Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

June 5, 2024

New transparent film lets in more light than glass while preserving privacy by blurring the view

Filed under: Science Related — Suramya @ 10:14 AM

In the ancient days we constructed our homes out of natural material such as clay, mud, wood etc and it had the advantage of keeping the house cool during the summer and warm during the winters. Unfortunately, due to the lack of appropriate materials these houses either had very small windows or used material that wasn’t clear making the insides of the houses a dark & gloomy place. This all changed once we had the technology to make glass windows cheaply and quickly. All of a sudden we could put in windows that allowed sunlight into the house without letting the wind inside. It was a game changer for housing.

Now all our houses have glass windows, some even have glass doors etc. Now we have a few different problems. Namely that glass is transparent and having large windows creates a privacy issue where folks can see inside the house. Hence we use curtains, frosted glass, window tinting etc to address this issue. Secondly, Allowing in ambient sunlight raises a room’s temperature requiring additional cooling for the room. This is a big enough problem that there is a thriving market for reflective glass, and window tinting. But there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have designed an ultrathin film that when stuck over a regular pane of glass diffuses 73% of incident sunlight, creating a more comfortable and private indoor environment while simultaneously blurring the view through the window. In tests it was found that the film cooled ambient temperatures by as much as 6-degrees Celsius.

The team has successfully tested the film in outdoor tests in the KIT campus and their research has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The technology is still in early stages and it remains to be seen if it can be commercially produced but it does look quite promising. I am looking forward to more developments in this field.

Source: HackerNews: New material looks like frosted glass but lets in more light than a window

– Suramya

April 18, 2024

Debris from Space Station crash into Florida home destroying two floors

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:38 AM

A long time ago I watched a show called ‘Dead Like Me‘ where the main character (George) is killed in the pilot episode by a toilet seat falling from the deorbiting Mir space station. At that time it was portrayed as an absurd way to die and George is understandably upset about it.

Showing that at times life does imitate fiction, last month a piece of space junk from the International Space Station crashed through the roof and two floors of a Florida home. This was confirmed by NASA earlier this week. NASA and others have been dumping things into orbit with the assumption that they will burn up during re-entry and this debris was from a cargo pallet intentionally released from the space station three years ago.

The piece of space junk is roughly cylindrical in shape and is about 4-inches tall and 1.6-inches wide. NASA said agency staff studied the object’s features and metal composition and matched it to the hardware that had been jettisoned from the space station in 2021.

At that time, new lithium-ion batteries had recently been installed at the space station, so the old nickel hydrogen batteries were packed up for disposal. The space station’s robotic arm released the 5,800-pound cargo pallet containing the batteries over the Pacific Ocean, as the outpost orbited 260 miles above the Earth’s surface, according to NASA.

I think that this habit is a bad idea and should be reconsidered. When items burn up in the atmosphere they release toxic byproducts that pollute the environment and if the item doesn’t burn up completely (as was the case here) they can cause significant damage when they crash into the Earth.

– Suramya

April 1, 2024

ISRO successfully tested their Reusable launch vehicle Pushpak

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 6:00 PM

ISRO’s successfully tested the latest version of their Reusable launch vehicle (RLV) technology through the RLV LEX-02 landing experiment. The Lander called Pushpak (RLV-TD) landed autonomously with precision on the runway after being released from an off-nominal position.

RLV-LEX-02/Pushpak landing autonomously
RLV-LEX-02/Pushpak landing autonomously (Pic Credit: ISRO)

The winged vehicle, called Pushpak, was lifted by an Indian Airforce Chinook helicopter and was released from 4.5 km altitude. After release at a distance of 4 km from the runway, Pushpak autonomously approached the runway along with cross-range corrections. It landed precisely on the runway and came to a halt using its brake parachute, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering system.

This mission successfully simulated the approach and high-speed landing conditions of RLV returning from space. With this second mission, ISRO has re-validated the indigenously developed technologies in the areas of navigation, control systems, landing gear and deceleration systems essential for performing a high-speed autonomous landing of a space-returning vehicle. The winged body and all flight systems used in RLV-LEX-01 were reused in the RLV-LEX-02 mission after due certification/clearances. Hence reuse capability of flight hardware and flight systems is also demonstrated in this mission. Based on the observations from RLV-LEX-01, the airframe structure and landing gear were strengthened to tolerate higher landing loads.

