5 Questions that still remain unanswered by science #4

Déjà vu

Have you ever had a feeling of having experienced a particular event or visiting someplace before it has actually happened? It is definitely an intriguing, surreal and sometimes a rather unsettling experience.

Déjà vu is derived from a French word. Scientifically speaking, it refers to ‘precognition’ or a feeling of having experienced an ongoing event before.

While it is associated with neurological conditions, epilepsy and psychiatric conditions, as high as 2/3rd of normal people also have experienced this phenomenon at some point in life.

Common findings related to Déjà vu

  1. The déjà vu experience is associated with an aura experienced before an epileptic seizure, especially in the case of temporal lobe epilepsy. The temporal lobes of the brain are associated with processing sensory inputs and may be responsible for this feeling.
  2. It is more common at a younger age and becomes less frequent as we age.
  3. There is not much difference between the genders in terms of occurrence.
  4. Some studies indicate that higher socioeconomic status and a higher degree of travel are related to the higher occurrence of Déjà vu.
  5. Certain drugs also predispose to these experiences.
  6. Stress is one of the triggers too. In a study between two groups – normal and those with known clinical anxiety, it was found to be more prevalent in the ‘anxiety’ group.
  7. It is a common phenomenon in a number of psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia.

Theories to explain the concept

Some of the theories that attempt to explain this strange phenomenon are as follows.

Dual Processing

These are older theories and have not been proven. But they do lead us to further analysis. The gist of these theories is that two cognitive processes that are supposed to run parallel are de-coupled causing a false sense of familiarity.

  • Familiarity and recall – Recalling ideally happens once familiarity has been established. As per this theory, familiarity erroneously triggers causing a sense of déjà vu
  • Memory encoding and retrieval – When formation and retrieval of memory happen simultaneously it leads to a false sense of re-living a situation. This is not a proven theory either.
  • Perception and memory – If memory formation happens at the same time as the perception of an event it can seem like a past event that is repeating. This is proposed to happen when one is fatigued.
  • Dual consciousness – As per this, two streams of consciousness run in tandem – One, that is projected to the world and the other is one that the mind thinks inwardly. In fatigued conditions, the outward-looking consciousness diminishes and the primitive inward-looking consciousness takes over to cause a feeling of déjà vu


  • Link with epilepsy – The link with aura in the case of Temporal lobe epilepsy is established. In a 2012 study, stimulation of the Entorhinal cortex in the temporal lobe resulted in the feeling of Déjà vu by the subjects. This part of the brain plays a role in spatial memory and memory consolidation. This seems quite plausible as a reason since déjà vu involves falsely remembering unseen places and events.
  • Neural transmission delay – As per this theory, neural information from the eye reaches the higher centres in the brain through multiple paths. In case the information reaches one after the other, the second information is perceived as déjà vu.

Memory-based theory

These focus on how memories are created, stored and retrieved. These theories rely on the concept of ‘familiarity’.

  • A previous similar experience triggering familiarity – This is backed by a 2012 study using VR – Virtual Reality. Participants in the study were shown a set of scenes on VR. A new scene that was not the same but similar to those shown earlier triggered déjà vu in some of the cases.

Hence, a similar place or event stored in our memory can be the source of déjà vu.

  • Familiarity occurring in an unfamiliar surrounding – Our brain processes the familiar inputs faster than those which are not familiar to us. For instance, a person you normally encounter at a bus stop on a daily basis becomes a familiar input. If the same person is spotted elsewhere, the brain processes the familiar person faster than it does the surrounding.

Therefore, as per Whittlesea and Williams’ theory, the faster processing of the familiar but not recognized stimulus results in the entire scene being perceived as familiar to us.

Attention-based theory

As per this theory, if a scene is first seen without full attention and later examined with full attention, it can trigger déjà vu. This happens because the second perception is matched with the first time it was seen inattentively

With advances in research, we are sure to get a better understanding of the concept in time. Meanwhile, déjà vu remains an unsolved mystery and a great source of wonder to all those who experience it.

5 Questions that still remain unexplained by science #3

3. Ghosts and Paranormal Activities

Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? Ghost stories and horror films are sure to have one on the edge, biting one’s nails and waiting anxiously for the next thrilling moment. And the thrill is amplified by the much-expected sounds of creaking doors, whistling winds and ghostly groans and moans.

Many a time, people report strange occurrences that cannot be easily explained. But when one investigates further, most of these happenings have perfectly scientific explanations.

Here are some of the common reasons behind ghostly activities

Common reasons behind Ghosts and Paranormal activity

Abnormal Sounds

An online search for ghostly places often leads to images of tall buildings. The presence of multiple tall buildings leads to, what is called, the urban canyon effect. Any sounds in the lower parts of the building get amplified and heard as strange whispers, bangs and otherworldly sounds.

Helmholtz Resonance is another reason for sound amplification. There is a much-publicized case of a haunted building where mysterious ghostly whistling constantly occured. It was later found that disgruntled workers had embedded glass bottles on the roof which resonated the sound of wind passing over them causing eerie noises. Something similar also happens in the case of buildings with long narrow windows . Many old buildings with high ceilings fall in this category.

The vibratory hum of machinary, air conditioning units etc are also sometime perceived as abnormal sounds.

Abnormal Sensations

Infrasound, sometimes referred to as low-frequency sound, refers to the sound waves with a frequency below 20 Hz. It lies at the lower limit of human auditory ability. Many animals, however, can perceive this sound.

