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Cultural Evening – 25th August

The student community came up with the biggest ever organised cultural event in the history of IISER M. The event was organised to highlight the activities of non-academic clubs like Dance, Drama and Music. The clubs were thrown the gauntlet by the SRC and yes, they did wear it with suave that eve. It was all evident from the cheers and whistles of the students of IISER Mohali whose number today exceeds 500 and is swelling with every academic year. Lecture Hall 5, in the recently inaugurated Lecture Hall Complex, where the event was organised was packed with students occupying every possible place available to seat themselves. The atmosphere was pulsating with life and enthusiasm from both the audience and the  performers. With almost more than 90 students performing during the event. Manthan gives you a glimpse of all the excitement that happened on the 25th of August.

The cultural evening kicked off with an exceedingly mesmerising and fluently executed complex pattern formation dance to the beats of the song Vande Mataram by A. R. Rehman. This dance was a first of its kind in IISER Mohali and the audience was in for a visual treat. The dance was choreographed by MS11 students.  The dancers held vividly coloured dupattas and wove them into beautiful patterns. Their eye catching performance held the audience captivated throughout.

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Nukkad Natak

A group of members from YATN performed a nukkad natak(street play) narrating the plight of the migrant labourers living on campus. The first half of the nukkad was a sarcastic take on the stark contrast in “issues” faced by the labourers on one hand and the students and faculty on the other.  As birds living on the campus, the students were able to put across to the audience the ‘problems’ of the faculty, students and labourers: faculty problems’  like small office rooms, slow internet speeds,  students were similarly shown to have ‘problems’ of their own like poor quality mess food, slow internet, midnight rules etc.. It was few minutes of fun at the expense of the faculty and students. The tone of the natak, however, gradually shifted to a more solemn spirit. The problems of the construction workers like death due to snake bites, lack of education – so effectively acted out by the students sobered the audience up.

A  series  of thought provoking, open-ended questions were shot at the audeience. Following which a chilling scene of the death of a child at a construction based on incidents involving the death of 8 Labourers (4 children, 4 adults) while constructing our campus over the last two years. The crescendo of the performance was reached when the students end the street play asking the audience “Hum sab ne kya kiya?”.  We are sure that it is a question that will linger in our minds for some time. The Venue shifted to the LH5 where the rest of the event was conducted.

The show began with the hosts Vivek Raina, Tejinder Chechi and Arul Ganesh taking an oath not to speak the truth. Sleepy and capriciuos Arul Ganesh was at his very best and the three had the crowd in splits with their one-liners, punches and fillers. The evening’s first performance was by Abhishek and Sumaiya from MS12 batch, Abhishek sang a solo number from Agneepath and was later joined by Sumaiya in singing a duet, they sang national sensation Iktara from Wake up Sid, in their melodious voices on behalf of their batch and the tone was set for performances to come.

Drama

‘Darpan’- the drama club came up with a power-packed performance. The audience was whisked away by the poignant tale of the importance of family and how family is defined not by blood relation but by a bond of love. The play titled “Family matters because family matters” depicted the plight of an old middle class man  in the winter of his life as he struggles for familial affection from his two daughters who seem to have no time to spare for him from their busy schedule. It also portrayed a very common problem evident in our day to day lives- generation gap-and showed how people refuse to recognise it as a potential threat to society.

Ramu kaka played by our very own  Akshay Raut stunned the audience with his superb acting. Actors Jagadish Prasad Hazra and Manas Samant played the part of the advocates summoned to fight out the property issues after the death of the old man. First year students from MS12 batch – Mugdha, Vaishnavi, Vishakha also put their best foot forward for the event. Special mention for our first time performer Yogesh from ms10 batch who played Munna, the happy-go-lucky  tea seller who patiently listens to Ramu’s  doleful tale about the tragic end to Babuji’s life. Piyush Mishra really gave a  heart wrenching performance and really  convinced the audience with his gait. In all it was a  memorable play with vivid hues and really vibrant performances from all the actors. From Babuji and Ramu kaka dozing off to “koi gaata mein so jaata” to the comic fight over the property rights among the advocates; Ramu matching steps with Mugdha dancing to “Gasolina” kept the audience in fits of laughter. We would like to congratulate the entire team for putting up an impressive show.

This was followed up by a Kathak Dance performance put up by students training under Shri Pannalal Gangani  at IISER M. Shri Pannalal Gangani who belongs to the Jaipur Gharanawas accompanied by classical singer Shri  Rakesh Mahajan and Shri Abhishek Gangani.The  performance commenced with Guru-vandana followed by Thath, Namaskar, Tode, Tatkar, Palte, Bedam Toda, Pramblu and Chakradhar Tode. The girls were elegant and impressionable in their performance.The next  programme following this was the “hawa hawa “(Rockstar)  dance presented by the MS10 batch students. These students presented a cute story of a dominating masochistic  king who did not trust his queen with her carefree mannerisms. The girls did a really cute job but the limelight went to the king (Rahul Chajwa) for his comic performance as the obnoxious king.

Today, the IISER community comprises students from various regions of India. The girls of IISER Mohali performed a fusion of folk dances of India like the Assamese Bihu, lavani from the Marathi folk dances, the festive Garbha and the energetic Giddha, a very popular folkdance of women of Punjab. The Assamese Bihu is performed during the Bihu festival in Assam while Grabha is Gujrathi traditional dance performed during the nine-day Hindu festival of Navaratri. Girls from Maharashtra performed a sensuous lavani and members of the Bhangra group at IISER Mohali performed Giddha to the beats of dholak and dhol respectively.This was followed by a hip-hop number from Kasturi and her group.Their dance to the beats of “Daaru Desi” ,”Jiyein Kyun”  left the audience amazed.

