Extra Delicious Andhra Chicken Recipe!

Andhra Pradesh is a region known for its spicy yummy chicken recipes. I don’t think there is anybody who hasn’t tasted the Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani. Anyway, the chicken recipe that I am going to describe in this article is less spicy but still incredibly tasty. If you are a fan of such a dish, then read on. The ingredients for this dish are readily available in any market. My dad prepared this first time about 2 years ago. Today being Choti Diwali and me being at my aunt’s house I thought I should give it a try. I rang up my dad in the morning and he sent me this recipe. Here it goes:

Ingredients

(You may modify this according to the quantity of chicken you bought.)

  • Chicken (cut in medium pieces) – 800 gm
  • Onion (cut in long thin pieces) – 1
  • Tomato (cut in four pieces) – 2
  • Ginger (one inch piece) – 1
  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Poppy Seeds (Khus Khus) – 3 Teaspoons (soaked in water for 10 to 12 minutes)
  • Turmeric Powder – 1/2 Teaspoon
  • Red Chilly Powder – 1 Teaspoon
  • Saffron – 1/2 Teaspoon
  • Lemon Juice – 2 Teaspoon
  • Coriander Powder – 1 Tablespoon
  • Cooking Oil – 5 Tablespoon
  • Coconut (small)  – 1
  • Curd (yogurt) – 1 cup
  • Salt – To taste

The utensil that you must use for this preparation is a frying pan with thick bottom. Wide area is required as the water needs to boil out. (Many vendors inject water into the chicken meat to increase it’s mass. This can add extra water to your dish, so be careful.)

Preparation

  • Scrape the coconut and collect the coconut milk (if this is not possible, ready made coconut milk is available.)
  • Heat the oil in the frying pan
  • Add the ginger, garlic and soaked Poppy Seeds into the oil
  • After a couple of minutes add the onion pieces and fry until light golden brown
  • Add the tomato slices and fry for 1 minute
  • Reduce the flame
  • Add coriander powder and cook for 2 minutes
  • Add chicken pieces
  • Add the turmeric and chilly powder
  • Add salt
  • Cook for 5 to 7 minutes in medium flame
  • Add curd and mix well
  • Once the curd has been absorbed well into the curry, add saffron
  • Add coconut milk
  • Wait until the gravy becomes moderately thick
  • Turn off the flame
  • Add lemon juice before serving (optional)

So this is the recipe. I hope you will love it. If there is any doubt or feedback, please feel free to comment below. Bon appetit!

Yes! You can study Physics after Engineering!

Yes, you read the title right. It is indeed possible to become a physicist after you have completed your undergraduate degree in engineering (BE, B.Tech or BS). In fact it is a good way of switching fields if you feel that engineering is not your cup of tea and pure and applied sciences would have been a better option. Sadly, it is often frowned upon by people when someone wants to switch from engineering to physics. The good news however is that there are many institutes and universities both in India and abroad that allow engineers to pursue a masters degree and doctorate in physics if they so choose.

Before I get to the crux of the matter, I need to issue a warning. It is not an easy task to switch from engineering to physics. Most institutes require the candidate to have an understanding of basic physics so as to crack the entrance examinations and/or the interview thereafter. However, we have plenty of coaching institutes in our country that train anyone interested in physics with the required materials. I am not going to endorse any particular coaching center but if you are interested and your pocket allows you, then it would be great if you can join one of those centers. If instead you wish to do self study for the entrance examinations, there is an abundance of materials available for you online and otherwise.

So, why switch from engineering to physics? Frankly speaking, physics offers less money compared to engineering. If you are a computer science graduate, you can literally mint money while working in the corporate sector. But there are certain types of people (including me) who are much more passionate about the universe and its workings and putting such people in engineering is simply going to make them miserable. They might become good engineers but at the back of their head there will always be a feeling that they could have done better in pure science. If you are one of those, then read on as this can be an eye opener.

Few years ago when I expressed my interest in switching fields from engineering to physics, I had to go through the same “Indian mentality” comments from everywhere. People simply cannot get their head around the fact that one’s passion is just as important as career prospects. I can give you a couple of scenarios. If you want to do an MBA after your B.Tech, nobody bats eyelid. If you want to do Civil Service after your B.Tech, nobody says anything either. If you want to write bank exams after your B.Tech, even then nobody will say anything. But the moment you tell people that you want to pursue physics, astronomy, oceanography or some other field related to pure and applied science, suddenly people react to it asking “Why do you want to do physics?

Anyway, the following are the institutes in India and abroad that allow engineers to pursue an advanced degree in physics or related subjects:

India

Masters Level (MSc and MS)
  • University of Delhi – New Delhi
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University – New Delhi
  • Central University of Haryana – Mahendragarh
  • University of Pune – Pune
  • Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology – Thiruvananthapuram
  • Lovely Professional Univesity – Phagwara
Doctorate Level (PhD and Integrated-PhD)
  • Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics – Pune
  • Tata Institute of Fundamental Research – Mumbai
  • Indian Insitute of Science Education and Research – Various
  • Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology

Abroad

Masters Level (MSc and MS)
  • Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – Canary Islands, Spain
  • International Space University – Strausbourg, France
  • Chalmers University of Technology – Göteborg, Sweden
  • Lulea University of Technology – Lulea, Sweden
  • The University of Manchester – Manchester, England
  • Queen Mary University of London – London, England
  • Ruhr University at Bochum – Bochum, Germany
  • Julius-Maxmillians Universitat Wurzburg – Wurzburg, Germany
  • Observatoire de Paris-Meudon – Paris, France
  • Western University – London, Canada
  • York University – Toronto, Canada
  • Swinburne University of Technology – Melbourne, Australia
  • University of Basel – Basel, Switzerland
  • University of Duisburg-Essen – Essen, Germany
  • University of Porto – Porto, Portugal
  • University of Surrey – Surrey, England
  • University of North Dakota – Grand Forks, United States
  • Rochester Institute of Technology – Rochester, United States
  • Florida Institute of Technology – Melbourne, FL, United States

A caveat I take here is that I compiled the list of foreign institutes almost 5 years ago. I am not sure of the accuracy of these today. However, at the time of compilation of this list, all these institutes had written in their respective websites that they take engineering graduates for a masters degree in physics, astronomy or related subjects. I suggest you contact these institutes individually and find out.

