Blog 14 : Learning from Bacteria

“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself” – Sun Tzu

Last few months made us aware of Viruses. We all, those who do not belong to the biology-related fields, suddenly, sometime in February 2020 got ourselves informed that viruses can create havoc..!! It brought entire human race to its knees and we are still crawling and struggling to get up and walk!

To most of us, viruses are known, but not understood. As I tried to dig a bit more on these microscopic creatures, I realised that we are not the only ones who have to “deal with” these. There are other prokaryotes, like bacteria, fungi and so on, who have their own struggle to combat Viruses.

This article is an attempt to link these viruses to the recent Nobel Prize winners for Chemistry for 2020.

So, humans learn from the nature and nature is full of organisms, who we think, in-some-sense, inferior. However, that’s not true. They are already doing funny (and intelligent) things which we can only understand if we observe them carefully. Well, like human-beings, the microorganisms also have their safety ensured through their own defence mechanisms. Microorganisms could be bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and so on. Just like humans, bacteria are also susceptible to viruses. Viruses can attack the bacteria and eventually destroy them and take total control over their systems.

So, how do bacteria handle these attacks? They use their own genetic manipulation to do this. Let us see few essential biological terms here. Biologically, each individual is different because everybody has a unique DNA. In the fields of molecular biology and genetics, a genome is the genetic material of an organism. It consists of DNA (or RNA).  DNA is the molecule that is the hereditary material in all living cells. Genes are made of DNA, and so is the genome itself.

(Courtesy : httpswww.scienceabc.compure-sciencesdifference-bacteria-vs-virus.html)

The viruses, who are the invaders (on say, bacteria), are known as “phages”. They attach to the surface of bacterial cells, inject their genetic material, and use the cells’ enzymes to multiply while destroying their hosts. To defend against a phage attack, bacteria have evolved a variety of immune systems. One of these immune systems, known as CRISPR-Cas, when encounters a enemy (phage), the system creates a ‘memory’ of the invader by capturing a small snippet of the enemy’s genetic material. The pieces of phage DNA are copied into small molecules known as CRISPR RNAs, which then combine with one or more Cas proteins to form a group called a Cas complex. This complex patrols the inside of the cell, carrying the CRISPR RNA for comparison; exactly in the way a detective uses a fingerprint to identify a criminal. Once a match is found, the Cas proteins chop up the invading genetic material and destroy the phage.

(Courtesy: httpswww.genengnews.comcommentarya-dual-gene-therapy-and-gene-editing-platform) Abstract luminous DNA molecule.

This technology of bacteria is being studied by humans for a long time. The technology which is then so developed is called as CRISPR Gene Editing technology. CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”, a term that describes a family of nucleic acid sequences that were discovered in archaea and bacteria in the 1990s containing copies of virus genes. While studying this, it appeared that somehow these organisms had stolen genes out of viruses. So, in short, bacteria, as evolved, has virus RNA as a part of its identity..!

Technologically, this ability to identify specific DNA sequences with precision and break them apart was quickly recognised as a perfect tool for editing genes. A protein called Cas9 can be used in conjunction with engineered CRISPR sequences to hunt down codes and slice them (like a molecular scalpel), allowing geneticists to cut out a target gene, either to remove it or replace it with a new sequence. So it is literally Cut-Copy-Paste and Replace!

CRISPR-based technology has been applied to a variety of tasks in the past decade, from removing genes responsible for diseases, to destroying drug resistant superbugs, to creating molecular recording devices. Cancer screening, Metabolic engineering and manufacturing of high-value compounds are few other important applications.

This was the fundamental base on which two women scientists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, this year. The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was jointly awarded to French microbiologist, geneticist, and biochemist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a cutting edge, novel method for genome editing.


Charpentier worked on the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes around 700 million skin infections in humans each year. While working on this pathogen in the late 2000s, she noticed that the bacteria contained a previously undiscovered molecule called tracrRNA, which was found to be a part of the bacteria’s ancient immune system, the CRISPR-Cas system. Her findings were published in 2011.

Doudna, an expert on ribonucleic acid (RNA) and x-ray crystallography of ribozymes, an RNA enzyme that catalyses a chemical reaction, started work on CRISPR, independently, in 2009. In 2011, she met Charpentier at a conference in Puerto Rico, following which they began to work on CRISPR-Cas together. They recreated the bacteria’s genetic scissors in a test tube and were eventually able to reprogram the entire CRISPR-Cas9 system so that it could be controlled and be used to cut any DNA molecule at a specific site on the genetic sequence, thus fundamentally altering the genetic code of the organism.

Their work has initiated radical leaps in the field of biomedical research. It has been used to modify the genomes of three cancer patients to reprogram the immune system to fight off cancer cells in February this year, with no side effects so far. It has also explored to eliminate HIV from infected cells and is being used to reverse congenital blindness, combat diseases such as Huntington’s as well as chronic pain.

