emotions to keep you at the edge of your seat till the last minute. All the best to “Men in Blue” for the finals and hoping India wins World cup 2011 after a gap of 28 years. It’s high time now. So Go India! Chak De India!

Image credit: The Guardian UK |Prakash Singh| AFP| Getty Images| Noah Seelam

Leave a Comment March 31, 2011

Bonus Weekend Video: Full Moon And Aurora Borealis In Timelapse

In order to make up for the reduced number of posts during the last month, here are some bonus videos for this weekend. The vidoes are so amazing that I couldn’t wait for the next weekend to post them. The first video is an amazing time-lapse video of the full moon (supermoon event), beautifully shot by Frédéric Lagléra in Tignes France. Great work Fredric and thanks for submitting the video to “science is beautiful” vimeo blog. Second video was shot by Norwegian photographer Terje Sorgjerd. He shot about 22,000 mesmerizing pictures of Aurora Borealis event (Northern Lights) and put together the pictures to create a breathtaking time-lapse video for us to enjoy and cherish. You can read my earlier posts (here and here) to understand the science behind the origin of green and violet colors as seen in Aurora Borealis. As the Sun is now entering into a more active phase after a period of lull, more such beautiful events will occur owing to strong solar storms.

1 Comment March 27, 2011

Hello… Ahoy… That Is All

Hello is the most common form of greeting used by humans all over the world. The phone rings, we grab the phone receiver and the first word we speak is “Hello”. We meet new people and the introduction starts with hello in most of the countries. So how did the word become a universal form of greeting , especially while conversing on the phone. When was it first introduced, who introduced it, what alternative word we might be using instead if somehow Hello didn’t become popular?

According to Merriam Webster, the word Hello was first used in 1877, smilarly online Oxford dictionary dates origin of Hello to be late 19th century. Wikipedia states that the first written use of the word was in 1833 and by 1860 it was frequently used in literature. But during this time, it was not used as a form of greeting rather was used to express surprise (hello, what’s all this then?) or to bring attention (‘Hello below !’ he cried). Hello is considered to be a variant of earlier words Hallo/Hollo/Holla. Besides these variants, Hello also existed as Hullo and Hillo as variants , though rarely used. In short, the word Hello has been spoken or used using all of the five vowels (Hallo, Hello, Hillo, Hollo, Hullo).

But the word Hello didn’t become a form of greeting until the advent of telephone. Thomas Edison has been credited for using and promoting the word Hello as a form of telephone greeting in 1877. Alexander bell, inventor of the telephone, wanted the word Ahoy (used in ships) to be used as the form of telephone greeting. Infact, he used the word Ahoy as form of telephone greeting for the rest of his life. The first telephone book published in Nov 1878 in Connecticut provided Telephone for Dummies kind of description to help it’s 391 subscribers in operating the machine. Guidelines suggested using the word “Hulloa” to start the conversation on phone and “That is all” to end the conversation. So, probably Edison’s promotion and the guidelines provided by the first telephone book pushed the word Hello. If that wouldn’t have happened we might be saying Ahoy while answering the phone (just like Mr Burns from The Simpsons). While Hello became popular, Ahoy was lost into oblivion. But unlike the word hello’s instant rise to popularity, same was not the case for the phrase “That is all” which was replaced by good-bye or bye which is considered to be variant or short version for “God Be with You” or “with ye”. In order to understand the usage of the words Hello and Ahoy from 1820 till 2000, I used Google ngram and generated following plot  (Y axis shows the % of books, in English, sampled by google since 1820 till 2000 which contain the words Hello or Ahoy). It can be clearly seen that the usage of word Hello soared after 1880 while Ahoy could never get any traction.


Top Image credit: Flickr user fenris117 | Used under creative commons license

Leave a Comment March 27, 2011

Weekend Video: Funky Beats To Energize Your Weekend


This weekend’s video edition showcases two high energy videos to pump up your weekend. The first video “Turn Me Up” is performed by UK based group who go by the name of Stanton Warriors. They perform all around the globe and this is their most recent work.

The second video titled “The Beat of New York” is a creative work by Thoms Noesner, Toussaint and Tim Hahne which happened just by chance.As Tim says, “Thomas Noesner took his camera and strolled through the busting streets of The City. While screening the pictures of a drummer in the tube station, I had the idea of creating a remix of the recorded drum sequence to use it as a soundtrack for the film. That´s when our sound designer Toussaint came into play… We composed a track around the drum beat of this guy. Watch and listen to the beat of New York!”

Enjoy the videos, I am sure your weekend will be full of energy after watching them. Have a nice weekend!

