Water charity: What the drinking fountains of Mumbai tell us

The pyaavs of Mumbai aren’t just public fountains but a repository of memories, architectural history and an important lesson in water philanthropy. Swapna Joshi, a PhD Student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune, studies them closely to find new meaning in the old.

A pyaav on Mumbai’s Mohammad Ali Road

There is something mesmerizing about the architecture of South Mumbai. As a local train commuter, whenever I step into Mumbai’s CSMT railway station (formerly Victoria Terminus), I notice, despite the hustle, intricate details of the building. Working with a Mumbai based conservation architect’s firm gave me a vantage point to look at colonial period architecture and appreciate it. That’s how I came in contact with the public drinking water fountains of Mumbai, locally known as the pyaavs.

‘Thy thirst repose to quench a handful of life’. This was the quote we chose to restore the first pyaav through a public-private initiative in Mumbai. Why this intense thought in a structural conservation? Was there a story beyond the material fabric of the pyaav? The answer is yes.

This pyaav was in the Kessovji Naik Fountain and clock tower in Bhat Bazaar of Masjid Bunder, one of the busiest markets of Mumbai. Some 100 years ago, a generous patron had decided to support the construction of the pyaav and provide water for the city, without any other motive. How fascinating is this!

Around the same time I read ‘The Water Heritage of Mumbai’ by Dr. Varsha Shirgaonkar, the Vice-Chancellor of S.N.D.T Women’s University. In this seminal work, she painstakingly documents most of the city’s pyaavs, including many whose exact location was not known. Data on about thirty pyaavs of Mumbai are available today. These pyaavs were built during the 19th and 20th century and provided drinking water in commercial zones, along tram routes, in markets, gardens and other public places.

A pyaav in the Char Nal area of Mumbai.

The concept of a pyaav is based on two important things — the generosity of a philanthropist with an intention of giving back to the city; and building a monument in the memory of a deceased relative of the patron. Armed with Dr. Shirgaonkar’s foundation-laying information and with the thought of developing and restoring these pyaavs to their former glory, a group of like-minded people, including me, came together. The group — comprising an architect, a journalist, a historian and a heritage enthusiast — formed a social media group called ‘The Mumbai Pyaav Project’. Our reach was limited because all we had were photos of pyaavs, some in utterly dilapidated condition.

In Carnac Bandar in Mumbai, for example, a pyaav has been transformed into a temple. Similarly, another pyaav nearby was on the verge of being demolished for a developmental project, but was saved because of the awareness of local people. Identifying dangers to the pyaavs would help in their conservation. The need is to look at the data but through a contemporary lens.

This pyaav in the Crawford Market area of Mumbai is modeled like a shrine.

In 2017, I received the Sahapedia Unesco Project Fellowship. It enabled me to map all the pyaavs in the city, understand their present condition, interview people associated with them and document them audio-visually. While doing the field work and photo documentation, I came across many pyaavs still in use as drinking water sources. When I saw a small child drinking from the pyaav in the King Circle garden, I was convinced of the need for their revival. I joined hands with people who shared this conviction to retrieve and share information on the pyaavs with a larger audience.

Apart from their heritage value, pyaavs reduce plastic pollution by eliminating the need for packaged drinking water. Commuters I interviewed near a pyaav in Kalachowki area, and the owner of a nearby shop, were delighted that it was being restored. The question of whether working class people were the only ones to drink water from these pyaavs was answered by visits to some modern paanpois (water storage tanks) and earthen water pots kept charitably for passers by on crossroads. Also, almost every tea stall serves water to customers before tea, which is a kind of a pyaav system in itself. The project started building up with all this and the same data now got a fresh relook.

The endeavour was to understand the basic drinking water supply system of Mumbai and functioning of the dams in the city — from when and why they were built to the quantity of water supply to the city. When we showed our audio-visual content, people admitted they passed these pyaavs every day but did not know what they were. Armed with knowledge, they expressed interest in seeing more of these.

Pyaavs are a network of history and heritage, drinking water supply and memories. As of now, three other pyaavs have been restored and many others are in the process of being revived . The re-collation of the data in the  Sahapedia project gave me the key to understand pyaavs much better.

