Fascinating Hidden Worlds

The son sat next to me one evening as I was typing out this article and looking up the picture of the Corona Virus.

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Image By https://www.scientificanimations.comhttps://www.scientificanimations.com/wiki-images/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86436446

We both sat looking at the image that showed up and he said, “Wow! Is this really the virus? It looks so lovely, doesn’t it?” I had to agree.

The unimaginable beauty of the microscopic world is so rarely stopped and admired. Who knew a blade of grass could be this spell-binding?

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This particular virus has caused such unimaginable disruption world over, it is humbling to see the world buckle on its knees against the onslaught of this virus. While, viruses and bacteria often come to the spotlight in scenarios such as these, the truth is that we need a multitude of them to survive on a daily basis. There are studies linking gut bacteria  to mental well-being for instance.

Theodor Rosebury, a microbiologist, wrote in 1928, during his research that:

“The knowledge that micro organisms can be helpful to man has never had much popular appeal, for men as a rule are more preoccupied with the danger that threatens their life than in the biological forces on which they depend. The history of warfare always proves more glamorous than accounts of co-operation.”

The Corona Virus has brought the rich world of microbes to the forefront for the world. To give us an appreciation of how many microbes we regularly thrive on for our living, consider these figures: There are an estimated 100 Trillion microbes in our bodies. The estimated number of stars in our galaxy is around 100 billion.

Many children growing up in these times may well be awed by the power microbes, bacteria and viruses exert on us, and go on to study Microbiology and change our understanding of the worlds within us in unimaginable ways.

The microscopic world is a marvelous one. Revealed to us 350 years ago by the talented man often hailed as the Father of Microbiology, Antony von LLeuwenhoek, his letter about animalcules was published by the Royal Society in London. As Ed Yong says in his book, I Contain Multitudes, his letters were published by the Royal Society in “an extraordinary monument to the open-minded skepticism of science“. LLeuwenhoek had no background as a scientist, yet he applied the scientific method to sampling and studying the world around him. In 1680, the draper cum businessman, whose curious mind and hobby led to the revelation of Microbiology was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

I Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong – Article from Brain Pickings

For those of you wanting a quick, fascinating glimpse into a Universe within our Universe, please check out the book, Hidden Worlds by Stephen Kramer with photographs by Dennis Kunkel.

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Hidden Worlds

While Lleuwekhoeks early microscopes could only magnify upto 260 times, the images revealed in the book, Hidden Worlds magnify images by upto 1000,000 times. The resulting images are breath-taking.

The images revealed are only black-and-white by the microscopes. Scientists then use computer modeling to color in the images and the stunning pictures are better than works of Art. For instance, the picture below shows some common allergens and pollens that cause so many to sneeze all Spring.

The book briefly explains about SEM and TEM microscopes, the work that scientists typically do to prepare their specimens.

  • Transmission Electron Microscopes: TEM can magnify images by 1000,000 times
  • Scanning Electron Microscopes : SEM can magnify images by 10 – 300,000 times

Looking through the pictures in the book, we realize how marvelous life is, and what a fragile ecosystem we have to thrive in.

Covid-19 has also made us realize the importance of our normal lives. The gratitude to be alive and healthy, to be able to do the work that interests and moves the world forward, to be able to revel in the beautiful companionship of our friends and family.

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” 
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings On Wisdom and Virtues

References:

United in Social Distancing

This post was published in The India Currents magazine: Unity in the face of the Virus-that-must-not-be-named

“This is the Ministry of Magic all over again!” I said.

The Ministry of Magic, as Harry Potter fans know completely botched up the rise of Voldemort – they were in denial, then went on a campaign of outright lying with false facts, bravado, and then a rude reckoning of the truth. The Order of the Phoenix, is one of those books that really opens our eyes to incompetent leaders.

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We were discussing the United States’ handling of the Corona virus, COVID-19 health threat.

Everywhere on social media there was information – some true, some untrue, some alarmist, some pacifist, many telling us not to worry, but worrisome all the same. Our President, it seems, has not yet arrived at the true reckoning of the situation, and continued his bravado. The President blundered on about his building walls to stop the spread, his biggest problem seemed to be the Stock market index.

Meanwhile, the CDC did not have enough testing kits ready, so we do not know how pervasive the situation really is.

Vox article: here

We all pass through these phases of denial, a state of holy-moly, and a surreal settling in to things. (I had been vacillating between astonished denial & mild panic, up until the 1st week of March in California). We do the best we can. We see the terms quarantine & social distancing, and try to come to terms with this new mode of functioning. We are social animals now united by the need for social distancing.

Our company announced an ‘Encouraged to WFH policy’ like many other tech companies. That has now been upped to a ‘Mandatory work from home’. I know many of us used the public transit systems to get to the office, so we were obviously grateful to be told thus, and to have the kind of jobs that can be done remotely for a short period of time. It was not lost on me that a great many people did not have the same luxury.

Covid-19 is unprecedented for many of us. People who had lived through the SARS outbreak 18 years earlier are probably the ones who have seen something similar in their lifetimes. For the vast majority of us though, this is new territory. How do we determine the best sources of information?

How do we learn lessons from the countries who are already dealing with the situation? Taiwan, China, Singapore. How did Italy quarantine their entire populace?

Humanity always comes together in the best & worst of times. When our leaders do not provide timely guidance, our collective reasoning can, and much like the Wizarding World united in the face of Voldemort, I am sure we shall do the same this time around: by collectively, voluntarily, distancing ourselves socially, being responsible, and putting the greater good ahead of us.

Read also:

Blame the Toxos

Good Food Mood

Click to access 2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf

The tiniest virus it seems brings us closer to the human condition than any other thing can. We are human and are therefore at risk.

 Books: 

  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J K Rowling
  • We Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong