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Sci Zone

When you're about to say good-bye to the tiny bedroom where you've spent you're entire adolescence, it's not always easy to bridle down the emotions. Usually, you end up with this compelling urge of picking up a permanent marker with the divine purpose of practicing fine art all around the walls. That's only partly because you're leaving the place anyway so who cares, but mostly due to the fact that the landlord had been a jerk and you want to pay him back for posing a life-long ban to your soulful, opera-induced toilet-singing! Ah well, at least I wasn't put into a pauper's grave like my fellow artist, Beethoven.

We're changing house folks, and the lone spider at one corner of my room is brooding over the philosophies of life and death, somewhere along the lines of Hemingway-induced somberness, as it's being evicted from home-sweet-home due to the sudden disappearance of the wardrobe. Most of our furniture has already been shifted to the new place; the rest waiting for the van to return. I was helping mom with the packing a little while ago; until it came to a point where she started looking for a flower-vase I broke (and conveniently hid) about a couple of months ago. I told mom I had to study Chemistry, and fled.

Talking of Chemistry, a certain uncle of mine actually advised me to build a career as a chemist! I told him I'd rather go for Forensic Anthropology, instead.

Forensic Anthropology is the study of dead bodies, by the way! It's a profession that tests the strength of your stomach, and makes you regret having a nose to start with, but leaving the yucky-factor aside, it's a profession that keeps the crime level from going insanely high, and helps the clean burial of what would've otherwise been an unidentified corpse.

When a dead body is found and there's even a remote implication that a crime has been committed, the Forensic Anthropologists are invited to investigate the crime-scene. By studying certain biological changes in the cadaver, and other physical and chemical changes in the surroundings, these experts unveil tantalizing secrets about the crime, which usually leads to the conviction of the criminals.

An anthropologist's first job is to pinpoint the time when a person died. This is usually done by studying the soil on which the dead-body is found. When a body decomposes, it gives out five fatty-acids, whose ratios vary with time. Experts analyze these ratios and deduce the time since death. The other technique is to track down the ratios of seven inorganic compounds (such as calcium and sodium) which decompose into the soil from the bones. These soil samples can foil fabricated alibis in murder trials!

Some criminals are dumb enough to leave behind their footprints, which are eventually studied by the Forensic experts to obtain ample information about the person behind the deed. Often, the nature of the blow on the victim's body can also suggest whether the killer is left handed or right, thus producing a shorter search-list.

However, if the Forensic experts don't end up with such lucky breaks and the corpse is still unidentified, they analyze the dead-body in the laboratory to obtain a 'biological profile' of the victim. The skeleton of the victim is cleaned in the lab in numerous, macabre ways that often involves carrion beetles and Chaka Washing powder (or, any other detergent of similar effect, but an equally weird name).

Once the skeletons (and often just random bones) are cleaned, the Forensic Anthropologists study them to learn more about the victim. Looking at the teeth, for example, reveals whether the victim is a child or an adolescent (in case a full skeleton is not found). Human teeth change with age in a predictable pattern and offer a rather reliable estimate between five months to twenty-one years. If the teeth are missing, young age can also be deduced from the epiphyseal union: areas of the femur that gradually fuse as a person ages.

The skull and the pelvic girdles are the two giveaways in determining the sex of the victim, the pelvic girdle in woman being much wider than that in a man; whereas, the long bones of the legs depict the stature. If that bone is not available, a range of heights can be obtained from just a single finger or a foot bone. In fact, the experts can actually deduce the ancestry of the victim by analyzing the ratio of different bones in the skull!

This information is used in the forensic computers, where a specially designed software adds virtual flesh of appropriate thickness (depending on age, sex and ethnic background) to obtain an animated 3D image of the victim! The biological profile, on the other hand, depicts the life-style of the victim and suggests the reasons behind the crime!

Summing it up, forensic is one of the most tantalizing branches of science. Before mom finds out the dead-body of the flower-vase, and breaks my bones, tata!

(Your suggestions are always welcome at sci-zone's official mailing address: sighzone@gmail.com. By the way, I wasn't really serious about being an anthropologist. Not if I can join politics, at least.)