Leave a Comment March 26, 2011

Exploding Star And It’s Stripes

The picture above is an X-ray image of supernova remnant, Tycho,  produced from the explosion of a white dwarf star in our galaxy. The image has been taken by Chandra X-ray observatory. The supernova remnant is about 13,000 light years away from earth and is located in Cassiopeia constellation in the Northern hemisphere. If you ask, how big is the explosion, it’s roughly 55 light years across (1 light year= 9.5 x 10^15 m). This supernova remnant was first observed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, in 1572 and that’s how it  got it’s name.

Now let’s get to some science behind the image. The blue color seen on the rim of the circular blob is from high energy X-rays (blast wave which contains high energetic electrons), while the interior red color is from the low energy X-rays (which contain expanding debris from the supernova). The interesting phenomenon observed in this image is the presence of stripes in the outer regions of the exploding star. Such “X-ray” stripes have never been observed in any other supernova remnant.

These X-ray stripes are beleived to form due to high turbulence and magnetic field entglements as compared to surrounding regions. In these regions, the electrons get trapped and get energized and emit X-rays as they sprial along the magnetic lines. In the image below, the black lines are the magnetic field lines, while the red lines show the path of the electrion. The spacing between these stripes is determined by the radius of the spiralling high energy proton (path shown in yellow), the energy of which can be over 100 times larger than what can be gerenrated in Large Hadron collider! These high energy particles are believed to be the source of cosmic rays on earth. So that’s for the science behind this beautiful image!

Image and info credit: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K.Eriksen et al.

Leave a Comment March 25, 2011

What Are You Planning To Do On March 26th, 8:30 PM?


It’s Earth Hour on March 26th, 8:30 PM, your local time. Individuals and businesses all over the globe switch off their non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour and organize events in order to raise awareness about taking positive action to address the issue of climate change. The event which was started in 2007 in Sydney has now spread all over the globe. This year’s theme is to go beyond an hour, take an extra step than just switching off the lights for an hour, to do something more than what you regularly do. So how are you planning to go beyond an hour? I am planning to eat more of locally grown produce, reduce my use of air conditioning, and maybe volunteer in local schools and organize events about 3Rs- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Leave a Comment March 22, 2011

What Does mSv Dose of Radiation Exposure Mean?

In the wake of looming nuclear crisis, we keep hearing or reading about the units Sievert or Sv for the amount of radiation exposure. So what is Sievert and what to make of it when media reports that 0.6 μSv radiation per hour has been detected (as seen in the picture above).

Scientists use different terms to report the radiation measurement depending upon the context. For eg, unit Curie (Ci) or Becquerel (Bq) is used to measure the amount of radiation which is being released or emitted by a radioactive material, while unit rad or Gray (Gy) is used to measure the amount of radiations absorbed and deposited in the human tissue. A person’s biological risk which means the risk that person will suffer health effects due to radiation exposure is measured and reported in units  rem (roentgen equivalent man) or Seivert (Sv). Biological risk depends upon the type of ionizing particles emitted (alpha, beta, gamma, X-rays) and their ability to transfer energy to the cells. Based on this energy transfer function, each particle has been assigned a Quality factor (Q). In order to asses the biological risk this factor is multiplied by the radiation dose measured.

So, 1 Sv = 100  rem = Q x rad

Are these nuclear disasters the only source of radiation dose to humans? No. we constantly get slight dosage of radiation from variety of sources including cosmic rays (more when we are flying), naturally occurring radioactive minerals in soil, medical X-rays etc. In order to get some sense of what these numbers mean, here are few typical numbers from various sources (CDC):

Hopefully these numbers will give us some idea the radiation exposures being reported in the media. So on average, we receive about 300-350 mrems (3-3.5 mSv) of radiation dose per year, sometimes even higher if we are undergoing medical treatments. International law permits exposure of about 2000 mrems per year for those who work with or around radioactive materials. Here is an excellent chart by XKCD  and another by BoingBoing which can be helpful in understanding radiation exposure and health effects.

So how much are the radiations from the failed Japanese plants. It was reported that radiation level shot to about 0.8 rem per hour on March 15th. There have been conflicting reports on the correctness of amount of radiation exposure reported by various media as well as by Govt agencies. According to NRC, if a person is exposed to 500 rems of radiation at once, person will likely die without any medical treatment. Single dose of 100 rem will cause nausea and skin reddening and 25 rem of single dose can cause  temporary sterility in men. However, NRC also says that if the radiation is spread out over time instead of being delivered at once, the affects are less severe.

More about how radiations are measured and the current status in Japan in later post.

Image credit: Boston.com/Bigpicture| AP photos|Kyodo News: A radiation detector measures 0.6µSv, exceeding normal day data on Mar 15 near Tokyo station.

Data credit: CDC, NRC, NRC

Leave a Comment March 21, 2011

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