I leave this blog with two thoughts to ponder on:

1. Bacteria have found a solution for its survival by “incorporating” virus signature in itself. Can we then say bacteria as a “Bacteria” or a “Virus”? Is there an identity crisis here? Well, can we talk of humans on similar lines? Time will tell as to how far genetic engineering will take us.

2. We thought that we invented cut-copy-paste technology. But look at bacteria, which we always considered as the simplest form of microscopic organism. It has been using this technology to modify itself, for so long! We are just learning and re-creating it!

Blog 13: Choose to be a story of Ashlee Vance or Kangana Ranaut…a Vazeer or a Pawn? ?

I am reading this book by Ashlee Vance, which is on Elon Musk (I already wrote a blog on this Simultaneously, we got to hear news on the suicide of popular Bollywood Actor, Sushant Singh Rajput and the controversial interview given by Ms. Kangana Ranaut, a popular and successful Bollywood actress, to Arnab Goswami (Republic TV News Anchor and Journalist). She spoke about Nepotism in Bollywood and people falling prey to this so-called Bollywood Mafia; with Sushant being the victim of this. Now you may think, what has these two reads got to do with each other?

Well, let me talk mostly on the experts of the contents of the book by Ashlee Vance. We will connect the dots of above paragraph automatically..!


Solar City is one of the Enterprise of Elon Musk, which deals with Solar Energy. This is in addition to his ventures such as Space X and Tesla Motors. Solar City manufactures solar panels for green power generation. It has more than 6 Billion US Dollar business in the country. Each of Elon Musk’s enterprise is interconnected:

1. Tesla Motors makes Battery Packs. Solar City sells them to the companies and customers.

2. Solar City sells Charging Stations with Solar Panels to Tesla Motors to provide free recharging to Tesla cars, all over the country.

3. Owners of Model “S” of Tesla Motors are keen to invest on domestic solar panels from Solar City, to follow the “Musk Lifestyle”!!

4. Tesla Motors and Space X help each-other with their know-how in materials and manufacturing; for example materials like alloys, welding-free composites, and light-weight materials and so on.

5. Solar City, Tesla Motors and Space X are unified verticals to develop technologies in Solar, Automobiles and Aerospace Industry.

Now just see the following facts:

1. Elon Musk has entered as an Entrepreneur, in the most bureaucratic sectors in the world – Energy, Automobile and Aerospace.

2. Companies like Intel, Walgreens, Wall Mart, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Mercedes Benz, Toyota were in direct competition with a tiny company like that of Elon. These companies have deep pockets and strong political connections which can easily dismiss such small enterprise. They must have ridiculed Elon Musk several times and seen him as an annoying and a pretty foolish person.

3. It is very easy to realise that these huge companies can make life of a young, South-African entrepreneur really miserable and we all would agree that they would be very good at this..!!

It was more than 12 years of toiling work, that in 2012, Elon Musk emerged to be a real threat to all his competitors. Not only he had huge technological breakthroughs, he also has huge star-power which washed over all the bureaucracy of majority of big companies in the United States.

courtesy: 669a306016bc130875d5e55bdf788073

Today, he has a Space X factory in Los Angeles, Rocket Testing facility in Central Texas, Space Board setups in South Texas. He has factories in California and Florida, with Tesla Factory in Silicon Valley. For Solar City’s Battery Factory, there was bidding among various states of USA, which was finally won by Nevada by giving Solar City an incentive of 1.4 Billion Dollars!!! He earned all this and is now a super celebrity of the world, and still as a “Entrepreneur”.

I am sure; all of you must have guessed why I wrote all this and mentioned Sushant Singh Rajput or Kangana Ranaut at the start. These actors entered Bollywood from remote villages and cities in India and tried to do their best in this industry. Nepotism is everywhere. It is a part of every profession and each and every new-comer will face it. Ofcourse, if you are a son/daughter of “biggies” it is going to be different (well.. mostly), but it does exist. Therefore, one has two choices:

1. We blame the system and the flaws, favoritism, nepotism, bureaucracy and so on, and brood over it. Express it and get ourselves anxious, angry, and depressed and end our life or affect our career, which eventually will ruin you as an individual. The loss of your creativity is also a loss to the society.

2. OR you face it, persistently focus on the aim and work towards it, become extremely self-reliant, confident and a successful personality; which nobody can ignore. The way in which multiple Elon enterprises work together, in the same way, a herd of like-minded people can help and grow together.

The choice is ours.

There are other similar stories of how United States stood up in the Telecom Market when Steve Jobs brought the iPhone in the US market, which was completely dominated earlier by Chinese, Korean and Japanese telecom market. There would be many such stories.

