Friday, March 25, 2022

Campus Memories: Prof. Sohan Modak

I came to know from media reports and Twitter posts that biologist Dr. Sohan Modak passed away on March 23rd. Although I never interacted with him directly I do have some distinct memories of his presence on the Pune University campus when I was completing my Masters in Geology in the late 1980's. On various occasions there were protests and strikes organized by faculty in opposition to some decision regarding University functioning. I don't remember Dr Modak ever making common cause with the rest of the faculty regarding going on a strike. He used to show up to the canteen with large posters which outlined his opinion of the situation. He then used to vociferously appeal to the faculty to get back to teaching. 

On the academic side, many of my college batch mates had opted for a Master's in Zoology. I started hearing a different language from them. There was less emphasis on the rigid divisions between Zoology and Botany. Instead, universal mechanisms underlying all life were being discussed. Gene regulation, chromosome structure, development. All this was new and alien to me, but exciting to hear about none the less. 

Dr. Modak had played a big role in the transformation of biology syllabus I was told. The various tributes now poring in bears this out. 



Thursday, March 17, 2022

Links: Noisy Soils, First Art, Mars Geology

A few readings for your perusal.

1) Biologists are poking senors into soil to listen to the hum of life. Amazing article by Ute Eberle on what we can learn from acoustic signals given off by animals living within a soil profile.

Life in the soil was thought to be silent. What if it isn’t?

2)  When was the first '├írt' made? Is there a neat sequence from abstract scratches on rock and bone to representational art that adorns the walls of caves? Excellent article by Amy McDermott on this question, bringing together the viewpoints of archeologists and cognitive scientists. 

What was the first “art”? How would we know?

3) One year on, NASA's Mars Perseverance has been drilling into rock, collecting samples and finding some surprises along the way. It will now head towards an ancient delta to look for past life! Alexandra Witze reports on the progress.

A year on Mars: How NASA’s Perseverance hit a geological jackpot.