This was the second successful test of the system and the winged body and all flight systems used in RLV-LEX-01 were reused in the RLV-LEX-02 demonstrating the reuse capability of flight hardware and flight systems. This system is essential to the creation and use of RLV technology in future launches which will enable us to reduce the cost of the launches going forward. This will also allow us to increase the number of launches and the payload we can put in orbit in a given time period. Another key point to note is that all the technology used in the craft was developed indigenously in India.

Source: ISRO achieves yet another success in the RLV Landing Experiment

– Suramya

March 26, 2024

Sharpshooters bugs catapult their urine out into the world faster than expected

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:38 PM

Nature is awesome and we are still trying to figure out how a lot of the things common in nature work and how to artificially create the same. So far most of our efforts have been poor copies of what is there in nature.

A bug called sharpshooter has the ability to catapult their urine out into the world from a special liquid-shooter in their butts. Interestingly the water being expelled is faster than the speed at which it was launched which has implications on rocket science, fluid dynamics and many other areas.

“The sharpshooter gets all its nutrition from the thin, watery liquid inside a plant, called xylem sap, which it sucks out with this tube-shaped stylet. That sap has so little nutrition that sharpshooters need to guzzle nonstop. Taking all that liquid in presents a problem – how to move it out. The sharpshooter has evolved the perfect tool for the job: an anal stylus — or butt flicker. Here’s something incredible: Each drop of pee actually travels faster than the speed at which the butt flicker launched it. Learn about this incredible creature’s super-propulsive pee in this video!”

Source: boingboing.netSharpshooters are bugs that catapult their urine out into the world

– Suramya

March 8, 2024

alphaXiv – Forum to discuss any papers posted on ArXiv

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Science Related — Suramya @ 4:40 PM

Research papers can be hard to understand and sometimes you don’t have people or a community around where you can discuss a given paper and collaborate. In Bangalore we have a community called ‘Papers we love’ which did something similar but for a single paper every week as an in-person event.

There is a site called that I found out about recently. It is an interactive forum for anyone to comment line-by-line on arXiv papers. This allows you to collaborate and discuss the paper with others who find it interesting as well. One thing to keep in mind is that ArXiv papers can be pre-published versions which are not fully peer reviewed yet.

To start using the site, you need to create an account with them. If you don’t have an educational institute email address then you will have to verify your phone no as well in the near future. As of now you don’t need to do that. I guess they are doing this to prevent automated spam. Once you have an account and are logged in using the site is quite easy. You can browse for currently trending topics or search for a specific paper. If you are reading a paper on arXiv, you can change “” to “” in your URL search bar, and you will automatically be redirected to the forum for that paper.

Check it out when you get a chance as it is quite interesting.

– Suramya

February 29, 2024

Scientists are using wood of all things to build a satellite and launch it to orbit

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 9:08 PM

When people talk about strong materials that can be used to make durable satellites wood is nowhere even close to being considered. I mean come on, the image people (including me) have in their mind of wood is that it is something not too strong and for the most part is not durable. However, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are set to prove that is not the case and are planning to launch the world’s first wooden satellite into space. Yes, you did read that correctly; they are planning to use wood to make a satellite instead of Stainless Steel or titanium which will make the process a lot more sustainable. LignoSat is a coffee mug-size satellite made from magnolia wood and will be launched into orbit sometime during the Summer of 2024. Wood has an advantage over other materials in that it will burn up into ash during reentry into the atmosphere without releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere (which is what happens when Steel or Titanium reenters the atmosphere and burns up).

To verify the feasibility of using the material Kyoto University researchers sent samples of magnolia, cherry and birch up to the International Space Station and exposed it to space for 10 months, after which tests were run against the samples and when they confirmed that there was no decomposition or deformation in the samples it gave them confidence to move ahead with the project. LignoSat will be made using the wood from magnolia trees primarily because of the relative ease of working with it, dimensional stability, and overall strength as compared to the other candidates.

Another advantage of a wooden satellite is that it is less reflective than other materials which means that it would reduce the amount of ambient light pollution that astronomers have been complaining about over the past few years. Especially since the Starlink low orbit satellites were launched. Wood is also easier to grow so the overall cost might be lower.

One potential problem with this approach would be that it will require a lot of wood which would mean that forests would be logged offsetting the environmental gains made by using wood. Assuming the test is successful, we can look forward to using wood in more places instead of non eco friendly materials. But I doubt that it would replace the traditional materials completely.