The pyaavs have various functions but we have largely failed to admire them as spaces to pause, gather and remember. They are soothing beauties and heritage markers. As the great poet Rabindranath Tagore puts it: “For many years at great cost, I traveled through many countries, saw the high mountains and the ocean. The only things I did not see were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass…. just outside my door.”

[Photo credits: Swapna Joshi.]

The story behind the story: The monster and the child

This week, Futures is delighted to welcome Dolly Garland with her story The monster and the child. Dolly is a writer based in London, and you can find out more about her work at her website or by following her on Twitter. Here she reveals what sparked her interest in monsters and what led her to her latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing The monster and the child

For most people, the word ‘monster’ evokes an image of some scary, non-human monster; the word ‘child’ evokes an image of youth, innocence, and a human child — whether a happy one or one in need of affection.

But as we know from school bullies, not all children are nice and innocent. I don’t know exactly where the idea for this story began, but it came with the assumption that what if the child is the monster, and the monster is the child? There are plenty of stories where humans are the bad guys, and I wanted to merge that idea with the innocence of childhood.

Of course, the famous example of that sort of exploration is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, in which children are fighting a real war, thinking they are playing on a simulator.

I wanted to touch upon the idea of childhood — regardless of species — and combine that with morality that adults and society teach children.

Adam is told that what he is doing will protect his world, protect humanity. He has been taught what is good and bad, and he has been taught to do the right thing. But that moral compass is biased. Do we teach our children to do the right thing, or do we teach them to do what is right in our opinion? What if absolute morality has a negative impact on us? Who do we put first? What if it is ‘them’ and ‘us’” but ‘them’ are not the enemy, nor have they done anything wrong?

Humans, I think, are selfish creatures and it is that selfishness that has helped us thrive as a species. But as we continue to grow, without much care for the world around us, how far can we go? How far should we go? These are some of the questions that inspired this story.

Peer Review Week 2019: Improving peer review quality through transparent, reproducible research

This guest blog comes from Sowmya Swaminathan, Head of Editorial Policy and Research Integrity for Nature Research

By the time a research study reaches the peer review process, many crucial decisions that affect the rigor of the study design, methodology, data collection, analysis and reporting have already been made. Nevertheless, by developing and implementing editorial policies and by providing a publishing infrastructure that supports publication of transparent reproducible research, editors, journals and publishers can help improve the published paper, adding value and quality to the peer review and publication process.

Broadly speaking, four pillars – policy, publishing infrastructure, advocacy and awareness, and collective action – have driven editorial and publishing innovation and furthered our mission to work in partnership with the research community to advance quality and integrity.  In this blog post I provide an overview and examples of the many initiatives undertaken at Nature Research to support publication of reproducible research.


Transparency is at the heart of our policies designed to improve the reproducibility of published research. We ask authors to report information about their experimental design, as well as to clearly identify and make their datasets, code and materials available, also making it easier for reviewers to access the information they need to assess the study appropriately. We strongly support open research practices such as sharing the underlying building blocks of the research article – data, code and protocols – through repositories.

We have found that policies centred on transparency have had an impact.  For example, independent studies have found that the Nature Research Life Science Reporting Summary, an instrument to support transparent reporting in life science articles, which we introduced in 2013, has improved reporting of statistics and other aspects of experimental design and analysis [1,2].

We recognize that what works for reporting in life sciences is often not applicable to many of the other disciplines. While we advocate for a minimum threshold for transparency across core aspects of data, code, and materials, we have also worked with experts to tailor approaches that are designed to meet field-specific needs, for example in areas of photovoltaics and photonics research.

Data availability is another area where implementing a policy focused on transparency has had clear benefits. Since 2016, when we introduced a mandatory data availability statement on all research articles published in Nature-branded journals, we have seen a rise in data sharing through public repositories across our journals, especially in the life sciences, and increased appreciation of the value of data sharing to underscore the integrity and credibility of published work in many disciplines.