Music

The Musical atmosphere in IISERM has undergone a major remoulding in the past few months. The cultural evening witnessed the proof of this change. With more and more people coming forward to perform on stage and show their talent – and all them HAD one, mind you – the musical performances were a treat for the ears. The cover by Rahul, Misty,  Shruthi, Jayant of Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’ made the audience sway along. Later, Sumit sang ‘Teri Yaadein’. He was backed by Rahul on the guitar and Shruthi on the Drums. Evelyn, Atul and Arjit performed Britt Nicole’s ‘Set the World on Fire’. Evelyn’s voice backed by Atul and Arjit’s guitars was a melodious treat. Jithin, Shivpal, Nitesh, Prashant, Vrinda presented their own take of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and then took the gathering by a storm with their original number ‘Gore Gore Galoon Ne (Teri Kehke Loonga :P)’. The band performances reflected just how deeply the Spirit of Rock is rooted in IISER Mohali.
At the very end of the function Akshay Kumars, Sunil Shettys and Govindas of IISER Mohali took to the stage dancing away to Bollywood numbers of the 90s. The chamak challos of the night were the boys of MS09 batch as they blew away the crowds with their latkas and jhatkas.  It was a memorable evening filled with fun and enjoyment.

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These Years – Mohit Tanga

Never have I lived before
in a city without mountains.
A city with no backdrop, to lean against.
A city with all and the celestial rising at the horizon.
A city with rivers having no ebb
wading through on low tides guided by
The distant shiny stars on no moon nights.

Its a difficult life.
A city with layers
added; with no thought; till no end.
A city with ever searching eyes
for a break or a boundary; not in sight.
A city with no vantage
any higher than the dwelling
to gaze, to know your place.
Lost; in self-similarity and self-organised criticality
Never ending reflections in parallel mirrors.

 

How  do I rise?
How do I soar?

Never do I want to live again
in a city without mountains.

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Three Apples that Changed the World

The Apple That Eve Ate by Vrinda Ravi Kumar
….from the Book of Genesis: Chapter 2
The story of Adam and Eve tells of the creation of man and woman and their ultimae fall from glory.
God made the first man from clay and named him Adam. He also created a beautiful garden, which was called Eden . That night, God took a rib from Adam’s side and made the first woman, who was called Eve.
God told Adam and Eve that they could help themselves to anything they liked in Eden and wander anywhere, but forbade them to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. This tree was the Tree of Knowledge and this knowledege referred to the ability to differentiate between the good and the evil.
One day Eve met a snake that lied to her and told her the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge would do no harm. The snake ultimately succeeded in corrupting her and she ate the fruit. She took the fruit ot Adam and they shared it. Soon, they became fearful of God.
Go found that evening, adn was sad that they disobeyed Him. He banished them from the Garden of Eden. From then on,they had to make their own living from the soil and nothing came easily to them. They had children, Cain and Able, and soon died.

The Apple by Ramandeep Johal

Was gravity always
a matter
of space and time?

It used to be force
before turning itself
into a geometry.

And what was gravity before
a falling apple
turned into a force

And what was an apple
before it became a means
for attraction,                                                                
between bodies?

Or even before it was a fruit?

Apples still fall;
and as they land
on the taste bud

they keep moving
into inner space
to get lost
in the recesses of time

The Steve Jobs Story – Debanjana Kundu
Not everyone is an Apple fan nor does everyone use an i-item, but the passing of Steve Jobs indeed has left many a heart heavy.There will hardly be a soul who hadn’t heard of this genius who redefined the way that non-nerds, like me, percieved technology. He embodied innovations and entreprenual spirit like no one else.A drop out of Reed College, Jobs was brave enough to think differently and break the rules, bold enough to beleive he could change the world and talented enough to do it.
Steve travelled to India in search of spiritual enlightment in the early 1970’s and hoped on his return to the US that he would be able to save enough money and return to the Kanchi Ashram but luckily for the computing world, it never materialised. Apple was founded by Jobs, Wozniack, Markkula, and Wayne in 1976 and in 1984 Jobs introduced the first successful small computer with Graphic User Interface, Macintosh to the world. He credited his calligraphy course in college ( which he continued to attend )for the multiple typefaces which were first introduced by Mac. Despite all this he was fired from the company he started by then CEO, John Sculley. However , Steve claimed later that it was the best thing that could happen to him as he got an opportunity to start afresh. He soon started the technologically advanced but the cost prohibtive, NeXT Computer that mainly catered the scientists. Though the Jobs’ legacy at The  Graphics Group (renamed Pixar) is often  overlooked , in a sense, it may last the longest because he contributed  a culture of thinking differently. Pixar-Disney collaboration produced box-office hits – The Toy Story, Findng Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E and the list is endless. It was in 1996 when NeXT was bought by Apple that Jobs came back to the company he founded and became the ‘iCEO’.


In mid-2004, Jobs was diagnosed with a rare though less agressive type of pancreatic cancer that forced him to resign and rejoin Apple many times before announcing retirement on 24th August earlier this year. With his death on 5th October, 2011 the world lost an amazing human, a visionary and a creative genius all in one. One of the most powerful and influential people of our generation, he is one person whom we won’t forget for many years to come.

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Memoirs of a browbeaten door – Sharmi Sen

From the very first day that I was fixed in between the forbidden corridors on the seventh floor of hostel 5 (to the relief of a few and annoyance of very many) I knew my life would not be easy. The inhabitants, on either side of where I stood, seemed mighty strange. They were not the kind of people I was used to. A few would shriek and shout in some strange language, some would stay fearfully quiet, some would hurl a string of abuses at each other for no rhyme or reason, some would sing terribly in the middle of the night – in short, they were quite an unruly lot!