Infrasound, as per some studies, is said to cause varied sensations such as anxiety, headache, general discomfort and even abnormal sensations like being elsewhere (probably due to effects on the cerebellum). Effects on blood pressure and heart rate have also been reported in some experiments. The resonance of our internal body organs at very low frequencies of infrasound is said to cause them to vibrate leading to the symptoms.

While some studies have explored this angle, we do not have definitive proof yet. With more studies targeted at this, things might get clearer in time.

Many psychotropic drugs, psychological conditions, toxins and gases like carbonmonoxide can also lead to abnormal sensations as well as hallucinations.


Many psychological conditions, alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs and toxins can lead to the perception of visions and apparitions.

A relatively high concentration of Electromagnetic radiation has been found in haunted places. The source of electromagnetic radiation could be different type of equipments. How it effeccts the human physiology and psychology to produce is yet to be fully understood.

Moving objects

Objects moving or falling off their own accord is a source of much debate and discussion. Many such cases can be debunked by understanding the physics behind such occurances.

Sometimes, such events are deliberate or are easy to execute pranks too.

All in all, many cases of ghosts and paranormal can be debunked scientifically. Some are being studied and we will have answers in time. Some, however, are still a mystery and science is in a constant quest to find answers to these.

5 Questions that still remain unexplained by science #2

2. What happened before the Big Bang?

Big Bang

The universe came into existence approximately 13.799 billion years ago. Its origin is still shrouded in mystery. Many theories have been proposed and none has been able to completely explain the events that led to the formation of the universe as we know it today.

Big Bang and Cosmic Inflation

The current explanation relies on the Big Bang Theory. In simplified terms, the universe initially existed as a hot and dense mass of energy that expanded and subsequently cooled. This initial hot, dense state is called the Plank Epoch that lasted a mere 10-43 seconds. Scientists have suggested a phase of initial exponential spurt called ‘Cosmic Inflation’ before gravity modified the expansion to its present state.

Big Bang and No Boundary Proposal

Stephen Hawking and James Hartle proposed the ‘No Boundary Proposal’ that indicated that the cosmos was shuttle-cock shaped and the universe expanded from the tip that had zero diameter. They derived a formula that described the whole shuttle-cock called the ‘wave function of the universe’ covering the past, present and future all at once. Therefore, Hawkins is said to famously have said that asking what came before Big Bang was like asking what lies South of the South Pole. There is no notion of time as per this theory.

Chaotic Inflation Theory


As per this theory, there exists a multitude of universes. Each universe births out inflationary bubbles, each of which becomes a universe and this process repeats endlessly creating an immeasurable multiverse.

Black Holes

Some scientists believe that our universe was created inside a black hole and the black holes we see in our own universe are a source of more universes. Theoretically, hence, our universe is a white hole derived from a black hole in another universe. A white hole, hypothetically, is an opposite of a black hole, releasing energy and matter instead of drawing it inwards.

Black Hole

Big Bounce

This theory suggests that a small smooth universe gradually expands and becomes warped and clumpy. After a point it will start to collapse on itself going back to its original smooth shape and size and the cycle will repeat.

Big Bounce

We have always been intrigued by our origins. We hope that the advances in science and technology will someday give us the answers we desire. Till such time we must focus on sustaining and promoting life on our planet that is but a speck in the vast expanse of the universe.

5 Questions that still remain unexplained by science #1

1. Why Do We Dream?

Much remains unknown about the process and purpose of dreams. Although it is a part of our everyday lives, we rarely think about it once we are awake. Sleep itself is a complex series of events that leaves us fresh and energised day after day. These different stages of sleep also occasionally lead us to creative and incredible solutions to problems that normally seem unsolvable.

Many research projects about dreams have been undertaken to understand the science behind them. The current view is that the same specific areas of brain that control activities we dream about when awake are activated while dreaming. Our memories, managed by the hippocampus, also play a major role in the process of dreaming.

Why do dreams contain fragments of our memories?

Hippocampus, in simple terms, helps form memories. It also uses memories to create scenarios. This could be a reason that fragments of our memories are a part of our dreams which then get simple or strange to downright bizarre, fantastic overlays that define dreams.

Some of the proposed purposes of dreaming include the following

  • Processing, analysing and consolidating past experiences and memories.
  • Cognitive simulation of events and experiences gathered when awake.
  • Understanding and reflecting on niggling subconscious issues.

5 stages of sleep have been described

  1. Stage 1: 4-5% of the sleep time. This is the period of light sleep with slow eye movements when muscle activity reduces.
  2. Stage 2: Around 50% of sleep happens in this stage. The eye movements now stop and brain waves become slower. There are sporadic bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.
  3. Stage 3: Slow brain waves called delta waves start appearing in this stage. This is a short phase comprising of around 4-6% of the sleep time.
  4. Stage 4: Stage 3 and 4 are the periods of deep sleep when there are no eye movements or muscle action. If woken from this stage, a person can experience disoriented for a few minutes to adjust to wakefulness. The brain produces delta waves. 12-15% of total sleep occurs in this stage.
  5. Stage 5: This comprises of 20-25% of sleep time. It is also called the REM or Rapid Eye Movement stage. As the name suggest, the eyes seem to move jerkily and quickly along with other features such as rapid, irregular breathing, rise in heart rate and blood pressure.

While it was thought that dreaming was restricted to this REM phase, a new study from scientists at the Wisconsin Institute of Sleep and Consciousness, however, has shared findings which indicate that dreams can occur during both REM and non-REM sleep equally.

Dreams are not always remembered. However, when remembered, they include vivid visual and emotional content. Many studies have been undertaken to pinpoint the regions of the brain activated during dreaming to help decipher their purpose.

