Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tiny Frogs and Fault Rocks

Two news items that caught my eye in the last week or so.

Tiny Frog is India's smallest land vertebrate:
Biologist S D Biju of Delhi University working in the western ghat forests in Kerala discovered a new species of leaf frog which they named Nyctibatrachus minimus. Adult males are barely 10 mm in length and can fit inside a 5 rupee coin (Image source Delhi Univ).

The pleasant surprise was that a press release from an Indian university was picked up by a major science news portal, in this case Science Daily. Indian universities do not have well organized proactive press offices. News of research rarely filters out even in Indian newspapers. Indian scientists for their part have remained largely invisible to the public. We meet them not through their books or articles or on radio and TV talk shows, but only on that tiresome "science day" when hordes of bored school children are made to walk through science exhibits in some government institution. There a government scientist will tell you how fulfilling a career option science is. Despite their best efforts, science as an activity doesn't register among young Indians as something exciting.

Fresh from within the San Andreas Fault:
In 2004, the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, a monumental project to drill right into the world's most famous fault zone began. The San Andreas fault zone marks the boundary between the Pacific plate and the North American plate. The goal was to set up a deep monitoring system to analyse the movements of rocks along the fault zone. After drilling about 2 miles, geologists have recovered about a ton of rock from within the fault zone itself.

It is a magnesium aluminium rich silicate rock known as serpentinite (Image source: Earthscope). Its composition and physical structure will be invaluable in understanding the conditions at depth, and how this major plate boundary behaves and how earthquakes work. In time geologists using this deep monitoring system hope to refine earthquake prediction methods.

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