– Suramya

Source: Wood Working Network: Japan set to launch first wood satellite

October 7, 2023

Oxford researchers develop promising 3D printing method for repairing brain injuries

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Brain injuries are traditionally extremely hard for us to cure with the current state of medical knowledge. Mild cases of Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion can be treated with rest and slow return to normal activities. However, for severe TBI’s the care mostly focuses on stabilizing the patient, ensuring the brain is getting enough enough oxygen, controlling blood and brain pressure, and preventing further injury to the head or neck. Post stabilization if the patient is stable we use therapies to recover functions, relearn skills etc. But that is just training the brain to use different neurons to perform tasks that the damaged ones used to do.

The researchers at the University of Oxford have had a breakthrough that brings the ability to provide tailored repairs for those who suffer brain injuries. The researchers demonstrated for the first time that neural cells can be 3D printed to mimic the architecture of the cerebral cortex. This research has been published in Nature Communications earlier this month.

Engineering human tissue with diverse cell types and architectures remains challenging. The cerebral cortex, which has a layered cellular architecture composed of layer-specific neurons organised into vertical columns, delivers higher cognition through intricately wired neural circuits. However, current tissue engineering approaches cannot produce such structures. Here, we use a droplet printing technique to fabricate tissues comprising simplified cerebral cortical columns. Human induced pluripotent stem cells are differentiated into upper- and deep-layer neural progenitors, which are then printed to form cerebral cortical tissues with a two-layer organization. The tissues show layer-specific biomarker expression and develop a structurally integrated network of processes. Implantation of the printed cortical tissues into ex vivo mouse brain explants results in substantial structural implant-host integration across the tissue boundaries as demonstrated by the projection of processes and the migration of neurons, and leads to the appearance of correlated Ca2+ oscillations across the interface. The presented approach might be used for the evaluation of drugs and nutrients that promote tissue integration. Importantly, our methodology offers a technical reservoir for future personalized implantation treatments that use 3D tissues derived from a patient’s own induced pluripotent stem cells.

I did try reading the paper but it pretty much went over my head. However I am extremely happy to see significant progress being made in this field and look forward to reading more about this technology as it is refined and improved.

Source: Oxford researchers develop 3D printing method that shows promise for repairing brain injuries

– Suramya

July 26, 2023

New Double sided solar panels nearly double the power production per panel

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:12 PM

Solar Panels have come a long way in the last few decades and their efficiency has been consistently increasing over the time as well. We have gone from an efficiency of ~10% on an average to more than 25% today. Now researchers from US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a new double sided solar panel that generates electricity from both sides of the panel. Basically it uses reflected light on the back side of the panel to generate power. Even though the amount of power generated by the backside of the panel is only ~90% of the power generated by the front end adding them both together means that a single panel is generating almost double the power than traditional panels.

Bifacial photovoltaics (PV) harvest solar irradiance from both their front and rear surfaces, boosting energy conversion efficiency to maximize their electrical power production. For single-junction perovskite solar cells (PSCs), the performance of bifacial configurations is still far behind that of their state-of-the-art monofacial counterparts. Here, we report on highly efficient, bifacial, single-junction PSCs based on the p-i-n (or inverted) architecture. We used optical and electrical modeling to design a transparent conducting rear electrode for bifacial PSCs to enable optimized efficiency under a variety of albedo illumination conditions. The bifaciality of the PSCs was about 91%–93%. Under concurrent bifacial measurement conditions, we obtained equivalent, stabilized bifacial power output densities of 26.9, 28.5, and 30.1 mW/cm2 under albedos of 0.2, 0.3, and 0.5, respectively. We further showed that bifacial perovskite PV technology has the potential to outperform its monofacial counterparts with higher energy yields and lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE).

This is a significant breakthrough and the research was published in the journal Joule titled “Highly efficient bifacial single-junction perovskite solar cells”.

I love the fact that renewable energy is getting so much more push nowadays. I have been exploring putting solar at my place, but since I am in an apartment I don’t have much options available that would make financial sense. The panels I could put up would barely supply enough power making the whole thing not cost effective. Parents have put solar at our house in Delhi and my cousin has done the same at their farm where most of their power consumption is managed by their solar setup.

