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Bengaluru Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 - 17:38

Dr. Vivek Nityananda, a research associate from the Newcastle University presented a lecture titled, “Stereovision and prey detection in the praying mantis”, on the 10th of January 2018 at the Indian Institute of Science. An alumnus of the Center for Ecological Sciences at IISc, Dr. Nityananda was introduced to the audience by his doctoral guide, Prof. Rohini Balakrishnan. The research that he presented to the audience was conducted at the Newcastle University, UK, conducted as a part of research undertaken by Prof. Jenny Read’s group and funded by the Leverhulme trust.

Stereovision refers to the ability of an organism to perceive depth or see objects in 3 dimensions. This kind of vision has evolved independently over evolutionary time in different groups of animals like primates, owls, toads and others. Mantises are the only known invertebrates to possess stereovision. In the highly interactive talk Dr. Nityananda provided the audience with 3D viewing glasses to follow the experiments that the mantises were subjected to. To understand the function and the mechanism of evolution of stereovision in mantises, the researchers placed “3D glasses” on the insects and studied how they reacted to different stimuli.

The experiments presented aimed to understand whether stereovision in mantises served the purpose of range finding, understanding size constancy and detecting camouflage. Mantises as well as humans were subjected to the same kind of experiments.--providing different kinds of stimuli like correlated stimuli, anticorrelated stimuli, uncorrelated stimuli and luminance flipped stimuli the responses of mantises and humans were compared to understand how the mechanism of stereovision works in mantises.

On the latter types of stimuli while human eyes failed, mantises were more successful in detecting the objects presented to them. The study presented by Dr. Nityananda open avenues to a lot of other questions yet to be explored related to the mechanism of eyesight in living beings . The findings of this study also raise other ecological questions about how camouflage works in the wild.

The presentation gave the audience an interesting insight into the world of these agile predators and how even though the end goal might be the same, evolution has shaped different organisms into having different strategies for their survival.

Section: General, Science, Ecology, Events Source:
Bengaluru Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 - 14:22

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, along with the National Innovation Foundation-India (NIF), Gandhinagar, the Trans Disciplinary University (TDU), Bengaluru, and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Energy and Development (MGIRED), Bengaluru, are organizing the first edition of the ‘Annual School for Grassroots Innovations’ -- a programme that brings together scientists, students, innovators and industry representatives to find solutions to local problems and promote sustainable development.

The 9-day event started today at 9:30 AM at NIAS, Bengaluru, and will feature lectures and demonstrations, interactive sessions with innovators, field visits, and public talks/panel discussions. It will host 50 participants for the residential programme drawn from research institutes, social enterprises, startups, Non-government organizations, media and other walks of life, working in different parts of India. The theme for this year is ‘Energy and Water’. These participants were invited to submit proposals on innovative ideas around the theme.

The objectives of this programme are to expose the participants to the pervasive and prevalent culture of creativity in our country, to introduce them to the various principles, processes, and practices related to grassroots innovations, to make participants understand the role of intermediary organizations in an innovation value chain, to apprise them about the grassroots innovations in energy and water and their applications, to provide a platform for lateral learning among practitioners, innovators and participants, to assess the gaps in research and policy in grassroots innovation and to identify the paths ahead. 

Grassroot innovations play a big role in solving common challenges faced by the society. Larger initiatives like Smart Cities Mission on Swacgh Bharath can only be successful if there are ample innovations at the grassroots that involve the community at every level. Often, such a solution would require the involvement of not just scientists and engineers, but persons from different walks of life, including innovators, policy makers, institutions, creative individuals and communities, bringing a multidisciplinary approach to finding solutions.

“Fostering these innovations not only empowers innovators and generates employment, but can also be instrumental in fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development by employing bottoms up approach”, say the organizers of the programme.

Section: General, Science, Events Source:
Mumbai Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 - 08:06

Study takes us a step closer to harvesting electricity from heat dissipated from electronic devices.

Heating up of electronic devices is a pain point in today’s electronic device engineering. It reduces the lifespan of the devices and also results in wastage of energy as heat. A study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB) has thrown some insights on using the heat generated from electronic devices like phones and computers, to generate electricity. This work, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, analyses the role of electron scattering in harvesting waste heat.

“Present and future generations of powerful computer chips heat up significantly to the point that the generated heat in the chip itself might be the cause of the chip's thermal death. Projection data indicate that after the next few generations of computer chips, this dissipated heat density in a chip might be equivalent to that of a nuclear reactor”, says Mr. Aniket Singha, a PhD scholar at the Department of Electrical Engineering, IITB, and an author of the study.

