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On Northwestern University’s sprawling campus, down a long corridor in the school’s Technological Institute, Josiah Hester is practicing safe social distancing as part of a small engineering team working on the front lines of a technology war against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Detecting potential COVID-19 cases is labor-intensive and often intrusive. Hester’s team hopes to change that by using technology.
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“We’re working on what you call smart PPE, so smart personal protective equipment,” Hester explained to VOA inside his small workspace. “You can think of this as face masks with tiny sensors in them to detect all kinds of things, such as symptoms of COVID, to fatigue, to even, ‘Does this mask fit on my face? Am I wearing it properly?'”
He’s part of a team creating something from scratch with plans to mass-produce it in months, not years.
“Once we engineer enough where it could be deployed in a very, very large batch, the economies of scale would bring (the cost of) this way down,” Hester said.
On the other side of the technological institute, John Rogers isn’t just designing wearable sensors, he’s manufacturing them right in his lab on Northwestern’s campus.
“The devices that we develop have physical form factors very similar to those of a Band-Aid, so we can really place them on any part of the anatomy so we aren’t constrained to the wrist,” Rogers, an engineer, and professor of neurosurgery, as well as bioelectronics, explained to VOA from his bustling laboratory.
“And I have one of the devices on right now,” Rogers added, pointing to the white object on his throat. “It sits on the base of the neck right above the collar bone. We initially developed this device to measure speech and swallowing activity in stroke survivors.”
As concern over coronavirus exposure spreads through the health care community, Rogers and his team adapted the device to meet the challenges of the moment.
“This system could be tailored to monitor the key respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19, which are shortness of breath and coughing.”
In under three weeks, Rogers’s team modified the device and deployed it in two Chicago-area medical facilities.
Working with Naresh Shanbhag, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Rogers’ device incorporates machine-learning algorithms that analyze data collected and uploaded by the sensors, including oxygen levels, chest wall movements, and any coughing — all useful information for doctors assessing whether someone has COVID-19.
“I think we have on order about 30 devices (to be) deployed so far,” said Rogers. “We’ll probably double that number up over the next week or two, and hope to have 100 to 200 deployed by the end of the month.”
He said he expects demand for the devices will grow.
“There’s time pressure and there’s an urgency. But as engineers you love that — you are all about problem-solving,” he said. “We’re in a number of different conversations with companies who want to deploy these devices on their employees, so they can sort of track their employee health.”
Which presents the next set of challenges — ramping up production.
“We also have spin-up companies that serve as a vehicle for sort of a broader commercially oriented deployment that allows us to hit levels of scale that we can’t reach with philanthropy and foundations and federal research grants,” Rogers said.
Researchers say the swift development of wearable sensors tailored to a pandemic reinforces how a major crisis can accelerate innovation.
“I think it’s really opened people’s eyes to what’s possible, in terms of modern technology in that context,” Rogers said.
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As Hester works to reduce the size of his PPE sensor, he says he is keenly aware of the impact of his work on monitoring the virus, and ultimately saving lives.
“The scientific challenge and scientific impact you can have is definitely turning this into a moonshot,” Hester said. “No matter what, we’ll end up with a lot of science later on that could be helpful later on in building these kinds of devices.”
Researchers hope their efforts spawn new technology and applications that could have a lasting benefit beyond the health care sector, well after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Diwali is arguably one of the most auspicious and celebrated holidays in South Asia. It is celebrated over the span of five days, where the third is considered most important and known as Diwali. During Diwali people come together to light, lamps, and diyas, savour sweet delicacies and pray to the lord. The day has various origin stories with the main them being the victory of good over evil. While the North celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Devi Sita to Ayodhya, the South rejoices in the victory of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama over evil Narakasura.
Narakasura- The great mythical demon King
Naraka or Narakasur was the son of Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) and fathered either by the Varaha incarnation of Vishnu or Hiranyaksha. He grew to be a powerful demon king and became the legendary progenitor of all three dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa, and the founding ruler of the legendary Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha.
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Narakasura was created, grew up to be strong and powerful but he was not satisfied with it, so he decided that he would worship Lord Brahma. He performed severe penance and was driven by the power of his penance; Lord Brahma appeared before him. Narakasura knew his mother loved him dearly so he asked Lord Brahma to grant him a boon that he would only die by the hands of his mother, Bhumidevi. Lord Brahma smile and ultimately granted him the boon.
Narakasura burst out laughing as Lord Brahma vanished. He thought no mother would kill their child so Lord Brahma had made him immortal. Drunk and maddened by his own power Narakasura brought all the kingdoms under his control and targeted Swargalok (Heaven). Even Indra (King of Gods) and demi-gods had to retreat in front of Narakasura. He kidnapped and took 16,000 women from the palaces as prisoners. Troubled by Naraksura's deeds the gods rushed to Lord Vishnu for a solution.