In addition to these institutes, there are institutes that fall under the “may be” category. That is those institutes that may take an engineer for a masters or doctorate programme in physics. It will depend on their requirements and your eligibility. But I will provide a list of such institutes as well just in case:

  • University of Groningen – Groningen, The Netherlands
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven – Leuven, Belgium
  • University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • International University in Bremen – Bremen, Germany
  • University of Southern Queensland – Toowoomba, Australia
  • University of Oulu – Oulu, Finland
  • University of Hertfordshire – Hertfordshire, England
  • University of Glasgow – Glasgow, Scotland
  • Heidelberg University – Heidelberg, Germany
  • University of Bonn – Bonn, Germany
  • Aarhus University – Aarhus, Denmark
  • Copenhagen University – Copenhagen,    Denmark
  • University of British Columbia – Vancouver, Canada
  • University of Calgary – Calgary, Canada
  • University of Manitoba – Winnipeg, Canada
  • Queen’s University – Kingston, Canada
  • Universite Paris Diderot – Paris, France
  • University of Sussex – Sussex, England
  • Curtin University – Bentley, Australia
  • University of Adelaide – Adelaide, Australia
  • University of Oslo – Oslo, Norway
  • University of Tromso – Tromso, Norway
  • University of Silesia – Katowice, Poland
  • Rheinische Friedrich – Whilhelms Univeritat Bonn – Bonn, Germany
  • Jacobs University Bremen – Bremen, Germany
  • University of Helsinki – Helsinki, Finland
  • University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • University of Ferrara – Ferrara, Italy
  • People’s Friendship University – Moscow, Russia
  • Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg – Nuremberg, Germany
  • University of Rostock – Rostock, Germany
  • Technische Universität München – Munich, Germany
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – Munich, Germany
  • Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena – Jena, Germany
  • Technical University of Vienna – Vienna, Austria
  • Bonn-Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy – Cologne, Germany
  • University of Trieste – Trieste, Italy
  • University of Trento – Trento, Italy
  • University of Bologna – Bologna, Italy
  • University of Cergy-Pontoise – Cergy-Pontoise, France
  • Ecole normale supérieure    Paris    France
  • Stockholm University    Stockholm    Sweden
  • Monash University    Melbourne    Australia
  • University of Tokyo    Tokyo    Japan
  • University of Nagoya – Nagoya, Japan
  • University of Osaka – Osaka, Japan
  • University of Keio – Tokyo, Japan
  • ETH Zurich – Zurich, Switzerland
  • University of Jyvaskyla – Jyvaskyla, Finland
  • University of Milan – Milan, Italy
  • University of Pisa – Pisa, Italy
  • University of Turin – Turin, Italy
  • Kings College – London, England
  • University of Toronto – Toronto, Canada
  • University of Alberta – Alberta, Canada
  • University of Ottawa – Ottawa, Canada
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology – Tokyo, Japan
  • University Observatory Munich – Munich, Germany
  • University of Marburg – Marburg, Germany
  • National University of Singapore – Singapore

Mind you, this list is in the “may be” category. Unlike the previous lists, these universities may or may not admit engineers for a science programme. So don’t come and complain here if your application gets rejected by any of these universities. In fact I don’t take guarantee for the previous lists either. Your admission to any institute in the world is a sum total of a variety of parameters and your ability in qualifying each one of them. No university is obliged to take you just because you applied. However, switching fields to physics after engineering is a long sought after information among many aspirants especially in India and I thought that I should write this article.

If you have noticed, the lists here do not follow any particular order. They are not arranged according to country or rankings of universities. The reason is that the list wasn’t compiled in a day. It was the culmination of many years of searching. Thus this list was made as and when I found relevant information. I am sure you have experienced posting on some physics forums about your interest in switching fields to physics and the backlash that comes from the “intellectuals” of those forums. All you get is some mockery and misinformation. For sometime, I had to face that until I decided to figure this out myself. It was not easy but it was fun finding information. I started putting whatever information I could find in an excel sheet. I think it is time to give out this information so that any engineer out there who wants to switch fields to pure science can do so with as little hassle as possible.

If you have any doubts regarding what I mentioned here, feel free to comment. I believe that I have done my part in telling you where to get what you want. The rest is up to you. Prepare well for the entrance examinations of these institutes and apply on time. The time has finally arrived for you to pursue your dreams. All the best!

God of the Aquarium!

cosmos-a-space-time-odysseyI just finished watching an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey for the nth time. It is a warm evening with no beer. I resisted buying one for reasons unknown to me. I went out and had an Egg Burji from the street food vendor, bought a coke bottle and curd and returned to my room. It has now become a routine for me to stand on the terrace in the evening with a soft drink while staring at the stars and pondering existence. Today’s blog post is an idea that I had conceived a while ago. Many people believe that I am in some type of mission to disprove God’s existence. That is far from the truth. My mission through my blog posts is to elucidate my point of view. Atheists are sadly some of the most misunderstood and mistrusted people on planet earth and if I could make a small but significant contribution in clarifying our position, I would consider that a success.

The scale of our universe is enormous. This is a phrase repeated time and again in various TV shows such as Cosmos, The Universe, Through the Wormhole and the like. But how many of us truly stop for a second and let that idea sink in? Most of us simply watch the awe inspiring visuals of these programmes and forget it. We are Homo sapiens ; the thinking beings. Whether you like it or not, faith is not an excuse to stop thinking. It took just 4 centuries for us to move from the Dark Ages to achieving monumental feats like landing a man on the Moon. All thanks to the precision, tenacity and dedication of several visionaries. Brave men and women who were never afraid to question authority and challenge dogma and forge new ideas in the cauldrons of their minds about our understanding of the universe. They were the pioneers; the giants on whose shoulders we stand today.

Antibiotics - Printed Diagnosis with Blurred Text. On Background of Medicaments Composition - Red Pills, Injections and Syringe.

My question is, why then are there a vast majority of people in the world who comfortably embrace the benefits of modern science and yet want to hold onto medieval/pre-medieval superstitions and bronze age myths? If it wasn’t for the scientific method, we wouldn’t have things like antibiotics and organ transplant that is saving millions of lives every year. Often times I encounter people who ask me the question, “Has science been able to create artificial life?” or make statements like, “Science cannot explain everything“. Somehow according to them what science hasn’t yet achieved gives them room for God. The task I give to such people is to study the history of science and technology and see what they can infer from it. It’s not surprising that no one has taken up that task. If they did take up the task, they will find that throughout the history of science there have been people who made questions and statements like the one I just mentioned. And every time they have been proven wrong.

Once upon a time nobody believed that the sound barrier could be broken. I invite them to have a look at the supersonic jets and rockets of today. Heavier than air flying machine was thought to be impossible. Communication without wires was thought to be impossible. Splitting of atom was thought to be impossible. In fact in 1894 the famous physicist Albert Michelson said, “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.” Perhaps he meant well when he said this. However when we fast forward 3 years in 1897 the electron was discovered by Sir J. J Thompson thereby opening up a whole new world within our world. This is what happens every time in science. People point out at something that hasn’t been achieved by science as proof of science’s inability to do so. And time and again they are proven wrong.

Science requires a certain perspective to understand. Without such a perspective, it is nothing more than a boring set of laws and equations that are meant only for the nerds. Two years ago I had written a post called The Purpose of Life. It was about a question that was posed to me by a colleague of mine. Unlike the “triggers” of the infamous social justice warriors, this trigger was a good one. It prompted me to write a blog post. I will come to the main premise of today’s post which is the God of the Aquarium. It is actually a thought experiment devised by me a few years ago. If anyone is ready to take up the task, they are welcome to think about the following:

amaterske_akvariumImagine you wanted an aquarium in your living room. You can either build one or buy an already built one from a vendor. Let’s assume that you decided to build one. You bought the glass, the cement, sand, pebbles, aquatic plants and most importantly the fancy fishes. In addition, you need a setup for the lighting and filters for the water. By investing several hours or even days you finally build your aquarium with the sand, pebbles and aquatic plants at the bottom and all your beautiful fishes moving around in the water above. A good lighting and filtering system would make it a sight worth seeing and a crown jewel adorning your living room. All that is very nice but I have a simple question for you – “Have you ever thought about the little bacteria, viruses.algae, fungi and other microbial organisms living on the little specks of sand at the bottom of your aquarium?” They are also part of your aquarium and contribute to the biochemical activities of it. They are instrumental in many ways in maintaining the ecological balance of the system. And yet you are not feeding it like you would feed the fishes. You are not even bothered they exist. What difference would it make to you whether the bacteria on a little speck of sand lives or dies?