In this study, the researchers are looking at ways to address the problem of excessive heat dissipation in semiconductor based electronic devices, and reconvert this into electricity using the concept of thermoelectric effect - a physical phenomenon where a difference in the temperature between two contacts leads to a difference in the voltage, and hence flow of electricity.

Electrons play a very important role in the flow of electricity. Only those that have high energy, above a particular threshold, become free to conduct. For thermoelectricity electrons gain energy by heat in hot junction and flow towards the cold end. But what if some electrons flow in reverse direction? That will of course affect amount of thermoelectricity generated.

Studies have shown that by adding an ‘energy filtering barrier’ between the hot and cold contact we can prevent electron flowing from cold end to hot end. And this helps in maintaining unidirectional flow of electrons and decrease the resistance. Energy filtering is a process where electrons of a specific energies are allowed to pass through the barrier, so there is flow of electrons in only one direction - from the hot contact to the cold contact. While it is obvious that a very thin energy barrier will adversely affects the thermoelectric performance due to reverse flow of electrons and very wide barrier is also detrimental as it can increase scattering.

In this study, the researchers propose to decrease such scattering by making the width of the barrier ‘just sufficiently wide enough’ to do an efficient energy filtering.

But wouldn't a barrier affect conduction in the first place? Yes, say the researchers, adding that “the beauty of semiconductors lies in the fact that electrical conductance can be increased (even to the point of metallic nature) by doping it with impurities”.  The proposal put forward in the study is to fabricate an energy barrier to improve the energy filtering process, and beating the decrease in electrical conduction by increasing the doping.

“With the help of mathematical tools and quantum mechanics, we have successfully uncovered the microscopic role of the different electronic scattering mechanisms on thermoelectric performance and thereby concluded that for certain types of scattering mechanisms, we can actually put energy filtering to use to improve the harvesting performance”, says Mr. Singha.

While experimental studies have shown the possibilities of harvesting waste heat, the lack of theoretical and mathematical understanding of this phenomenon has made it confusing for device experimentalists to actually predict what can be done further to improve the same. The present study tries to address this gap. “The most elegant part of the research is that the mathematical equations formulations and the concluded results are independent of any particular set of material parameters, and valid for all semiconductor materials”, says Mr. Singha.

The researchers hope this study is of immense value to material scientists to help them answer questions like "given a material, which path should I follow to get an optimized waste heat harvesting". Since most electronic devices today are based on semiconductors, this study takes into account the three basic properties of a semiconductor  -- the density of the material, the transport velocity of the electrons and the time taken by the electrons to return to their normal energy state (relaxation time).

“From the proposed mathematical framework, you can easily conclude the optimum height of the energy filtering barrier for any material, provided that you know the energy dependence of the three quantities in advance”, signs off Mr. Singha.

This article can be found on the IIT Bombay website here.

Section: General, Science, Technology, Deep-dive Source:
Bengaluru Tuesday, 9 January, 2018 - 13:44

Prof. Philip S. Low, a Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University and the Director of the Purdue University Institute for Drug Discovery, addressed a gathering of students, researchers and Purdue alumni at the Material Research Centre auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore on the 8th of January 2018.

His talk, titled “New Targeted Therapies for cancer, Autoimmune, and infectious Diseases”, was a part of the India – Purdue lecture series in honour of Bharat Ratna Prof. CNR Rao, organised by Purdue University to promote collaborative efforts between the Indian scientific community and researchers at Purdue University. Prof. CNR Rao, who is also an alumnus of Purdue University, delivered the opening remarks for the lecture. Eminent scientists like Dr. Usha VijayRaghavan, Chairperson, Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology, IISc, and others attended the event.

Prof. Low’s lecture highlighted the various verticals of his research pertaining to targeted therapy. He explained how targeted therapeutic interventions could fight diseases like cancer, aid in cancer imagery, cancer drug development, and drug delivery for cancerous cells without harming other healthy cells. His also explained how the same could act against autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, drug delivery for efficient fracture recovery and treatment of infectious diseases like malaria. His presentation style ensured that specialists and non-specialists in the audience were equally able to appreciate and understand the intricacies of his research, which is on the forefront of drug discovery.

In the lecture, Prof. Low through photographs and videos, highlighted the use of ligands, small molecules that attach to specific target molecules in the body, thereby delivering drugs intended for infected or unhealthy cells. He explained how the presence of folate in cancerous cells, a vitamin necessary for cell growth, was being used in his research to develop targeted drugs. He mentioned about the astounding efficacy these drugs have shown in clinical and pre-clinical trials against a range of diseases. The lecture was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

Similar lectures by Prof. Low will be held at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore (9th of January 2018), Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai (10th of January 2018) and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (11th of January 2018).