Publishing Infrastructure

Designing an innovative peer review and publishing infrastructure that supports all aspects of publishing reproducible research is central to our overall vision for an open and transparent ecosystem. A robust technology infrastructure is also essential to drive large-scale adoption of best practice approaches by authors, reviewers and editors. Over the years, we have introduced a number of publishing innovations that have furthered our commitment to reproducibility. These include avenues for publishing data and protocols such as Scientific Data and Protocol Exchange, and new article formats like Data Descriptors and Registered Reports that focus on data and methodological rigour respectively, rather than the specific results.

More recently, three Nature Research journals have tested executable platforms for peer review and publication of code. Although the policy and practice of peer reviewing code has been in place at these journals for many years, powering the process through an executable platform sets the stage for a more seamless and scalable experience for authors, reviewers and editors.

Advocacy and awareness

Advocacy and awareness-raising in the broader research and publishing community are other important areas of engagement for us in advancing our commitment to integrity in research. In the pages of Nature and the Nature-branded journals, we have often highlighted and debated the many different, complex issues, challenges and solutions on the path to transparent, reproducible research including discipline-specific needs and barriers to reproducible research (for example, see recent discussions about reproducibility in nano-medicine and data and code sharing in physics).

Collective action

Shifting entrenched patterns of how research is conducted and published requires stakeholders across the research and publishing community to work collectively in the push for better practice. Nature Research journals are proud to have participated in and supported many such efforts to accelerate data sharing, advance best practice toward open and transparent research and align on minimum reporting standards.

We believe that our editors and journals have an important role to play in tackling the many issues that affect the quality and integrity of published research. Indeed, we feel privileged to be able to engage with a global and multidisciplinary research community and are committed to furthering the cause of transparent, reliable research with all the tools at our disposal.

Join the discussions during Peer Review Week: #QualityinPeerReview, #PeerRevWk2019 #PeerReviewWeek


  1. The NPQIP Collaborative group, Did a change in Nature journals’ editorial policy for life sciences research improve reporting? BMJ Open Science 2019;3:e000035. doi: 10.1136/bmjos-2017-000035
  2. Han S, et al. (2017) A checklist is associated with increased quality of reporting preclinical biomedical research: A systematic review. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0183591. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183591

The story behind the story: Hello, Hello

In this week’s Futures Jeff Hecht puts us in touch with extraterrestrial life in Hello, Hello. Regular readers will recognize Jeff: he has written multiple stories for Futures over the years (you can see a full list at the foot of this post). When not penning science fiction, Jeff writes about lasers, dinosaurs and other science and technology. You can find out more about his work at his website or by following hm on Twitter. Here, Jeff reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Hello, Hello

Hello, Hello came from pondering one of the ‘big questions’ in both science and science fiction: where are all the little green beings, or whatever other creatures we might imagine inhabit other parts of the Universe. Space is big, it’s full of stars and planets, and the Universe was around for over nine billion years before the Sun and Earth formed. It took us only about 10,000 years to go from banging on the rocks to walking on the Moon. Shouldn’t that have been more than long enough for some of those beings to develop the technology needed to drop in for a visit? Either the little green beings must be running very late, or we must be the most technologically advanced civilization in the Galaxy.

Or so we like to think.

We live in an era of astounding technology development, where we carry tiny computers in our pockets that are far more powerful than the much larger computers that got us to the Moon. Yet our technology does have limits. It’s now nearly half a century since a human walked on the Moon, although we have plans to do so again in just a few years that seem within reason. We also have plans to send people all the way to Mars in the not too distant future. Of course, in the 1950s Wernher von Braun had plans for sending people to Mars in the not too distant future, and that seemed like a good idea at that time.

We also have a few other troublesome little problems, particularly in keeping the climate of our native planet in the reasonably habitable range we are accustomed to.

Those thoughts led me to ask the question that has launched countless science-fiction stories: what if? I wondered if the reason no little green beings have dropped in for a cup of tea might be that interstellar travel is impossible, at least for organic life. What if only machines could survive the trip. Then ‘Oumuamua cruised through the Solar System as quickly and quietly as a derelict interstellar spacecraft.