Now hold these thoughts for a moment. In the second paragraph I said that the scale of the universe is enormous. The observable universe is almost 93 billion light years in diameter (yes, it is a billion with a b!). That is just the observable part. The light from beyond that cosmic horizon hasn’t reached us yet and therefore we do not know what lies beyond. And even in the observable part of the universe there is so much yet to be discovered. In this humongous universe of ours, where is planet Earth? We live in a planet that revolves around an average star that resides in just one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, which is one of the galaxies in a Local Group of about 54 galaxies including our Milky Way and Andromeda. And our Local Group is part of something called the Virgo Supercluster which contains over 100 such galaxy groups. The Virgo Supercluster is part of an even bigger supercluster called the Laniakea which consists of three other superclusters namely Hydra-Centaurus, Pavo-Indus and the Southern Supercluster. It has an estimated 100,000 galaxies in it. Scientists have calculated that there are roughly 10 million superclusters in the observable universe. These 10 million superclusters give a mesh-like appearance to our universe at very large scales.

exoplanet20151006-16The first exoplanet orbiting a main sequence star was discovered in 1995. It was named 51 Pegasi b. It is a hot Jupiter which takes about 4.2 earth days to orbit its parent star. Since then planetary scientists have discovered thousands of them. As of September 2016, there have been 3,518 confirmed discoveries in 2,635 planetary systems and 595 multiple planetary systems. That’s a huge number of planets within 21 years. It is safe to assume now that most stars do have planets orbiting them thereby making planets outnumber the stars. This means that there must be billions of planets out there in the observable universe. The recent discovery of Proxima Centauri b added another planet in the list of potentially habitable planets which you can see here. There is every likelihood that there are billions of intelligent civilizations in the universe. And our earth is just one speck of sand in the vast cosmic ocean.

Now think about your aquarium. Just as you don’t care much about the bacteria living on a speck of sand at the bottom of your aquarium, do you really think that a God or Supreme Being or Intelligent Designer who created a universe the scale of which blows our imagination would have any special preference to a particular species of creatures on planet earth? Why would he/she/it have kind of “soft corner” for our species at all? We are just living in a planet that is totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Is there any logical reason God could care about us more than any other intelligent alien civilization which is most likely out there? So what conclusion can you draw from this thought experiment?

Think about it!

Image Courtesy:

Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey – https://fanart.tv/fanart/tv/260586/tvposter/cosmos-a-space-time-odyssey-531e9d1f246dd.jpg
Antibiotics – http://www.iran-daily.com/content/imgcache/file/147167/0/image_650_365.jpg
Aquarium – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Amaterske_akvarium.jpg
51 Pegasi b – http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/exoplanet/20151006/exoplanet20151006-16.jpg

Five Bruce Lee Myths That Never Die!

Since Bruce Lee’s death, myths and misconceptions about his lifestyle, fighting system and martial philosophy have been spread across the world and it continues to this day. Some of these misconceptions are grounded in certain realities while others are outright falsehoods. Plenty of die hard fans of Bruce Lee have objected to these myths in the past but somehow they have survived. While growing up even I had heard of many myths which I found to be incredible when I was a kid. When I found out the truth behind these misconceptions, I was not shocked. Instead I felt that Bruce Lee was a legend that went out of control in the minds of people.

In this article I will discuss the myths that I personally heard from people who are close to me. I am sure they will keep you interested.

Myth 1: Bruce Lee was a Karate artist

This is perhaps the most widely believed Bruce Lee myth. Even in a recent episode of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Kunal Nayyar mentions Bruce Lee and his Karate which made me think why hasn’t this myth died yet. It is true that during his stay in the United States, Lee was associated with several martial artists many of whom were Karate experts. His students, friends and fellow martial artists such as Ed Parker, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura and Chuck Norris are good examples of this. However, Bruce himself didn’t practice Karate as far as my understanding goes. In fact he despised the idea of style itself during his later years. He adopted a training system which he called Jeet Kune Do that was highly adaptable and flexible and discarded the notion a rigid set of rules in combat. His original training was in Wing Chun kung fu from Grandmaster Ip Man which he couldn’t complete since he moved to the United States. From then on he started adopting techniques from different fighting systems such as Boxing, Fencing etc. Perhaps he did adopt some methods from Karate as well. But he was never a Karate “artist” as most people believe.

Myth 2: Bruce Lee started with Kung Fu but later switched to Karate

This came from my old Karate master. He is a great martial artist but this particular information from him was not entirely accurate. It is true that there is a famous martial artist who started with kung fu but later switched to Karate. However, that man is not Bruce Lee. His name is Masutatsu Oyama. The Wikipedia article on Oyama clearly describes this transition. Oyama, born Choi Young-Eui was a Korean martial artist who initially trained in Chinese martial arts while he was living in his sister’s farm in Northeastern China. His first teacher according to the article was a farmer named Li who worked in that farm. Later he moved to Japan aspiring to become a fighter pilot. He obtained his higher education in Japan and also training in Karate. He trained under Gigo and Gichin Funakoshi in Shotokan style and under So Nei Chu in Goju Ryu style Karate. He also attained 4th Dan in Judo. He went on to develop his own version of Karate which is today known as Kyokushin. Somehow this story was wrongly associated with Bruce Lee. Actually there was a funny poster I saw online of Enter the Dragon written in Malayalam which was released in Kerala many years after Bruce Lee’s death. Unfortunately I am unable to find it now. In that it is written “Kharatte!” in Malayalam script which is a mispronunciation of Karate. Anyway, I think this myth has been debunked for you.

Myth 3: Bruce Lee killed and smashed horns of bulls

This is another incident that is real but wrongly associated with Bruce Lee. It is said that Bruce Lee fought with 50 bulls in the streets of Hong Kong of which he killed 2 and broke the horns of 48. An incredible story indeed but it is not Lee who is the central character in it. It is again part of Mas Oyama’s biography that is incorrectly attributed to Lee. In the “About the Author” section of the 1967 book by Mas Oyama titled Vital Karate, it is clearly written that it was Oyama who performed this incredible feat. However, he didn’t do it in one shot. It was a collection of feats throughout his lifetime. And the real numbers are like this – there were 52 bulls of which 3 were killed and 48 had their horns snapped. And Oyama achieved this score over a long period of time. So the next time someone tells you this, correct that person with the right version of the story.

Myth 4: Bruce Lee drank goat blood

No he did not! Bruce Lee used to have a unique diet that let him practice his martial arts in the most effective way. One of the items in his diet was a special protein shake that he prepared using raw beef. If you search online you will find the recipe of this shake which includes raw beef, egg and milk. I don’t know how protein milk shake became goat blood while traveling from United States to India. To be fair, there are some sources online that claim that Bruce used to drink cow blood but later stopped since he couldn’t sterilize it. Anyway, unless I find a reliable source for Lee’s blood drinking, this will remain a myth.