By Tawsif

Campus news

Double Boishakh Bonanza at Sir John Wilson School

Pohela Boishakh is celebrated in schools with a lot of colour and festivity. Sir John Wilson School was no different. April 14 began in this school with the Junior Section in a new look with garlands adorning the gates, and the schoolchildren's artwork on display. School began with the students having been transformed, discarding their usual uniform in favour of the traditional saris for girls, and punjabis for boys. The teachers too, departed from their usual no-nonsense attire, and took trouble to look extra gorgeous.

The day began with poetry recitation, which was choreographed by the tiny tots of Nursery and Playgroup. This was followed by the rest of the school singing the usual Boishakh songs. The little voices piped up in melodious harmony as everyone bravely withstood the unusual heat so as to be a part of the celebrations. The music was followed by more poetry recitation by the older children. Not to be left out, the teachers ended the cultural programme by singing the show-stopper.

If the Junior Section was having a party, the Senior Section was venturing into new territory. The senior students of SJW participated in their first ever Science Fair. Starting from cardboard models depicting the human digestive system, to simple electric circuits, to battery-powered boats and fans, and even complicated computer presentations and miniature Mars Mission spacecrafts, the little Einsteins dazzled their audience with their brainy displays.

All in all, the teachers and students worked together to welcome 1412 in a fun and fresh way.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Mercury the lesser planet

Mercury orbits closer to the Sun than any other planet, making it dry, hot, and virtually airless. Although the planet's cratered surface resembles that of the Moon, it is believed that the interior is actually similar to Earth's, consisting primarily of iron and other heavy elements. Seen from the Earth however, this perspective is quite different since the planet move around the sky near the ecliptic in a relatively narrow circle known as "Zodiac". Consequently you will always have to look among those constellations to find them. The planets hang out around the Sun in elliptical, rather than circular, orbits, in a counter clockwise direction.

Mercury also intrigues scientists. It is the second densest planet in the solar system, next to Earth, and contains a much higher proportion of iron than any other planet or satellite does. Astronomers have developed several hypotheses to explain Mercury's unusual density. Some scientists speculate that early in the solar system's history, the sun vaporized the outer part of the planet, leaving only the metallic core intact. Others believe that a comet or asteroid impact may have blasted away Mercury's outer crust and mantle.

Moving outward, the planets orbit the sun in the following order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. A collection of minor planets or asteroids is also found - approximately 1000 km in diameter. If any one is interested to know about planets, asteroids and Big Bang, don't forget to mail me (asifrayhan@yahoo.com)

Mythology surrounding Mercury
Mercury was named by the Romans after the fleet-footed envoy of the gods because it seemed to move more quickly than any other planet. It is the closest planet to the Sun, and second smallest planet in the solar system. Its diameter is 40% smaller than Earth and 40% larger than the Moon. It is even smaller than Jupiter's moon Ganymede and Saturn's moon Titan.

Lesser Planets
Mercury and Venus are called inferior planets because their orbits are inside ours (and closer to the sun). As a result, Mercury is never visible at the middle of night, but only around sunset and sunrise depending on whether elongation is east or west of the Sun. It is difficult to observe Mercury due to its proximity to the Sun. Try to catch it in binoculars during periods of maximum elongation; at best before 2hr and 15min of the sun and 2hr 15min after it. Due to its small size, just barely larger then moon, Mercury reveals no real surface detail. Under high magnification, the best you can hope for it to see is small, featureless crescent.

Could Water Exist In Mercury?
It would appear that Mercury could not support water in any form, as it is the closest planet to the sun, and naturally had a substantial atmosphere. It has very little atmosphere and is blazing hot during the day, but in 1991 scientists at Caltech bounced radio waves off Mercury and found an unusual bright return from the north pole. The apparent brightening at the North Pole could be explained by ice on or just under the surface. But is it possible for Mercury to have ice? Because Mercury's rotation is almost perpendicular to its orbital plain, the North Pole always sees the sun just above the horizon. The insides of craters would never be exposed to the Sun and scientists suspect that they would remain colder than -161 C. These freezing temperatures could trap water out gassed from the planet, or ices brought to the planet from cemetery impacts. These ice deposits might be covered with a layer of dust and would still show bright radar returns.

Did You Know?
Due to Mercury's rotation and highly elliptical orbit, the Sun appears to rise briefly, set, and rise again before it travels westward across the sky. At sunset, the Sun appears to set, rise again briefly, and then set again. So keep on trying, though there is nothing to see much in Mercury but it is a wonder!

By Asif Rayhan Rasha


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