The Wisconsin Institute study led to the inference that the same areas that fire during wakefulness are triggered while dreaming about the relevant activities.

Functional Parts of the Brain – Simplified diagram

All in all, this is a subject of much intrigue and interest and is yet to be fully understood.





Stay Tuned for part 2 of this series – What happened before Big Bang?

15 Simple steps to reduce your Carbon Footprint

Carbon Footprints

The total amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases generated by our actions is known as Carbon Footprint. We all create a carbon footprint as a result of our day to day activities.

To ensure that global temperature doesn’t rise over 2˚C by 2050, the per capita carbon emissions need to be below 1.87 tonnes for every country on earth.

This is a tall order considering that countries like USA, Canada and Australia are at over 15 tonnes. Countries like China and UK are at over twice the recommended value. In terms of absolute annual emissions, China at 9.8 billion tonnes needs to aggressively work on controlling Carbon emissions. USA and Canada are at a high 5 billion plus too.

India’s per capita Carbon emission is at 1.84 tonnes and total annual emission is at 2.46 billion tonnes.

Data on Carbon Emissions

2017 Data
Source -https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/united-states?country=USA~GBR~CAN~IND~AUS~NGA~CHN

2017 Data
Source -https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/united-states?country=USA~GBR~CAN~IND~AUS~NGA~CHN

The highest carbon footprint generator in the present day is the energy production sector which accounts for over 70% of the Carbon emissions. This is followed by Agriculture at 11%. Deforestation and Industries together produce around 12% of the total emissions.

The world is in a critical stage, very near a point of no return. Now, more than ever, it is important for every person to contribute to the cause of environment protection. What can we, as common citizens, do to reduce our Carbon Footprint?

Here are some simple steps that we can easily make a part of our lives.

Steps to reduce energy consumption

  • Switch off lights, fans, laptops, air conditioners and other appliances when not in use. A computer that is turned off uses at least 65% less energy than that left on idle.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use. Many electronic devices like chargers, televisions, printers etc. continue using energy even when powered down.
  • Switch to Solar appliances wherever possible for heating, lighting and other purposes – It is renewable, abundant and free.
  • Use energy efficient appliances – check for star rating. Star rating indicates the energy efficiency of electrical appliances. The higher the number of stars, the more efficient it is. The star rating system was devised by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) India, with a range of 1 to 5 stars.
  • Use LED for lighting – They are more energy efficient and environment friendly than CFL and other options. They also last longer and emit less heat.
  • Walk, cycle or use car pools and public transport as far as possible.

Steps to reduce wastage

  • Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Around 3% of the global carbon emissions are a result of waste disposal. Higher amount of emissions result from products that need advanced methods of disposal. Be it plastic, cloth, paper, metal or any other household waste, try reusing, donating or recycling it to contribute in your own way to reduce global warming.
  • Carry a cloth or jute bag when you go shopping instead of picking or buying a plastic bag with every purchase.
  • Save water – treating and pumping water requires energy. Additionally, getting safe water is also a challenge in many geographical areas.
  • Reduce food wastage and compost vegetable and organic waste as far as possible.

Tackle Deforestation

  • Save trees – Each year about 15 billion trees are cut – leading to increase in greenhouse gases and soil erosion. Deforestation also impacts local ecosystem of the forest area.
  • Save and recycle paper and wood furniture as much as possible.
  • Participate and volunteer in reforestation drives and tree planting activities in the community.
  • Restrict use of disposable plates, cups and cutlery and switch to reusable utensils.

Spread the Word

  • Finally, You can be a champion of environment protection by just spreading awareness about these simple steps to reduce Carbon Footprint and save our planet.

From Online to Regular School

How to counter impact of online studies and execute a smooth ‘Back to School’ transition

It was Friday evening and my phone dinged to announce a new E mail. It was another announcement from the school asking the kids to complete a page of handwriting over the weekend. While my kids groaned over it, I was delighted. It was a step in the right direction by the school to help students balance the convenience of typing with the rigour of writing on paper. Both these activities are way different if you compare the parts of the brain that participate in executing them and hence honing both skills is critical for the learning process.

Online learning came into our lives out of compulsion and has inevitably become the new normal. What was earlier limited to a few courses synonymous with ‘distance learning’, suddenly became the mainstay of education.

Young children entering their first year of formal education were learning their first alphabets, their first rhymes and their first numbers almost in isolation. They were interacting remotely with teachers and classmates they had never met in person.

This, of course was the best way out under the circumstances as one needed to decide between a raging global pandemic and a small compromise with regular schooling. Even when normalcy returns, online education is likely to persist in some form and we will have to find a fine balance between offline and online education that combines the benefits of both.

A TSI survey (urban) held in August 2021 with parents of school and college going children revealed that over 61% of the respondents were concerned about low participation by students in class. 50% thought that understanding lessons was a challenge. Lack of social interaction and missing the college environment also came in as feedback. Over 78% felt that impact on sports and extra-curricular activities was a critical drawback.

Most parents, a whopping 84.6%, however, thought that the highest benefit of online classes was that their children were not exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19.

TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021
TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021

The road back to normalcy for students is likely to be a tough climb. They will have to unlearn their current ways of studying and re-learn the entire processes of assimilating information, memorising and understanding it and reproducing it when needed.

While this doesn’t seem like a tall order theoretically, the learning process, in reality, is a complicated affair that uses multiple areas of the brain.

Here are some of the common observations and insights from educators and parents on how online learning has impacted students and a few suggestions to help tide over the transition phase.

