All entries by this author

Millipede Catalyst

Millipede Catalyst

Swarms of this cyanide-secreting millipede have entered houses, writhed on railway tracks causing delays, and, in short, made themselves a nuisance in Japan, their host country. But Chamberlinius hualienensis, the arthropod native of Taiwan which invaded Okinawa Island in 1983, could soon become a source of catalysts in chemical factories. Thanks to a group of enzymes called Hydroxynitrile lyases (HNLs), some plants and bacteria, which have reserves of cyanide-containing compounds, release hydrogen cyanide as defense chemicals. Chemists employ the enzyme for the reverse reaction, combining […]



Retinal selfie

Retinal selfie

Taking a selfie is easy: just point your smartphone toward your face and shoot. But taking a selfie of the interior of an eye is impossible, imaging specialists might’ve told you, until now. Researchers at the Camera Culture Group, headed by Ramesh Raskar at the MIT Media Lab, have designed the eyeSelfie, an inexpensive hand-held device for taking a photograph of the retina, the optic nerve, and the vasculature, which is located all the way at the back of one’s eye. Digital snapshots of the […]



Job Title: Curiosity Rover Driver

Job Title: Curiosity Rover Driver

The first motorized vehicle that Vandi Verma ever operated was a tractor. “I must’ve been 11 years old at the time,” she told Science. During school vacations, she visited her grandparents, who lived in a village in central India. At their farm, her uncle let her take a few turns behind the tractor wheel. Later, when she was a teenager, her father, who was a pilot with the Indian Air Force, taught her how to drive a car. That was unusual in India at that […]



A rubella-based murder mystery

A rubella-based murder mystery

In 1943, while pregnant with her first child, Hollywood actress Gene Tierney came down with German measles (rubella), contracted during her solo appearance at the now-defunct Hollywood Canteen. (It was very early in the pregnancy and the star was simply trying to do her bit to rally the troops.) The infant, Daria, who was born prematurely, deaf, blind and  mentally retarded, eventually, had to be institutionalized. A year after the birth of her child, a former marine approached Tierney at a tennis party and revealed […]



The Naming of Exoplanets

Last September when I was in Oslo, I sat next to Thierry Montmerle at the banquet hosted by the Norwegian Science Academy. He was the general secretary of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) which had just announced the NameExoWorlds contest to crowd-source names for 20 to 30 exoplanets. So we got talking about this contest. In the past, the naming of planets and planetary satellites fell to Western scientists — the names of heavenly bodies reflect that. Neptune, Jupiter, Pluto, Charon and so are all […]



The Space Roboticist

The Space Roboticist

The first motorized vehicle Vandi Verma ever operated was a tractor. “I must’ve been 11 years old at the time,” she says. During school vacations, she visited her grandparents, who lived in a village in central India. At their farm, her uncle let her take a few turns behind the tractor wheel. Later, when she was a teenager, her father, who was a pilot with the Indian Air Force, taught her how to drive a car. That was unusual in India at that time, where […]



Sea Monkeys Churning Waterbodies

Sea Monkeys Churning  Waterbodies

When I was a child, I saw these ads for sea monkeys in comic books. I would’ve liked to have sea monkeys as pets back then. A “bowlful of happiness,” that was also easy to care for? What’s not to like? There are monkeys  in India but I definitely didn’t want one as a pet. Though they look wild, I knew they could be trained to do a variety of things: pick coconuts off a palm, pick peoples’ pockets, or dance in a dress to […]



Patna to Poughkeepsie

A while ago, I emailed the writer Amitava Kumar of Patna who teaches literature at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. When I email a writer, it is because: I like their work, their writing has touched me in some way, and I want to record my appreciation. Fan girl stuff  really — nothing more. But this time, I was also writing to tell A.Kumar about an Indian woman whose remains were interred in a cemetery in Poughkeepsie, a woman whose story obsesses me. She was the first […]



Mobile Stethoscope for Diagnosing Lung Disease

Mobile Stethoscope for Diagnosing Lung Disease

A team from MIT has built a  mobile stethoscope:  Plug  it into a smartphone and the companion app transforms the device into a low-cost diagnostic tool, which health workers and non-specialist physicians can use to diagnose lung disease. Diseases of the lungs — such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and lung cancer — cause more than 14 percent of deaths worldwide. Others like asthma reduce the quality of a person’s life. These diseases hit the developing world the hardest, because the major […]



Curtailed Careers of Women in China

Women enter the workforce the same time as men but they typically take some time off during their child-bearing years. Instead of being allowed to stay on longer to compensate, they have to step down sooner in China. Women scientists retire at 55, while men retire at 60. I can’t come up with any good reason for why this should be the case. This also tells me that someone should be looking at such policies across the globe. From the letters to the editor in […]