Myth 5: Bruce Lee was murdered with poisonous gas

This is the granddaddy of all Bruce Lee myths. Many people have told me this – “Bruce Lee was brutally murdered inside the bathroom using poisonous gas.” Unfortunately it is not true! Lee did die a mysterious death causing speculation about a possible murder. And over the years especially after his son’s death the rumor grew to epic proportions. People theorized that both Bruce and his son Brandon were a threat to someone and that is why they were eliminated one after the other. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are many factors that led to Lee’s death. Most importantly, his tendency of misadventure. In Malayalam we can say ഓവർ അഭ്യാസം! During his later years he had a terrible weight loss from 70 to 60 kg and people who had met him during that time confirmed that he looked unhealthy, paranoid and depressed. In addition to this he was sensitive to certain pain killers such as Equagesic, Doloxene and Dilantin. He had a spine injury in the sacral nerve in 1970 for which he had been taking Doloxene. This coupled with the fact that he was a workaholic perfectionist would have led to his eventual death. On the day of his death he did take Equagesic for a headache after which he went into a nap from which he never woke up. Two months prior to that he had been diagnosed with Cerebral Edema when he fainted during the dubbing session of Enter the Dragon. So that is settled. Bruce Lee died of medical causes. There was no conspiracy against him and he was never a threat to anyone.

As I said, these are the myths about Bruce Lee I grew up listening to from many people. If there are any more myths that you want me to address, please let me know and I will include them.

Kerala Ginger Curry (Inji Curry) Recipe

Image of ginger curry

Ginger Curry

Ginger Curry or Inji Curry in Malayalam is perhaps the tastiest of all curries in Kerala cuisine. According to legends, a good ginger curry is equivalent to 1000 curries.  Vararuchi was a brahmin in ancient Kerala. He used to travel to distant places and during his trips he used to have food from the Brahmin families he visited in those places. One day he visited a house and was attracted to the daughter of the family. He however wanted to test her before he proposed his interest to marry her. So he asks her to prepare him food with 1000 curries.

The girl’s mother was baffled because she thought it was impossible to prepare 1000 curries in such a short time. However, the clever girl asked her not to worry and prepared Inji Curry. Vararuchi was very impressed with the meal that consisted of rice and just Ginger Curry. Since then Ginger Curry is said to be equivalent to 1000 curries.

If you are interested in preparing this legendary dish as it is prepared in my native Quilon (Kollam) district, then here is how you can do it.

Ingredients

  • 100 gm of ginger (peeled and cut in small, thin pieces)
  • 15 large shallots (peeled and cut in small, thin pieces)
  • 6 green chillies (cut in small pieces)
  • Tamarind of the size of a small Indian Gooseberry (Amla)
  • 6 garlics (peeled and cut in small pieces)
  • 15 curry leaves
  • Asafoetida (1 cm diameter piece)
  • Pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Fenugreek

Preparation

  • Put the tamarind in water and stir until it becomes a juice.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a pan and deep fry the ginger pieces until golden brown and set aside.
  • Repeat the procedure with the shallots.
  • Repeat the procedure with the 15 curry leaves and 6 garlics.
  • Once all the fried items have cooled down, you have to mix them and grind them into a paste by adding a little water.
  • Filter the oil that you have used for frying and use it again to fry a small piece of asafoetida. Once fried, you have to powder it.
  • Heat the mustard in the same oil after you have taken out the asafoetida.
  • Once the mustard starts popping reduce the flame and add 2 spoons of coriander powder and 1 spoon of red chilli powder to it. Immediately after that add the paste that you had prepared before. Make sure that there is no more than 2 seconds delay since the chilli powder may get burned out.
  • Once you have stirred it well, add the tamarind juice along with salt and two pinches of fenugreek.
  • Add powdered asafoetida and pepper to this.

This is the Kollam style ginger curry. Try it out and let me know how it tastes. This can be a side dish for both rice as well as drinks.

Image Courtesy:

Lazzy Cook (http://lazzycook.blogspot.in)

Mars One – Aren’t We Going Too Fast?

Mars One is perhaps the hottest news in the aerospace and astrophysics fields. It gives hope to our species as a next step in becoming in a multi-planet civilization. This highly ambitious project of landing groups of brave men and women on the red planet does however have its fair share of critics some of whom include researchers at MIT and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. So I am curious to ask. Aren’t we going too fast with this project? Is 2024 the right time for human settlement in Mars?

Lessons from the Past

Every space mission prior to this have had several trial runs. For example the lunar missions involved first sending an orbiter around the moon followed by impactors/landers. While America went onto send humans to the moon the Soviet Union did unmanned sample returns. So it is clear that space missions to any celestial body should be done in stages.

NASA and other space agencies including India and Japan have achieved orbiting and landing capabilities on other celestial bodies. Therefore unmanned missions to Mars with the capability of returning samples from Mars in my opinion should be the next stage. Russia in 2011 attempted the Fobos-Grunt which was a sample return mission to the satellite of Mars called Phobos. The failure of the mission to even leave the Earth orbit proves how difficult it would be to pull off ambitious space programs.

When we talk about Mars missions, most of us only look at the success stories. We must all take a look at the number of Mars missions by both America and the Soviet Union which failed.

The Challenges

The challenges involved in long term spaceflight are quite different compared to missions to Earth orbit or even to the Moon. The biggest challenge is communication. Calculations show that the time delay for radio signals between Earth and Mars can vary from 3 minutes to up to 22 minutes depending on the position of the two planets at any given time. This makes all sorts of “real time” communication known to us useless. It is possible to have a web server orbiting around Mars that periodically synchronizes with servers on Earth. That way a copy of the world wide web can be provided for the astronauts in Mars. Emails can also be taken care with this solution.

However, the early astronauts going to Mars are not going there to use YouTube and Facebook. Their mission can go critical anytime and the time delay between the two planets will make a distress call an impossibility. Further, even if distress call does reach Earth, there is no way a rescue team can be sent and by the time a communication is sent back, the mishap could have already occurred.

This brings us to the second challenge – training. What type of training can equip a person to handle critical situations in an alien environment with no hope of getting help? Can the team be divided in qualifications or should every team member have all the qualifications. I remember one of my previous professors who said that a degree in medical sciences is important for every astronauts going to Mars despite their work. So dual degree specializations like engineering + medicine or physics + medicine should in his opinion become part of learning curriculum for astronauts to Mars. The justification he gave was that no crew would want to be in a situation where their only doctor is dead.

But is medicine the only compulsory specialization? How about instrumentation? Shouldn’t the astronauts who wishes to colonize Mars be masters in instrumentation? Teaching every crew member in everything will increase the cost and not teaching would be risky. So there is a tradeoff between cost and risk. According to Mars One website, the crew will undergo training starting this year until 2024. That is a total of 9 years training. It would be amazing if the crew does survive that training.

The Return

Some candidates selected for Mars One have told that many English people migrated to Australia and never returned. That may be true, but if they really want to return to England they can do that tomorrow. Christopher Columbus did return to Spain after his voyage to the West Indies. Vasco da Gama did return to Portugal after his voyage to India.

I am not being paranoid but let me give a scenario. Like in many science fiction movies, what if there is a life form on Mars that we haven’t yet found? What if this life form infects humans in negative ways? In such scenarios, the uninfected/unaffected crew members must have an option to escape the planet.