Impact on attention span

The TSI survey of parents of school and college going children revealed that 55.8% of the students in the respondent group had stopped or reduced taking notes and writing and 57.7% were not able to concentrate in class.

TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021

This is a significant insight as school time, homework time and play/recreation time used to be distinct ensuring high focus to each activity earlier. The attention span in class has definitely taken a beating with the online mode. Multiple sources peg the attention span of students at 20 minutes even in the normal scenario. While more research is needed to quantify the exact value, there is general consensus that the attention span has been dropping significantly over the years.

The problem of diminishing attention span multiplies in the online setting. Household distractions, connectivity issues, multi-tasking by students and lowered supervision all add to it.

Things to do –

Distraction free environment

Classes should be ideally attended in a location with less household disturbance. This, of course, is easier said than done. Schools/Colleges also should structure their lectures to make it more of a two-way process than a one-way lecture activity.

Activity based learning

Dr. Sridhar, who is an IISc alumnus and an entrepreneur, runs science workshops for rural students through his ‘Avishkar – Science ka Dost’ Classroom initiative, has a positive feedback on online classes. He says, “My experience with online teaching is very fruitful with Activity Based Learning Methodology. Firstly, the screen time of the children is reduced as the children focus most of the time on the activity and not look at the screen. They would look at the screen just for instructions or guidance. Other important aspect is that in physical classes teachers/instructors help the kids when in trouble. In online classes with Activity Based Learning, the children get enormous opportunity to find solutions to their problems.”


Activity based learning – Avishkar

Build concentration

Yoga, exercise, meditation, indoor games like chess, sudoku, puzzles and memory games, music and activities that involve repetitive tasks such as colouring help build concentration.

Avoid multitasking

Eating, searching the net, online gaming, social networking during classes all add to the problem of concentration. Making the learning process more engaging and activity based definitely helps.

Impact on the writing and learning process

Language teachers have shared alarming insights on the effect of online study on language proficiency. Usage of abbreviated spellings and sentences infuriatingly top the charts. Incidents of written work done entirely in capital letters and incorrect spellings also have been reported. Another common finding is of students copying content and pasting the same without understanding the matter.

Nearly 58% respondents in the TSI survey mentioned handwriting as one of the skills that suffered due to online classes. 23% mentioned Non – English as a key area of concern too.

Writing by hand is a critical part of language learning as it ensures hard-coding of the alphabet shapes in memory and establishing an associated neuronal pattern. Writing by hand activates specific parts of the brain, which are important for learning and memory.

Writing and Learning – Simplified diagram

Studies have shown that the stability of the visual representations of letters is strengthened by writing letters repeatedly. Studies have also shown writing skill is the best predictor of reading scores, reinforcing the association between learning and writing training.

TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021

Ms. Anamika Bakshi, a language teacher who interacts with students in the critical years of learning explains, “Teaching language requires rigorous efforts in polishing the speaking and writing skills of a child. Different methods and techniques have been adopted to make the learning process simple to grasp.”

Ms Anamika Bakshi interacting with students online

Ms. Bakshi is of the view that interaction happening during virtual meeting is not sufficient for children to interact with peers and teachers other than in classroom hours. She has noticed that the language skills, both written and verbal, have been impacted. There is also a lack of motivation with regards to submission of homework. Students submit home assignments at their own pace as teachers tend not to pressurise them as they are already under stress of not being able to have a normal life.

She further says that to counter these issues, writing is encouraged by involving fun sessions where students are asked to write about their passions and interests or to write interesting letters. These kind of playful techniques involved in the lessons bring a smile on students’ face. In her words, very aptly, ‘language requires practice and not study’ hence teachers have evolved different ways to help guide students towards writing practice.

The problem is much more pronounced in pre-schoolers who are normally initiated into writing by holding their hands and helping them form the correct shapes of letters and numbers. This is crucial for learning. In an online mode this is not possible. Once they graduate to higher grades, they will need extra focus on honing their writing skills.

Things to do –

Write – Write – Write

The best ways to counter the concerns are to ensure students take written notes during class. Homework submission should also be in the written rather than typed form.

A page of cursive or even regular writing, both in English as well as regional language is important.

Excessive use of digital devices

Researchers propose a moderate use of digital technology. Too less and too much are both detrimental.

Students of all ages have, of late, been clicking on keyboards and tapping on touchscreens instead of writing. Even tests and examinations have been modified to suit the situation owing to regular classes being replaced by online classes. The excessive focus on MCQ type of examination papers has ensured high scoring but is not necessarily the best way to judge performance.

Social media provides dopamine led sensations that the users continue to seek more and more of progressively. This happens due to activation of the reward area in the brain. As per a Harvard University study, self-disclosure on social media stimulates the same areas of the brain as those while taking an addictive substance.

Adding to this, use of social media is known to be linked with depressive behaviour and also to exacerbate depressive symptoms. A direct link between the amount of social media use with depressive symptoms is seen more prominently in girls as per a 2020 study by Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Considering that outdoor games and socializing have been impacted, online gaming has also become a significant source of digital entertainment.

Signs to look out for include excessive time spent on digital devices, becoming restless if not able to access internet, ignoring studies and staying up late to use social platforms or online games.

Things to do

Turn off notifications – Notifications draw attention towards various platforms and apps and turning them off is an easy way of avoiding constant distraction.

Devices away – Keeping away the smartphones during classes is absolutely important. Also, usage of smartphones, laptops and other digital devices should be limited to designated hours.

