Science for people

From launch of India's Mars mission to the humble papaya filter, 2013 witnessed big and small breakthroughs in the field of science

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Saturday 21 December 2013

Science is generally treated like an orphan in India. As always, 2013 started with the Indian Science Congress, where a mish-mash of research from across the country was presented. This was the centenary year for the biggest science meeting in the country. It might be difficult to ascertain in which direction Indian science is moving going by what transpired at the science meet, but there was something to cheer about a few months later. The year witnessed one of the biggest achievements for Indian science. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the Mars orbiter on November 5. The orbiter is steadily moving towards the Red Planet. The show spills over to the next year as the orbiter is expected to reach Mars in September 2014.

But then, everything in science need not be big. What appears to be a small study or breakthrough can help people big time. The best example is a study which showed that passing water through four layers of a cotton saree, a common apparel worn by Indian women, can reduce coliform levels and make it safe for drinking. For those who want to remove other common pollutants from water, the year brought news of a composite material made out of clay and papaya seeds. It can remove harmful metals like lead, cadmium and nickel from water at low cost.

For health fanatics, we have news that both salt  and sugar  are bad for health. Both ingredients are found in high levels in fast food, which are well known for their adverse impact on health. But what may come as a surprise is that baby food, too, is not good. This is not only because it replaces the much more healthy option of breast milk but because it can cause metabolic stress in the infant. This can lead to insulin resistance (diabetes) later in life.

There is yet another adverse effect of modern lifestyle. It was found that hysterectomies performed without compunction across the country by doctors to make money through insurance scams can lead to memory decline in women. This is in addition to the list of other adverse effects like osteoporosis, weight gain, loss of stamina and digestive disorders attributed to this usually unnecessary surgery.

For those who would like to understand environment from the point of view of forests and land, here is something to ponder on. The arid zones in India have increased. This raises a vital concern—the need to change policies on climate change mitigation.

We end with some good news. It has been announced that prominent scientist C N R Rao has got the Bharat Ratna, the country's biggest civilian award, this year for his years of research in chemistry. Rao shares the stage with Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer who needs no introduction.

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