Read more Futures stories by Jeff Hecht

A slice of timeWhen last I saw the starsThe Internet of [Expletive Deleted] ThingsThe speed of dark energyWaiting for ChronomaticEvent horizonClear proofThe Neanderthal correlationQuantum entanglementsDirected energyOperation Tesla

The story behind the story: What must remain

In this week’s Futures, Thomas Broderick takes us to visit a special museum in What must remain. Based in California, Thomas is a freelance writer who has previously introduced us to the Chrysalis — you can find out more about his work at his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, he reveals what inspired his latest tale — so you should read the story first and then enjoy the trip!

The Aircraft of Modern Antiquity

Here, I saved you a seat. Even on these old electric trains, it’s better to sit than stand.  I’m surprised. These things are usually packed on Saturday mornings – people off to see their grandparents or buy vegetables out in the country. Oh, and don’t be surprised if a guy should start screaming while waving around knives. He’s just an enthusiastic salesman.

Where are we going? Well, it’s where What must remain was born. Like in the story, it’s a place of lost glory and half-truths bordering on lies. We have about an hour until we get there. Enjoy the view. I’m going to take a nap.


Thanks for waking me up. It’s a mile on foot from here. I know, this town needs a lot of love. Most of these apartment blocks were built in the ’50s, and in some cases, entire sections have been reclaimed by nature or squatters. It’s not all bad, though. There are some new homes and a modern grocery store in the town centre. And look at the people. They’re dressed well and look happy enough.

It’s just up ahead on this nature trail. Ah, there’s the entrance. I’ll step inside and get us tickets. One sec.


We give our tickets to the woman at the gate. Just like in my story, she’s a caretaker, one of five, I think. Yes, they do live here – the same little cabins. When I visited, I saw them washing down the exhibits with sponges and hammering out dents.

Surreal, isn’t it? Some of the most advanced aircraft ever built, many of them weapons of war once so secret that if we were standing here the year I was born, we’d be shot on sight. Now anyone can waltz right in and take pictures.

And here it is – the first supersonic passenger liner in the world. Like the Miraz, this plane never carried a single passenger, just mail and cargo at Mach 1.5. The moment it was parked here in 1980, they scrapped the interior. Here’s the picture on this display – just hanging wires and struts. It was only in the last decade or so that the caretakers started raising money to restore it. New paint, original seats, that sort of thing.

Why? Four times a year they let schoolchildren inside to pretend they’re flying. A woman dressed up as a stewardess gives them a snack. Here’s their picture next to the donation box. They look thrilled, don’t they?

Seeing those kids’ happy faces, I thought ‘Well, it’s only a harmless fib. The children make a nice memory and get to tell people that they sat in a plane that carried people higher, faster, and farther than anything that had come before … or since.’

Unlike my story, there’s no dark secret here. It’s just a melancholy relic, something befitting of a Latin proverb or Shelley’s Ozymandias.

But I wondered if there was more to it. Would someone who worked at a place like this do so to honour a loved one? And would that person, because of his love, blind himself and the museum’s guests to uncomfortable but vital truths? Maybe that happens here. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Anyway, that’s enough philosophizing for one day. Let’s head back to the capital and get some lamb dumplings and a beer.








Call for submissions: High-throughput 3D screening

Call for Submissions

High-throughput 3D Screening

Organizer: Dr. Kaylene Simpson (Peter Mac)

Scientific Data is inviting submissions releasing and describing data from high-throughput screens employing cutting-edge 3D cell or tissue culture systems. Screens using a wide range of perturbations will be considered, including chemical libraries or functional genomic screens. Priority will be given to submissions that employ high-content imaging techniques, and which have particular value for methods development in this growing area.