Suicides and blame-games are never a solution to anything. The suicide stories are indeed sad, but finally, no one, except the victim, is at the loss. Standing up on your own merit and making a statement for yourself is the best solution. Actors like Akshay Kumar, Tapasee Pannu are good examples. In academics, everybody cannot be in Harvard or MIT or Cambridge… or work at IITs in India. But somebody’s work can make his/her own Institution as proud as Harvard or Cambridge..!! Someone can become an Institution by him/herself!!!! And when it is in the mind, it can become a reality..!!!

(The thoughts expressed here are of my own. I do not mean to harm the sentiments of any person / organisation) 

Blog 12: Cutting the cult of “Beautiful People”!!

Specific Technologies have a monopoly. The Monopoly brings bureaucracy. Bureaucracy thrives on limited information. And Limited information results from limited knowledge. And finally, limited knowledge is an outcome of inferior/rudimentary technologies..!! Bring it all together and one can say, Monopoly results into rudimentary technology.

How does one assimilate this? Well, take example of space technologies. For years and decades together, space missions, rocket launching, satellite missions have been a monopoly of the Government. NASA in the US and ISRO in India are excellent examples. They have done commendable jobs by launching space vehicles up in the space for various applications such as for communication, navigation, and surveillance, weather-forecast and so on.

In the US, giant companies like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin supply essential technologies for NASA explorations such as engines, chassis, and electronics and so on. I call these as “Beautiful People”. That’s because they are privileged. There is no competition.  They have their own ways of doing things, which may not be optimum. But since they have monopoly, there are mostly no questions asked. They take technologies from countries like Russia, especially for engine designs. Therefore, Russians are also a part of this “Cult of beautiful people”.  For a technology which would cost “X” amount, these would charge “10X”..!! For a time “T” to complete a job and launch a space ship, they would take “10T”!! And while all this goes on for decades, common person like you-and-me think of all this as “Rocket Science”.. err.. literally..!!


“HOW” to break this Cult and “WHY” to break this Cult? Well, the reason is that everything should come to humanity and a common man. Why should space missions be only to understand the Universe? Why shouldn’t it be available like a “space safari” or a “holiday to Moon” or “MARS”? If this has to happen, the cult has to be broken. And it is not easy. Because one has to do several things:

1. Have Indigenous technologies – So that entire range of components is manufactured in-house. Things become very cheap. 2. Improvise the technologies – Coming out of rudimentary control systems and poor electronics to savvy, digitally-controlled, lightweight and miniaturized mechanical assemblies. 3. Recyclable and Re-usable Rocket technologies – If a Rocket which launches the satellites in space are able to come back for the next payload satellite to be taken (just like a train comes to carry new passengers back to the same destination), cost cutting would be huge. It becomes a consumer product then.

Falcon 9 look is Flashy, the feel is Savvy, the technology is Sexy and the performance is Efficacious!!!.

I am sure, by now everybody has guessed it..!! Yes, I am talking about SpaceX technologies and the person who has Cut the Cult is Mr. Elon Musk! SpaceX has developed completely indigenous technology to launch its FALCON-series of rockets and launchers. They have developed Dragon Capsules which use solar panels, highly efficient and light-weight single sheet composites with technologies for higher stability, better solar-power efficiency and intelligent algorithms sitting on MEMS-based electronics. The look is Flashy, the feel is Savvy, the technology is Sexy and the performance is Efficacious!!!. Everything is just opposite to that developed and held by the cult of beautiful people..!!

Let me give some examples here –

1. The average cost of Boeing’s Starliner would be $90 million per astronaut, compared with $55 million a seat on SpaceX’s Dragon.

2. With entire technologies made from within SpaceX, 60% of the space revenue of the world is collected by the US.

3. Russia charges 70 Million USD, to the US, per person, to International Space Station, which is extremely expensive.

4. With re-usable rockets, the SpaceX will be able to bring these technologies much cheaper and they intend to have atleast 20 launches per year. They also dream of having an interim space-base, where the rockets would be available immediately after they complete one “trip” to space and are ready to go next, with a new Dragon.

People could think of Mars mission, space safaris more often, just because someone has tried to cut the cult of beautiful people, who had a monopoly of technologies and which were working with extremely slow pace.

SpaceX is Elon Musk. He thinks differently, is extremely sharp, a task-master, and is very courageous!! Cutting through the giants like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences and winning over NASA slots and bids is not easy. Bringing the technologies to a cheaper level with smarter, more advanced, and digital-friendly level has to be a dream first, and then a reality..!!

They say that earlier, if there was some flaw in a rocket launching system, which was realized during the launch, NASA would cancel the entire launch and would take atleast 30 days to recover the flaw and schedule a new launch. But with FALCON series, there is a story that SpaceX engineers discovered a flaw and they quickly changed the software online and the corrected the same and the launch was delayed only by 30 mins..!!

That’s the power of dream.. !!