There is a difference between being brave and being foolhardy. A mission to Mars is amazing. But it shouldn’t be a suicide mission and definitely not a one-way trip. Even if the intention is to colonize the planet the crew members should have a chance to return home if the mission fails. And when it comes to Mars missions, the past teaches us that failure is part and parcel of it.

The Right Method

With all the problems described above, going to Mars is certainly the most risky and the most costly exploration program ever conceived. As Dr. Tyson already pointed out, private companies aren’t interested in investing in an endeavor with so many unknown parameters and huge risk. According to him this can cause Mars One to fail to get funding.

Should we then abandon the mission? Of course not! We are explorers by nature. Mars One or any other similar missions should never be abandoned. However, there must be some tweaks done to the existing methodology. As I said before, it should be done in stages. The following is a rough sketch of what can be done.

  • Sample Return – All space agencies in the world including the private ones should at least try one unmanned mission that involves going to Mars, taking samples and returning them to Earth. The more such missions we try, the better equipped we will become in preparing for a human spaceflight. This will also teach us about landing and take off with heavy payload on Mars.
  • Manned Orbiter Missions – It is a good idea to send a manned orbiter mission around Mars. Astronauts can spend a few orbits around the planet and return. This will simulate all the necessary physiological and psychological aspects in deep space missions. simulate long term manned spaceflight by send humans in an orbit around the Sun.
  • Space Stations – Orbiting space stations around Mars is a solution to the safety and return problem. The backup crew can live in the space station while the landing party conducts their business. Further, the landing party can come aboard the space station for the backup crew to go down. This will ensure better efficiency. In addition, during distress, the entire mission is not at risk. Perhaps a secondary landing party can be deployed to investigate problems. At least there will be one person to come back and tell the story.
  • Data Banks – Huge data banks with information crafted by specialists from around the world should form the primary reference of the astronauts in addition to the internet facility that I mentioned before. Every possible scenario involving medicine, engineering, planetary geology, biotechnology etc. that the astronauts might find themselves in should be thought out and the solutions must be given. It may take months, years or even decades to develop. But it needs to be done nevertheless.

Conclusion

Though a huge fan of Mars missions, I think we as a species are still not equipped with the technological prowess to pull off a manned trip like Mars One. I certainly believe that we are going too fast with the Mars One mission. 2024 is only 9 years away and we still haven’t fully understood the effects of long term manned space missions in deep space. The only data we have are from long term space station missions and the psychological impacts on the astronauts and cosmonauts who spend a long time in space are not that good. A well planned and well coordinated effort is the way to go. There is no need to rush. There is no space race between any superpowers these days.

References

A Case for Homemade Alcohol in Kerala

I am pretty sure my dear readers are well aware of the political situation regarding availability of alcohol in Kerala, my home state. Considered one of the prominent states in India with regards to consumption of alcohol, Keralites have been criticized even by the former President of India who said that Kerala is submerged in liquor. But I am tempted to ask – are things so bad in Kerala?

Some Statistics

According to the World Health Organization census of 2010, India is not even on the top 100 highest drinking nations. If I counted the list right, India ranks 118th which is in no way a bad thing especially by the fact that India is the second most populous country in the world. Now what is the status of Kerala? According to the National Sample Survey Office, Kerala ranks 18th in the consumption of alcohol and other habit forming substances. A state ranked 18th in a country that is ranked 118th globally statistically adds up to nothing in the grand scheme of things. I think more reforms should happen in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Arunachal Pradesh than here.

The Sad State of Affairs

From the lessons we learned from statistics, it is clear that most of the issues that the media and the government is painting for us follows the Malayalam phrase – ഊതി പെരുപ്പിക്കൽ (Oothi Perupikkal) which means “blowing out of proportion”. For little or no reason this subject is brought up in the news to create some kind of a sensationalism to push forward an agenda. And the last time I checked, it has not done anyone any good. I will give a few examples:

  • The Dry Day Nonsense – “Dry Day” is a day that is observed with total abstinence from liquor. Theoretically it should mean no one consumes liquor on that particular day. But is it working? For the past few years Kerala has been observing “Dry Day” on the 1st of every month. That’s great but one should note that the clever people here buy and stock their required alcohol on the previous day itself. Recently a new “Dry Day” has been imposed on Sundays. Has that changed anything? Absolutely not. People are buying and stocking on Saturdays. So what is this game that the government is playing? Creating an impression that it is doing something and in effect doing nothing!
  • Capitalizing on a Non-Issue – Till date I haven’t understood what the anti-alcohol fellows really want. Last day I heard in the news that tourists are coming to Kerala not for drinking but for sight seeing. That may be true, but how many tourist spots are there across the world where alcohol is banned? Not many I guess. I will let the readers Google that for me. Banning liquor altogether or restricting it in unrealistic ways is going to adversely affect the tourism in Kerala which is an excellent source of revenue for the state. The curious aspect of this problem is that a total ban is not going to be implemented in many five star hotels. So what is going on here? Banning the local bars and liquor shops but letting the big fishes run does not seem fair and proper. It looks more like a sinister agenda which the government is liable to explain.
  • Accidents and Crimes – Most people site accidents and rising crime levels on alcohol consumption. I am not sure whether that correlation is correct. Crimes take place due to several factors most of which are poverty, competition, disputes, intolerance, ignorance and plain hatred. Alcohol may aggravate these situations and tendencies but that is not the only factor. A violent and evil person will commit a crime even if he/she is not intoxicated. And is alcohol the only intoxicant? These days even young students in schools are coming up with increasingly fancy methods to intoxicate themselves (including smelling the paper correction liquid) thereby coming under the influence of anti-social elements. Next is the possibility of accidents. For that all I can say is that even sober people cannot drive properly in the roads of Kerala let alone an intoxicated one. I think if the government moves forward with reforms in constructing better roads than wasting time on non-issues, we will have lesser road accidents, drunken or otherwise.

Considering the sad state of affairs, what can be done so that both people and the government are happy?

An Elegant Solution

This is where the requirement of brewing and distilling at home becomes important. There are several countries where brewing and distilling at home is permitted and I think the people of Kerala should adopt that practice and the government should allow the same by making it legal. Of course it should be restricted to only personal use as it is done in the countries where it is legal. It is not only an elegant solution but I think it is the only solution in our current circumstances. The following are some of the advantages of brewing liquor at home:

  • Regulated Drinking – A proper liquor requires time and effort from inception to consumption. It can span from a few days to several years depending on the type of liquor being produced. With all the efforts involved in producing good quality liquor from brewing to distilling to aging in wooden barrels, the producers won’t feel like doing binge drinking which is touted up as a major problem in the state. In fact the person will start respecting his health more and will drink only within the healthy limits as is done in most countries known for drinking.
  • Understanding Scientific Method – An educated person knows that knowledge of chemistry can improve the quality of medicines, food and of course liquor. Creating a better brew will push the person to learn more about the chemistry behind the processes involved thereby giving him a deeper understanding and insights into science. From setting up the apparatus to monitoring progress to making notes about changes and patterns are all part of scientific method and liquor brewing is a fantastic hobby to inspire scientific thinking.
  • Quality at Low Cost – Taxation on liquor is seriously a big problem. And is the liquor sold in Kerala worth the money spent? Certainly not! The “Indian Made Foreign Liquor” is one of the most idiotic liquids I have ever consumed. It tastes bad to say the least and has all sorts of additives that creates the feeling “Why on Earth did I even drink it?” So why bother spending all that money on something which is nothing more than flavor mixed spirit? Buying an imported liquor is not possible for many people. But if they can follow the exact procedure in producing imported liquor at the comfort of their homes, they can have the quality that they desire at a much lower cost. Further, the creative hobby of homebrewing and distilling also lets people customize the process to produce the flavor and feel that they like the most.
  • Solving a Paradox – Wine which contains alcohol anywhere from 8% to 20% is allowed to be made at home. Beer which has only 5% to 6% alcohol is not allowed. That makes no sense. Why can’t I make beer at home when I can make wine?