I always had this uncanny feeling that they had chosen the wrong door to do the wrong job. I waited and waited for something to happen. And finally one day something did. I was snoozing off in the middle of a lazy winter afternoon when I was so rudely interrupted – “BANG”!! Once, twice, thrice… first from the top with clenched fists and then came the more severe blows from the bottom! Alas! It was then that I realized what a pain being a door could be. People come up and kick you for no reason and you’ll have to put up with it! Why?? Because you’re just a big chunk of wood! No one would ever consider the fact that one might actually get hurt, or one might NOT want to be brutally punched and kicked every time someone’s maths paper turns out to be a disaster or

when someone realizes that he really sucks at playing the guitar or when someone has a lousy break up.. My only saving grace was that the attack seemed to be one sided. And I thanked the lord for whoever lived on the “other side”, because they seemed to be above and beyond all this immature banging of doors.

To my utter dismay the first attack from the “Other side” was launched right in front of my face on the eve of that fated day-(being a big chunk of wood you would not expect me to actually remember the date!) And again to my immense shock the first blow proved to be fatal! For the people living on the other side seemed to know my exact soft spot (that would entail the defects which I acquired while being manufactured) and very strategically someone placed one good kick with the required impulse (yes, I know what impulse is!! Being a door in IISER one might expect me to know that) and I became undone! My bottom, em.. that would be my lower panel came magnificently out of its steel frame and on to the floor. Right after the event – with the parties concerned having successfully evaded – the people living on the opposite side came to assess the damage done. Some of them were pretty disappointed with the fact that the first fatal blow came from the“other side”. Pretty soon the news travelled across the other corridors as well and the seventh floor partition breaking became a phenomenon that would become not so rare in the coming months. The people from the “other side” in the mean time went underground.

Now people had taken it up as a sport – to bang the door and kick it as many times as possible during the day irrespective of whether there were any of the few reasons cited above which would cause them to behave like a bunch of barbarians. Earlier I was used as a surface to vent out frustrations but now I was used to express moments of ecstasy and joy as well. Birthday parties, table tennis matches, India’s victory in the world cup, end of semester celebrations – you name the occasion. You might think that I would be somewhat happy to be upgraded to be beaten on a more cheerful note but if you were a big chunk of wood you would have understood my pain.

Day in and day out the other doors in my neighborhood would watch me in my plight. They said that I was being brave; that I would be celebrated as the hero of all doors ever to stand in a Hostel 5 corridor. I would just smile and brood in my misery – knowing that my end was drawing very near and wishing for the same. Finally it did happen – this time my top panel was flung open from its frame and thrown over to the “other side”. I could even plot you the trajectory of the fall!

So I lay there watching the greater half of me lying lifelessly on the ground some 2-3 feet away. And to add insult to injury they poured water on me, buckets and buckets of it. I watched myself being ill treated thus. That was a rough night for me. It would have been more appropriate if the water had been poured from the top so that I could liken it to tears of sorrow but to my great displeasure those blasted kids poured water from the bottom (I’m sure I wouldn’t have to explain what that could be likened to!). After all that, I braced myself to face the worst – maybe next time they would set me on fire! That would be a quick and easy way to go. Miraculously that hasn’t happened yet. All of a sudden the corridors became quiet again, no more kicking and watering the door. I was finally left in peace. With my self esteem shattered and my spirit broken I was reduced to nothing more than a big chunk of wood, something that I might have been originally designed to be. But I know that being an inopportune door I will not be let go of so easily. Thus, I patiently await my final outcome in the hallway of that ill-fated seventh floor.

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Chocolates by Debanjana Kundu

I eat, drink, breathe chocolates and am sure many are like me… absolutely crazy about it. For me it is ‘chocolates everyday keep doctors away’. As a matter of fact, I have come to realize in the last couple of months that it also acts as the best incentive!
Chocolates as we know it today was introduced to us by John Cadbury only two centuries back, even though the Mokaya people loved their cacao beverages in 1900 BC. The Aztecs developed a range of chocolate cuisine that’s been handed down the generations and we see the Mexican doing it even today.
The Mayans preferred the spicy chocolate drinks where they mixed chilli pepper and cornmal with the ground cacao seeds. Both these ancient civilizations considered drinking chocolate as a sacred brew and it was used only for religious and royal events.
It was with the Spanish conquest of the Aztec that Eurpe got introduced to this wonder beverage. However, all this was bitter chocolate. It was the Industrial Revolution that brought into our lives the sweet candy. The Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali was done for the first time by van Houten and this helped remove the bitter taste!
Lindt, Nestle, Cadbury and Hershey are the biggest competitors in the international market today, but it was a joint effort of them all to make chocolate popular amongst people. The effect of chocolate in our lives is so much that it features in a large number of ways too. The mst famous, of course, being Roald Dahl’s children’s novel ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Laura Esquivel’s ‘Like Water for Chocolate’, Joanne Harris’ ‘Chocolat’ , Joanne Carl’s ‘Chocoholic Mysteries’ and Toby Moore’s ‘Death By Chocolate’ have chocolate in a role, central to the plot.


For chocoholics like me it’s good to know the potential positive health effects. Though over consumption is associated with obesity, dark chocolate helps reduce blood pressure, lowers cholestrol levels and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Besides, it has anti-cancer, anti-diarrhoeal, cough preventive and brain stimulating activities. So now go and binge on your chocolate guilt free!”, ‘notes’ => “DID YOU KNOWS Although cacoa is originally from the Americas, today it is the countries of Western Africa that produce almost two-thirds of world’s cacoa, with Cote d’Ivoire growing almost half of it.
Every year seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on exchange than exists.
The Aztec used cacao as a form of money to trade with the Mayans.