Counter boredom – Physical activity, family games, developing hobbies, reading and learning new skills all help counter boredom which is one of the triggers for use of digital devices. The TSI survey revealed that nearly 50% of the parents had got their children enrolled in activities such as dancing, music, sports and coding among other things – unfortunately most of these still were online but learning new skills online is definitely a notch above unproductive activities online.

TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021

Loss of Routine

The digital world works round the clock. Information and messages may come at any time of the day or night. Predictable schedules and routines help students be in control of their environment, plan their daily activities and engage positively in learning. Frequent disruption of daily routine with unscheduled activities can be a cause for anxiety. A study recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology suggests that family routines help moderate impulsiveness and oppositional symptoms in children.

Things to do

Mimic normal daily routine

This issue can be countered to an extent by ensuring a daily routine – It is well documented that productivity increases when a routine is maintained.

As we move back to normalcy, study time and non-digital play time as well as time for social interaction, exercise etc need to be built into the daily routine to mimic a normal school day.

We have examined the impact of online learning from an urban perspective in this article. The challenges in rural areas and lower income households are multiplied due to lack of connectivity, infrastructure and devices. In these cases schooling has suffered much more significantly.

TSI Survey on Online Classes – August 2021

Schools are likely to be opened for regular classes soon and teachers and parents can prepare students for this transition in a phased manner. As per the TSI Aug 2021 survey, only 13.5% parents are willing to send their children physically to schools till such time that they are vaccinated. Over 65% parents are not prepared to send their children to schools considering the fear of infection with Covid-19 and over 21% are not sure.

While online mode of learning is here to stay at least in part and will continue to contribute to the educational arena, we will have to mind a middle path which brings the best of both worlds to make education an inclusive, interesting and impactful pursuit.

Why Go Nuclear – Top 5 Reasons

Nuclear Energy – The Fuel of Tomorrow

As concerns on Global warming and depletion of Non-Renewable sources of energy mount, the quest for safe, renewable and abundant alternative source of energy has gathered momentum.

A front-runner in this energy race is Nuclear Power. Countries such as Slovakia, France, Ukraine, Hungary and Bulgaria already produce over 40% of electricity through nuclear power plants. With the available reserves, it is projected that energy needs for the entire world can be covered for hundreds of years through nuclear energy.

Top Countries by Nuclear Energy Production
Top Countries by % of Power Generation through Nuclear Energy


Here are the top five reasons to switch to Nuclear power.

Low Carbon Footprint

A clear goal of the ‘Paris Agreement’ is to limit the rise in Global temperatures to under 2 Degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gases are significant contributors to Global Warming.

Nuclear power plants, unlike conventional power plants, do not produce greenhouse gas emissions during operation.

CO2 Emissions from different Power Sources

Over the course of its life-cycle, nuclear power is equivalent to wind energy in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions per unit of electricity and one-third compared to solar energy.

It is reliable

The production of nuclear power is more reliable, consistent and more predictable than renewable sources such as Wind and Solar power which are subject to climatic variation. In some studies it has also proven to be more reliable than Hydroelectric and other power plants.

Nuclear power plants run 24/7. They are designed to operate for long operating time and refuel every 1.5 – 2 years. A study in the US has shown that Nuclear power plants have a 92.3% Capacity Factor compared to under 40% for Solar and Wind Power.

Capacity factor is a measure of what percentage of the time a power plant actually produces energy.

It is Safe

Contrary to popular belief, Nuclear power production is safer as it generates less amount of waste than other thermal electricity generation technologies. Safe and effective methods are available to dispose nuclear waste.

In fact, hydrocarbon led industries also produce radioactive material as waste product. This material from the oil and gas industry is called ‘technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials’ (Tenorm). The largest Tenorm source is coal ash of which around 280 million tonnes is produced every year globally. It contains uranium-238 and thorium-232.

Stringent guidelines to dispose radioactive waste are followed by the industry players.

Radioactive waste is classified as low-level (LLW), intermediate-level (ILW), or high-level (HLW) based on its level of radioactivity. Radioactive elements with longer half-life (time taken for half its atoms to decay and become non-radioactive) are easier to handle and emit Alpha and Beta rays. Those with short half-life emit Gamma rays which are more penetrative and need to be handled carefully. Half-life may vary from a few hours to thousands of years for different materials.

Before disposal, processes of segregation, characterisation, handling, treatment, conditioning and monitoring are done to ensure proper disposal. The methods preferred for Radioactive waste disposable in India are as follows.

Delay and Delay

Dilute and Disperse

Concentrate and Contain

Recycle and Reuse

While their safety has been well established for decades and countries like France have used it for generating a substantial portion of their overall power generation, there are reservations about their safety. A number of research projects are underway to improve this technology further. Small modular reactors are being developed to take care of the safety as well as resource aspect of Nuclear energy. Newer processes of manufacturing, better, safer and more efficient fuel types are also being developed.

Options to Recycle

Used nuclear fuel can also be used as resource for other purposes. Once uranium or thorium is used as fuel in a reactor, it can be treated and used in another reactor as fuel. Processes like Closed Fuel Cycle and Breeder Fuel Cycle allow for recycling of nuclear fuel.

Many isotopes are used for preparing radio-pharmaceuticals for diagnostic and therapeutic usage. Some like Cs -137 are used for irradiation of food, sewage sludge, blood etc as a better option to Co-60. Some by-products like Sr-90 and Ru-106 are also used in cancer treatment.