“Cutting the Cult” stories are many.. For me, the best one is of Elon Musk.

To achieve something that is phenomenal, one needs to be a “General of Army” and not the “CEO of a company”..!!

Next time you hear the song of Ed Sheeran, “Beautiful People”, surely you will remember Elon Musk and (hopefully) this blog..!!

(These are my personal thoughts, which are not intended to harm anyone, nor any organization)

Blog 11: Out of this Quarantine…

We all have been in this lock-down status, sitting at home for around 40 days now… And if this blog of mine sounds a bit shaky, blame it on the quarantine period..!! Psychiatrists say that it is perfect to be a little “crazy” in such periods!!! I read a wonderful Billionaire quote:

If you don’t come out of this quarantine with:

-A new skill

– Your side hustle started

-More knowledge

You never lacked time, you lacked discipline

This quote has made me write this blog.

I always had a very busy life. Since my age of 21, I have been working. I completed my Master’s and got a job in Fergusson College. I did my PhD along with this job. Got married, have a lovely daughter, did post-doc in the USA, shifted to DRDO and continuing .. continuously. It has been more than 30 years of continuous work, with absolutely no gap… I recall that when delivered my daughter, I went for a day in my laboratory, even from the hospital (I never knew that it was forbidden!!).

Being a professional at fairly good level, and struggling to be the best in my own domain, I did earn good applauds and rewards. However, lately, maybe in past 3-4 years I had been continuously thinking that I need a change..

What was this “change”? I didn’t know… I had a pool of friends, with whom, whenever I used to chat, I would say this…

Maybe, more travel?? Well, for my work I travel a lot…. in country and abroad… for meetings conferences… big deal…!! But maybe a travel with no agenda, I was meaning?? I don’t know..

Maybe, more chat time??? Well, lately, I do miss meaningful conversations… Well, due to my current position in my Institute, I meet so many people… big deal, again…!! But maybe the connect is missing… I would love a very few friends with whom I could talk on same frequency.. and share experiences… maybe with those belonging to different walks of life…

Maybe, my own enterprise, my own company..?? Well, I have been doing innovative research projects for so long. I keep writing papers, publish in peer-reviewed international journals.. big deal, again…!!  But maybe, I wish to do something which will give me a pleasure of “creation” and offering it to the Society which needs it…

And, as it is said, when you want something absolutely and genuinely, you will get it..

I never wanted the time to come by my side, the way it did… I never wanted to invite a virus in the world to stop the world for this petty desire of mine… But it came anyways, and I was left with time.. due to lockdown.. Now time was going slow… pushing me to something I wanted for ages..!!

It did not click me first. I went busy completing the work which was pending. Unfinished papers, project proposal writing, meetings with students, faculty colleagues and such things. But I soon realized that this is my Dream Time.. I should explore NOW…

Well, I couldn’t travel… but I could plan one… only for myself.. a “Solo” one…

I am not obliged to talk to many now… I could talk to only those who give me pleasure of company.. very very few… and I could get a wonderful connections.. !!! They were already there, but realization came NOW..!!

I always wanted to plan for my own enterprise… and I could plan wonderfully… the plan is clearer now…

I learnt to take care of myself.. good food and health, I could invest more time and carve out a plan… thanks to my wonderful instructor and a genuine friend..

I could concentrate on the current pandemic conditions and using the learning’s through my profession, along with my wonderful colleagues and students, I could frame a wonderful proposal to help the needy, in India.. That was so satisfying..

The travel through the tunnel is also important… it helps you conquer your fears.. Our tunnel is made by us.. use it now… because time is by your side.!!

People say that if you are in a dark tunnel, remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel….

Well, it is true… but more vivid fact is also this that,

 The travel through the tunnel is also important… it helps you conquer your fears.. Gets you accustomed to that temporary darkness.. so that, as you come out of the tunnel, your vision is clearer… because you have “Lived” through the tunnel, and not just waited for it to “pass”…!!!

Our tunnel is made by us.. use it now… because time is by your side.!!

Blog 10 – Two Stories : Confluence of school of thoughts

“Science knows no boundaries.. a philosophical thought of one could become a clue or inspiration to another, generating big discoveries”!!

Our brain works in a funny way. It actually fires in random.. and in that sense, each one of us is born creative..!  The conventional education, on the other hand, does not give freedom for such random navigation of our thoughts. It captures it in compartments.. of science, commerce, engineer, finance, accounts and so on… Therefore, I have always felt that too much of training makes your brain so compartmentalized that it refuses to listen and understand the knowledge generated in another compartment.

by John Kay,print,1785

But discoveries do not happen in such compartments at all… Therefore, I guess, not everybody can be a scientist… in order to generate that capacity, looking outside our own compartment is essential… It is a clue, which can fire neurons in different ways and generate un-imaginable perspectives, evolving path-breaking discoveries.

