What is PPE?

A man and a doctor and his medical safety equipment. Industrial safety and protection with a mask and stethoscope, gloves in a blue doctor form against biological hazards. Vector flat illustration.

If you pick up the newspaper these days, you are bound to come across the acronym PPE. What is it? Personal Protective Equipment.

It is the materials that people need to use to protect themselves in order to do their jobs. Construction workers need things like sturdy boots and hard hats and goggles, for example, while at the construction site. Doctors and nurses and other care workers need to protect themselves in order to help sick people. These include masks to protect their nose and mouth, gloves for their hands, protective eye goggles, gowns to wear over their clothes, and slip covers for their shoes.

This equipment protects the medical personnel from being overly exposed to the virus in patients they are treating. They also change it all when attending to the next patient so that they don’t carry over any germs from one patient to the next.

This is pretty essential equipment to keep us and them safe.

Why are we talking about it these days? There is a shortage of some of this essential equipment in the world as countries deal with increasing cases of coronavirus. Ordinary people like you and me are wearing them if we go into public spaces like shops and markets to buy supplies. Some of them are washable, some are not. So companies across the globe are trying to make more, even as more businesses and factories are kept closed.

Written by: Sunaina Murthy

1000 years under the sea!

They’re colourful, they’re fun and they can keep you busy for hours, but Legos can also cause huge damage to the environment.

A recent study published by the University of Plymouth in the UK shows how millions of plastic Lego pieces end up in seas and oceans around the world and how these colourful, plastic toys can take up to 1300 years to disintegrate.

The researchers collected 50 Lego blocks that had washed up on beaches in Southern England and compared their chemical composition to Lego blocks from an archived collection. The research showed that the blocks probably date as far back at the 1970’s and 1980’s and despite spending close to 50 years underwater, they had not been too badly damaged!

Although the pieces were discoloured and slightly worn down, they seem to have survived their underwater adventure mostly intact, which was surprising even to those who were conducting the study. Based on the level of wear and tear, the scientists were able to estimate that Lego blocks would survive underwater for between 100 – 1300 years!

Legos are made from a material called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which seems to be a virtually indestructible substance that is really bad for the environment. If you have ever stepped on a piece of Lego, you know just how solid it is! Over the years, Lego has faced a lot of negative publicity for using ABS and has claimed that they will move to using more sustainable materials by 2030, but that might be too late.

How did all these Lego pieces get into the sea anyway?

In 1997, an incident called the Lego-Spill occurred when nearly 5 million Lego blocks were dropped into the sea from a container ship and the researchers estimate another 2 million pieces are flushed down the toilet by kids and make their way to the sea through sewage system!

There are several not-for-profit agencies in the UK that are trying to clear up lost Lego pieces from the sea and from beaches around the country, but unfortunately, it is possible that these popular toy bricks will be washing up on the shore for centuries to come unless we all start to be more aware and start caring for the environment and marine life.

Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness enthusiast and amateur aerialist with her own fitness photo-blog as well.

Silver linings to the coronavirus – reduced human activity helps the environment.

While most people in the world are cooped up indoors, shielding ourselves from the coronavirus, the environment outside is healing itself and getting cleaner. The silver lining to the Covid 19 pandemic is that it may just help us reduce pollution and positively impact climate change!

The Covid – 19 pandemic has forced governments across the globe to take drastic steps. With complete or partial lockdowns in cities, humankind has retreated to its home. Production in factories is slowing down, most vehicles are off the streets and aeroplanes are being slowly grounded. Emissions from all these sources have reduced dramatically and therefore, the air has become cleaner than it has been in a long time.

NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the Copernicus satellite. These show that nitrogen dioxide emissions (in yellow and red) dramatically reduced over central China as cities closed down due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Images from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite taken between January 1st to March 11th this year, showed that nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped drastically across China as factories remained closed and vehicles remained off the streets. Nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant produced by the burning of fossil fuels, and by the running of things like cars and factories. It in turn creates and modifies other air pollutants, such as ozone, particulate matter and acid rain. Studies in Europe have shown that exposure to nitrogen dioxide causes acute bronchitis in humans and worsens all types of respiratory disorders. In fact, there is evidence that indicates that long term exposure to nitrogen dioxide can contribute to an early death.

Marshall Burke, an economist of environmental resources at Stanford University, has calculated that this reduction in air pollution is actually saving lives. He calculated the reduction in air pollution during the two months in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic in China and estimated that this reduction has saved the lives of 4,000 children under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70!

The pandemic is a crisis that has taken over all our consciousness today, however, it has shown us what we need to do to nurture and renew our planet to make it more inhabitable for future generations.

Written by: Payal Mehta Agarwal


Reach for the stars

In Kyrgyzstan, a small country in Central Asia is making big news! Many years ago, Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union (which consisted of Russia and many other countries in that region), and when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, the country became independent.