Fuel material Available in abundance

Uranium is a relatively common element found in Earth’s crust. it is a part of most rocks and found abundantly in the sea as well. It is expected that 4.5 billion tons of Uranium can be extracted from sea water at 10 times the current price of Uranium.

Thorium can also be used as nuclear fuel. It is available in much larger quantities than Uranium (around 3 times more).

Very small quantities of fissile material are needed to produce energy. One Uranium fuel pellet produces energy equivalent to one ton of coal.

While there are still concerns about cost of setting up a plant, technological challenges, cost of operating and maintenance and safety, the future seems bright for Nuclear Power. With research ranging from developing smaller, safer and more efficient reactors like the Small Modular Reactors (SMEs), to developing better fuel and manufacturing processes, it will not be long before Nuclear power becomes the first option for clean renewable energy worldwide.







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UFOs – Are they Real?

We humans have always been intrigued by extraordinary events unfolding in the night sky – be it eclipses, meteor showers, comets or UFO sightings. An oft explored but unexplained subject is the sighting of UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects. As the name suggests, these are merely unidentified objects but we nearly always equate them with extra-terrestrial visitors. They are defined as any aerial phenomena that cannot immediately be identified or explained.

There are many theories and conspiracies surrounding UFO sightings. Many sky-gazers report unexplained objects and lights that fall under this category. As exciting as they may seem, many of these sightings have a perfectly scientific and earthly explanation.

Here are some of the common objects and phenomena that can be mistaken for UFOs

Low orbiting Satellites

As of 1st January, a UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) reported 6542 satellites orbiting Earth. Of these, 3372 were active.

Satellites orbiting low enough can appear like UFOs and many such cases have been documented.

ISS captured as a hovering object on a mobile camera
Various uses of Satellites


Drones are a part of our lives now and single or multiple drones travelling across the sky can sure appear like UFOs especially at night. They are commonly used for purposes like surveillance, photography and even for recreation. As their numbers rise, the suspected UFO sightings are likely to rise.

Weather Balloons

We all know that the official answer for most UFO sightings in the past has been Weather Balloons, and rightly so. These common and harmless meteorological devices have been mistaken UFO sightings for decades. With varied shapes and sizes and carrying instruments, some of them traverse to high altitudes and stay for long periods. They can appear as strange hovering objects.

Optical Illusions

Some common illusions that appear like floating lights include Lens Flares, Parhelia and Lenticular Clouds.

Meteorites, Comets and Planets

It is not uncommon to mistake this beautiful natural phenomenon for something more sinister. A multitude of flares lighting up the night sky can be mistaken for descending UFOs by untrained observers. Occasionally Venus, that appears like an unusually bright object in the sky, can also be a source of confusion.

Falling Rocket parts, Space Debris

There are approximately 23,000 pieces of space junk of notable size orbiting the earth. According to NASA, one catalogued piece of debris on an average per day has fallen to Earth in the last 50 years.

These include dead spacecrafts, launch vehicle stages like boosters and other equipment. Although most debris burns up in the atmosphere, larger objects can reach the ground. These generally add to some of the UFO reports by observers who capture them on camera.

Some of the recent space debris cases include uncontrolled re-entry of a Long March 5B rocket over Africa in 2020 and a Falcon 9 second stage re- entry over Washington state in March 2021 producing Light Show that many people observed.

Experimental Vehicles

Many agencies across the world are developing futuristic airborne manned and unmanned vehicles that are not really disclosed to the general public. These could be anything from regular transport vehicles to military aircrafts. Owing to their futuristic designs, they could be reported as UFOs by casual watchers.

Contrails from Jets

Lines made from Contrails or vapour clouds from Jets can be mistaken for a passing UFO occasionally.


Ball lightening is an unexplained phenomenon where luminescent spherical objects are seen during thunderstorm. They vary from pea-sized balls of lightening to those several meters in diameter. They can be a reason for some of the UFO sightings reported.

For now, there is no clear evidence that UFOs have visited us and many of the sightings can be easily explained.

However, it is more probable than not that life exists on one or many of the exoplanets dotting the universe. While there are no definitive answers yet, a recent report states that the odds of finding an intelligent extra-terrestrial life lie at a promising 50%.

Therefore, it is not wrong to assume that it is possible that some of them might visit us some day.





Five inventions that will change the world

The world is changing like never before. Every change brings its own set of benefits and challenges. Here is the #TSIFUNLEARN list of inventions that will change the world for the better.

Artificial Sun

This is an attempt to recreate the nuclear fusion reactions that occur in the Sun and generate limitless clean energy in the process.

EAST, or Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak experiment is underway in China and is backed by 35 countries including India, USA, Japan and Russia.

Once fully operational, it is slated to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel and put an end to the energy crisis. Nuclear fusion using Deuterium found abundantly in the sea will be used to generate energy.

Deuterium, (D, or 2H), is also called heavy hydrogen. It is an isotope of hydrogen with a nucleus consisting of one proton and one neutron, which is double the mass of the nucleus of ordinary hydrogen (one proton). Immense amount of heat and pressure applied to Deuterium atoms initiates a fusion reaction. This results in emission of a vast amount of energy that can be harnessed.

Bio degradable plastics

Bio degradable plastics are plastics that are broken down or degraded by microbes and prevent plastic pollution. They are produced from renewable sources such as vegetable oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, sawdust and even recycled food waste.

Around 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans every year. Plastic production increased from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015 and the last two decades have seen a steep rise. The environmental impact includes production of greenhouse gases, impacting wildlife and marine ecosystem. More importantly, microplastics find their way into the human food and are a health hazard. Many studies are underway to evaluate their role in endocrine, neurological and cardiovascular disorders, cancer and even autoimmune diseases.