If government wants to forfeit their revenue made from liquor that is fine with me. But please let people make their own stuff for their own personal use. Even if the government implements a total ban, what is the guarantee that there won’t be an illegal inflow of liquor from outside?

A Caveat

I believe my point has been made clear. Some information I have given in this article are referenced whereas others are my own assumptions and inferences and should be taken as such. But the readers should not misunderstand me. I neither endorse alcoholism nor intend to promote drinking habits among any person from any place in any form. Further, this article should not be taken as a motivation to produce alcohol without permission. Drinking like any other habits should be restricted to people who have attained the age to make their own choices and decisions. However, I couldn’t help but point out the seemingly nonsensical ways by which the current government is creating an issue just to show that they are doing something.

References

Mars Orbiter Mission – The Journey Ahead

Mars Orbiter Mission - "Mangalyaan"

Mars Orbiter Mission – “Mangalyaan” (Artist’s Impression)

It makes me proud to write the sequel to the article I had written on 5th November 2013, the day India launched her first mission to Mars. The remarkable level of precision achieved by ISRO scientists while inserting the Mars Orbiter spacecraft also known as Mangalyaan into orbit this morning shows the technological prowess that the country has achieved ever since it started its space programme.

Today as ISRO is celebrating its most critical success, I can’t help but remember the scene from the film Contact where Eleanor Arroway played by Jodie Foster talks about what it means to be a visionary. Seeing far into the future is the mark of all visionaries especially those working on space programmes. It takes a lot of thinking to stop oneself from asking the question, “Will this help common people?” I was asked the same question back on 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider was started. Whether scientific endeavors help people immediately is not the right question to ask in my opinion.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous writings, it is hard to predict what would come out of a new scientific project. For example, nobody knew that nonstick frying pans, PET Scans, WiFi and other things that make our lives more meaningful would come out of research in space sciences and technology. These are things that came as spinoffs while scientists worked on various space related projects. Thus there is no way we can disregard endeavors into space just because they are too expensive.

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

Since I mentioned expense, the MOM is actually less expensive compared to the Mars missions of other countries such as the USA and the former Soviet Union. Even our neighbor who recently had the audacity to declare hostility to us after a bilateral meeting failed to achieve what we have. Even though the mission is less expensive with a small payload, I think we should look at it as a stepping stone to greater missions.

MOM has made India the only country that succeeded in a Mars mission in the first attempt. It won’t be enough to just admire our scientists on a blog post like this but I have to do it nevertheless. Now that we know how to put a satellite around Mars, the next logical step obviously would be to make a landing. But before going that far we must launch more satellite-like missions. Also I think we should try missions that are similar to the Phobos-Grunt of Russia. The ability to bring back samples from such a far away place should be the next stage in our space programme. Returning to Earth is also important for human missions to Mars. Settlement is one thing but the ability to return to Earth equally important

Since we are developing our indigenous lunar rover, we will also be able to develop a Mars rover like the ones used by NASA. So, looking into the future, I can say that we will soon be able to achieve whatever USA and USSR did during the Cold War era. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the level of success of future missions by ISRO would be even greater than what was achieved by the cold warring nations considering the advancements in technology.

PSLV - The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

PSLV – The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

What more can we think about? Will there be a human spaceflight to Mars by ISRO? Will we overtake NASA before 2030? A quick look at the ISRO website and Wikipedia will reveal that India is indeed taking deep space missions seriously. Next year the solar mission called Aditya – 1 and a mission to Venus is planned by ISRO. And there are preparations already underway for a human spaceflight of a crew of two. And of course there is the Chandrayaan – 2, which as I mentioned before will use a rover.

Thus the time is not far before Indian astronauts walk the surface of Moon and Mars and also venture into the far reaches of deep space. To quote Star Trek, “To boldly go where no one has gone before” will be and should be the motto of our future endeavors into space. As we advance into a high-tech future social issues such as poverty and war would cease to exist as we become a technologically advanced super civilization!

The Purpose of Life?

G. K. Chesterton once said,  “Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Variations of this quote has been used by many. For example Richard Dawkins has been heard saying, “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” It reflects a slight amount of frustration prevalent among the atheist community to which I also belong. We must be inclusive to other ideas that may or may not contradict with our own but we shouldn’t be too inclusive that it amounts to frustration.

The Uninvited Argument

Recently an interesting incident took place at my workplace. As an atheist I often have uninvited guests who find entertainment in taking up meaningless debates with me. What annoys me is that the people who come to argue with me already make an assumption that I do not know the answers to their questions. Further, they don’t have the patience to listen to the answers I give. And when they find that I do have the answers, they get uncomfortable and impatient and often threatened.

I was talking about a recent Malayalam movie “Prabhuvinte Makkal” to my co-worker. It was an openly atheistic movie targeted against the so called “living Gods”, the frauds who prey on the money of desperate naïve masses. Another co-worker of mine objected to it and I told him that it took me several years to convince myself to become an atheist and that it was not a one day process. He joked saying that it is better for me to find an atheist girl because otherwise there would be conflict everyday. As we were laughing, another colleague of mine arrived at our bay and asked what was being discussed. So my co-worker told, “The subject is atheism“. Immediately he made a statement, “There is definitely a force behind everything in the universe.” Being a fan of Carl Sagan, I knew that if we had to pursue the question of existence courageously, we must ask the next question, “Where did the creator come from?” I did exactly that. An argument ensued thereafter. The following is a rough transcript of it (from my memory):

Colleague: “If you don’t answer with another question, shall I ask you something?”

Me: Sure. But if your answer requires me to counter with a question, I would certainly do that.

Colleague: Okay. Which came first? Chicken or egg?

Me: That’s not a question because egg laying reproduction evolved over time much before birds even came into existence. So I would say it is neither chicken nor the egg that came first.

Colleague: Just because Darwin said something doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Me: Come on! In the past 150 years since Darwin’s work, every possible experiment has been conducted on evolution and it has passed every time. In fact the theory is so powerful that it has been applied in so many different fields. Next time you take an antibiotic, think about Darwin.

Colleague: I won’t do that!

Me: See, this double standard is what makes me irritated. You want all the benefits of science but still want to speak against it.

Colleague: I am not speaking against science. Tell me this – Is there a diameter to the universe?

Me: The observable universe has a diameter of a few billion light years. Why?

Colleague: Has science been able to find out what is beyond that?

Me: No. But does that mean that you should fill in that gap with a God? Shouldn’t we wait for more scientific data to explain things?

