[Jakarta, LTTW] Recently the world lost one of the most beloved men of science who constantly questions the universe. Stephen William Hawking passed away at the age of 76 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The cosmologist was known for his work on black hole, furthering general relativity, and quantum gravity.
Perhaps one of his biggest contributions to mankind is how he successfully reintroduces natural and formal science to the “ignorant majority”—making black hole and big bang as parts of the popular culture. In 1988, A Brief History of Time was published to the world and placed itself as one of the bestselling book of all time. In the book that stood for 237 weeks on Times of London bestseller list, Stephen Hawking explains numerous concepts such as universe, space and time, black holes, and even time travel.
Hawking concludes in the 256-page book; that by principle everyone including philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people can be able to take part in the discussion of why we and the universe exist. He was indeed an author; tackling universe, inviting us to question and answer it together. An “artist” who shows us the wonders of physics and what it can bring to the world.
One of the best minds of our time, Hawking had an exceptional ability to visualize complex concepts and ideas of physics into his head and simplify it. As a scientist he held the honorary Fellow of Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the U.S.A, and was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematic (a position widely known to scientists as the Newton’s Chair, supposedly the most prestigious “chair” in the science world) at the University of Cambridge. He also had several other publications, with The Grand Design (2010) as one of his last books he co-authored.
Behind the brain there is the persona of a man. Sitting on a wheelchair with his head slightly tilted, he spoke with a speech-generating device to verbalize everything in his mind and answers any questions. A Briton who had to suffer amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) from 1963 at the age 21 that progressively paralyze him. The doctor even predicted that Hawking would only have two years to live since the diagnosis, but as we all know, he had lived and contributed for decades before finally passed away. The iconic scientist was also known as a loving family man with a penchant for humor. He once said that it would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love. Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim remembered him as a man with inspiring brilliance and sense of humor .
Some others will also recall him from his humor, which he also acknowledged. “I have developed a desire to make the most of each an every minute. Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. As has been maintaining a sense of humor,” said Hawking in the documentary Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Mine. Becoming one with popular culture, Hawking also arrange a time traveller’s party, transformed into a cartoon on the popular television show The Simpson, and even played poker with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The man who was born on Galileo’s death and died on Einstein’s birthday was all that he can be; a cosmologist, theoretical physicist, an author, a family man, a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a brother, a teacher, a student, a curios and critical character, a persistent person, and a humorous man who try to make sense of the universe. Farewell Professor Hawking, we wish you a thrilling journey into the eternal that perhaps would lead you to countless amazing discoveries.
When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor.
More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa.
A key to this idea is that cave art is often located in acoustic “hot spots,” where sound echoes strongly, as some scholars have observed. Those drawings are located in deeper, harder-to-access parts of caves, indicating that acoustics was a principal reason for the placement of drawings within caves. The drawings, in turn, may represent the sounds that early humans generated in those spots.
In the new paper, this convergence of sound and drawing is what the authors call a “cross-modality information transfer,” a convergence of auditory information and visual art that, the authors write, “allowed early humans to enhance their ability to convey symbolic thinking.” The combination of sounds and images is one of the things that characterizes human language today, along with its symbolic aspect and its ability to generate infinite new sentences.
“Cave art was part of the package deal in terms of how homo sapiens came to have this very high-level cognitive processing,” says Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics and the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture at MIT. “You have this very concrete cognitive process that converts an acoustic signal into some mental representation and externalizes it as a visual.”
Cave artists were thus not just early-day Monets, drawing impressions of the outdoors at their leisure. Rather, they may have been engaged in a process of communication.
“I think it’s very clear that these artists were talking to one another,” Miyagawa says. “It’s a communal effort.”
The paper, “Cross-modality information transfer: A hypothesis about the relationship among prehistoric cave paintings, symbolic thinking, and the emergence of language,” is being published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The authors are Miyagawa; Cora Lesure, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Linguistics; and Vitor A. Nobrega, a PhD student in linguistics at the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil.
Re-enactments and rituals?
The advent of language in human history is unclear. Our species is estimated to be about 200,000 years old. Human language is often considered to be at least 100,000 years old.