– Suramya

June 26, 2023

BepiColombo takes fabulous photos during its flyby of Mercury 236 km above the planet’s surface

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,Science Related — Suramya @ 9:10 PM

Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun has been a challenge to explore and examine because of its closeness to the Sun. This is the second craft to orbit the planet after NASA’s MESSENGER probe, which orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015. BepiColombo is a joint venture between European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The latest flyby was 3rd of the 6 planned flybys of the planet. The team has released a short video composed of 217 images taken during the flyby.

Photo taken by BepiColombo during its 3rd flyby of Venus

Pic Credit: European Space Agency/ Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The closest approach took place at 19:34 UTC (21:34 CEST) on 19 June 2023, about 236 km above the planet’s surface, on the night side of the planet.

Approaching on the nightside of the planet, a few features started to appear out of the shadows about 12 minutes following the closest approach, when BepiColombo was already about 1800 km from the surface. The planet’s surface became more optimally illuminated for imaging from about 20 minutes after close approach and onwards, corresponding to a distance of about 3500 km and beyond. In these closer images, a bounty of geological features are visible, including a newly named crater.

While not apparent in these flyby images, the nature of the dark material associated with Manley Crater and elsewhere will be explored further by BepiColombo from orbit. It will seek to measure just how much carbon it contains and what minerals are associated with it, in order to learn more about Mercury’s geological history.

The next Mercury flyby will happen in September 2024 but the next next long solar electric propulsion ‘thruster arc’ is planned to start early August until mid-September which will help BepiColombo in Braking against the gravitational pull of the Sun. During the lifetime of the project, the module will have completed 15,000 hours of solar electric propulsion operations which will allow it to perform 9 planetary flybys in total — one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury.

The more we explore our celestial neighbors, the more information we will have before we start working towards space colonization and building settlements. Although, I don’t think that Mercury will be a contender in the near future for a settlement, unless we find a rare mineral or something over there.

Source: Slashdot: New Video Shows a Flyby of the Planet Mercury – with AI-Assisted Music

– Suramya

June 21, 2023

India launches 2nd Gen satellite for the NavIC Navigation System

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,Science Related — Suramya @ 1:07 PM

GPS has become so ingrained in our life that it is hard to imagine a world before GPS. I remember having to use paper maps and asking folks for directions during our road trips and now I don’t need to worry about anything, just follow the map and you can find anything. Even during my mountaineering course back in 1999 we learnt how to navigate and how to figure out where you were using landmarks. Towards the end of the course the instructor showed us a GPS receiver (which was ridiculously expensive at that time) as something that was available but couldn’t be relied upon because it was too expensive and might not be available. Now we have watches with built in GPS so the technology has come a long way since then.

However, since GPS is a US controlled system they have the ability to disable it for any area if they want and that creates a major risk. In the Kargil war, US disabled GPS for the entire region making it difficult for them to figure out where they were and perform the attacks more safely. This highlighted the risk and strategic importance of the functionality for India and they started working on an indigenous replacement.

Other countries have also realized the same and implemented their own version of GPS, these include Russian GLONASS, European Galileo, Japanese QZSS (Covers Japan and surrounding areas), and Chinese BeiDou. India’s replacement is called NavIC, which means sailor in Hindi. It is an regional satellite navigation system that provides accurate real-time positioning and timing services and currently covers India and a region extending 1,500 km (930 mi) around it. The system went live in 2018 via seven satellites. These satellites only operated in the L-5 band and S-band frequencies which are not supported in civilian equipment so wasn’t available for civilian use. After the Galileo constellation was granted approval to use the L1 band India also requested access and was granted permission by the International Telecommunication Union to use the L1 and L2 frequency bands.

On 29th May 2023, ISRO successfully placed the NVS-01 navigation satellite into orbit. This second generation satellite supports the L1 band which means the device manufacturers such as GPS receivers and smartphones just need a software update to support navigation using NavIC instead of needed extra hardware which was the case with the previous generation of the system. ISRO is planning on launching a satellite every six months over the next few years to put 11 new satellites in orbit so that the system has redundancy.

NVS-01 is the first of the second-generation satellites envisaged for the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) services. NVS series of satellites will sustain and augment the NavIC with enhanced features. This series incorporates L1 band signals additionally to widen the services. For the first time, an indigenous atomic clock will be flown in NVS-01.

For now the system is concentrating on the Indian subcontinent and the area around it but as more satellites are launched they are planning on covering the entire globe and provide users with an alternative to GPS.

Source: EurAsian Times: Backstabbed During Pakistan War, India ‘Ditches’ US GPS For ‘Much More Accurate’ NavIC Navigation System

– Suramya

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