Sunday, June 17, 2012

Half the sky

Once again, one of those who hold up half the sky, has reached the skies. Liu Yang becomes the first Chinese woman to go up in space, in a Shenzhou-9 space craft that blasted off the Gobi desert. Thirty three year old Liu is a member of the Chinese air force, and is a crack fighter pilot, and once safely piloted home a jet, whose engine blades got smashed in a bird hit. She is supposed to carry out medical experiments in the current mission, and hopefully the ice-cold composure she demonstrated in the bird hit emergency won't be put to a test.

The elite roll-call of women who have been to space now stands at 57, with three Russians, one Iranian, two Canadians, two Japanese, one Korean, one Frenchwoman, and all the rest being Americans, including two women of Indian origin, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. The roll call is pretty long, and the best remembered ones include Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman, as well as the first civilian, and also the first Soviet woman in space, in 1963; and Sally Ride (`Ride, Sally Ride'), the first American woman in space,  in 1983. Everything was not a triumphal ride, Judith Resnick and Christa McAuliffe, who was not an astronaut, but a school teacher, were two of the seven who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986, and Kalpana Chawla, more recently in the Columbia disaster in 2003. This post is a tribute to their memory, as well as a toast to Liu Yang, the latest addition to this illustrious list. All the best, Major Liu, and a safe journey home.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi rao.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to get the girls

This post, as the title says, provides useful input on how to get the girls, provided you are an orangutan, of course! A recent study of orangutan strategies for success with lady orangutans, indicate that male orangutans who prolong their years of puberty, sometimes by as much as a decade, develop their physical strength to a point where they can easily displace the dominant males, and thereby acquire all the females. This conclusion is backed by years of field data as well as a simple but solid mathematical model developed by Gauri Pradhan, an alumnus of the University of Pune, who now works at the University of South Florida, and co-workers. However, before all the teenage boys start figuring out how to delay the onset of chest hair, (the orangutans delay the onset of cheek flanges), a few caveats are necessary. The model works for Sumatran orangutans where the societal structure is such that the dominant male can monopolise many females, and does not extend, for example,  to  Bornean orangutans, where the society is structured differently. Secondly, males who have taken recourse to this strategy are shorter lived. Therefore, extensions to Homo Sapiens society should be carried out with care!

For those who wish to pursue this subject further, the original article can be found in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, as well as in news shorts by the New Scientist, and, of course, Monkey News.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.