Section: General, Science, Events Source:
Bengaluru Tuesday, 9 January, 2018 - 07:59

India, the ‘land of tigers’, harbors nearly 60% of the global tiger population. Once distributed widely across Asia, tigers have lost about 93% of their historical range worldwide and are now an endangered species. As ‘apex predators’, tigers maintain the health and diversity of an ecosystem by creating a balance between herbivores and the vegetation they feed upon.

To save what is left of these marvellous cats, conservation measures are aplenty. For example, India has 50 tiger reserves across the country. But, constrained by the small size of these reserves, and the presence of only a few individuals in each, many of these reserves are faced with challenges of chance events and inbreeding depression, where the offspring may lose vigor and health due to mating between relatives. Thus, it becomes important to identify genetically connected populations to remediate possible side-effect of small population size and isolation. But how do we do that? A recent study led by researchers from the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) may have answers.

“So far, success of a conservation program is measured by the increase in the number of individuals under protection. But, this should not be the sole criterion, as protecting genetic variants of a species is equally important. We wish to protect not just numbers, but the genetic variants as well”, says Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan, faculty member of Ecology and Evolution, NCBS and a co-author of the study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports. The study has revealed interesting genome-wide details of tiger populations in across India, which might be very useful for designing conservation strategies for Indian tigers.

The researchers collected samples from wild tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) across India for a genome-wide comparison to see if different groups were genetically connected. They identified 3 genetically distinct clusters corresponding to north-west, southern and central parts of India. They then assessed the genetic variation in these clusters.

The results of the study showed that the northwestern cluster, which contained samples from the Ranthambore tiger reserve, had the least genetic variation of all. The cluster from central India, on the other hand, showed higher variation. The researchers attribute this observation to the many inter-connected protected areas within central India that could have resulted in high genetic diversity in this cluster.

With these findings, the researchers point out that since the probability of extinction of small, relatively isolated populations, like Ranthambore, is high, it needs conservation attention to ensure that tigers survive here. One of the options that Dr. Uma recommends is introducing individuals from another population to offset the low genetic variation in a ‘Ranthambore like situation’. “Any such introduction should be done only after confirming that there is no local adaptation or Ranthambore-specific genes that would suffer detrimentally from such a transfer”, cautions Dr. Uma. “Linking these areas to other tiger reserves through natural corridors could be the best long-term solution”, she adds.

So far, tiger monitoring strategies in our country are mostly focused on estimating tiger numbers. While genetic data cannot replace camera-trap data in estimating populations, they add value in determining how variable a population is and how connected different populations are in a landscape.

Dr. Uma says that the next logical step is to have a database of tigers based on their genomic variations. This, she says, will help conservation across countries without the hindrance of borders “While genetic samples cannot be shared across borders, genetic data can be. I hope we can move to a global tiger genetic database. Such a database will be critical for understanding population recovery, connectivity and even for assigning confiscated skins/ tiger parts”, she says about her big vision.

Section: General, Science, Ecology Source:
Bengaluru Monday, 8 January, 2018 - 13:50

Scientists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, Université libre de Bruxelles- Institute of Neuroscience, Belgium, Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Pune and Sophia College for Women, Mumbai are now a step closer to understanding how the development of neural and glial cells – the two primary cell types in our brains – is regulated in a developing brain.

Neurons and glial cells are the primary constituent cells of the nervous systems of all vertebrates, including humans. While neurons help relay messages from one part of the body to another, the glial cells help protect, regulate and maintain proper functioning of the neurons. One of the most important steps for understanding our brains is the regulation of the development of neurons and glial cells from a common progenitor neural cell. Unlocking the specifics of this “neuron–glia cell-fate switch” is perhaps crucial to understanding how a functional nervous system is built.

Scientists from Mumbai, Pune and Belgium are now a step closer to solving this puzzle, as they have discovered a key molecule called Dmrt5 involved in this cell fate regulation. While studying the mouse hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in regulating both memory and emotions, scientists had previously shown the role of another molecule--Lhx2 in this decision. They had demonstrated that higher levels of Lhx2 promoted the production of neurons and suppressed the production of glial cells in the mouse brain, whereas lower levels of Lhx2 had the opposite effect.