Read more

What’s in our browser tabs? August 2019

Welcome to our new monthly link round-up! As editors of physics journals, we love reading the latest research papers, but we also love a bit of lunch-break popular science reading. Here are some pieces that caught our eyes in August:

  • Ready, set, bake — Physics World. Rahul Mandal, 2018 Great British Bake Off winner — and metrologist  — writes about the science of baking. (PS: if you like cake, check out Rahul’s instagram)
  • Nathalie Walchover’s account in Quanta magazine of the latest developments in the Hubble constant saga. This summer the tension between different measurements of H0 got more dramatic with new papers coming out and a dedicated meeting at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.
  • There are some stunning images in the shortlist for the RPS 2019 science photographer of the year award.
  • How Ancillary Technology Shapes What We Do In Physics.Why is the definition of the second based on cesium atoms? Why do MRI scanners use such large magnets? Partly because of physics, but largely because of technology and history, as Chad Orzel explains.
  • We can’t believe we only just discovered this gem from 2017: Twelve LaTeX packages to get your paper accepted by Andreas Zeller. Examples include “The significance package.  Alters your experiment settings until results become statistically significant, repurposing LaTeX’s built-in formatting algorithm for advanced p-hacking.  Use as usepackage[p=0.05]{significance}.” and “The award package.  Makes your paper win an award, as in usepackage[bestpaper]{award}.”
  • The physics professor who says online extremists act like curdled milk. Over at The Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong talks to Neil Johnson about his work analyzing online extremism and hate in terms of gelation.

Interactions: Ed Simpson and the 3d nuclide chart

An example visualization from the 3D Nuclide Chart

The nuclide chart is a staple of nuclear physics, visualizing the properties of nuclides arranged by their number of protons and neutrons. The chart appears in text books, talk slides and Lego form (in the Binding Blocks science outreach programme). The 3D Nuclide Chart is a web app put together by Ed Simpson (@SuperSubatomic on Twitter) of the Australian National University. The app lets users plot the nuclear data of their choosing (taken from published data tables), play around with the 3D viewpoint (or work in 2D), set colour schemes and fonts, and then export the visualization as a png file or export the relevant data. The results are rather pretty, and the app is easy to use.

We asked Ed a few questions about the chart.

For our non-nuclear-physicist readers, what does the nuclide chart show?

The nuclide chart is like a nuclear physicists’ periodic table, and is a basic tool of the nuclear science community. Instead of visualising the elements, it plots the properties of nuclides. A nuclide is a specific type of nucleus, defined by its number of protons (Z) and neutrons (N). Plotting nuclides as a function of Z and N gives insights into basic nuclear properties such as radioactive decay and half-lives. It also allows us to spot patterns in nuclear structure, such as the “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons, which greatly add to the stability of nuclides.

Can you let us know a little about the history of nuclide charts?

The earliest nuclide charts date back to the mid 1930s. The evolution of the chart after that is somewhat hidden in the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, where much of the development took place. Declassified Los Alamos reports do tell us, however, that it had reached a recognisably modern form by 1945. The 2D visualisations of the nuclide chart have changed very little since then, though we’ve discovered many more nuclides: from 540 in 1946, to more than 3200 today!

What made you decide to make a new visualization tool for the nuclide chart?

Ed Simpson in an accelerator control room

Nuclear physicists often use nuclide charts in publications, talks and outreach materials. The existing online tools were more focused on data than visualisation, and I developed the 3D Nuclide Chart with the primary aim of producing high quality images for reuse elsewhere. The chart has fine-grained control over the appearance – everything from the colour palette to fonts can be changed. Being 3D, it’s perfect for use in outreach and teaching, and being online, all that’s required is a recent web browser.

What are your plans for future developments of the visualization?

The main thing I’d like to add is loading of data from users (e.g., a set of calculations of nuclear masses). Plotting data as a function of time would also be really cool for visualising the abundances of nuclides during astrophysical events like the r-process, which is responsible for creating half the heavy elements we see around us today. I’m always open to suggestions, and many of the developments have come following feedback from users.


The story behind the story: Three tales the river told

This week, Futures is taking a trek courtesy of Three tales the river told, the latest story from Stewart C. Baker. Regular readers will recognize Stewart as he has perviously taught us How to configure your quantum disambiguator, revealed the truth about Love and relativity and examined Failsafes. You can find out more about Stewart’s work on his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, he reveals the inspiration behind his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Three tales the river told

This is kind of a heavy story, in a number of ways. But perhaps it should be: although it’s unlikely that the Yellow River would dry up to such an extent you could walk along its empty river basin for a month, climate change and other human-caused issues are projected to have a serious impact on rivers.

Will it be so big an impact we have to live underground to survive, drinking reclaimed water a la the Fremen in Dune?