Biodegradable plastics, once fully scaled up will greatly help reduce plastic pollution and will be counted as one of the most impactful developments to save the environment.

Examples in use include polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), Polylactic acids (PLAs), Starch blends and Cellulose based plastics.

The top benefits include environmental safety and lowered cost of treating waste.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

AI is already a much in use technology and it is only going to be bettered over time. It has revolutionised nearly all industries, offering easy solutions for everything from predictive planning to process improvement to deriving avenues for profitability and most of all, an incredible customer experience.

Over time, we have started getting used to AI based personalized suggestions for what to read, what to buy, what to eat, what to watch, even whom to friend or follow on social media.This technology will revolutionize even expertise-based fields such as judiciary, healthcare, education, fashion, creative writing etc.

Hyperloop Public Transportation

This is a futuristic technology at various stages of testing and is most likely the closest to being available for public use. Many players are working on developing feasible models of this technology.

The technology is based on the principle of using a system of tubes maintained at low air pressure that reduces friction or air resistance increasing speed of the transport pods. With speeds at par with air travel will help make this a highly energy efficient and one of the fastest means of public transport.

Many other routes around the world are planned in India, USA and Europe.

Malaria Vaccine

Nearly 50% of the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria. In 2019, malaria caused an estimated 229 million cases and 409,000 deaths.

We are in the midst of a Covid 19 pandemic and the current priority is to get over it. However, malaria has continued to cause significant morbidity and mortality for thousands of years and we are yet to find a suitable and sustainable preventive measure. The earliest fossil evidence of the parasite is 30 million years old. However, significant human infestation is known to have occured about 10,000 years ago coinciding with the start of agriculture.

The only approved vaccine as of now is Mosquirix (RTS,S). It needs four shots and is of relatively low efficacy. A new trial with a vaccine called R21, underway with 450 children aged 5–17 months. This vaccine has shown up to 77% efficacy at preventing malaria over the course of one year in preliminary trials — Higher than the 75% effectiveness target set by the World Health Organization. Both the vaccines include a protein secreted by the malaria parasite at the sporozoite stage when it enters the human body along with an adjuvant to stimulate a sufficient antibody response.

We are nowhere near eradicating Malaria yet but a multipronged approach targeting the parasite and mosquitoes will get us there in the near future.

Read more about eradication of Malaria in our previous edition –

Simple Steps to Save Water

97% of water on earth is not potable. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water and even from that, only one third is available for use.

Currently one in ten people have no access to clean water. People, mostly women, spend 200 million hours every day to fetch water for daily use. Over 800 children under 5 years of age die every day across the world from diarrhoea due to contaminated water and poor sanitation.Fifty percent of world’s population could be living in areas with scarcity of water by 2025.

World bodies and governments are working on plans to conserve water and provide safe water to all. But what can we, as average citizens, do to make a difference and save this precious resource?

Around 30% of water we use in our households can be saved by just taking small steps in our day-to-day life. Some of the direct benefits are –

  • Direct saving on water bills.
  • Prevents greenhouse gas emissions involved in water treatment and distribution.
  • Reduction on soil saturation and thus extending the life of septic systems.
  • Makes available incremental water for use by society as a whole

Easy steps to conserve water at home.

  1. Leaks – This is one of the unnoticed losses which can be easily addressed by maintenance of household plumbing and taps
  2. Overflow – This needs some difficult changes in habits but the effort is well worth it. Loss during brushing, shaving, washing utensils and vegetables a can be prevented by not keeping the tap running during these activities
  3. Optimise quantity – Installation of Dual Flush modes for low and high water need, choosing water conserving washing machines and dishwashers also helps.
  4. Water saving equipment – Water saving low flow aerator in shower heads and taps.
  5. Recycling water – Watering plants with water used for washing vegetables or grains.
  6. Water from RO purifier can be used to flush toilets.
  7. Water harvesting – Rainwater can be harvested to build up soil reserves.

So armed with these simple but effective measures, everyone can contribute in saving the environment and be a Hero.

Durum Wheat – Uses and Importance

Dr. Amit Gautham

When we relish the upma or pasta in our plates, we seldom think about how the ingredients make their way into these sumptuous dishes.

One of the most used cereals worldwide is wheat. It is one of the most durable and dependable crops after rice and maize and is grown under diverse Agro-Climatic conditions.

We will take a look at a variety called Durum wheat that is the raw material that goes into our daily food items. Durum wheat is used to prepare numerous food products such as macaroni, pasta products and semolina and plays a part in the nourishment of the world’s population including India.

Durum wheat (Triticum durum L.) is an economically important crop grown worldwide including India. It is being cultivated in 10 to 11% of world area and accounts about 8% of the total wheat production.

In central India it is being cultivated in Malva regions, Sourastra and Kathiaward in Gujarat and Kota, Bundi, Jhalaward and Udaipur regions of Rajasthan, Bundalkhand region and west Maharastara from a long time and its traditional food products like Bati, Bafla, Dalia, Churma, Lapsi, Upma etc. are being consumed as staple food.

Due to susceptibility to rust and limited production in 1960s the cultivation in mid India declined and farmers stopped growing Durum wheat varieties. Now, due to the development of highly tolerant and high yielding varieties the area, production and productivity of Durum wheat has increased day by day and central India is now called a hub for Durum wheat.