Sadly, independence came at the cost of Kyrgyzstan’s national Space Program, which has remained out-of-operation since 1992. That is all set to change!

In a country where women are considered to be less important than men, and are often subjected to unfair treatment, child marriage and even kidnapping, a media agency called Kloop is working hard to uplift young girls and give them more opportunities.

Kloop provides numerous courses to girls aged between 17-25 and in 2018, Kloop’s founder Bektour Iskender co-founded a programme to train a group of girls to build and eventually launch Kyrgyzstan’s first-ever space satellite!

The project is aiming to raise $150,000 entirely through crowdfunding (which is where people from all around the world donate money to a specific project or cause), and the team hopes to be able to launch the satellite into space in 2021.

The girls behind this new Kyrgyz Space Program meet twice a week to learn coding, design and other essential topics to help them achieve their goal.

The girls are working to build something called a CubeSat (which is smaller, less expensive type of satellite) and are currently hoping to raise enough money to bring in experts from Lithuania who helped build and launch that country’s first CubeSat in 2014.

The Kyrgyz Space Program has also been documented in a short film called ‘Kyrgyzstan’s Space School’ that follows the stories of the girls working to achieve this amazing feat.

The film is available online and can be watched here.

Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness ent

Droplets of metal falling from the sky?

SMARTNEWS Keeping you current On This Scorching-Hot Exoplanet, a Forecast of Molten Iron Rain Winds on WASP-76b blow gaseous iron into cooler regions, where it condenses and falls to the planet’s surface as liquid 226583.jpg An illustration showing iron rain showering down on the exoplanet WASP-76b, where a permanent temperature gradient pushes gassy iron into cooler regions, where it turns into liquid (ESO/M. Kornmesser)
An illustration showing iron rain showering down on the exoplanet WASP-76b, where a permanent temperature gradient pushes gassy iron into cooler regions, where it turns into liquid (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Scientists have recorded a large planet in another solar system (exoplanet) that experiences rain in the form of hot, liquid iron.

This exoplanet is called WASP-76b and lies many light-years away from Earth. This gaseous planet is nearly two times the size of the planet Jupiter and extremely hot because it is very close to its sun, which is also twice as big as our sun.

WASP-76b takes as long to go around its axis (rotate) as it does to go around the star (revolve). It orbits its star in a much closer circle, taking less than two Earth days to complete each lap or revolution. This causes the day facing side to be constantly exposed to temperatures of more than 2,400 degrees Celsius or 4350 degrees F.  The night side or the cooler side is always in darkness, staying a 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit cooler.

On the dayside the extreme heat causes metals, like iron to evaporate into the atmosphere, generating metallic clouds. Wild winds and the forces of rotation pushes the gaseous clouds of iron into the night side. The sharp temperature difference between the day and night side causes the clouds to condense into molten liquid. Scientists observed that it rains iron every day on the cooler side.

Researchers from Switzerland and other European countries have observed WASP-76b with a robust telescope owned by the European Southern Observatory. The observatory is located in Chile and provides stargazing assistance to a number of European countries.


Astronomers find 139 new minor planets orbiting the sun beyond Neptune


Astronomers from the University of Pennsylvania have discovered 139 new minor planets orbiting the sun. These minor planets also called trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) hide beyond Neptune’s orbit in the Kuiper Belt. They are neither official planets nor comets.

Some famous trans-Neptunian objects that you might know are ex-planet Pluto, Eris, Haumea, and MakeMake.

The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are significant because it could also lead astronomers to a obscure Planet Nine, a theoretical large planet that some astronomers believe orbits the sun way in the depths of the solar system.

So far, astronomers have discovered more than 3,000 of these trans-Neptunian objects—a small part of what’s assumed to be out there.

McDonalds is trying to go green!

You guys have probably been to a McDonald’s outlet before and you have probably had a Happy Meal. For those of you who haven’t, a Happy Meal is a child meal, and comes with food, a drink and a toy. Some of the toys were really cool! Like characters from The Lego Movie, movie cups from different Disney movies, Hot Wheels, and Mario! Pretty ingenious, because kids were clamouring for these Happy meals to get the surprise toy! However, the one not so great thing they all have in common is that they are made out of plastic.

McDonald’s recently announced that it will Go Green with its Happy Meal toys, and will now be giving a soft toy, or 3D models to make out of paper, or a book instead of toys made out of plastic. This effort will start in May 2020 in the UK and Ireland, and Mc Donald’s has announced that it hope to have phased out all these toys by 2021.

What does this mean? This means that 3,000 metric tons of plastic will be phased out by McDonalds!

What about other fast food chains? Burger King has already started this process, as has Starbucks.

What’s the coolest part of this story? 2 schoolgirls in the UK started this effort and got 400,000 people to sign it so McDonald’s would sit up and take notice.

