Amar, Bose of sound, is dead at 83


Unlike the last name of Satyendra, Amar’s never prompted the frenzy of nationalist appropriation that gripped many when talking about their work. That’s perhaps because, even though Amar Bose’s connection to India was meagre at best, he made a global name for himself and his iconic brand, Bose Corp., through such enviable traits as an uncontrollable curiosity, originality and and a Feynmanesque independence. Right from Bose’s radio-repairing enterprise at 13 to his demise at 83 (on July 12), he’d been audacious and also carefully preserved the resources that allowed him to be audacious. I wrote an obituary to this great man for The Hindu, with Narayan Lakshman and Anuj Srivas.


Most of the principles of the MIT Media Lab I think can be adopted by young professionals looking to make it big. It’s not safe, it’s not sure either, but it definitely re-establishes the connection with intuitive thought (“compasses”) instead of the process-entombed one (“maps”) that’s driving many good ideas and initiatives – like the newspaper – into the ground.

Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or waters road?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fools’ triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?


W.B. Yeats, To a Child Dancing in the Wind

Today feels like such a day…

Insects inspire simpler prosthetics


Evolution’s got everything going for it. Without a doubt, it’s the most powerful and efficient computing algorithm ever conceived – rather to have computed itself into existence. I don’t forget that it’s an axiomatic phenomenon, but humankind has struggled to recreate the same degree of complexity and energy efficiency with the same resources. However, humankind doesn’t fail to be inspired, either – like with a strange type of joint neurobiologists have found in grasshoppers and locusts. Looking like a hinge joint, it automatically applies passive forces succeeding active ones. These help weaker muscles in the insects’ hind legs counteract the stronger ones, facilitating a longer jump without being as metabolically costly as a bigger muscle – something only evolution has accomplished. The inspiration? Simpler prosthetics for humans. My piece for The Hindu on this.

A 'Fight Club' graphic novel

“About the graphic novel, it’s true. Chelsea Cain has been introducing me to artists and creators from Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, and they’re walking me through the process. It will likely be a series of books that update the story ten years after the seeming end of Tyler Durden. Nowadays, Tyler is telling the story, lurking inside Jack, and ready to launch a come-back. Jack is oblivious. Marla is bored. Their marriage has run aground on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban boredom. It’s only when their little boy disappears, kidnapped by Tyler, that Jack is dragged back into the world of Mayhem.

It will, of course, be dark and messy. Due to contract obligations it can’t come to light for a while. Next year is “Beautiful You,” followed by the story collection. But since the Fight Club sequel will appear serialized in graphic form, my book publisher might allow me to launch it earlier than 2015.

Feel free to release any or all of this information. We haven’t started to court a specific publisher, not until I hammer out the complete story.”

Thus spake Chuck Palahniuk at Comic-Con 2013.

Source here.

Better batteries from rice husk

Research in lithium-ion batteries (LIB) is booming because the industries that use it widely are growing in number and expanding in scale. There’s been a steady march toward increasing the charge-capacity of LIBs, and apart from uniquely innovative solutions, the prevalent tendency has been toward replacing graphite anodes with nanoparticulate or nanoporous silicon ones, increasing charge capacity by 400,000%. Manufacturing either isn’t especially difficult, but researchers from South Korea have found that nanoporous silicon dioxide exists naturally in rice husk. Treated properly, they were able to extract nanoporous silicon and use it as anodes in a high-performance LIB (CE 99.7% after 500 cycles). Here are more details.

Another window on ‘new physics’ closes

This reconstructed image of two high-energy protons colliding at the LHC shows a B_s meson (blue) produced that then decays into two muons (pink), about 50 mm from the collision point.
This reconstructed image of two high-energy protons colliding at the LHC shows a B_s meson (blue) produced that then decays into two muons (pink), about 50 mm from the collision point. Image: LHCb/CERN

The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory that has been pieced together over the last 40 years after careful experiments. It accurately predicts the behaviour of various subatomic particles across a range of situations. Even so, it’s not complete: it can explain neither gravity nor anything about the so-called dark universe.

Physicists searching for a theory that can have to pierce through the Standard Model. This can be finding some inconsistent mathematics or detecting something that can’t be explained by it, like looking for particles ‘breaking down’, i.e. decaying, into smaller ones at a rate greater than allowed by the Model.

The Large Hadron Collider, CERN, on the France-Switzerland border, produces the particles, and particle detectors straddling the collider are programmed to look for aberrations in their decay, among other things. One detector in particular, called the LHCb, looks for signs of a particle called B_s (read “B sub s”) meson decaying into two smaller particles called muons.

On July 19, physicists from the LHCb experiment confirmed at an ongoing conference in Stockholm that the B_s meson decays to two muons at a rate consistent with the Model’s predictions (full paperhere). The implication is that one more window through which physicists could have a peek of the physics beyond the Model is now shut.

The B_s meson

This meson has been studied for around 25 years, and its decay-rate to two muons has been predicted to be about thrice every billion times, 3.56 ± 0.29 per billion to be exact. The physicists’ measurements from the LHCb showed that it was happening about 2.9 times per billion. A team working with another detector, the CMS, reported it happens thrice every billion decays. These are number pretty consistent with the Model’s. In fact, scientists think the chance of an error in the LHCb readings is 1 in 3.5 million, low enough to claim a discovery.

However, this doesn’t mean the search for ‘new physics’ is over. There are many other windows, such as the search for dark matter, observations of neutrino oscillations, studies of antimatter and exotic theories like Supersymmetry, to keep scientists going.

The ultimate goal is to find one theory that can explain all phenomena observed in the universe – from subatomic particles to supermassive black holes to dark matter – because they are all part of one nature.

In fact, physicists are fond of Sypersymmetry, a theory that posits that there is one as-yet undetected particle for every one that we have detected, because it promises to retain the naturalness. In contrast, the Standard Model has many perplexing, yet accurate, explanations that is keeping physicists from piecing together the known universe in a smooth way. However, in order to find any evidence for Supersymmetry, we’ll have to wait until at least 2015, when the CERN supercollider will reopen upgraded for higher energy experiments.

And as one window has closed after an arduous 25-year journey, the focus on all the other windows will intensify, too.

(This blog post first appeared at The Copernican on July 19, 2013.)

Second star found to have magnetic-field flips also flips them fast

Tau Bootis A is a Sun-like white-dwarf star about 51 light-years from Earth. Its magnetic field changes polarity once every year as opposed to the 11 years it takes our Sun. While astronomers don’t really know why this is the case, they have a pretty interesting hypothesis: Tau Bootis A has a giant planet orbiting really close to it, and its gravitational field could be ‘dragging’ on the outer, convective layers of its host star to speed up its polarity reversals. Here’s an explanation of how this could work. It’s pretty fascinating that while we had the Sun’s cycle figured, just the second star we study that shows this behaviour defies most of our expectations.