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Nature India’s top 10 in 2017

In 2017, Nature India’s page views increased by 21 percent over 2016. We sat down to analyse what our readers liked reading most, in our effort to continue delivering world class science coverage from India to our global readership.

Here are Nature India‘s top ten most read articles for 2017:

1. The litigon rediscovered

Shubhobroto Ghosh, Piyali Chattopadhyay Sinha & Anindya Sinha

A captioned photograph of the litigon Cubanacan, published in The Statesman, Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 12 March 1980.

A captioned photograph of the litigon Cubanacan, published in The Statesman, Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 12 March 1980.

In July 2016, scouring through the archives of the National Library in Kolkata, India, an information scientist and a librarian laid their hands upon a rare photograph published in 1980 in the daily newspaper The Statesman. The photograph was that of a male litigon. It was described in an accompanying news report as a hybrid of a male Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica and a female tigon (hybrid of a male tiger Panthera tigris and a female African lion P. leo of unknown subspecies) from the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Calcutta (now Kolkata).

This review article, analysing the rare rediscovery and its implications for the biological species concept and value systems in science, topped our list of most read articles in 2017.  Read the article here.

2. Supercomputers overturn 50-year-old conjecture of fluid physics

Arati Halbe

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur found a way out of a long-unsolved problem in fluid mechanics with new studies that characterised ‘buoyancy-driven flows’ more accurately, something that could overturn an age-old conjecture in the physics of fluids. New insights into fluid motion could improve marine and air travel and help create better weather prediction models, and even better air-conditioning for households.

Using large-scale numerical simulations on some of the best supercomputers of the world, Mahendra Verma and colleagues at IIT Kanpur ran a home-grown numerical code – TARANG – to create detailed simulations for buoyancy-driven flows. They observed that the buoyancy driven turbulent flow is better characterised by a model, first proposed by the Russian scientist Andrey Kolmogorov, instead of the model proposed by R. Bolgiano and Alexander Obukhov, as was previously believed.

This piece, turning the history of fluid physics on its head, was not surprisingly on number two on Nature India’s most read list. Read it here.

3. Mango leaves yield fluorescent graphene quantum dots

A highlight of research conducted by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science Mumbai, led by Rohit Srivastava, made it to number three.

By heating dried mango leaf extract, the researchers synthesized fluorescent graphene quantum dots that can be used for bioimaging and as intracellular temperature-sensing probes. Existing fluorescent materials, such as organic dyes, metal clusters and quantum dots, are toxic to biological cells and unstable when exposed to light. In search of a biocompatible fluorescent material, the scientists prepared fluorescent graphene quantum dots by heating dried mango leaf extract in a domestic microwave oven. They then explored the quantum dots’ potential for bioimaging and temperature-sensing in specific mice cells.

Read the research highlight here.

4. Prized Muga silkworm’s mitochondrial genome decoded

2427Indian researchers moved a step closer to understanding the evolution of the prized Muga silkworm of Assam by sequencing the mitochondrial genome of the insect. Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, led by Utpal Bora, undertook the sequencing, which might help identify genetic markers or specific gene sequences that reveal the identity of the silkworm.

Muga is among the most expensive commercially available silk fibres and is intricately related to the culture of the north-east Indian state of Assam. In recent years, rampant use of pesticides in the state’s tea gardens and adjoining agricultural fields has greatly affected the growth of Muga silkworms, reducing their silk production.

The research highlight is here.

5. India bans commercial use of stem cells for therapy

K. S. Jayaraman

2413In a move to curb rampant malpractice, India banned commercial use of stem cells “as elements of therapy” and warned of punishments to erring clinicians claiming stem cell cures for diseases through direct-to-consumer marketing. “No stem cell administration to humans is permissible outside the purview of clinical trials,” according to the revised National Guidelines for Stem Cell Research, jointly prepared by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and announced on 11 October 2017.

The news piece can be read here.

6. Quantum physics gets a reverse uncertainty relation

Theoretical physicists from the Harish-Chandra Research Institute (HRI) in Allahabad derived a new kind of relation in quantum mechanics called the “Reverse Uncertainty Relation”, that may have applications in various areas of quantum physics, quantum information and quantum technology.

Debasis Mondal, Shrobona Bagchi and Arun Kumar Pati from HRI showed, for the first time, that there is an upper limit to how accurately one can simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle. The original uncertainty principle introduced in 1927 by Werner Heisenberg is a rule in quantum mechanics which sets a “lower” limit on the product of the “variances” of two “incompatible observables” (such as position and momentum), but it was not known if there is any “upper” limit.

Read the research highlight here.

7. Using Indian summer fruit jamun to make solar cells

2254Scientists from Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee used the purple pigment of Indian summer fruit jamun to make an inexpensive ‘sensitizer’ for Dye Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSCs) or Grätzel cells. These natural sensitizers hold promise in replacing expensive chemical dyes to make the solar cells.

Lead researcher Soumitra Satapathi and M. Sc student Nipun Sawhney from IIT Roorkee’s physics department used anthocyanins – naturally occurring pigments that give characteristic colour to jamun, plum, black currant and many berries. They extracted anthocyanin from these fruits using acidified ethanol. The carbonyl and hydroxyl groups on the anthocyanin molecule easily bind with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which are used to make the photoanode – an important component of DSSCs.

Here‘s the research highlight.

8. India’s modern cave man

K. S. Jayaraman

New Picture (1)Ramanathan Baskar spends much of his time in underground caves exploring miles and miles of rock layers and eerie mineral deposit formations. It’s not the mystery or adventure of caves that drives Baskar, a professor of environmental science at Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology in Hisar. He and his team camp in subterranean caves to identify microbes thriving in these “geologically isolated, always dark, nutrient-limited” environments. They work in the fascinating, new discipline of ‘cave geomicrobiology’, collecting rock samples, extracting DNA from them and culturing microbes to investigate their roles.

In this fascinating interview, he tells Nature India that cave geomicrobiology has the potential to provide invaluable information on subterranean microbial ecosystem processes including microbial-mineral interactions in caves.

Read the interview-based piece here.

9. UGC rules blamed for helping promote fake journals in India

K. S. Jayaraman

A stack of paper magazines, fanned out.

India’s University Grants Commission (UGC), responsible for maintaining standards of higher education, has been blamed for the mushrooming of “predatory journals” in the country. The allegation has come from the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), the country’s premier scientific society, in the form of a scathing editorial in its journal “Proceedings of INSA.”

Predatory journals are fake open access journals which often claim high ‘impact factor’ but publish — for a substantial fee — sub-standard non peer-reviewed manuscripts polluting scientific literature with trash. Forty two per cent of world’s fake journal publishers are based in India.

Here‘s the piece highlighting India’s brush with fake journals.

10. How to hunt down a bare black hole

Biplab Das

2388What happens when a star, tens of times more massive than the Sun, runs out of fuel? Its gravity increases inexorably, pulling all its matter inwards, and shrinking the star millions of kilometers in diameter to a pinprick, smaller than a dot on an ‘i’. Such a super dense mass, known as singularity, is covered by a boundary (or event horizon) that traps everything including light, giving birth to a black hole.

But what if the boundary doesn’t form? Physicists argue that in such case a ‘bare black hole’ or ‘naked singularity’ is born. With the help of a mathematical model, physicists led by Pankaj S. Joshi from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai and Institute of Mathematics of Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland showed how to detect such naked singularity.

Enjoy the article here.

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