Written by Sunaina Murthy

The polygraph: How does it work and can it actually tell when you are lying?

Credit: isciencemag.co.uk

The basis of the polygraph or lie detector test was researched by William Marston, along with his wife and their friend. This is a device that records some body responses like blood pressure (pulse), respiration rate, and electric conductivity on the skin. And it acts on the principle that when a person is lying, that person will perspire more, their heart rate and pulse might go up, their rate of breathing might change. In other words, the body responds when a person is lying. And those measurements don’t lie! So if there are changes in these metrics, that means the person being questioned is fibbing. This research was then commercialised in the form of a lie detector instrument and test that police officers and other law enforcement personnel have used for years to help them with their jobs.

Fun Fact: William Marston invented…. comic book heroine Wonder Woman. And what is her weapon? Why, it’s the lasso of truth!

How does the lie detector test work? The person taking the test is hooked up to a machine, and someone asks them questions – things they know to be right, at first, to establish a ‘baseline’ for that person’s physical responses. Then they will ask a bunch of questions and measure the body responses while the person answers these questions. The lie detector produces a graph or a line that is then interpreted by the person administering the test, such that spikes in these rates indicate that a person is lying.

Credit: High Swartz

Is this accurate? Apparently, not really! Experts argue that a change in breathing rate or blood pressure don’t necessarily correlate with deception. For example, a person might be upset or in a bad mood in any case, and we all know what that feels like! Our heart rates can increase, we may be so frustrated that we cry, our breathing rate may change. In addition, some people can control their reactions very well.  That’s why while the polygraph is used as an indicator, its results are not usually allowed to be used during a court trial. It simply is not accurate enough.

The principle that the body responds differently when telling the truth and when lying, has been taken a step further in this age of AI. AI has been made to analyse the faces of a number of people who are known to be telling the truth and who are lying. And compares and analyses facial expressions and mini expressions and their changes, and studies the relationships between these changes. One of the first such systems has been shown to be about 80% accurate in terms of telling who is lying. But that’s not amazing. That means that it is wrong 20% of the time! It’s wrong for 20 people out of every 100! That’s pretty dangerous if it is used to exclude people from getting justice or being eligible for certain jobs, or to stop them from entering countries.

Are new and more reliable systems going to be developed? We hope so, but in the meantime, take those lie detector reading with a pinch of salt!

This article was adapted from an article on the MIT Technology Review by Sunaina Murthy

What’s in a name? Meet the newest snail species – you won’t guess who it’s named after!

Credit: USA Today

Which part(s) of these two words to do you recognise? Craspedotropis gretathunbergae

That’s right! Greta Thunberg!

Why is her name part of these other unpronounceable words? 

A new species of snails was discovered in the Borneo rainforest in Brunei on the island of Borneo, by a group of scientists and regular people (lay people). The group, on an adventure tour with Taxon Expeditions decided to name this species of snail after Greta Thunberg because she is doing so much to draw our attention to the global climate change issue. This kind of snail is apparently known to go extinct with the change to hotter, drier weather.

Written by Sunaina Murthy.

Big Bad Black Boom!

Astronomers and scientists from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescope as well as Australia and India have discovered that a ginormous explosion occurred in space some time ago. The explosion is suspected to have been 5 times larger than the biggest known explosion and maybe even bigger than the Big Bang, the explosion that leads to the creation of the Milky Way Galaxy (where the Earth is).

This newly discovered explosion took place 390 million light-years away. (1 light-year is almost 6 million-million miles (6 with 12 zeroes!!) so that’s really, really really really far away!) and came from a huge black hole. [A black hole is an area in space that has a very strong gravitational force that pulls everything that passes by into it.]

The explosion, that took place in the Ophiuchus Galaxy cluster has punched a hole the size of 15 Milky Ways! You know how hard you have to kick a football to make a dent in a nearby door, right? So can you imagine just how big this explosion would have to be in order to actually make a dent in outer space?!

Credits: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/NRL/S. Giacintucci, et al., XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Scientists actually first saw evidence of this dent through X-Ray data a few years ago, in 2016. At that time, they noticed that the Ophiuchus Galaxy had a curved edge. Since an impossibly large amount of energy would have been needed to create an explosion big enough to cause this kind of curve, the scientists dismissed the idea of a blast.

Now, almost 4 years later, data from the Chandra X-Ray combined with data from a European observatory and ground telescopes in India and Australia have proved that this gigantic explosion did take place!

One of the co-authors of the report about the explosion submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, Melanie Johnston-Hollitt said ‘I’ve tried to put this explosion into human terms and it’s really, really difficult.’ She also called the explosion incomprehensibly big.

Based on the data and images, the scientists have concluded that the blast is over since at the moment there are no jets of energy and space matter shooting out of the black hole which would have been the case if the explosion was still in progress.

Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness enthusiast and amateur aerialist with her own fitness photo-blog as well.


Spread the love