1. Roots connect a Meghalaya village
Years of work: The root bridge over the Umkar river in Siej village, Meghalaya.
A farmer takes forward the State’s traditional practice of building root bridges and connects two areas across Umkar river in Cherrapunjee
Hally War was just 10 when an idea took root in his mind. Seeing his parents’ daily struggle to cross a river to reach their farm, little Hally decided to build a bridge, nay a root bridge. Sixty years later, his creation over the Umkar river in Siej village near Cherrapunjee, also known as Sohra, in the undulating East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya has grown into a living marvel.
As is the traditional practice, he used the roots of the rubber fig (Ficus elastica), learning the techniques to mould and model the roots into a bridge with the help of bamboo from his grandfather and other elders in the family, Mr. War, nearing 70, reminisces.
Following years of hard work, the living root bridge has grown to two decks, one stretching to 20 metres and the other 15 metres. Mr. War’s family now helps him grow it further. “People, including my parents, were finding it difficult to cross the river to go to the farms on the other side, particularly when it rained,” Mr. War says. “It took 30 years to make the bridge strong so that people could use it to cross the river.” He charges tourists a nominal amount, which is used to protect the bridge.
Meghalaya is known for its root bridges, locally known as jingkieng jri. Many bridges across the State are over a century old.
Daphisha Gabriela Pyngrope, manager of Nomads Adventure Shillong, an organisation that promotes living root bridges, says the Khasi-Jaintia people, like most indigenous tribes, have a sense of oneness with nature.
“Although the exact history of the living root bridges remains undocumented, it is believed that they were built to overcome natural calamities, especially as Meghalaya is prone to floods due to excessive rainfall during monsoon,” Ms. Pyngrope says. She adds that these bridges are taking forward the culture of the tribes. They feed into the idea and practice of sustainability.
‘No govt. support’
Mr. War says his wife, Philoris Khyllep, has helped him through the years. “For some time, I had to abandon construction as there was no help from the government or any other agencies. But I continued the work later with the help of my wife and children. We made the entire bridge by ourselves. I didn’t receive any government aid,” he says, adding that a parallel bridge was built by the government in 2001.
“There are many people like Mr. War, who have dedicated their life to protecting the ecology by building and maintaining living root bridges,” Shillong MP and former Minister Vincent H. Pala says.
Mr. Pala says governments must help them by constructing parallel bridges so that tourists can see these root bridges and take photos to spread the word. “It will also help to protect them. I have tried my best to help by ensuring MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) and other funds be spent to build parallel bridges,” the MP says.
A spokesperson for the State Tourism Ministry says the department hasn’t added Mr. War’s bridge to the tourism map. “We will examine the unknown bridges soon and add them to the map.”
In the meantime, Mr. War is passing on his knowledge of twisting and turning roots to make bridges to his three sons.
2. ‘Frequent outbreaks of bird flu in Kerala require diagnostic studies’
Cause for concern: A file photo of the rapid response teams preparing to cull ducks at Karumuttu in Karuvatta.
Ramsar sites need continuous monitoring and epidemiological studies; investigations required on whether contamination occurs through soil and water, and if there is any change in salinity and pH level of water and soil over the period
Frequent outbreaks of avian flu in Kerala have critically hit the poultry industry and the livelihood of hundreds of farmers. Five outbreaks have been reported in the last three or four months alone. Experts demand diagnostic studies to control the infection.
“Contact with migratory birds is the likely trigger for the current outbreak. It is high time to conduct diagnostic studies and identify sustainable measures for reducing the recurrence of infection,” says T.P. Sethumadhavan, former director, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, and Professor, University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences, Bengaluru. “Duck farming is one of the traditional farming systems in the State, especially in the Kuttanad area. Investigations are required on whether contamination occurs through soil and water. We need to check whether there is any change in salinity and pH of water and soil over the period.”
Kerala’s wetlands, which habitats more than 80% of duck population, are under threat due to outbreaks of bird flu. Many of these wetlands come under Ramsar sites with rich biodiversity. The Kuttanad area, a Ramsar site, is under constant threat of Avian influenza.
“There is no effective vaccination against bird flu. It spreads mainly through migratory birds,” says B. Ajithbabu, Deputy Director, Department of Animal Husbandry.
3. Assam’s Deepor Beel soars above garbage mounds; survey shows more birds in wetlands
Winged visitors: A flock of barn swallows at the Deepor Beel wetland near Guwahati. file photo
Deepor Beel, Assam’s only Ramsar site, which is troubled by development projects and urban waste, has 30 more waterfowl species than the total counted in 2022, a bird survey conducted on January 4 has found. Altogether 26,747 birds belonging to 96 species were recorded during the count at the wetland on the southwestern edge of Guwahati.
The recent exercise was conducted by the Guwahati Wildlife Division of the Assam Forest Department.
Up from 10,289
“The bird count in the State’s sole Ramsar site revealed greater species diversity and an increase in the total number of species,” Jayashree Naiding, Divisional Forest Officer, told The Hindu.