Let me tell you 2 different stories today. These are independent stories, but are phenomenally linked together…. which will, hopefully, generate the flavor of what I have said here.

Story 1: Take 1: Year 1687. Issac Newton came up with his very popular Laws of Motion. He made these laws in the time frame when mathematics was highly deterministic. Every mathematical equation will have a unique solution, was considered as the “only” fact. His laws became very popular and they fitted with extreme accuracy for any object, be it a cannon ball or a cricket ball in movement on this planet earth. His laws dominated the scientific arena for more than 200 years..!!! till Heisenberg and Einstein arrived on the universal stage. Well, how was Einstein inspired to do what he did… ??

Let me continue story 1, after a small break… while I tell you Story 2…

Story 2: Year 1744. Two clergymen named Alexender Webster and Robert Wallace used to work in Scotland to serve the church priests and the Scottish King. The wealthy Scottish King and the priests were worried about the fact that how their wives would be taken care, after their demise. They were concerned over the fact that after they die, their wives may not have the kind of life they were having at present. They were looking for solution then, when Webster and Wallace started thinking on the possible solutions. They started their thought process to imagine as to what would be the average age of each priest or a King, what would be the average age at which they would die and how long would the wives live, after their demise, on an average. Further, how many such priests would be there, for whom they should make a model. They found out that there is sufficient data recorded by few people (Edmond Halley – Table of mortality, in Germany), on the birth and death of few noted personalities, which they retrieved (In today’s language, it was their “big data”). They were unable to solve the puzzle with the deterministic mathematical model. Therefore, they invited Prof Colin Maclaurin from Edinburgh University, UK, to help them with calculations. Prof. Colin sat together with Wallace and Webster to determine the amount of money each priest to shell out, per year, till they die, to ensure that their wives get handsome sum till they die (or they re-marry). They generated the concept of Insurance and Pension, in doing these calculations… A new domain of Mathematics was born, called as Statistics…!! The concept of probability came into existence and the Insurance and pension plans worked so well for these clergymen that the probability theory was almost 100% hit!! They offered that if a priest pays 6 Pounds per year, till they live, they could offer a handsome sum or 25 Pounds per year to their wives, as their pension, after they die..!! It was awesome solution… for the priests, and then to the public, at large.

Insurance and Pension plans were floated world-wide. Two clergymen were responsible to enhance the domain of deterministic mathematics to probabilistic statistics..!!!!

Now we enter Story 1 again, after 200 years..!!

Story 1 – Take 2: Year 1904 – People had started thinking that the Newton’s Laws of motion did not fit well for the subatomic particles. Albert Einstein, along with few other noted Physicists were thinking over the Laws of motion, propagation of wave, differences between wave and a particle, and explanation of motion of subatomic particles. Now these guys looked into the other “compartment” of Statistics which was evolved by now. They used the concept of probability. Wave particle duality was proposed by Werner Heisenberg around this time. Quantum mechanics was born..! In quantum mechanics, events produced by the interaction of subatomic particles happen in jumps (quantum leaps), with a probability rather than definite outcomes. This concept of probability used by these scientists was an outcome of the Insurance policies which Scottish priests had demanded..!!

If Heisenberg, Max Planck and Albert Einstein would have not looked “over” their compartment of Physics and Chemistry, and peep inside the compartment of Scottish Clergymen and their developed Insurance and Pension models, they would have never thought of the explanation of waves and special theories of relativity, and the movement of sub-atomic particles.

The Universe unfolded itself to reveal its model of “possibilities”…

Issac Newton, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Alexender Webster or Robert Wallace were mere instruments of nature, to reveal its story …!!

And it took a long journey of human kind, of over 220 years to reveal few facts…!!! As we take a leap towards Quantum Computing, in 2020, are we making a new beginning to reveal yet another untold story of this Universe… waiting to unfold??? Well, we don’t know… Humans have to wait and see…. See outside their own compartments, using their raw brain… and maybe imagination. Let the creativity get some mental space and fresh ideas would nourish!!

(The stories are an inspiration from the Novel “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari)

Blog 8: “Dear Zindagi” and mutual induction

One of the good movies which I have seen in recent past is Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhat’s “Dear Zindagi”..!


A wonderful movie showing life of a young girl, her struggle, aspirations and stresses she goes through. Taking help of a psychiatrist, who helps her conquer her fears and guides her through a lesson, to love life..!! The part that I remember the most is his chair, which solely belongs to him and squeaks if any other person sits on it. The classic scene in this movie is the one in which, he sits on the chair, towards the end of the movie, and it squeaks.. indicating that the personality of him has changed.. to someone the chair doesn’t recognise. It is shown to be the effect of the chirpy, lively girl who is his patient. His personality gets modified, as well, while treating her..!!