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Our Toppers Unplugged

Keshav Aggarwal
My second semester started on a high note. Probably because I had smoothly gelled into the system, and partly because I had become more open minded. The start saw my perspective widening in all respects. I started liking biology also! The courses offered were very interesting. Among many things, I studied genetics and also succeeded in understanding the ‘ε – δ’ definition of continuity. I’m sure you realize how mysterious it gets if you do not get a proper guidance or if you are simply ignorant! Apart from all this, I did a whole lot of other stuff. We organized the science day and a couple of cultural events. Some days before the end semester exams, I got down with chickenpox. A socially inactive person as I had been in my first semester, I then truly realized the importance and beauty of hostel life. That semester was really wonderful. And what I’ve written is a negligible part of all the good things that happened and the masti I did.

Jithin Paul
Last winter was a wonderful time. The Nature was beautiful and the fresh air always carried fragrance of some distant unknown flowers. Motivated by nature and the three powerful theories introduced to me at that time- Genetics, Electrodynamics and Quantum Theory, I could always keep myself awake and  inspired. More and more clearer pictures started coming to my mind. I enjoyed doing science when truth and reasoning started comforting me.

There are a few faces I should remember at this time and I do now. Naming them will dilute the effect of my deepest love and gratitude to them. Without their support life would be miserable.

I doubt if wisdom, unlike knowledge, can be communicated. Therefore it is very important to listen to our internal voice to succeed. We can actually feel our potential rising and we start understanding more difficult things with less effort.
And instead of worrying about results or remembering things, we start learning for its own sake. Naturally, a good result is bound to follow.

IISER is, undoubtedly, going to be the dreamland of minds desperately seeking knowledge. Let us do science passionately for the goodness of everything. And let us be like the small dew drops which fill within them the infinity of blue sky. I wish everyone all the best. May God bless You !

Nishtha Agarwal

My life at IISER Mohali is very different from what I had envisaged before I came. I never thought that I would blend in so well, so fast and find a new family here in just a matter of a few days. I found that everything here was enjoyable and to my satisfaction. Add to that my newly made friends and life seemed complete.
Here, the academic side of my life found a new threshold to stand on. Back in school labs seemed like a drag, but now I find myself looking forward to them. At IISER, we are expected to know our apparatus, and if we don’t, it’s our job to find out. Naturally, that is easier said than done, but the challenge makes it more fun. Lectures were sometimes very interesting , and sometimes a little boring. The content was more or less along my lines of expectation, but the information was delivered in a whole new way. The Group Theory was a whole new way of looking at mathematics. It changed my definition of maths, as from ‘1+1 = 2’ to something way more abstract and malleable. Mechanics was something I always fought through, but now Dr. H.S. Mani added something indefinable that made everything seem so much more relevant. Chemistry, my favorite subject, especially the labs, really took me into the world so many chemists seem to love and live in. The academic environment here is apt for research, something I really value and have seen very rarely. Moreover, it triggered my  nerve cells to think. Even though I had no biology background, everything in this subject seemed to get into my mind quite easily just   because of the amazing faculty here.
But surely this isn’t the end, just the beginning. Of course there is more to it,  my friends, our outings and all the fun that comes with college life. These small things  seem to have given a new dimension to my life.  Basically studies with fun, application based learning, not routine learning, all this seemed to be the keywords at IISER, and, I thank God for it. I wouldn’t really have it any other way. Hope IISER stays this way and the environment stays this amazing forever. I am really grateful to the IISER family for making my life great here…

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The See-Saw factor – Rishi Raj Trivedi

Introduction of modified genes into the human genome to compensate for aberrant, i.e. nonfunctional, mutated or genes which cause disease is called gene therapy. Theoretically, a normal allele of the defective gene can be inserted into the somatic cells of the tissue affected by the disorder. Gene therapy is the technique which is trying to put this theory to practice. Unlike the usual medical  practices, gene therapy targets the cause of the disease rather than the symptoms. All of us carry mutated genes which are many a times recessive, but rarely dominant. About one in ten people have, or will develop at some later stage, an inherited genetic disorder, and approximately 2,800 specific conditions are known to be caused by mutations in just one of the patient’s genes. The most beneficial aspect of gene therapy is that it can wipe out genetic disorder before they begin and eliminate suffering for future generations. In this technique, an abnormal gene is swapped for a normal gene through homologous recombination or the abnormal gene is repaired through selective reverse mutation, which brings back a gene to its normal function. Gene therapy also involves the regulation or protein production of a particular gene. These practices can be administered in two ways. One is germline therapy which deals with reproductive or gamete cells and the other is somatic cell therapy which deals with the non-reproductive cells of the body.

Gene therapy works by inserting the therapeutic gene into a vector which carries the gene to its target site. Currently, the most common vector is a virus that has been genetically altered to carry normal human DNA. Viruses have evolved a way of encapsulating and delivering their genes to human cells in a pathogenic manner. This capability of viruses is made use of by manipulating the virus genome to remove disease  .

Besides virus mediated gene delivery systems, there are several non viral options for gene delivery. The simplest method is the direct introduction of therapeutic DNA into target cells. This approach is limited in its application because it can be used only in certain tissues and requires large amounts of DNA. Another non viral approach involves the creation of an artificial lipid sphere (liposome) with an aqueous core, which carries the therapeutic DNA, which is capable of passing the DNA through the target cell’s membrane. Therapeutic DNA also can get inside target cells by chemically linking the DNA to a molecule which carries it to the target site; although this delivery system tends to be less effective than other options.