“It’s very difficult to try to understand how human language itself appeared in evolution,” Miyagawa says, noting that “we don’t know 99.9999 percent of what was going on back then.” However, he adds, “There’s this idea that language doesn’t fossilize, and it’s true, but maybe in these artifacts [cave drawings], we can see some of the beginnings of homo sapiens as symbolic beings.”
While the world’s best-known cave art exists in France and Spain, examples of it abound throughout the world. One form of cave art suggestive of symbolic thinking — geometric engravings on pieces of ochre, from the Blombos Cave in southern Africa — has been estimated to be at least 70,000 years old. Such symbolic art indicates a cognitive capacity that humans took with them to the rest of the world.
“Cave art is everywhere,” Miyagawa says. “Every major continent inhabited by homo sapiens has cave art. … You find it in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, everywhere, just like human language.” In recent years, for instance, scholars have catalogued Indonesian cave art they believe to be roughly 40,000 years old, older than the best-known examples of European cave art.
But what exactly was going on in caves where people made noise and rendered things on walls? Some scholars have suggested that acoustic “hot spots” in caves were used to make noises that replicate hoofbeats, for instance; some 90 percent of cave drawings involve hoofed animals. These drawings could represent stories or the accumulation of knowledge, or they could have been part of rituals.
In any of these scenarios, Miyagawa suggests, cave art displays properties of language in that “you have action, objects, and modification.” This parallels some of the universal features of human language — verbs, nouns, and adjectives — and Miyagawa suggests that “acoustically based cave art must have had a hand in forming our cognitive symbolic mind.”
Future research: More decoding needed
To be sure, the ideas proposed by Miyagawa, Lesure, and Nobrega merely outline a working hypothesis, which is intended to spur additional thinking about language’s origins and point toward new research questions.
Regarding the cave art itself, that could mean further scrutiny of the syntax of the visual representations, as it were. “We’ve got to look at the content” more thoroughly, says Miyagawa. In his view, as a linguist who has looked at images of the famous Lascaux cave art from France, “you see a lot of language in it.” But it remains an open question how much a re-interpretation of cave art images would yield in linguistics terms.
The long-term timeline of cave art is also subject to re-evaluation on the basis of any future discoveries. If cave art is implicated in the development of human language, finding and properly dating the oldest known such drawings would help us place the orgins of language in human history — which may have happened fairly early on in our development.
“What we need is for someone to go and find in Africa cave art that is 120,000 years old,” Miyagawa quips.
At a minimum, a further consideration of cave art as part of our cognitive development may reduce our tendency to regard art in terms of our own experience, in which it probably plays a more strictly decorative role for more people.
“If this is on the right track, it’s quite possible that … cross-modality transfer helped develop a symbolic mind,” Miyagawa says. In that case, he adds, “art is not just something that is marginal to our culture, but central to the formation of our cognitive abilities.”
An Interview with M. Syarif Bando, the Head of National Library.
by Bintang Perkasa
Indonesia inaugurated the new building of the National Library, on September 2017 in Jakarta.
Now that we started a new year, the new building symbolizes a new leaf for Indonesia – not only does it serve as the source of information and knowledge, but also as an institution that hopefully would bring back reading habit to our culture because, without it, libraries will render useless.
Indonesia’s reading culture has been a debatable topic. The debate revolves around whether Indonesia has a low rate of reading culture. According to NOP World Culture Score (2005), Indonesia scores higher in time spent for reading compared to innovative countries such as US and Japan. However, The World’s Most Literate Nations (2016) by J.W. Miller puts Indonesia in number 60 out of 61 countries in terms of literacy.
Reading is defined as the ability to obtain and process information and turn it into a body of knowledge. It takes a good writing skill to turn the raw information into a well-grounded, well-structured body of knowledge. It means, reading and writing skills are two inseparable parts in the realm of reading culture.