We see such effects, so often in our everyday life. An influential person changes the generation of people who follow him/her. A charismatic person imbibes varied characters in the people around him/her, touching their lives…. But there is a difference.. the effect in the above examples is one way. While “Dear Zindagi” shows a two way effect..

I thought of such things in Physics as well. We have seen mutual induction, isn’t it? It says that whenever there is a conductor coil, carrying alternating current through it, it creates magnetic field around it… very similar to the psychiatrist, who has a great persona and trying to heal the patients coming to him. As long as the patient’s interaction zone is not too close, it works fine and as a simple therapy. However, if another conductor coil comes in close proximity to this coil, the magnetic lines of force of the current carrying conductor interfere with the second coil. The second coil, in our case is Alia Bhat’s character. As that happens, the field is induced in this coil as well, changing the performance of the coil, which otherwise was “lifeless”. That’s interesting, I think..!!


Secondly, a Lenz’s law states, whenever current is induced in a conductor, due to its own flux, its direction is such that it tries to oppose the cause. This means, the induced current changes the original character of the coil..! On similar lines, the character of Shahrukh Khan in this movie changes, due to his own therapy and its effect on his patient, Alia..! The only condition is that the acquaintance has to be friendlier and there has to be a connection between two personalities, to make this magic work. This can happen between two close friends, or between two people who are able to connect to each other, at an intellectual level, very well. The induction effect is an outcome of mutual respect, faith and affection towards the thought processes of each other.

Interesting, I guess..!! Maybe the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle can say more.. Since it does say that while you measure one parameter, there is an error in the other, i.e., the other parameter changes… it would be rather difficult to connect these concepts.., but one can always try..

Curiosities helps us relate two totally different episodes in a magical way.. well, some may agree, and few may disagree too.. but to pen it down is important..!!

Blog 7: Grain Boundaries and State Boundaries: An operational simile!

I was recently in Mangalore for a wonderful conference on Lasers. I had to give a talk here and also participate to listen to others. The family of researchers working on Lasers, worldwide, is quite limited.. and in that, those working on Pulsed Lasers for material depositions is further narrowed. Hence listening to such talks and also delivering one on such platforms is always fun! So I was hearing one speaker who was talking on grains and grain boundaries.

Those who are new to this field, grains are small crystals or crystallites (group of atoms) of a particular material, which show similar behavior. In any given material (say copper, aluminium, gold, silicon, any oxides and so on), the arrangement of atoms is important. If they are grouped in the form of crystallites, then the structure looks something like the one shown below.


It has multiple groups (grains) randomly oriented. The inter-grain arrangement is random (but in equilibrium), but intra-grain arrangement is very systematic. Imagine a hexagonal arrangement. Well, imagine multiple atoms arranged in hexagonal fashion, which is a single grain. And such hexagonal cubes oriented in different fashion would form the entire polycrystalline material. Now, every grain will have a grain-boundary with respect to its neighbor. These grain boundaries are full of imperfections and random orientations of atoms. This is natural, because, the atoms in these locations are under loose-influence of either of the grains and hence their orientation is slightly screwed. These imperfections give rise to fatigue in the crystalline system of the material, and that gives rise to strain, stress and creeks in the material, which gives rise to a bit-of instability to the structure. A smooth grain boundary is desirable, but is never so..!! And this gives rise to the characteristic behavior of the material. The conductivity, electrical, optical and other properties are dependent on these grains and grain boundaries. The “personality” of any material, will depend upon the polycrystalline nature and the way in which it is engineered.. that is its inter-grain chemistry. If the grain boundaries are rough, the overall performance of the material gets affected to a very large extent. All the notorious atoms lying in this region create resistance to the systematic behavior of the material, giving rise to an “altered” (often, poor) performance of the material. But how about a single crystal? The crystal in which all the atoms are perfectly aligned with respect to each-other? They would behave very systematic and the performance would be very good, when any external field is applied. However, in case of polycrystalline material, large external electric/magnetic fields would be required to align all the grain –boundary atoms in a proper way to give a systematic performance.

Partial map of India : for example

Every country is like a polycrystalline material, I thought.. Every state is like a grain, comprising of people of similar types (like atoms in a grain). They speak certain language, have similar behavioral, food, dressing patterns and have similar thought-process. As we go from one state to another, the pattern changes, the language changes and again, the people there are well-aligned with each other. But what happens at the boundaries? The state boundaries comprise of people who are in complicated situation. Individual political influences from either states co-exist, languages interfere and their thought processes are also complicated. The grain boundaries are rough… similarly, the regions between the interfaces of two states is also complicated. This weak identity of the people creates barriers, misunderstandings and a kind-of polarized mind-sets. This resistance can be overcome only with a good and strong political control. It is easy to imagine that if two neighboring states have same party government, they would align with each-other easily; for example, sharing of water and electricity resources would happen easily. But if not, resistance would be large. The identity of these states and hence the identity of the country starts deteriorating, which defines the economy of the country. Therefore very strong political governance (just like externally applied electric or magnetic field) would be necessary to keep all the states together (just like keeping the polycrystalline system together). If a single majority government exists, it is easy to have a congenial country, which will develop faster than that with a government with lot of alliances.

