Agalloch is a synonym of agarwood. In parallel, Aquilaria agallocha and Agalochum malaccense are synonyms of Aquilaria malaccensis, the accepted scientific name of a tree that produces much of the world’s stock of this wood. When the heartwood (or duramen) of an Aquilaria tree is in the grip of an infection of Phaeoacremonium parasitica, the … Read more

A cynical archaeology

From ‘ASI submits Bhojshala survey report to Madhya Pradesh High Court’, The Hindu, July 15, 2024: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on July 15 submitted its scientific survey report of the disputed Bhojshala-Kamal-Maula mosque complex to the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. … On July 4, the High Court ordered the … Read more

India-based neutrino oblivion

In a conversation with science journalist Nandita Jayaraj, physicist and Nobel laureate Takaaki Kajita touched on the dismal anti-parallels between the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) and the Japanese Kamioka and Super-Kamiokande observatories. The INO’s story should be familiar to readers of this blog: a team of physicists led by those from IMSc Chennai and TIFR … Read more

‘Animals use physics’

What came first: physics or the world? It’s obviously the world, whereas physics (as a branch of science) offered ways to acquire information about the world and organise it. To not understand something in this paradigm, then, is to not understand the world in terms of physics. While this is straightforward, some narratives lead to … Read more

The problem with a new, rapid way to recycle textiles

Researchers from the University of Delaware have developed a chemical reaction that can break polyester in clothing down to a simpler compound that can be used to make more clothes. The reaction also spares cotton and nylon, allowing them to be recovered separately from clothing that uses a mix of fibres. Most of all, given … Read more

Clocks on the cusp of a nuclear age

You need three things to build a clock: an energy source, a resonator, and a counter. In an analog wrist watch, for example, a small battery is the energy source that sends a small electric signal to a quartz crystal, which, in response, oscillates at a specific frequency (piezoelectric effect). If the amount of energy … Read more

Buildings affect winds

A view of the Shanghai skyline, January 31, 2019.

A 2022 trip to Dubai made me wonder how much research there was on the effects cities, especially those that are rapidly urbanising as well as are building taller, wider structures more closely packed together, had on the winds that passed through them. I found only a few studies then. One said the world’s average … Read more

You’re allowed to be interested in particle physics

An example of simulated data as might be observed at a particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider. Here, following a collision of two protons, a Higgs boson is produced that decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue.

This page appeared in The Hindu’s e-paper today. I wrote the lead article, about why scientists are so interested in an elementary particle called the top quark. Long story short: the top quark is the heaviest elementary particle, and because all elementary particles get their masses by interacting with Higgs bosons, the top quark’s interaction … Read more

A new source of cosmic rays?

The International Space Station carries a suite of instruments conducting scientific experiments and measurements in low-Earth orbit. One of them is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which studies antimatter particles in cosmic rays to understand how the universe has evolved since its birth. Cosmic rays are particles or particle clumps flying through the universe at … Read more

Suni Williams and Barry Wilmore are not in danger

NASA said earlier this week it will postpone the return of Boeing’s crew capsule Starliner back to ground from the International Space Station (ISS), thus leaving astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams onboard the orbiting platform for (at least) two weeks more. The glitch is part of Starliner’s first crewed flight test, and clearly it’s … Read more