The first gene therapy trial for SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome) began in 1990. But the clinical results from this and succeeding studies during the 90s could not convincingly demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment. In another trial that started in 2000, ten young children with SCID were treated by the same procedure. Nine of these patients showed significant improvement after two years, the first indisputable success of gene therapy. However, two of the patients subsequently developed leukemia, a type of blood cancer. It was discovered that in both these cases the retro viral vector used to carry the normal allele into the bone marrow cells had inserted a gene involved in the proliferation of blood cells, causing leukemia. Since then FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved any human gene therapy for sale, though active research in this field continues with an appreciable degree of response.

Despite some failures, gene therapy proved to be a successful treatment for many rare and incurable diseases. The gene therapy was tested for a type of inherited blindness, the procedure helped in restoring vision of dogs without any side effects. The results,
published in the New England Journal of Medicine (28 April 2008), showed that the experimental treatment by gene therapy is safe and can improve sight. Another xperiment was done by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) who re-engineered lymphocytes, to target and attack cancer cells in patients with advanced metastatic melanoma. Also, gene therapy was effectively used to treat two adult patients  for a disease affecting non lymphocytic white blood cells called myeloid cells. The study was the first to show that myeloid disorders such as acute myeloid leukemia can be cured by gene therapy. There are many limiting factors of gene therapy such as the therapeutic DNA introduced into target cells must remain functional and the cells containing the therapeutic DNA must be long lived and stable. Moreover, problems with integrating therapeutic DNA into the genome prevent gene therapy from achieving any long term benefits. Also, gene therapy can be effective only in proliferating cells, consequently non-dividing cells such as neurons cannot benefit from this technique. In gene therapy viral vectors are used to carry genes into the body, they might alter more than the intended cells and present a variety of potential problems to the patient such as toxicity, immune and inflammatory responses. Another major problem arises from the  fact that we have no means to regulate the protein expression of induced genes. As a result the therapeutic gene may be over-expressed to the level of toxicity. The site and the chromosome where the gene is inserted also remains uncertain, which adds to the side effects, especially since the locus of a gene can greatly effect its functioning.

Conditions or disorders that arise from mutations in a single gene are the best candidates for gene therapy. Unfortunately, some of the most commonly occurring disorders, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and diabetes, are
caused by the combined effects of alterations in many genes. Multi gene or multi-factorial disorders such as these would be especially difficult to treat effectively by using gene therapy.Scientists use animal testing and take other precautions to assess and avoid these risks.These safety measures have been successful to the extent that these potential problems have not occurred in any of the human gene therapy trials performed to date. However,complete elimination of these problems remains uncertain. In addition to technical challenges, gene therapy raises difficult ethical questions. Critics suggest that tampering with human genes in any way will inevitably lead to the practice of eugenics, a deliberate effort to control the genetic makeup of the human population. Germ line therapy which potentially alters the genetic makeup of gametes or germ cells, involves too much uncertainty, risk, and the long term effects are unknown. Changes made in the germ lines could persist in the population for a long time. In a way, this could be thought of as interfering with the natural phenomenon of evolution. The elimination of unwanted genes which may be an unavoidable consequence of the success of gene therapy, could prove to be detrimental in the long run. Genetic variation is necessary for the survival of a species as environmental conditions change with time. Genes that are damaging under some conditions may be advantageous under other conditions .

Gene therapy may be the best weapon medicine has ever brought to the fight against birth defects and many other health problems. As research moves forward, gene therapy may advance to the extent that it might prevent or ease hundreds of devastating
conditions, including types of mental retardation, congenital heart disorders, blood diseases and many others. But the paramount concern is the risk of the procedure. Finding the precise location of the defected gene is still under research. Any
miscalculation could cause a risk of a new disease such as cancer to form.
References:
Campbell, Reece. Biology 7th edition
Sadava, Heller, Purves, Orians and Hillis. Life 8th edition
Salmons B, Gunzburg. Targeting of Retroviral Vectors for Gene Therapy.
Nagy A. Habib. Cancer Gene Therapy
Theodore Friedmann. Gene Therapy

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Psychoactive Drugs and What Makes Them So Hazardous – Kirandeep Kaur

Psychoactive drugs are chemicals which alter the normal functioning of the brain by suppressing or stimulating the Central Nervous System. These are known to cause temporary changes in behavior, mood and consciousness. While these drugs can be used therapeutically to treat both physical and psychological disorders, they have become notorious for their recreational use; especially since perpetual use of these drugs is known to cause drug dependence i.e. addiction to the particular drug. Psychoactive drugs successfully alter the emotional state of the mind because of their chemical and morphological resemblance to natural biomolecules involved in neuronal pathways.

The nature of drug dependence can be analyzed under two different aspects, normally psychological dependence and physiological dependence. Despite having varying effects on the Central Nervous System, all psychoactive drugs essentially follow the same mechanism, i.e. stimulation of the self reward system of the brain. The brain recognizes actions which enhance the survival of an individual and perpetuates these actions by coupling them to a reward system. This is hypothesized to have developed during the course of human evolution. Stimulation of brain reward systems produces changes in affect ranging from slight mood elevation to a deep sense of well being and euphoria. For example, the addition of various ingredients in food (e.g. sugars, fats) activates taste receptors which in turn activate the brain reward pathways. Psychoactive drugs activate the brain reward system directly or indirectly. The brain reward pathway functions through the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is associated with feelings ranging from motivation, desire and hypnotism. A study performed on animals showed that rats depleted of dopamine by 99% showed resistance even to the most basic life sustaining activities such as feeding. Thus dopamine dependent neuronal pathways are to a large extent responsible for maintaining the emotional well being of the concerned organism. Normally, dopamine pathways function at a slow rate, i.e. small quantities of dopamine are periodically released into the synaptic cleft or inter neuronal space. The levels of dopamine produced when cells are active at this low rate may be accountable for maintaining the ‘normal’ mood and tone. Psychoactive drugs step up this neuronal pathways to varying degrees. For example, heroin increases the action potential and consequently the concentration of dopamine in synaptic clefts. Cocaine on the other hand inhibits the reuptake of dopamine from the synaptic cleft. Such an increase in dopamine concentration brings about feelings of jubilation, relief and contentment. However these effects are not long lasting and their perpetual functioning is hindered because of the negative feedback mechanism of the mesolimbic system. The cells respond to the increased concentration of dopamine by slowing down its synthesis; moreover, continuous release of dopamine into the blood results in the up regulation of the molecule, adenylate cyclase which is an inhibitor of self reward response and dopamine.