If a country has no states, what will happen? Single state country will be most peaceful, easy to handle and with good economical standing. Think of Vatican City, a single state place with merely 1000 people. This is like a single crystal in materials. However, the nature of a country is similar to the nature of mostly made materials.. polycrystalline.. multi-state…

Thought of putting up this thought of correlation of material science with the country formation and governance… I can think deeper… and talk about the “type” of atom and “behaviour/nature” of an individual.. but that will make this blog more complicated (and interesting)!!

A material can be made to work in its best performance mode by handling the grain boundaries properly and ensuring that these boundaries are minimal. Same way, a country can run with best economy of the inter-state politics is kept minimal and people think alike..!!

Blog 6: “Un-settled” is a new “settlement” – Welcome to Generation ”Y” aka Millennials

Surfing on the net today I got caught over a nice article on Millennials. I was interested in knowing more about these, who are born between 1980 to say 2000. They are also called as Generation “Y”, because they are in between the just gone, Generation “X” and preceding Generation ”Z”..!!

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Social network concept.
Image credit: Nadia_bormotova Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I am fortunate to meet these, through my profession which allows me to interact with Young PhD students, Master students, and an ensemble of young people in fitness regime of mine and in social circle. Why are these people special? Well, they are related to the time-frame in which they are born and the global circumstances which have made them what they are..!!

 Wikipedia says that : “The characteristics of millennials vary by region and by individual, and the group experiences a variety of social and economic conditions, but they are generally marked by their coming of age in the Information Age, and are comfortable in their usage of digital technologies and social media.”

Well, I agree..this generation has seen most of the digital disruption. They have also seen the changes in medium of social communication. They have witnessed the economic and political scenario changes to highest degree. These are the people who are born to a generation of people who had secured jobs, had “so-called” peaceful families and a steady life. Being a child, they have seen a comfortable house owned by their parents, couple of self-owned vehicles and farm houses. They have seen steady income in the family which has allowed them to buy digital gadgets very easily. During this time-frame itself, social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap-chat and LinkedIn have come in. Created by their earlier generation and used by Millennials!! Traffic on the roads has increased tremendously and government jobs have gone down. This generation has grown up seeing the cut-throat competitions in educational system, admission difficulties in the colleges and drastic drops in the “permanent” jobs..!! I have known people from previous generations who have worked with “Telco” for their entire life…!! Well this has gone now..!! Jobs have become volatile… and this generation has actually faced the heat of these critical changes.

Let us see how they have grown and coped up. With increasing nuclear families and also traffic on the roads, all children have been given a mobile phone by their parents.. they have not “chosen” a mobile device, but they have been “given”. For the security of a child on roads and also for parents to know that they “reached safe”!! Now, getting hooked to that device is but natural, because the devices became smarter and interactive. Traffic on roads has prevented children from outdoor activities. With both parents working, naturally, the child is more on the “internet” than on a cricket ground.. again, not the choice of the child, but an restriction of the surroundings. Welcome to the virtual world, then, again, naturally..!! Social network friends, posts, boomerangs, story posts and so on.. well, they have been given these by the digital giants and Millennials are using these.. Government jobs are scarce, company and industry situation is highly volatile and they are born in the era of entrepreneurship… Well, they would mold differently from “Generation X”.. Let’s think more..

If they have seen a bad job situation, around the globe, the concept of a “secured job” will naturally evaporate from their minds. They could well think of “self employment”… which is very good for them, and hence for the nation!! Well, at family level, they have seen the struggle of their parents, their running around to bring the child up, their dependencies on maids and older family members.. If I were to be in the shoes of a teenager, now, I would ask myself, is this necessary at all? Why have an extension of family and keep running around to help them grow.. Anyways, I am not going to have pension in my life, why not earn more in the best times and enjoy my limited life.. well, works well  with Millennials! Mind you, they are much brave and smart to make their choice and execute it boldly, which was not so with those born before 1980s. The reason: the freedom; which was limited then.

Now for the properties and assets… Again, welcome to the digital world and new mobility.. With Uber and Ola services, one would not buy a car and maintain it. If someone is maintaining it, and is also making it available to me whenever required, I am good..!! I do not worry about taxes, licences and insurances. Same is true for houses as well. The time we have in life is indeed limited. One can pursue many things and live happily and cheerfully!