Historical evidence hardly shows indications that Indonesia has possessed reading culture. Ancient inscriptions found across Indonesia were mainly created for religious purposes instead of as a means to record knowledge. From those inscriptions, it is safe to say that Indonesian ancestors were indeed aware of the importance of keeping information, but they did not have the curiosity and skills needed to develop the information into a body of science. Perhaps our ancestors had a great deal of knowledge, but since the knowledge is passed down to the next generation orally, then the chance to survive is very slim. Some of them might have already disappeared before we even know it. To this day, oral culture in Indonesia is still dominant. If it did not change, would libraries be still relevant?
Library is Science-based
Library is the manifestation of reading culture. It was invented as part of knowledge institution to collect, store, and manage information and various sciences. Reading culture itself stemmed from people’s desire to satisfy their curiosity, and consequently, created criticism.
Criticism is a form of thinking process in which questions breed questions, and answers breed new questions. Criticism is the core of science. Hence, as a friend once said, science would never reach an end. Science exists so that mankind can understand and solve the mystery in their environment. In the past, only the ones with “magic power” are deemed to understand volcanic activities. But, since the birth of volcanology, ordinary people have a chance to learn about (at least the basic of) volcanoes. The same goes with other sciences.
The birth of science and printing technology have led to dramatic increase in the production of notes, records, and reading materials. This is where library plays its part: as the media where information and knowledge are stored, where people can retrieve them and develop science.
If reading culture in Indonesia were not growing, libraries might become irrelevant, especially since Indonesians have a tendency to abandon the things that they are unaware of the importance.
To encourage reading culture, we first must entice people to become curious and motivate them to be critical. It should not stop at campaigns. There must be a concerted effort that involves different parts of society: families, government, public, and cyber world. The National Library cannot take this burden alone.
If you are curious to know what challenges faced by Indonesia’s National Library, the following interview may give you a little insight.
LttW: Is the National Library under the supervision of Ministry of Education and Culture or the President?
M. Syarif Bando: The National Library is a non-ministerial institution, operating under direct supervision of the President. So, the Head of the Library is appointed by and directly report to the President. With that said, since our duties are closely related to education, we coordinate with the Ministry of Education for daily works.
But, we shouldn’t be preoccupied with coordination matter. Our main concern is to implement the mandate of the state, which is to combat ignorance and poverty in this country.
What challenges have the National Library been facing?
The main challenge is quantity. Indonesia needs around 125,000 librarians, but currently we only have 3,000 of them.
Secondly is finance. Our budget is not more than Rp700 billion [equivalent to U$51 million. Ed]. For the whole country, it is minuscule, especially when we are talking about more than 200,000 libraries.
“We have yet to make books our heroes, whereas we need to read a lot to have vast knowledge”
Third, is culture. We have yet to make books our heroes, whereas we need to read a lot to have vast knowledge. Without reading, we can’t expand our knowledge. We can’t change people with physical efforts. People have to change on their own by changing their mindset. This is where books play a role.
Books are like a strong doctrine that would drive people to change. Our brains are influenced by books. Human brains are structured based on books, arranged by certain methodology. So, if people read more then human brain will be structured either in deductive-to-inductive or inductive-to-deductive manner.
As we know, Indonesia’s education curriculum does not support reading culture. Have there been any efforts to improve our reading culture?
I wouldn’t go into the curriculum; there’s a ministry responsible for it. I’d rather explain the position of libraries and education in this stance.
Education is an institution that ensures one’s learning process, from learning to read to learn about a particular subject, in a certain structure. Since we have a fixed structure, students don’t get to freely choose to learn what they desire at anytime they want. When the teacher is teaching physics, for example, students in the classroom cannot just suddenly switch to learning math.
On the other hand, the library is a free space. We can learn anything that we deem important or what we want. Libraries become the stronghold of the most fundamental part of democracy, fulfilling the basic rights of the people, and libraries do not recognize any discrimination of ethnicity, race, and religion.
There are teachers who teach universal knowledge, but hardly any teachers that teach about Jakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya. But, thousands of books have been written about them.
We can’t neglect the efforts to improve our education quality. Besides learning how to read and learning certain subjects at school, we have to be able to learn independently. It is said that all the lessons we learn from kindergarten to post graduate level only contribute about 15-20% of one’s total knowledge, meaning that 80% of knowledge is learned from books, experience, labs, etc.
