Dilip D'Souza (for Info only, not official)

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Dilip D'Souza

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    ...Thus my earlier columns about chopping off ant legs, about left-leaning ants, about what ants do with pheromones. I like to think I’m not the only one who finds these little creatures fascinating, especially when they tell us things about the ways of the world. Though there is something brutal about chopping off their legs, I’ll admit. Still, today I want to tell you about what researchers in Israel found when they induced some ants to carry home, among other things, a large, heavy, doughnut-shaped object. Well, “large” and “heavy” for the ants. This was a single Cheerio, taken from a box of the famous cereal brand. Might seem trivial to you, but the scientists estimated that the little ring is about 350 times heavier than an individual ant. Here’s something to put that number in perspective. The typical car on the road weighs about 1,500kg. That’s heavy, but only about 20 times as heavy as the average human is. ...

    Live Mint on Dec. 16, 2016, 3:40 a.m.

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    ...Not to my knowledge do these pop up in too many other places in nature, but there’s one on Saturn. Though let’s be clear: There are no bees on the ringed planet. Even if there were, and if for a moment we thought this was part of a beehive, those saturnine bees would have to be enormous. For this hexagon is—hold your breath—about 32,000km wide. How big is that? Well, you would have to place three planet Earths in a row to stretch across the roiling expanse of this thing. Not your average hexagon. Not that they found it recently, either. When Nasa’s Voyager spacecraft flew past Saturn in 1980, it sent home images of its experience. In 1988, scientists noticed, while sifting through Voyager data, that there was a massive hexagon at the planet’s north pole. In 1997, Nasa launched the Cassini spacecraft on a mission to Saturn. It started orbiting Saturn in 2004, and has sent plenty of images of the planet, including of its polar regions. ...

    Live Mint on Dec. 2, 2016, 1:54 a.m.

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    ...Let’s focus for a while on stars. You know, those little blinking dots in the night sky. Specifically, I want to tell you about something that happened with a star nearly 30 years ago. Well, actually it happened about 168,000 years ago, but we earthlings first found out about it on 24 February 1987. This happened: A star exploded. In fact, a truly massive star, one astronomers call a supergiant, exploded. Such an explosion is known as a supernova, and they are not that unusual: a typical supergiant that has reached the end of its life will, typically, explode. Given that there are countless billions of stars out there, and many of them are supergiants, and at any given time, many of those arrive at the end of their lives—well, these starry explosions must be happening pretty regularly. ...

    Live Mint on Nov. 18, 2016, 1:19 a.m.

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    ...Or we will begin at least four years in which the name “Trump” will be even more part of our consciousness than it already is. We’re talking about Donald Trump and the US presidential election, of course. As always, a slew of opinion polls try to capture the state of this endless campaign. Hillary Clinton has been consistently ahead—though who knows what havoc her email imbroglio will wreak. In any case, each poll warns of its “margin of error”. Clinton’s lead has generally stayed within those margins, or just beyond them. So it’s possible that on 8 November, Trump will defy the polls and actually win. Possible, but not probable. That’s the case that Nate Silver, of the famous FiveThirtyEight journal, has been making for months now. As I write this, FiveThirtyEight suggests there is a 86.3% chance that Clinton will win, compared with a 13.7% chance that Trump does. Seems overwhelmingly as if Clinton will win this thing, right? Indeed, though even that can stand a closer look. ...

    Live Mint on Nov. 4, 2016, 12:15 a.m.

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    ...Assuming that’s an intriguing-enough opening, let me explain. In 1970, the British mathematician John Conway invented a board game called, simply, “Life”. Now, this is not a game in the conventional sense: there’s no way to “win”, nor do you play against an opponent. In fact, Life doesn’t even need a player as it proceeds. You just set up an initial state and then watch what happens. Life happens on a grid of squares that stretch in every direction (imagine an infinite chessboard). Each square, or cell, is either alive or dead (or call it black or white, filled or empty). To start, you choose a certain number of cells to be live—at random, or in a pattern, whatever. Each cell now evolves according to a set of rules that considers its eight neighbours (left, right, above, below, and on the four corners). If it’s a dead cell which has exactly three live neighbours, it springs to life (think of this as reproduction). ...

    Live Mint on Oct. 21, 2016, 2:40 a.m.

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    ...Almost everyone I spoke to knew of someone suffering from it—sometimes even themselves—ruminating ruefully about the severe joint pains it produces. Chikungunya has been known for over 60 years, though it’s really in the last decade that we have seen large outbreaks in different corners of the world. Such outbreaks happen because the organism responsible either shows up where it was previously unknown, or evolves to defeat barriers to its spread. There is evidence that by 2005, the chikungunya virus had evolved to use a particular species of mosquito as a carrier. That species took the disease to new parts of the world. I’m reminded of a dramatic video I saw recently, in which bacteria encounter ever higher levels of deadly (to them) antibiotics, but evolve to survive and spread. I’m also reminded of my brother, who had an attack of malaria while working in rural Odisha some years ago. It was frightening because he developed very high fever and convulsions. ...

    Live Mint on Oct. 7, 2016, 1:29 a.m.

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    ...But there’s really no reason for confusion, of course, because they have nothing to do with each other.Or do they?Euclid was Greek and lived in Alexandria in the third century BC.He worked on number theory, logic and astronomy, and was particularly interested in geometry.His book Elements is perhaps the most influential mathematical text in history; generations of mathematicians used it to learn the subject, all the way till the early 20th century.Leonhard Euler lived some 2,000 years after Euclid, in the 18th century.He was Swiss, but lived mostly in St Petersburg and Berlin.He is easily the most prolific mathematician the world has known.His writing about geometry, astronomy, music, topology, number theory and much more fill about 30,000 pages.They lived two millennia apart, these two remarkable men.But it turns out they do have something in common, and therein lies something of a story about mathematics. ...

    Live Mint on Sept. 22, 2016, 11:34 p.m.