I sure hope not.  But since I’m a bit of a cynic, I’m equally sure we’re on a path to find out.

Other than general anxiety about the mess we’re making of our planet, the inspirations from this story came from a number of places.

Rivers, oceans and other bodies of water have always fascinated me. Perhaps it’s because they’re so vast and ever-changing, and speak to the wanderlust that lives on deep inside my soul even though I’m somewhat of a homebody in practice. Or perhaps it’s just some ingrained awareness of how vital they — and water in general — have always been to the arc of human development and survival.

The title came first with this one. For that, I’m indebted to Vylar Kaftan, who runs an annual Rummage Sale contest on Codex Writers Group where you write a story from someone else’s title, and to Aimee Ogden, who provided the title itself.

For the rest:

Part 0, set in UnderGuangdong, and the general idea for the setting, pays homage to Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest, which features a future world where people live in cities under the earth after the surface has been taken over by desertification. Although my story doesn’t have nearly as many aliens in it, of course.

Part 1, with the archaic characters reading “Weep, Mothers, for Your Children”, is from an even stranger source: real life. The only thing I’ve changed is the location. I remember seeing a number of reports about ‘hunger stones’ being revealed in the Elbe river due to a drought in 2018. In real life, although the path of Yellow River has changed many times, as a rule it does so much farther downstream, where it overruns its banks and floods the countryside around it before settling into a new course. These course corrects have literally changed the course of Chinese — and world — history, affecting battles and wars, and the longer, more subtle conflicts that accompany commerce and settlement.

Part 2 looks a little at one of those. Kaifeng is on the Yellow River’s south bank, and was regularly flooded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Ming Dynasty river engineers eventually stopped the worst floods, but in 1642 the governor of Kaifeng broke the dykes on purpose to stave off a peasant rebellion besieging his city. Turns out, that was a terrible idea: the resultant flooding, famine and disease killed hundreds of thousands, and severely decreased Kaifeng’s importance. If this sounds interesting to you, check out the excellent Controlling the Dragon: Confucian Engineers and the Yellow River in Late Imperial China by Randall A. Dodgen, which uses a mix of primary and secondary sources to paint a fascinating, complex picture of China’s relationship with its second longest river.

I’m not sure where part 3 came from, except a belief that gulls are likely to survive just about anything. (My mother, who is a birder, insists that ‘seagull’ is not a type of bird, hence ‘gull’.)

Is the gull’s appearance at the end of the story a good thing? A sign of ongoing life in the face of apparent mass extinction?

I’m ambivalent, but — as above — I sure hope we never get to the point where seeing a single bird is cause for thankful tears.

The story behind the story: I am not the hive mind of Transetti Prime

This week, Futures is delighted to welcome back Steven Fischer with his latest story, I am not the hive mind of Transetti Prime. Regular readers will remember Steven’s previous pieces for Futures in which he introduced us to The First Fragmented Church of Entropy, offered A beginner’s guide to space travel and seafood and ran the software routine Query, Queue, Repeat. You can find out more about Steven’s work at his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, he reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing I am not the hive mind of Transetti Prime

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making decisions, particularly ethical ones, and how the right answer to a question can depends on who is answering it.

Individuals and groups make judgements in drastically different ways, and the moral principles an individual is obligated to uphold can be separate from, or even at odds with, those that a group needs to examine.

Although principles such as justice, deterrence and efficient use of resources can be major priorities for governments and societies as a whole, these more nebulous concepts don’t often find their way into our individual decision-making on any appreciable level. On the other hand, empathy, compassion and many of the other qualities that make us human seem to disappear (or may even be impossible to reproduce) when large groups of humans start making decisions together.

Truth be told, I think that might be a good thing. Individuals and societies make different types of decisions on vastly different scales, and maybe a different approach is required. But I wanted to explore that contradiction a little bit in this story, and look at the tradeoff between those methods and the times when we might lose something in the process.

I’m not sure what the right answer is, or even the right way to go about reaching it. But I know what I’d say if I was the one designing the system, and I know what I’d do if the decision was up to me alone. And frankly, I don’t think those two answers would be the same.