Even though books are widely available, the reading culture in Indonesia is very low. Isn’t it the role of education to encourage reading interest?
“I don’t agree that we have low reading interest.”
I don’t agree that we have low reading interest. The reading trend among millennials in the whole world is going downhill because of social media influence. Nevertheless, it’s not correct to say that Indonesia has low reading interest.
I recently met with the Minister of Villages, Disadvanted Regions, and Transmigration. He told me about when his Ministry displayed books on the beaches, strategic places in villages and remote areas; children were “fighting” over the books, and those who didn’t get one cried. So, in what way is our reading interest low? Also, if we look at the history, Indonesia remains the country with the most alphabets to this day.
If you say that we have a gap in terms of books distribution across regions, then you are right. Big cities have many reading facilities; there are bookstores, public and special libraries, and universities. But in remote areas, such as Arfak Mountains, Raja Ampat, South Manokwari, Meulaboh, Pidie, or Anambas, there are hardly any reading materials available, not even newspapers and magazines.
So, distribution is one of the key strategies…
Yes, and the second is to formulate the purpose of reading. When we talk about literacy, first of all, it is about one’s ability to collect reading materials that allows them to exist on their profession. Second, it is the ability to listen or comprehend the implied meaning of the texts. Third, it is the ability to express their ideas about what they know. Fourth, the ability to create from what they know.
“Because the very definition of literacy is the depth of one’s knowledge of an object, not merely to read”
That would be our dilemma if we say that we have low literacy index. Because the very definition of literacy is the depth of one’s knowledge of an object, not merely to read. Either we read from the Internet or books, the important thing is that the person gains beneficial information that may open up various opportunities.
How should the distribution policy look like?
President Joko Widodo has made an agreement with PT Pos [Indonesian Postal Service] that on every 17th of the month, we send books for free of charge; under the condition that the maximum weight for each package is 10 kg, regardless of the quantity.
The National Library knows quite well about the low rate of reading interest in addition to the uneven books distribution. Thus we make sure that the government distributes books to places like border areas, village libraries, community libraries, Islamic boarding schools, houses of worship, and correctional facilities.
Does that include foreign books?
We seldom send foreign books because we know that people in remote areas need more of applied knowledge. Applied knowledge is practical, for example, [knowledge on.Ed] how to grow catfish and improve the nutrition, keeping and maintaining, as well as the marketing.
For higher education institutions, we have e-resources that are all written in English. In e-resources you can find journals and e-books. In universities, students don’t speak foreign language that much – except those who are in graduate or post graduate program.
About technology, with Indonesians’ low level ability to seek and manage information, especially now with Internet that store massive amount of information, our bibliographical logic seems to be more confused. Moreover, the information is not necessarily correct. What should we do about it?
You may compose your scientific papers with references from the Internet, but when you quote you have to mention who wrote the book, published by whom, what year, and the page number of the text you quote.
That’s why, to me printed books will not be replaced, and God willing that libraries remain one of the strongholds to keep hoaxes at bay; because we will always have to find the evidence. Even though there are keywords, social media is essentially a media for promotion, business, and advertisement, not for knowledge sharing.
What about e-books?
We have a software called Ipusnas, where books are available in full content. We buy the copyrights since it is regulated by DRM [Digital Rights Management]. If we have 10 copies, then ten people can read the same book at once. If these books are all on the borrow status, the next person in need will be put on the waiting list.
Now, how does the government deal with a book that has a long waiting list?
Well, the person can always buy the original book because we put the name of the publisher. If they don’t want to buy it, then they simply have to wait. If the waiting list is quite long, we will add more copies..
But, won’t the presence of e-books in the National Library make people more reluctant to read print books?
No one knows for sure people would be more inclined to read electronic books over print. But, if you ask of the proof, it’s obvious! Many studies suggest that people tend to endure reading print books longer than the digital version.
So, we have to look into groups of society. Writers, researchers, and academicians may tend to choose hard copies. For me, the joy of reading a hard copy is incomparable because it is easier for me to understand the content.
