Scientists tell us that life on Earth was possible only because it is at an ‘optimum’ distance from the Sun. This energy — a combination of light and heat — was behind the creation and sustenance of all flora and fauna on Earth. But it did not stop there. In my personal opinion, light played the most crucial part in our scientific quest and discoveries. Optics is the foundation of human civilisation. Only by light are we able to see the natural world and its treasures. We looked up at the source of daylight, viz., the Sun, and the innumerable stars dotting the night sky. We were curious, and tried to make sense of it all and have an explanation of it — first from mythological stories, then by logic and analysis. Who are we, where did we come from, who created these celestial and terrestrial objects? And what does it all mean?
The branch of Physics which deals with the study of light and various phenomena associated with it is called Optics. In Geometrical Optics (or Ray Optics) we assume that light travels in a straight line in the form of rays. This model is useful for studying the formation of images by lenses and mirrors. On the other hand, in Physical Optics (or Wave Optics) light is assumed to be a wave. Various phenomena such as interference, diffraction and polarization, which cannot be explained by Ray Optics, are studied under Wave Optics.
Everyone has a vision for the future — how to change the world and how to make it a better place to live. We are nobody to challenge anyone’s personal views, but some ideas look more sound and workable. For example, Nehru was of the opinion that the progress of India can be achieved primarily by science and technology. Post-independence, Prof Sarabhai envisioned harnessing space technology for India’s progress and growth. Indeed, if one looks forward to a bright future for oneself, society, nation or the world, then there doesn’t seem to be any other way than to invest in scientific temperament. Note that by scientific temperament I do not simply mean scientific and technological innovations and inventions, instead I use the term in a rather broad sense which implies looking at the world logically, critically and sensibly.Continue reading
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One of the most depressing and frustrating things to witness in today’s world is society’s apathy towards science and scientists. It is true, even after centuries of technological progress, people don’t seem to appreciate what science and technology mean to them, and what life would be without them. Everyday things, objects, devices, gadgets, which they take for granted, they don’t seem to care how that came into being if not by technological innovation. Note that science and technology need not mean only explorations like nuclear energy or Apollo or Chandrayaan, but also something as simple and small as a safety pin, or a TV set, computer operating system, or Hansom cab. Or it need not be reflected in the form of a palpable device, instead a scientific explanation of some phenomena like nuclear fission, properties of gases or child mortality. Continue reading
Physics is generally called as the queen of all sciences, perhaps because of its elegance, beauty, charm and glamour. And among the various branches of Physics, from mechanics to thermodynamics, and from electromagnetism to acoustics, none attracts so much attention as astrophysics. It is true that astronomy and astrophysics are among the most glamorous branches of physics; most of the young students who choose physics do so mostly due to their infatuation with astronomy and astrophysics. Also, as we progress in our research career, sooner or later we do try to link our research work with the terrestrial and celestial worlds. That being said, astrophysics is also the subject to invoke if you want to attract young students to take up science education, in particular physics. After all, the lessons do start with star gazing and solar/lunar eclipses! But at the same time, it is also interesting to note how less do we know about space. No, here I am not commenting on how little do we know about space even after so many centuries of research. Instead, I am taking note of the various facts which are known, and is supposed to be in public knowledge, yet the general audience is either ignorant of it or oblivious to such information. Mark Thompson has compiled about a hundred such pieces in his book 101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space. His aim is to bring the fascination of space science to general masses, and to educate them in an entertaining fun way. Continue reading
You have heard about scientists who were artists. In some of earlier posts, I have talked about collaborative efforts between artists and scientists. For example, the book Periodic Table presented scientific knowledge accompanied by beautiful graphic illustrations. Likewise, I talked about scenes from the movie 15 Park Avenue, which depicted struggles in the life of a physics professor. Continue reading
This year we are celebrating 150 years of the Periodic Table of Elements. It is a landmark considering the pivotal and stellar position that this wonderful piece of scientific art or artistic science — whichever way you prefer to look at it — occupies in the progress, growth and development of science, especially modern science. The Periodic Table is the one entity which binds the two different branches of science — Physics and Chemistry together. It is also the first encounter of any school student with the fascinating world of science. If in doubt, consider how the study of Chemistry would look like had there been no such periodic classification of elements. That this classification exists, implies that you do not have to study and rote learn the properties of each individual element, instead just understanding the properties of a ‘group’ would suffice. It made the life of chemists and modern physicists so much easier! And not just that, the Periodic Table had provision (’empty slots’) for yet undiscovered elements. This way, it revealed the pattern in the nature around us and at the same time opened doors to the ingredients of the nature which were not yet known. Several names like Lothar Mayer, Dimitri Mendeleev and Moseley are associated with the history of the Periodic Table. While reading this history, every student participates in the logical reasoning and scientific thinking which went into the development of this process of classification. In a way it was all about observing and noting the pattern in the properties of elements found in nature. That everything fell into such an elegant piece of art must have been really exhilarating for the scientists of that time. Continue reading
Ab Tak Chhappan is an important movie in filmography of Nana Patekar. In this movie he is depicted as an honest and tough police officer. The dramatic turn of events and Nana Patekar’s handling of them demonstrate the extent he could go to uphold his values and sense of duty. Given the success of this movie, no one was surprised when its sequel Ab Tak Chhappan 2 was released. In this movie, he was called by the state home minister Vikram Gokhale to ‘clean’ the city of its criminal elements. However, all is not what it seems; Nana Patekar has his moment of disillusionment, and he decides to set things right in his own way. I am not going to write a review of either of these movies. My interest is in a particular scene where Vikram Gokhale tells Nana Patekar how the latter was used for Gokhale’s political ambitions. This scene was a turning point in the movie and built up the climax of Ab Tak Chhappan 2. Continue reading