Together, these adaptations cause a decrease in the magnitude of the drug response, an effect known as tolerance. In simpler
words, tolerance implies that the nerve cells have to a certain extent, become resistant to the administered drug. This explains the need for higher doses to get the same degree of euphoric response once the user becomes well accustomed to the drug.

When the nerve cells are pushed to a highly tolerant state, the levels of dopamine in blood, in the absence of the drug touch an
extreme low. This is a direct consequence of the negative feedback mechanism which acts against dopamine pathways. This  means that under such conditions the user may feel depressed, lifeless and empty. In regular users, this state is realized as soon as the effect of the drug diminishes, and to escape this situation the user is compelled to administer the drug again. In extreme cases addicts need drugs merely to feel normal. This leads to psychological dependence, a more common term for which is called ‘drug craving’. While all drugs produce psychological dependence to various extents, they may or may not have a tendency to cause physiological dependence. Where emotional well beings is the primary motive for repeated and intense administration of a drug, certain drugs when taken in sufficient dose and frequency, are capable of producing physiological changes which encourage their continued use. Once the user abstains from such a drug, severe physical illness follows. It is the desire to escape withdrawal sickness that ultimately causes physical dependence. The withdrawal symptoms range from  stomach cramps, insomnia, body chill to severe pain and convulsions. Various psychoactive drugs, depending on their  mechanism, are characterized as narcotics, depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drug that tend to increase brain activity. These drugs can temporarily elevate alertness, mood and awareness. Drugs that are  classed as stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and amphetamines. Excessive use of caffeine products (e.g. tea, coffee) can lead to low degrees of psychological dependence, although withdrawal symptoms mainly include anxiety and mild stress. Depressants are drugs which inhibit the function of the central nervous system and are among the most widely used drugs in the world. Drugs which are classed as depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, equanil and valium. Equanil and  valium are also used as medicinal drugs and in low doses they act as tranquilizers and analgesics. Most people overlook the fact that alcohol or ethyl alcohol is ultimately a drug. Its major behavioral effects are derived from its depressant action on the central nervous system, where it acts to suppress the control of thought processes like judgment, memory, concentration and  also muscle coordination. Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that affect thinking, alter moods and distort perceptions. The most commonly used hallucinogen is marijuana; others include LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) and phencyclidine.

The term narcotic is derived from the Greek word ‘narkotikos’, which implies a state of lethargy or sluggishness. Pharmacologists classically narcotic drugs as substances that give relief from pain and induce sleep. Narcotics are perhaps the most dangerous drugs and cause high degree of dependence in its users; examples include heroin, morphine, methadone and codeine.

There are many instances where drug ‘overdose’ proves to be fatal. This mostly happens when a mixture of cocaine and heroin are consumed together. Since heroin and cocaine work on different parts of the mesolimbic dopamine neurons, they can be combined to produce even more intense dopamine activation. The heroin increases the cell action potential and dopamine release, while the cocaine keeps the released dopamine in the synaptic cleft longer thereby intensifying and prolonging its effects. This combination of drugs is extremely dangerous, and users show very rapid psychological and physiological deterioration and in extreme cases this mixture can prove to be fatal. Drug abuse over the years has grown from a problem generally associated with members of the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder to one that cuts across all social classes of society. Today twenty three million people in the United States alone are users of illicit drugs. The number is increasing at alarming rates especially among adolescents. Experts treat drug addiction as a disease without a definite cure. In this case  prevention is the best cure which can be implemented only through mass awareness.

References:

  • T.L Lemke and D.A Williams, Medicinal Chemistry.
  • Campbell and Reece, Biology, 7th edition.
  • Sadava, Heller, Purves, Hillis and Oriams, Life, 8th edition.
  • R. Saferstein, Criminalistics, 6th edition.
  • J.A. Siegel, Forensic Science, 3rd edition.
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What makes IISERs different? – Mohit Satish Tanga

If we were to compare, a rather small number of young Indians choose pure science over technology as a career option. Technical institutes were created to produce world-class technocrats on a large scale and they managed to draw the attention of the masses. The technical institutes produced minds which catered to the technological requirements of the country. On the other hand, universities and advanced research institutes in the country produced the scientists, who unfortunately were lower in number as compared to the technocrats. Science education and research in universities which saw much progress during the Nehruvian phase between the 1950s and the 1970s lost steam. A need for more scientists was felt in industrial research, development organisations and government run science organisations in India. Advanced research institutes in India were doing well but a need for such institutes with undergraduate courses was felt. In this context the IISER’s aimed at providing a platform for a fundamental, free and rational inquiry into science. These institutes were created with the aim of providing research based learning which in turn would attract young minds to the pure sciences. Thus the IISERs today look to reinstate the position enjoyed by universities as a knowledge base during ancient times.