Colleague: Where did atoms come from?

Me: Through the process of nucleosynthesis. Initial atoms were formed during a transition from radiation dominated phase to matter dominated phase. Heavier atoms were cooked inside stars.

Colleague: What is the purpose of life?

Me: To propagate our DNA. That’s the prime directive. Everything else is optional.

Colleague: It’s a big question as to whether everything God or everything is science.

My Interpretations

The last statement of his is meaningless and you would have already guessed that the conversation didn’t go well. He didn’t allow me to complete most of the sentences that I have mentioned here. Most of the time he would cut me off and ask the next question. This is a tactic employed by many creationists. The idea is to frustrate the opponent in order to “win” the argument. Finally he said that he will wait for the return of another colleague from long leave so that he will have back up to argue. And after every answer I gave, he was simply smiling and shaking his head like a fool.

The chicken or egg argument is a very funny one. Anyone who cares to look up the evolutionary history will know that egg laying has been there long before birds walked the earth. From fishes to amphibians to reptiles to birds, there is so much convincing evidence for the transition. I have repeatedly written in my previous blog posts about evolution and its applications. Darwin is not the only scientist who worked on evolution. There have been thousands since him but creationists are still stuck with Darwin. Every experiment that one can imagine has been conducted with evolution and every time the theory and its predictions have been proven to be right. If that is not evidence for its correctness I don’t know what is.

By definition universe means all that there is. When we take that definition into consideration, “beyond the diameter of the universe” doesn’t make any sense. Of course, being able to observe is limited by the technology of our time. There may be a multiverse but that is a concept in cosmology that is not agreed upon by many. And my great debater didn’t mention multiverse in his argument because if he had I would have sat with him and discussed some more. According to him, being unable to know what is beyond the observable universe due to lack of advanced technology is somehow evidence for God. He is unwilling to concede to the fact that science is progressive in nature. He can’t accept that what was not known in the past is now known and therefore science will definitely figure out more things in future. How hard is it to grasp?

I am not surprised that many people do not know where atoms came from. Few months ago when I was talking about stellar nucleosynthesis to a friend, he was surprised to know that heavy elements are cooked inside stars. My issue is the reluctance of people to look up and figure things out in this information age. I am not saying that we should run to Google on each and every thing or be in front of the computer reading Wikipedia all the time. But it is definitely advisable to read at least once in a while about subjects like oceanography, astronomy, geology etc. It doesn’t hurt to know how the world we live in works.

Coming to the main topic of this article, what is really the purpose of life? I have been asked many times this question. Being an atheist doesn’t mean we lack any “purpose” in life or any moral values. Just because we exist does not mean that it has to “mean” something or there is some kind of “divine purpose” behind it. We exist because our parents gave birth to us. Since we live in a society, we do have certain obligations to set goals in life and try achieving it but again that is not mandatory. Nobody is forbidding us from going and living in a jungle if we so choose. So do atheists live with ethics and morals? Yes we do. And frankly our morals are in fact found to be far superior to religious people.

What would convince me?

Having said all of this, suppose I agree that there could be a God, what should be the nature of the evidence to convince me? Evidence as I wrote before can be direct or indirect. For example, the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) may contain tell tale signs of a pre-big bang event. Scientists believe that events prior to the big bang event may have produced certain signatures in the CMB that can be detected and interpreted. I am not saying you should go and check CMB for the evidence for God. I am trying to show you the nature of evidence that you should bring to the table. The idea that a God wants to create the universe and maintain it without any shred of his/her/its existence doesn’t digest well in the mind of a person with scientific curiosity.

Now, if you bring a cosmologically significant evidence doesn’t mean I would convert immediately. I will ask for peer-reviewed evaluation of your evidence. It should be scrutinized by other scientists and its validity checked. Further, the experiment you suggest should be repeatable and produce the exact same results. If the scientific community rejects your “evidence”, I wouldn’t accept it either.

Still I will ask the question “Where did the creator come from?” and that my dear readers is a question that creationists keep evading every time. What’s wrong in admitting if we do not know the answer? It’s not an offense to not know an answer. The offense is not accepting that fact and continuing to take up circular arguments that never get anywhere.

So in conclusion, my creationist friends should stop feeling threatened by atheists. We are not evil people with evil agenda just because we don’t agree to your prehistoric beliefs. In fact we are much less evil than you are. And we really don’t need a God to be moral. If you require a God to distinguish from right and wrong then you probably need psychiatric help in my opinion.

Why Study Astrophysics?

The study of our universe

Cosmology – The study of our universe

I am often asked why I am so obsessed with studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology etc. which serves no practical purpose to anyone. The people who ask such questions entertain the notion that anything that does not give immediate monetary benefit is not worth pursuing. In this article I will try as much as possible to highlight the benefits of pursuing pure science such as astrophysics. I will be using the words astronomy and astrophysics interchangeably as differentiating the two is not the main aim here.

Astrophysics to me is an eternal subject. The study of our universe will continue as long as the universe exists and therefore the subject of astronomy will stay on for trillions of years into the future (or at least till any intelligent species can make the study.)  We exist because the universe exists and that makes the study of our universe the most important of all subjects in my opinion.

A person who does not have any training in astrophysics or for someone who thinks he or she is too “practical” may not be convinced with this answer. For such people, any subject should have the potential of generating immediate revenue. In their point of view, the trendiest subjects that have a career potential in the market are the ones people should be pursuing. That point of view is not essentially wrong. However, these so called trendy subjects are like soap bubbles. They form and then get destroyed after a period of time. People pursuing them always run a risk because if the subject of their choice goes down in popularity, they are forced to learn the next trending subject in the job market.

Space science as a subject does not suffer from this problem. It has lived on ever since the dawn of human civilization and is bound to continue into the foreseeable future. Besides, making money in my opinion should not be our pursuit as a race of intelligent beings. Our world is slowly moving towards a non-monetary one and thus our real pursuit should be the attainment of knowledge and its applications.

Astrophysics - A pure science

Astrophysics – A pure science

As I said, astrophysics is a pure science. If you ask any astrophysicist as to whether a particular theory found by him or her has an immediate application in daily life, he or she may say that there aren’t any. However, the same thing can be told about many other subjects. I have added some references that will tell you about many subjects that fall into the category of being “useless” to the “practical” folks but are still pursued by thousands. Hence, it is not something that one must criticize astronomy with. No subject is useless. In the hand of the right person, the scope of any subject is limitless.

If you are willing to delve deep enough, you will know that astronomy is actually a field with a lot of practical applications. Of course the applications come indirectly and eventually but the impact is profound. Astronomy is a frontier research field. In order to do any kind of research in it, you need cutting edge technology. The study of astronomy thus pushes the limits of our current technology thereby contributing to the development of new and innovative methods in terms of instruments, processes and software to get things done. Therefore, pushing research in astronomy will push research in other fields when these technologies are used in the broader sense.

The benefits of astronomy comes from technology transfer i.e. by transferring the technology that was originally invented for astronomy into various applications in the industry. Some areas where we can see the fruits of research in astronomy are optics, electronics, advanced computing, communication satellites, solar panels and MRI Scanners.  Even though it takes time before an application of a research in astrophysics finds its way into our daily life, the impact it eventually makes is worth the wait. Astronomy also has revolutionized our way of thinking by constantly giving us new ideas throughout history.