Now, they have shown that Dmrt5 can also mimic Lhx2 to produce the same effects of increasing production of neurons and suppressing the production of glial cells. They also observed that both Lhx2 and Dmrt5 were seen to compensate for each other’s loss in the mouse hippocampus, by being reciprocally regulated such that a decrease in one factor led to an increase in the other. Moreover, both Dmrt5 and Lhx2 had opposing effects on other neuronal factors, thereby showing the existence of a complex, two-directional regulatory network that controlled the neuron-glial cell-fate switch in the developing mouse hippocampus.

The scientists’ findings could be a very important step towards unravelling the complex phenomena of the neuron-glial cell-fate switch. The scientists believe that this mechanism might be an evolutionarily conserved phenomenon across frogs, chicken, mouse, and humans, and might eventually help us better understand the process of how our brains develop. 

Section: General, Science Source: Link
Bengaluru Sunday, 7 January, 2018 - 09:05

Prof. Baldev Raj was born on 9th April 1947. He completed his Bachelor of Engineering from the Government Engineering College, Raipur under the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University (currently National Institute of Technology, Raipur). After completing his BE, Prof. Raj moved to Bengaluru to join Indian Institute of Science to complete his PhD and then moved to Chennai to obtain a Doctor of Science degree from Sathyabama Deemed University. His long academic journey saw him specializing in various areas, including Non-destructive Science & Technology, Materials Performance, Technology Management and Nano Science & Technology.

A man of vast experience and varied interests Prof. Raj pursued basic sciences and their applications with a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems. His interests covered a vast array of subjects ranging from material science and nuclear science to medical technologies and cultural heritage. During his long and illustrious career Prof. Raj held various cardinal posts, including serving as the director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR). His eminence within the academic faction earned him a fellowship in all four academies of science and engineering in the country. Currently, he was serving as the Director of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, a post he took over in 2014.

His contributions in science and academia also earned him numerous awards and recognitions, including the Padma Shri in 2007 and a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian Nuclear Society. Apart from these, Prof. Raj was also conferred with an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the Indian Institute of Engineering, Science and Technology, Shibpur for his ‘outstanding contributions in the field of Science and Technology’. As recent as February 2017, Prof. Raj was also appointed as the Chancellor and Chairperson of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (ACSIR), CSIR, New Delhi, appointed by Prime Minister of India.

An exceptional researcher and educator, Prof. Raj had over 1000 publications to his name, and over 100 awards and recognitions, both within the country and outside. Moreover, Prof. Raj was a wonderful educator and an inspiration to hundreds of students who studied under his guidance.

On January 6, 2018, at the age of 70, Prof. Baldev Raj passed away following a sudden cardiac arrest, while attending a conference in Pune. With his demise the nation lost a beloved and enlightened intellectual and educator. 

Section: General, Science Source:
Bengaluru Friday, 5 January, 2018 - 16:17

Scientists at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru have developed a new type of energy harvester that uses piezoelectric and electrodynamic mechanisms in a single device.

Energy harvesters are devices which converts ambient sources of energy like solar, wind, thermal or mechanical, into usable electricity. Unlike energy producers which consume fuel to produce energy, energy harvesters can only convert one type of energy into another usable form, usually electricity and often run on renewable energy sources.

Conventional energy harvesters employ a single type of energy harvester, which can convert one type of energy, like solar, into another like electricity. A more modern version is hybrid energy harvesters, which can harvest more than one type of energy, converting them into usable electricity. The team from IISc have built one such hybrid harvester, which combines piezoelectric and electrodynamic harvesters into one unit.

A piezoelectric device converts mechanical stress into electricity. Like the quartz crystals used in many watches, a small amount of electricity is produced when a small force is applied to the crystal. In most devices, like watches however, the inverse property of the piezoelectric devices is utilized, wherein a small current applied to the crystal induces movement in the crystal. An electrodynamic device on the other hand uses faraday’s principles to generate a small current. Here a rotating magnetic field induces current to start flowing in a wire. Today, many motors use this principle, where a small current applied to a loop of copper coil induces rotation of a magnet placed inside the coil. For an energy harvester however, the magnet is rotated, which in turn induces the electric current within the copper coil.

To build the hybrid energy harvester, the scientists used a lumped element model, where the behaviour of the elements of a circuit is represented in a simplistic way. Once this is done, the exact amount of electrical load on the circuit was determined to know how much energy can be harvested from such a circuit. Next the scientists designed the hybrid harvester. For optimal results and compact arrangement, two devices; one with a curved piezoelectric beam and another with a straight one was designed. The designed device yielded an output of 1.7 milli Watts for an input acceleration of 0. 5 gram Newton, with a conversion efficiency of 50%. Although the amount of electricity produces is miniscule, it can still be used to power small sensors and other low power devices, which are becoming increasing ubiquitous with the arrival of Internet of Things.

