Anti-softening science for the state

The group of ministers (GoM) report on "government communication" has recommended that the government promote “soft topics” in the media like “yoga” and “tigers”. We can only speculate what this means, and that shouldn’t be hard. The overall spirit of the document is insecurity and paranoia, manifested as fantasies of reining in the country’s independent…

The clocks that used atoms and black holes to stay in sync

A simulation of a black hole from the 2014 film 'Interstellar'.

You're familiar with clocks. There's probably one if you look up just a little, at the upper corner of your laptop or smartphone screen, showing you what time of day it is, allowing you to quickly grasp the number of daytime or nighttime hours, depending on your needs. There some other clocks that are less…

Reading fog data from INSAT 3DR

INSAT-3DR satellite in a clean room, with its solar panel deployed, ahead of launch in August 2016. Credit: ISRO

At 7.57 am today, the India Meteorological Department's Twitter handle posted this lovely image of fog over North India on January 21, as captured by the INSAT 3DR satellite. However, it didn't bother explaining what the colours meant or how the satellite captured this information. So I dug a little. https://twitter.com/Indiametdept/status/1352080311102828546 At the bottom right…

The Wire Science is hiring

Location: Bengaluru or New Delhi The Wire Science is looking for a sub-editor to conceptualise, edit and produce high-quality news articles and features in a digital newsroom. Requirements Good faculty with the English languageExcellent copy-editing skillsA strong news senseA strong interest in new scientific findingsKnow how to read scientific papersFamiliarity with concepts related to the…

A Q&A about my job and science journalism

A couple weeks ago, some students from a university in South India got in touch to ask a few questions about my job and about science communication. The correspondence was entirely over email, and I'm pasting it in full below (with permission). I've edited a few parts in one of two ways – to make…

How do you study a laser firing for one-quadrillionth of a second?

A collection of lasers of different frequencies in the visible-light range.

I'm grateful to Mukund Thattai, at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, for explaining many of the basic concepts at work in the following article. An important application of lasers today is in the form of extremely short-lived laser pulses used to illuminate extremely short-lived events that often play out across extremely short distances.…

Powerful microscopy technique brings proteins into focus

Scientists using a 300kV cryo-electron microscope at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology, Dortmund. Credit: MPI Dortmund

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a technology has become more important because the field that it revolutionised – structural biology – has become more important. The international scientific community had this rise in fortunes, so to speak, acknowledged when the Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to three people in 2017 for perfecting its use to…

Christopher Nolan’s explosion

A photograph of multiple explosions going off together, emitting red and orange sparks and lots of blue-grey smoke.

In May, Total Film reported that the production team of Tenet, led by director Christopher Nolan, found that using a second-hand Boeing 747 was better than recreating a scene involving an exploding plane with miniatures and CGI. I'm not clear how exactly it was better; Total Film only wrote: "I planned to do it using…

A mystery on Venus

A false-colour image of the planet Venus, enveloped in clouds, taken in 2017.

Scientists have reported that they have found abnormal amounts of a toxic compound called phosphine in Venus's atmosphere, at 55-80 km altitude. This story is currently all over my Twitter feed because one way to explain this unexpected abundance is that microbes could be producing this gas – as we know them to do on…

Why scientists should read more

The amount of communicative effort to describe the fact of a ball being thrown is vanishingly low. It's as simple as saying, "X threw the ball." It takes a bit more effort to describe how an internal combustion engine works – especially if you're writing for readers who have no idea how thermodynamics works. However,…

Super-spreads exist, but do super-spreaders?

What does the term ‘super-spreader’ mean? According to an article in the MIT Tech Review on June 15, “The word is a generic term for an unusually contagious individual who’s been infected with disease. In the context of the coronavirus, scientists haven’t narrowed down how many infections someone needs to cause to qualify as a superspreader, but…