Lord Krishna and Devi Satyabhama were born to kill Narakasura
Lord Vishnu was born as Lord Krishna and Narakasura's mother Bhumidevi took the avatar of Krishna's wife Satyabhama. As Satyabhama, Bhumidevi was unaware of the knowledge of Naraksura being her son. Aditi the mother of all gods approached Satyabhama crying for help with bloodied ears as Narakasura had torn off the glowing earrings from the ears of Aditi.
Satyabhama was furious on gaining the knowledge of Narakasura's atrocities she asked Krishna to fight the demon king while she fights alongside him. Krishna agreed and they attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with his wife Satyabhama.
The furious battle unleashed. Krishna defeated Narakasura's general Mura and came to be known as Murari (the killer of Mura). Narakasura used several divine weapons against Krishna, but Krishna slew all those weapons effortlessly. The demon hurled a shakti towards Krishna, which mildly hurt Krishna and he fell unconscious. Upon this sight Satyabhama was enraged, she furiously pulled out a weapon of her own and hurled it at Narakasura's chest. Anxious Satyabhama turned to her fallen Lord, Krishna got up with a smile and he was completely fine. He was only playing his part. It was Satyabhama who was an incarnation of Bhoomidevi, whose hands were destined to slay Narakasura.
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Lord Krishna and Goddess Satyabhama had put an end to the Narakasura's kingdom of evil. As Narakasura lay on his deathbed he realised that Satyabhama was no one but an avatar of his own mother. He requested a boon from his mother, for no one to mourn his death. Instead, he wished for people to celebrate it with light and colours. They freed the 16,000 women who later married Lord Krishna to restore them of their honour in society, retrieved Mother goddess's earrings. This day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' popularly known as Choti Diwali - the day before Diwali as the triumph of good over evil.
Keywords: Diwali festival, goddess Laxmi, demon king, Lord Krishna, Satyabhama, the festival of light, Naraksura, Narak Chaturdashi
For all the great inventions that we have at hand, it is amazing how we keep going back to the safety pin every single time to fix everything. Be it tears in our clothes, to fix our broken things, to clean our teeth and nails when toothpicks are unavailable, to accessorize our clothes, and of course, as an integral part of the Indian saree. Safety pins are a must-have in our homes. But how did they come about at all?
The safety pin was invented at a time when brooches existed. They were used by the Greeks and Romans quite extensively. A man named Walter Hunt picked up a piece of brass and coiled it into the safety pin we know today. He did it just to pay off his debt. He even sold the patent rights of this seemingly insignificant invention just so that his debtors would leave him alone.
Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement in the 70s. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Later, he even invented the sewing needles and a couple of other important inventions but never kept any of the patent rights.
When the punk rock tradition took over in the seventies, safety pins became a fashion rage. They were used as piercings and to patch clothes together. Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement. In some cultures, the safety pins have become symbols of good luck.
Keywords: Safety-pins, Punk Rock, Brass, Accessories, Walter Hunt
In South India, Deepavali marks the end of the monsoon and heralds the start of winter. The festival is usually observed in the weeks following heavy rain, and just before the first cold spell in the peninsula. The light and laughter that comes with the almost week-long celebration are certainly warm to the bones, but there is still a tradition that the South Indians follow to ease their transition from humidity to the cold.
Just before the main festival, the family bathes in sesame oil. This tradition is called 'yellu yennai snaana' in Kannada, or 'ennai kuliyal' in Tamil, which translates to 'sesame oil bath'. The eldest member of the family applies three drops of heated oil on each member's head. They must massage this oil into their hair and body. The oil is allowed to soak in for a while, anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour. After this, they must wash with warm water before sunrise.
Women applying oil to the heads of men Photo credit: Indians in Kuwait
In some parts of the peninsula, soap is not used to wash off the oil because it nullifies its effects. Some cultures who do not like the oil to remain in any way on their skin wash it off with shikakai and herbs, which is a paste that is traditionally used as a substitute for soap. Sometimes, the oil is heated with flowers and spices as well and is less sticky than in its pure form.
The purpose of this ritual is to cleanse the body, detoxify it, and produce heat in it. Sesame is a very heaty substance and tends to heat up the body. This heat, or 'usshna' in Kannada, prepares the body to face the sudden cold that comes to the peninsula immediately after Diwali. South India has no smooth transition weather-wise from monsoon to winter. There are a few days of stable, rainless weather, and suddenly the cold winds descend.
In many ways, the celebration of Diwali is centered around preparing for winter, considering the amount of heat and light the rituals consist of – lighting lamps, bursting crackers, and consuming warm treats. Those who practice these rituals earnestly find the shift in seasons and weather quite pleasant.
Keyboards: Sesame Oil Bath, Diwali Ritual, Traditional Sesame Oil Bath