Section: General, Science, Technology Source: Link
Bengaluru Thursday, 4 January, 2018 - 11:00

With swelling competition and reducing profits, staying environmentally responsible can be extremely challenging for any organization. There is therefore need to develop efficient systems that have minimum environmental impact, said Prof. Saptarshi Basu.

He was speaking at the 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Energy and Environmental Challenges (SEEC-2018) from 31st December 31 to January 3, 2018.

Prof. Basu, Conference Chair of SEEC-2018 said there is need for a responsible society aware of challenges facing the environment, and knowledge of how we solve it. “SEEC-2018 provides a platform for interdisciplinary exchanges of ideas and discussion forums for critical issues concerning energy and environmental challenges”

The Conference was hosted by the Indian Institute of Science to bring together engineers, scientists, students and other stakeholders to discuss sustainable forms of energy and address environmental issues.  Around 75 research articles and 70 posters were presented in the conference, which also saw several plenary and invited lectures by speakers from different parts of the world.

The conference was attended by many illustrious scientists and policymakers including Dr. V.K. Saraswat, member of NITI Aayog and one of the country’s leading researcher who served as Director, DRDO and as a scientific adviser to the Defence Minister. A recipient of the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri awards, Dr. Saraswat has been credited with development of indigenous Liquid Propulsion Rocket Engines and missiles like Prithvi, Dhanush, Prahaar.

Book launch at the event

In addition, a panel discussion on "Challenges, Opportunities, and Directions for Future Transportations Systems" was organized, and the panelists included Prof. Gautam Kalghatgi, from Saudi Aramco, Dr. Ravi Prashanth from Caterpillar, Mr. Shankar Venugopal from M&M, Dr. Bharat Bhargava from ONGC Energy Center and  Dr. Uma Maheshwar from GE Transportation. All the panelist provided insights on the current technological scenario for Indian transportation systems.

The conference also saw the launch of 16 books published by Springer on topics ranging from  fundamental sciences such as droplet combustion to applied fields such as sprays, air pollution etc. The conference concluded with a award ceremony for winners of oral and poster presentations. 

Section: General, Science, Events Source:
Bengaluru Wednesday, 3 January, 2018 - 12:43

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) –Madras have developed an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment strategy for fighting fungal infections, by linking anti-fungal drugs with sugar polymers in order to create gel-like formulations called hydrogels.

Fungal infections have always been difficult to treat, especially so in people with compromised immune systems. Amphotericin B, popularly called AmB, is one such anti-fungal drug which has been used to combat such infections for more than five decades now. However, since AmB doesn’t dissolve in water-based medium, its therapeutic use is solely dependent on the use of lipid-based carriers called liposomes, which help transport the drug inside the human cells. Given the fact that these AmB-containing liposomes are very expensive to produce, do not remain stable for long, and require continuous administrations to the patients, scientists have long been on the lookout for better alternatives to liposomes. 

One such alternative could be the use of alginates, which are naturally occurring polysaccharides or polymers made out of sugars. Now, alginates could be degradable or non-degradable by the body, depending on the molecular weight of the polysaccharide. Oxidized alginate polymers are degradable by the body, and can thus be used as a carrier for delivering various drugs in the body. Oxidized alginates are particularly useful as they can be used to cross-link other sugars and protein molecules with the desired drug, in order to form a gel-like substance. Such hydrogels, as they are popularly known, can ensure a much more controlled and sustained release of the drug inside the body, and are ideal for carrying anti-fungal drugs lie AmB which require prolonged release periods.

Scientists at IIT Madras have now studied the use of oxidized alginates as a potential cross linking agent for AmB, in order to prepare biodegradable anti-fungal hydrogel which can be used for diverse medical applications like wound dressing, tissue engineering and drug delivery applications. This is the first such study to examine the properties and suitability of oxidized alginates as a carrier for the anti-fungal compound, Amphotericin B.

The study found that hydrogel produced using AmB and sodium alginate served as a potent anti-fungal agent against various fungal infections, and had the potential for prolonged release of AmB when implanted. This hydrogel was also highly soluble in water, making it suitable for administration to patients, and also exhibited significantly reduced toxicity and other side effects as compared to traditional AmB formulations. This discovery could potentially lead to the development of more efficient, safe and cost-effective anti-fungal treatments in the future.

Section: General, Science, Health Source: Link