And just observe the social circle around. New social clubs are being set in a big way, mountaineering clubs, astro-clubs, running buddies club, fitness gyms, conversation clubs, Karaoke groups and so on. New concept of “family” is evolving, which is good… One need not have a single family, but more than that, and hence you evolve socially.. Are we going back to the social-living, which humans did centuries ago… a profound thought and needs deeper analysis..

There are flip sides to this generation too. They are often named as “selfish” and “self-centered”. The old-age homes are increasing (but we should remember that day-care centers for children were also increasing few decades back..). The relationships between men and women are increasingly becoming complex and sometimes, isolation grips in.

But to end this note, I would say that I love this generation of Millennials. They are more expressive, bold, strong, self-reliant and have independent thought process. They have few limitations and flaws, but the system has induced these in them.. we need to understand before we comment on them.

I always see budding enthusiasm and eagerness to excel, in the younger generation.. and hence “un-settled” is a new “settlement” for Millennials..!!

Unsupervised Learning… Deep Learning !

I like to listen to songs of Ed Sheeran.. I like his voice, his writings, his voice modulation and his throw of voice. Being a fan, I love to collect his songs, via downloads from digital media and also from online shops, I tend to buy few stuffs related to his albums, and advertisements. As against that, my daughter likes to listen to Shawn Mendes. She is a huge fan of him and therefore, she tries to prove the point by sharing his songs. And I do that too.

Now welcome to Digital World of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This world is watching both me and my daughter. The data that we collect, share and access, gives AI the understanding and it will start streaming and promoting all the updates of both Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. We will get it on our social media websites as well as on our phones, as advertisements and so on. Now comes the next stage.. I am listening to Shawn, just because my daughter is sharing his songs… not because I like his songs, specifically. And same is true for my daughter. Is the machine going to know that I am actually a fan of Ed Sheeran and Not of Shawn Mendes? A conventional AI machine will not know. But, if the machine has learnt the Deep-learning way, YES, it WILL KNOW..! This is one level of learning more, which is done by an AI machine, called as Deep-learning.

As mentioned in the online literature, Deep learning is a subset of machine learning in AI, that has networks capable of learning unsupervised, from data that is unstructured or unlabeled. This is also known as deep neural learning or deep neural network. Deep learning is an artificial intelligence function that imitates the workings of the human brain in processing data and creating patterns for use in decision making.

Picture Courtesy: Matan Segev from Pexels

So how does this work? Well, as we saw in previous Blog (Blog 4: How machines learn?), the huge data collected from different sources of social media, of a person, is analysed in quick time to judge his/her priorities. Now there are some algorithms which work on the data and lead to decision making. This is exactly the way in which they learn that I love music and in that I like Ed Sheeran. But normal AI will also see that I listen to Shawn. However, a Deep-learnt computer system will easily understand that I am not visiting social media sites of Shawn, nor am I downloading anything from the authentic sites of the singer. This means that I am listening to a derived source, indicating my lesser interest..! Thereby, judgment of liking is derived.

The structured algorithms are NOT given to the computer which is deep-learning. They are unsupervised. This is just like a small child, not given any lessons of school education (which is highly structured). But the child is given everything that he is supposed to know. The child figures out the way to acquire the information and create knowledge from it.. Sounds familiar…? In the same way, computers are fed with the Big Data. But processing is not “supervised”. They find out their own methods using “Neural networks” which they build themselves, using the volumes of data they get. If this data shows that I am processing more information of Ed Sheeran, it will learn that he is my favourite. Neural networks are constantly built and broken and re-formed. Just like humans evolve, these Artificially intelligent machine (Robots?) also evolve. They also become “wiser”, “smarter” and their judgement improves…. this is Deep Learning.

Technically, I do not understand much… but the machines are configured to handle data (big data) in layers (Hierarchical neural networks). The lowermost layer takes all the data. The upper layers keep adding information about the addresses, locations, personal information (which is authentically online) and so on. Hence the data is given some weighted points. This forms quadratic equations, mathematically (this is one of the models). This equation keeps modifying as the machine learns with more and more data. Again the same example… If the machine finds that today I heard 2 songs of Shawn, and only one song of Ed, it will give more weight to Shawn in the quadratic equation..!! and slowly it will do the reverse, as it collects more information about me.. This way, Mathematics keeps evolving and the machine keeps learning. I will definitely see the advertisements and new releases of Ed Sheeran and not of Shawn, in this new Digital era…. unless, ofcourse, my loyalty changes…. But trust me, the computer will know that too… and it will flip too..!!!

Now, if this is the way in which a computer learns us in such a “minutest” of details, it can become a better buddy? It can create wit and humour of my taste? It will recommend me the food of my liking (and mood of that time)? Not only that, it will order it for me? And play the music and lights of my desire? Well, the answer is yes, again..! Well, then will I not enjoy the company of such devices? An intense thought indeed… we should be careful. Where are we in this technological upheaval? Not Far…. Heard of Sophia or Zeno??