Let’s now look at a few examples where the research in space sciences and technology is helping humans around the world:

Medicine

MRI Scanner

MRI Scanner

Perhaps the most important application of astronomy for us would be its technology transfer to medicine. Both astronomy and medicine requires us to see objects with ever more precision and resolution in order be accurate and detailed in our analysis. The most notable among the applications is the method of aperture synthesis. It was developed by the radio astronomer Martin Ryle of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His technology is now used in Computerized Tomography which is commonly called CT scan. It is also used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI and Positron Emission Tomography or PET in addition to other imaging methods.

The Cambridge Automatic Plate Measuring Facility has collaborated with a drug company whereby blood samples from leukemia patients can be analyzed much faster. This helps in better accuracy in medication.  The method that is now used for non-invasive way to detect tumors was originally developed by radio astronomers. It helped increase the true-positive detection rate of breast cancer to 96%.

The heating control systems of neonatology units, i.e. units for newborn babies were initially developed as small thermal sensors to control telescope instrument. The low energy X-ray scanner used for outpatient surgery, sports injuries etc. was developed by NASA. It is also used by the Food and Drug Administration of USA to study the contamination in pills. The software that is used for processing satellite pictures is also helping medical researches to do wide scale screening of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earth System

Asteroid 2011 MD

Asteroid 2011 MD

Our planet is under the constant influence of the Sun and our climate depends on it greatly. Studying the dynamics of the sun and other stars thus help us have a better understanding of Earth’s climate and its effects. Studying the solar system, especially asteroids tell us about the potential threats that they pose to the Earth. We do not want to be wiped out like the dinosaurs and studying potentially hazardous objects give us insights into how we can protect ourselves in time of a catastrophe. Even the recent passage of the asteroid 2011 MD dangerously close to Earth is a reminder that we should accelerate development of technologies to prevent an impact. Missions to asteroids also give us opportunities to test our technologies in future space exploration and also give insights into subjects such as geology.  It is also important to do space exploration as part of our long term exploitation of space based resources.

Industry

Charge Coupled Device

Charge Coupled Device

In industry, there are many technology transfers that can be cited. For instance, the Kodak Technical Pan was a film originally developed to use in solar astronomy to record the changes on the surface structure of the Sun. It is now used by industrial photographers, medical and industrial spectroscopy specialists and industrial artists. Until recently, the Technical Pan was also used to detect diseased crops and forests, in dentistry and medical diagnosis. It was also used for probing layers of paintings to check for forgery.

The Charge Coupled Devices or CCDs were first used in astronomy in 1976 as sensors for astronomical image capture. This Nobel Prize winning discovery not only replaced film in telescopes but also in personal cameras and mobile phones.

IDL or Interactive Data Language is used for data analysis in astronomy. It is now also used by companies such as General Motors to analyze data from car crashes. This means that astronomy is contributing to research in vehicle safety.

IRAF or Image Reduction and Analysis Facility is a collection of software written by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. It is used by AT&T to analyze computer systems and to do graphics in solid-state physics.

Communication

GPS - Global Positioning System

GPS – Global Positioning System

Radio astronomy has given birth to excellent communication tools, devices and data processing methods. For example, the computer language FORTH was first developed in order to be used at the Kitt Peak Telescope. The founders of the language also created the company named Forth Inc. and the language is now being used widely by FedEx for their tracking services.

The satellites of Global Positioning System rely on distant astronomical objects such as quasars and other distant galaxies to determine accurate positions. So, next time you use GPS, remember the stars.

The most common everyday communication application of astronomy would be Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN. Astronomer John O’Sullivan in 1977 came up with a method to sharpen images from a radio telescope. It was later found to be useful in strengthening radio signals in computer networks thereby giving birth to WLAN.

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Astronomy and the aerospace industry share many technologies that include telescope instrumentation, imaging and processing techniques for images. A defense satellite is basically a telescope that is pointed towards earth and thus use very identical technology and hardware to that of astronomy. The methods used to differentiate between rocket plumes and cosmic objects in stellar atmosphere models are similar as well. They are studied for use in early warning systems.

A device called solar-blind photon counter was once invented by astronomers to measure particles of light from a source without being overwhelmed by the particles from the Sun during the day. It is now used to detect the ultraviolet photons coming from the exhaust of a missile thereby aiding in UV missile warning system. It can also be used to detect toxic gases.

Energy Sector

Solar Panels - A source of clean energy

Solar Panels – A source of clean energy

The techniques developed to detect gravitational radiation produced by massive bodies in acceleration is used to determine the gravitational stability of underground oil reserves. That is a fantastic application in the energy industry.

The methods in astronomy can also be used for finding new fossil fuels in addition to evaluating the possibility of new renewable sources. Companies such as Texco and BP use IDL to do analysis of core samples around the oil fields. The graphic composite material that was initially developed for an orbiting telescope array is now being used by Ingenero in their solar radiation collectors.

The technology used in X-Ray telescopes to image X-Rays is now being researched for plasma fusion. If successful, it would lead to a boom in clean energy in future.

Education and International Collaboration

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy is a great tool to stimulate young minds. If you want children to pursue careers in science and technology, astronomy can help a lot. It engages the minds of kids and helps them keep up to date with the happenings in the scientific world. This therefore affects not just astronomy but other subjects as well. Modern science is a more collaborative effort. And astronomy has been instrumental in bringing together many countries to collaborate on projects that require telescopes and other instruments located at multiple points in the world. Researchers travel around the world to work on these facilities. This brings in many other advantages such as cultural transfer as well.

From the examples I mentioned and countless other examples that you can find online, it is pretty clear that the study of the universe is very beneficial to humanity. There are many people around the world who are interested in the study of the universe but are thwarted by the pseudo-pragmatic folks who think the subject is useless. My suggestion to anyone who wishes to study the subject would be to not let others tell you how practical or impractical that subject is. If they do not like what you are doing, it is their problem, not yours. Half the people who advice you against the subject do not really know anything about its breadth and depth.

The Sextant - An ancient celestial navigation tool

The Sextant – An ancient celestial navigation tool

As mentioned before, astronomy changes the way we think and look at this world. Even before writing was invented, humans have looked up at the sky to make decisions regarding when to plan the crops, how to keep track of the days and months or how to navigate the seas. Some of the greatest quests of human kind would not have been possible if methods to study the skies weren’t invented. Where we came from and where we are going are deep philosophical questions that are yet to be answered. In my opinion, studying the cosmos using rigorous science is the only way to finally know the answer.

Before I end, I must thank astronomers Marissa Rosenberg and Pedro Russo and all the other eminent people whose insightful articles I have referred to create this write-up. I have added them as reference for anyone who wishes to read more about the advantages of investing their time and effort in studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and related areas, which are considered pure science without any immediate practical value by many.

My father often quotes the old saying, “People will come and go, but the institution remains.” I would like to rephrase that and say, “People who oppose the study of our universe will come and go. But the universe will remain.

Bibliography

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  • Hall, S. (2013, Nov 11). How Astronomy Benefits Society and Humankind. Retrieved from Universe Today: http://www.universetoday.com/106302/how-astronomy-benefits-society-and-humankind/
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