“This was the second such exercise after February 2022, and the signs are encouraging. We had counted 10,289 individuals across 66 species last year,” she said. The Forest Department manages the 4.1-sq. km Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary in the central part of the greater wetland named Deepor Beel. The area of the wetland beyond, under the urban development authority, is being measured.
The bird count was conducted by a 37-member team comprising forest officials and members of wildlife NGOs such as Aaranyak, Help Earth, Rongmon and Midway Journey.
4. Science & Tech-1: A clear picture of how mercury becomes a superconductor
In 1911, Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity in mercury. He found that at a very low temperature, called the threshold temperature, solid mercury offers no resistance to the flow of electric current.
The BCS theory
Scientists later classified mercury as a conventional superconductor because its superconductivity could be explained by the concepts of Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory.
While scientists have used the BCS theory to explain superconductivity in various materials, they have never fully understood how it operates in mercury — the oldest superconductor. A group of researchers from Italy recently set out to “fill this gap”, as they wrote in their November 3 paper in the journal,Physical Review B.
The researchers used “state-of-the-art theoretical and computational approaches” and found that “all physical properties relevant for conventional superconductivity… are anomalous in some respect” in mercury.
In a testament to their strategy, they were able to work out a theoretical description for superconductivity in mercury that predicted its threshold temperature to within 2.5% of the observed value.
In BCS superconductors, vibrational energy released by the grid of atoms encourages electrons to pair up, forming so-called Cooper pairs. These Copper pairs can move like water in a stream, facing no resistance to their flow, below a threshold temperature.
By including certain factors that physicists had previously sidelined, the group’s calculations led to a clearer picture of how superconductivity emerges in mercury. For example, when the researchers accounted for the relationship between an electron’s spin and momentum, they could explain why mercury has such a low threshold temperature (around –270°C).
Similarly, the group found that one electron in each pair in mercury occupied a higher energy level than the other. This detail reportedly lowered the Coulomb repulsion (like charges repel) between them and nurtured superconductivity.
Thus, the group has explained how mercury becomes a superconductor below its threshold temperature.
Their methods and findings suggest that we could have missed similar anomalous effects in other materials, leading to previously undiscovered ones that can be exploited for new and better real-world applications.
5. . Science & Tech-2: IISER Pune’s new material removes pollutants from water
Effective: The new material showed ultrafast removal of sulfadimethoxine antibiotic from water almost completely. SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA
Access to clean and drinkable water has now not only become a local problem but global as well. Water contamination is one of the world’s leading causes of death and the problem is only getting worse. To tackle this, our team at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune came up with a custom-designed unique molecular sponge-like material — macro/microporous ionic organic framework — which can swiftly clean polluted water by soaking up sinister contaminants. The results were published recently in the journal,Angewandte Chemie.
Systematic studies have identified various organic (organic dyes, antibiotics, pesticides, etc.) as well as inorganic toxicpollutantssuch as iodides, oxo-pollutants like perrhenate that are carcinogenic in fresh water sources and can pose direct threat to humanity and living organisms.
In general, commonly utilised sorbent materials often trap these pollutants through ion-exchange strategy to purify water but suffer from poor kinetics and specificity. To mitigate this issue, our group prepared a newly engineered material called viologen-unit grafted organic-framework (iVOFm).
The material employs amalgamation of electrostatics driven ion-exchange combined with nanometer-sized macropores and specific binding sites for the targeted pollutants. The size and number of tunable macropores along with the strong electrostatic interaction of iVOFm can quickly remove various toxic pollutants from water.
To develop this unique material, our team employed a make-and-break strategy to grow a charged porous organic polymer (POP) as a sponge-like infinite framework on silica nanoparticles that is used as a template. Following this, the silica nanoparticles were strategically removed to create ordered hierarchical interconnected macro/microporosity throughout the material.
This material features inherent cationic nature and macroporosity to allow fast diffusion of pollutants. When tested for a wide array of water pollutants, it showed ultrafast capture of all the pollutants— both organic and inorganic—with over 93% removal in just 30 seconds.
Among all the tested pollutants, the new material showed ultrafast removal of sulfadimethoxine antibiotic from water almost completely. Even in the presence of other co-existing anions such as nitrates, chloride, and bromide, the removal of sulfadimethoxine antibiotic was extremely high within a minute. The engineered material could remove sulfadimethoxine antibiotic with high efficiency when tested using different real water samples.
The fast pollutant trapping capacity is attributed to faster diffusion of pollutants through the ordered interconnected presence of macropores in the material. We also found this material to be very selective toward toxic pollutants in presence of co-existing ions present in waste water even at low concentration. It can also be used several times to clean contaminated water just like a bath sponge can be utilised to tackle multiple water spills.
This cationic compound is adaptable for sequestering various pollutants and is a possible solution to the water pollution problem. These results open up a new avenue for the creation of numerous sophisticated sorbent materials for practical water filtration.