Astronaut Fuel

IMG_5626.png

by Pavan Kaushik – Since my childhood, outer space has fascinated me. Like every other kid, I wanted to be an astronaut too. This all started with one of my first experiences with space, an episode of a Tom and Jerry cartoon show. That episode revolved around outer space and had a scene on rocket science food. Tom adds a drop of “rocket science” liquid on a tiny tablet and it magically results in a 12 course grand meal in an instant. Yes, it was naïve of me to believe that that was possible.

But now in retrospect, as I embark on a 48 hour train journey, this magical food is going to be my staple source of nutrition. You obviously can’t make crockery appear out of thin air, but the idea of making a balanced meal by just adding a magical liquid to a tiny mass has been a shared idea across numerous civilizations of humankind for millennia.

I just added a “magical liquid” to a fiery-red, sand-like powder. Within minutes, the sand mixture transforms into a crumbly mixture of awesomeness. The Kannada folks call it ಗೊಜ್ಜು ಅವಲಕ್ಕಿ/ಹುಳಿ ಅವಲಕ್ಕಿ/ gojju avalakki/huLi avalakki. It loosely translates to a sour, spicy, sweet stew of flattened rice flakes. Avalakki or flattened rice flakes are made by cooking, flattening, and dehydrating rice grains. This process cooks the rice grain and creates innumerable empty cavities. The dehydration step prevents spoilage and increases shelf life. The moment you add the “magical liquid” of water, the flake is rehydrated as the water fills up all the cavities and fluffs it up. The final result is a fully cooked rice grain within minutes with no actual cooking involved.

To make gojju avalakki, you dry roast chillies, tamarind and some local spices and grind it along with jaggery to a powder. To this, one can add oggarane/ಒಗ್ಗರಣೆ (hot oil infusion) which often contains legumes, peanuts etc which adds micronutrients, fat and protein. Adding crumbled rice flakes balances the meal with starch. This meal is almost ready to eat, all it lacks is water. After adding water, the entire spice mix springs up to life to make a sumptuous meal.

Aval nanchudu of Kerala cuisine is a sweeter cousin of gojju avalakki. Rice flakes are mixed with jaggery, coconut, bananas and local spices to make a completely different meal from the same theme. Dahi Poha is the Bihari cousin which uses fresh spices, and caramelized onions. When you use pressed oats and barley along with nuts and milk, you end up with the famous Swiss muesli.

Despite the diverse cuisines we have in this world, humankind has converged onto a similar theme of converting local grains into precooked flakes and mixing them with everything nice that’s locally available to make a fantastic balanced meal that can be made in an instant just like rocket science food.

Scientist Love: “Mothering” a Brood of Mantids

by Deepa Rajan – I woke up on a Sunday morning in late September to an urgent text from my friend, Harshith, about a hatching. He had found an ootheca (egg-casing) in a tree a couple of weeks prior and had since been incubating the specimen in a 50 mL conical centrifuge tube. I kept watch on the ootheca as well, unsure…

The Deadliest and Most Feared Scent Trackers of India!

by Santosh Rajus – How do you feel when you walk through a food street? I am sure your taste buds are kindled when you cross every corner –  but will you be able to find the right food by just using your sense of smell? It’s hard, but there are few animals which have mastered the art of tracking smell.…

The Home with Zero Waste

by Hinal Kharva – Have you heard the word sustainability? There are many definitions given to this particular term. One of the oldest and easiest is described in the 1987 Report of the Brundtland Commission, where sustainable development is defined as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  While…

Our newest article in iWonder magazine for school science!

by Shannon  – The NICE group is please to announce our newest article in Azim Premji University’s “iWonder” Magazine for school teachers. This article was a collaborative effort spearheaded by Dr. VS Pragadheesh, a former postdoc in the group and current scientist at IICB, Kolkata.  Please click on the images to link to the articles or download them here and…

1000 Young Scientists can’t be wrong!

by Shannon  – On Friday, November 16, 2018, our Bangalore Life Science Cluster, which includes NCBS, inStem, and C-Camp, entertained roughly 1000 visitors to our campus for “Science Day“.  Each lab and faculty presented an exhibit to highlight the type of research we are doing, and perhaps teach a bit about biology in the process. The NICE Group participated in…

Bugs on Drugs

by Aditi Mishra  – Curious as to what intoxication looks like for non-humans? If yes, then read on. Below is an ensemble of curious (somewhat whacky) scientific endeavors, sly parasites and funny accidents. Spiders and psychedelics In 1948, Swiss pharmacologist Peter N. Witt tested web spinning in spiders that were high on a range of psychoactive drugs.  He gave the spiders, amphetamine,…