It is but obvious that science led to a change in world view, led to a change in the way of thinking about nature, human existence, philosophy, ethics and society. Many scientists and university courses failed to recognize the humans relation with the world. Through courses such as History of Science and Philosophy of Science, the techniques of rational inquiry can be instilled in the minds of young scientists, making them moral, ethical and responsible citizens. The interdisciplinary courses at IISER aim at non-compartmentalization of science, and focus on excellence.

The IISERs hope to be viewed not just as research institutes but as schools of thought. It will root science into an Indian context and will lead to the progress of a civilization. After all don’t local movements lead to global ones and like Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India aptly said, “the quantum leap in high quality science education will herald a new era in development of modern science in India. The charter of Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research is to emerge as world-class institutions, both for undergraduate as well as post-graduate education in science, with an intellectually alive atmosphere for research. In these institutions, education will be totally integrated with cutting edge research in various disciplines of modern
science.”

Yes, we have started on the right foot and hope to take IISERs vision forward in a creative and vibrant way.

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From the Editor’s Desk – Mohit Satish Tanga

It was a dark and a stormy night…

The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Mohali completed its first academic year in April 2008. This past one and a half years have been eventful and interesting because we, the first batch were the lucky ones to see and participate in the building of an institution. New challenges and great opportunities awaited us and the two semesters between Aug 2007 and April 2008 were full of challenges which inculcated in us a sense of responsibility, duty and initiative towards the institute. The faculty, staff and the students worked incessantly to lay a social, educational, cultural and ethical foundation.

IISER Mohali is a laboratory where mind and soul are cultured. Aiming at academic excellence, seminars and colloquiums were held at the Institute throughout the year. Even though it was the first year, nothing seemed amiss and students under the guidance of various faculty members hosted events and celebrated festivals too.

IISER Mohali’s aim is not to create just a group of scientists but a spectrum of individuals who will add flavour to academia. In years to come we shall be proud to be called an alumnus of an institute which changed the weltanschauung of people towards science. Its objective is to give a new dimension to research in the country, carving a unique space-time fabric which would attract the youth of the nation to science education and research.
We have also been privileged to have Prof. Sathyamurthy as the first Director of IISER Mohali. Both as a person and a scientist he has been instrumental in inculcating a spirit of science in students. This first issue of the IISER Mohali magazine, ‘Manthan’ has been in the pipeline for some time now and is finally ready. It has been a pleasure for me and my team to write the various articles and most of all recollect the events and experiences of the past year and half. This first issue tries to introduce IISER Mohali and at the same time presents popular articles by both students and faculty. At this moment I do not know what shape and direction the future issues of ‘Manthan’ will take, but I am sure it will evolve to become a journal of repute, combining both scientific and popular content.

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Galileo and the Telescope – Dr. Ramandeep Johal

Nearly four hundred years ago, an instrument called a spyglass was causing rumours across Europe for its wondrous abilities. Galileo Galilei was visiting his friend Paolo Sarpi in Venice when he heard about the miraculous power of the spyglass, a long tube fitted with glass lenses that enabled one to see distant objects as if they were much closer. Back in Padua, where he served as a professor of Mathematics, he spent about a month perfecting the design of the instrument and then presented his own version which was much better than prevailing instruments. His major achievement was to derive a mathematical relation for the magnifying power in terms of the focal lengths of the two lenses, the eye–piece and the objective. Other people played with such tubes during that period but they could not improve the power beyond two to three times, merely by using a hit and trial method. Initially, Galileo saw that the instrument could be useful to track distant enemies on land or at sea. Its  usefulness for celestial phenomena was not anticipated immediately, although people had used empty long tubes to watch stars long before Galileo’s invention. Even at the time of Aristotle, it was known that watching through a tube helped one to look at far off things more clearly. Also if one watched the sky from a pit or a well, it appeared clearer due to the
blocking of stray light.

It was the fourth night after the new Moon during the end of November 1609, when Galileo, in the backyard of his apartment in Padua, directed his telescope towards the Moon. He saw the line dividing light and darkness as something ridged, as if there were elevations and depressions on the surface of the Moon. He saw pinpoints of light sprouting in the dark region which then grew in size as if they were great mountain peaks shining in the morning sun. He was watching daybreak on the Moon!

The discovery of new lands by Columbus and other explorers based on the roundearth speculation made people believe in this model. But it was accepted that the Earth is stationary while all the stars, including the Sun, Moon and the planets revolved around it, just as it appeared to our senses. This model was given by Aristotle. All the clergy also believed in it and held it holy. In the 16th century, Copernicus gave a suncentered model in which the Moon revolved around the Earth which itself moved around the Sun. Similarly, all other known planets revolved around the Sun. The model was mathematically more elegant and calculations based on it, predicted celestial phenomena such as eclipses with far greater accuracy. But it was still regarded as only a mathematical model with little connection to reality. One of the objections was, why should only Earth have a Moon or why should there be two centers of rotation , the Earth around which the Moon revolved and the Sun around which all the planets moved?

When Galileo observed the planets through his device, he found they were globes. These were called planets after the Greek word for wanderers, as they moved against the backdrop of fixed stars. The notion of a round Earth might have given rise to the question, are these planets like our own Earth or could it be that Earth is also a wanderer? After a few months, Galileo saw some accompanying stars around planet Jupiter. There were four of them and they seemed to change their relative positions with respect to Jupiter. The known orbit of Jupiter could not explain the strange appearance of these stars until Galileo realized that they must be orbiting the planet itself, which was why sometimes they were on the west of it and at other times on the east. This was a momentous discovery, which could potentially be a rebuttal to the objections against Copernican model: it could show that other planets can have moons and also the center of rotation need not be the privilege of Earth alone.

Galileo made many telescopes and distributed them so that people themselves could verify his claims. But only about ten percent of the instruments really were good enough to show the moons of Jupiter. Other people held their prejudices and blamed the telescope itself for causing optical illusions. They acknowledged the usefulness of telescopes on land, but for sky they said it was an instrument of deception. It took some time before Galileo´s findings were corroborated by independent sources.
For two thousand years, man had regarded sky as an abode of perfect objects. With telescopes, we started to discern the universe in much greater detail and could spot imperfections in our picture of the universe. Galileo had to face the ire of the Church for challenging the established world view. He had to abandon his work and face punishment. But the telescope in due time was adopted as an essential tool in astronomy. Over centuries, the instrument has undergone tremendous changes and improvements. To this day, it continues to enhance our understanding of the structure and origin of the universe and keeps redefining our place in it.

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The Being of Science by Vikesh Siddhu

We humans naturally have the tendency to pose questions in order to understand the environment around us. A small child always tries to explore his environment, he is persistently inquisitive, he tries to answer questions himself. When he fails in this quest, he consults his parents or someone who knows the answer to his questions. Through this fundamental process of questioning he analyzes, learns, understands and grows mentally. Science operates on this fundamental principle of questioning, exploring,understanding and growing. The development of human thought can be attributed to science. Nicolaus Copernicus propounded the mathematical model to prove the then controversial fact of the heliocentric nature of earth. This theory was rejected by the Catholic Church as it was contrary to the interpretation found in biblical references. Copernicus’ mathematical proof forced the Catholic Church and the world at large to take a different view on the subject and finally come to terms with reality by changing their interpretation of the bible. This development among others, greatly changed the philosophy guiding humans and their understanding of the world. Humans have evolved because they endeavored to understand the world around them and this led to the formation of civilizations. For example , the Indus Valley civilization pioneered methods of food storage, irrigation and town planning. It was the first civilization to understand the importance of science and apply it in ways that allowed growth and diversification. Science in India developed at an exponential rate during the Vedic period. Studies in mathematics contributed to such treatises as the Baudhayana Sulba Sutra that illustrated the modern Pythagoras theorem and gave methods to calculate square roots. The decimal system and “zero” were some great developments that took place during 1200 – 400 B.C. Great mathematicians like Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta made contributions to mathematics during this time.  Aryabhatta wrote the Aryabhatiya an epitome of maths and astronomy and Brahmagupta composed the Brahmasphutasiddhanta, a corrected treatise of Brahma composed in elliptic verse.
The combined progress in science from the Vedic period to the 17th century introduced India to phonetics, phonology, morphology, irrigation systems,suspension bridges, crystallized sugar, glass molding, diamond cutting, wootz steel, various types of fabrics like cashmere wool, jute, fine cotton and innumerable technologies that the west was still to see. Combined developments in science and a stockpile of resources gave India the name of Sone ki Chidiya that attracted the attention of the west. In fact this was one reason why Europe during the 17th century started exploring the world to find our great nation. In modern times developed countries understood the concept that developmentin the world, mental or physical, is a consequence of development of science. Initiatives were taken to develop science in many western nations during the 16th century.

Countries like U.K, U.S.A, Germany, France etc started developing science and slowly introduced their methods to the world which is now known as modern science. Countries that invested in science then, grew as economies and are now known as developed nations. The United Kingdom whose Sterling Pound is 65.70 times the Indian Rupee started its journey in modern science in 1660 when it formed the Royal Society. The Society worked in areas of basic sciences. It made public the experiments conducted by its experimental scientists and tried to remove misconceptions in the minds of people. Well known scientists who played a pivotal role in developing their respective subjects were associated with this body; Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Banks, Robert Hooke, Sir Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday and George Gabriel  Stokes are just a few. They found a platform in the form of the society to showcase their work and today the society acts like a  research institute and has recently developed a recycled wind turbine. Countries like France and Germany produced large number of scientists between the 18th and 20th century. They saw great scientific progress during  these years. Scientists like Gustav Hertz, Albert Einstein, Max Plank, Werner Heisenberg were Germans who made contributions of epic proportions. Albert Einstein is known for the “theory of relativity”, photoelectric effect, and quantum mechanics. Werner Heisenberg presented Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty, while Max Plank explained the transmission of heat through radiation mathematically.

The United States of America took a quantum leap and emerged as a super power after the 1940’s when it laid great emphasis on the development of physics in their country. Today developed nations like USA and UK allocate nearly 8-18% of their total budget to science and research. They have become hubs of scientific research and development. Similarly nations like China and India have recognized the importance of science and development. India has increased its budgetary allocation of science and education by a whopping 3.0% during the last five years, an increase that even developed countries find
difficult to attain.

India’s “tryst with destiny” has been guided onto the  right path because we have understood the present day relevance of science and in many ways are set to revive the glorious past of our country. The world at large has problems that  demand scientific solutions coupled with social solutions. The pressing issues today are the energy crisis, environmental degradation and medicine. Fossil fuels are depleting fast and countries need to find sustainable alternative sources of energy. Environmental degradation like depletion of the ozone layer, green house gas emission, global warming and the extinction of species are leading to breaks in the food chain which can have catastrophic results. The survival of human kind depends on the balance that we can maintain in our ecological system and environment. Practical solutions to such problems can only be found with the help of science. Serious biomedical issues like AIDS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson also trouble humans at large, biologists are searching for cures to such diseases.

India’s foray and renewed interest in science can help find solutions to such problems. In order to make a better future, a future that experiences growth of a human race, a future that seeks prosperity and improvement in human thought, we must develop science whose branches ramify and finally form the complete tree of life.