Durum Wheat 1 kernel copyPic: Durum Wheat kernel

Advantages of durum wheat cultivation

More Production in less irrigation

Durum (Malvi) wheat needs less irrigation as compared to bread wheat. Some varieties like Malav Ratan and Malav Karti can give 35-40 quintals/ha. in one or two irrigations, depending upon the availability of water. Varieties like Malav Shakti and Poshan gives around 50-60 quintals/ha. in three to four irrigations.

Durum Wheat 2 crop stages copy

Pic: Durum Wheat crop stages

Durum Wheat 3 crop stages

Nutrient security:

It is found that as compared to rice and aestivum (variety of wheat) nutrient value of Durum wheat is more, because it contains protein, micronutrients like iron, copper and zinc in large amount comparatively.

Table 1: Comparison between quality characters of popular Bread wheat (Lok-1) and Durum wheat (HI 8627)

Varieties Hectolitre weight (kg) Protein (%) Total carotene (ppm) Iron (ppm) Zinc (ppm) Copper (ppm)
Malav Karti (durum) 82.3 11.0 5.7 49.6 42.1 6.0
Lok-1 (aestivum) 80.1 10.6 2.3 35.5 27.2 4.5

From the above table, it is clear that, as compared to the most popular bread wheat (Lok-1) in central India durum wheat (Malav Karti) contains more values of total carotene (two and half % more), protein and micro nutrients. In addition, it contains vitamin B complex i.e., Riboflavin, Lysine and Thiamine in good amounts. It contains folic acid, calcium, vitamin E and antioxidants in good amounts as compared to bread wheat. Total carotene which is a precursor of vitamin A, helps to keeps eyes healthy and is useful in the development of immune system.

Security to rust and other disease:

Research showed that Durum wheat has different levels of rust resistance as compared to common bread wheat. Many Durum wheat varieties are resistant to brown rust, which is very prominent in bread wheat in India. Durum wheat can protect wheat cultivators not only in central India but also all over India where wheat is cultivated. It is also resistant to black rust (Ug 99) so it avoids the dispersion of Ug 99 race in India. Durum wheat is also resistant to seed borne disease like Karnal blunt and Kayama (Loose Smut) which gives seed born disease free wheat varieties.

Durum Wheat 3A rust copy

Pic: Field view of Brown rust on Wheat

Job Orienting:

Durum wheat is mostly used in fast food like noodles, spaghetti, lasagna, vermicelli, macaroni, pasta and many other products.

Keeping in view the increasing demands of these products, many fast food production plants can be set up , providing jobs to many people.

Durum Wheat 4 products

Possibility of International business:

There is a wide competition in the export of bread wheat as compared to the Durum wheat. Since Durum wheat is a more profitable crop as compared to bread wheat, farmers can make good money by supplying disease free nutrient filled Durum wheat. In addition, they can get good market of processed food manufacturing in India.

New developed varieties of Durum wheat:

There are many Durum wheat varieties developed for different irrigation conditions, India Agriculture Research Institute, Regional station is working in very effective way for the development of many Durum wheat varieties for different irrigation conditions and improving its quality level. All the developed varieties are rust resistant, have high level of water use efficiency, drought and heat tolerable and contain high level of quality nutrients.

Therefore, the cultivation of Durum wheat makes great economic sense today as compared to other crops.

It surely is an opportunity for farmers in India to make use of indigenous technologies and crop varieties available for increased profitability and a fulfilling farming career!

Author :

Dr. Amit Gautham RA

Indian Agricultural Research Institute

Regional station Indore

Go Green – Go Solar

What if you were told that you, as an individual, could prevent 28 tonnes of Carbon dioxide emissions or plant 45 teak trees while saving every month on your electricity bills? Sounds too good to be true?

Investing in a 1 kW solar plant on your rooftop would help you do exactly that; and more. You could generate 1380 kWh of your own electricity annually and save on electricity costs every month.

Go green – Go Solar

Sunshine is available to us in abundance. An hour of sunshine can provide electrical power to the whole world for an entire year. India receives 3000 hours of sunshine annually – that’s equal to over 5000 trillion kWh. Around 4-7kWh/ M2 of solar radiation is received by most parts of our country.

It would make great economic and environmental sense for the farming and industrial community, large establishments like schools, malls, hospitals and salons and even individuals to focus on this abundant resource.

Advantages of solar power

  • Abundantly available
  • Free electricity after installation. Needs occasional maintenance
  • Can be returned to the grid or stored as needed
  • Environment-friendly, renewable, low pollution
  • Subsidies and loans available for installation
  • Increases the value of your property – for resale or rental


  • The initial cost of installation is relatively high
  • Cannot be installed on certain types of roofs
  • Weather dependant – needs adequate sunshine on the installation
  • Occupies a lot of space
  • Reinstallation is a challenge when you shift your location.

Solar Power in India

Solar power generation in India

Large strides have been made in recent years to popularise solar power installations. Grid-connected solar power capacity has been increasing at a fast pace. In 2021, 40 MW of solar power capacity had been installed with a 6 times increase over the past five years. Off-grid installations like Street lights and Solar pumps have doubled since 2017.

India’s environmental goals are exceptional. We plan to achieve 500 GW of renewable energy by 2050 and reach carbon neutrality by 2070. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) target is to achieve about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel energy resources.

We are all seeing, first-hand, the effects of global warming. The traditional sources of energy like coal are depleting. They are also a huge cost to the environment.

This is the turning point for us as a country and as humankind to renew our environment and reverse some of the effects that have led to this global emergency. Considering the other options available, Solar energy is the best bet to achieve these goals.

Each of us can contribute to this cause even as we cut our costs by using this bounty of nature.

More information –