Moreover, reading hard copies has its advantages: we don’t need any other facilities such as Internet connection, computer, we don’t have to wait for the loading time and so on.
Second, the depth of academic level that we gain from reading [printed.Ed] books compared to digital books is very different. Why? Once we read a book, we completely trust the book. But, if it’s on the Internet we still need to verify its accuracy. No academician would say that they quoted this and this from the internet.
What about the criticism culture in Indonesia? We often see research in Indonesia lacking of its originality. Most academics simply parrot the world’s leading experts, but they hardly arrive at a conclusion based on their own experience.
So, if people simply quote someone, then they are nothing more than a messenger.
To me, a nation’s level of independency is measured from its people’s ability to express their opinion as knowledge evolves. So, if people simply quote someone, then they are nothing more than a messenger.
Writing for international journals is also a factor. When we send our research to an international journal, we have to pay for it and there is no guarantee that it will be published. That has become the burden of academics to ensure their universities maintain an international standard.
The development of knowledge in every country is a direct, inseparable part of the competition among nations. It means, when Indonesians declare they are experts in certain fields, other nations will announce their strengths too, even though they are actually curious.
Supposed I wrote an academic piece on the lifestyle of people in a tropical country where the climate doesn’t change much all year round. Then came experts from a country where people only see the sun three days in a year, or experts who only see the rain three times a year. Would people like them be able to judge our work or the originality of our work? We all come from different countries where each has different setting and condition.
So, there must be a competition…
Competition…and other countries would show their dominance in their own way, that they are greater than us. This is unavoidable. So, we can’t just show the theory. Indeed, UNESCO has a program called Memory of the World, where all knowledge is listed and become the property of the world. But one should not forget that each country has its own way in treating the application of knowledge.
Indonesians are actually smart, aren’t they? But, why do we neither stand out in science nor flourish in national product?
When it comes to nation, public space is also an important element to train us to process information and directives since early age [for instance, traffic signs in Western countries are part of children education]. How does the National Library run this public space?
Well…we collaborate with correctional facilities under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, as well as [donate books.Ed] to the houses of disadvantaged people, empower women by educating both children and mothers. We also donate books to early education learning centers and reading communities. It shows that we have set our foot on those public spaces, but this is just the beginning. We still have to think about the mechanism, procedures, and review the results and outcomes.
“To buy, keep, and respect books are still a ‘luxury’”
And we have to admit that our people do not have the awareness about the importance of having knowledge evenly distributed in the society. To buy, keep, and respect books are still a ‘luxury’. It is said that parents would be embarrassed for not buying their children mobile phones, even buy them credits four to eight times a month. But they [parents.Ed] are not embarrassed for not buying books, in fact even complaining that books are expensive.
We have to eradicate this culture together.
Everything indeed starts from education..
Yes. As Malala [Yousafzai.Ed], the Noble Prize winner from Pakistan said we don’t have one problem, but thousands. And there is one way to solve it: through education. And education is the heart of library.
She likened it to adding salt into a glass of water. The taste of the salt will be overwhelming. But, if we pour that salt into a lake, it won’t change anything. That is an analogy for the extent of our knowledge. The less knowledge if we have, the more problems will overwhelm us. A simple matter can become an issue. But, if we have a vast knowledge, everything will be easier to tackle.
How do we teach people that knowledge is important?
We can look into the history of Japan, [South.Ed] Korea, Singapore. Now, these three countries have incredible technological advancements and are recognized all over the world.
If we want to go down that path, we have to learn from their past. How the Japanese respect teachers, books, and how they still stick to their root. Japanese are also aware that without knowledge they would die out, because they have no more than 10% of natural resources. This is deeply embedded in their mind. The same goes with the French. This is a stone, and if you can’t turn it into a diamond, you’ll die. It’s their doctrine.
“There is an anecdote that goes like this: why aren’t Indonesians rich? Because there’s one breadwinner for nine freeloaders. Why are Chinese rich? Because there are nine breadwinners but only one freeloader.”
How about us? We’ve been cuddled with a song that says stick and stone will feed you. No wonder people are getting lazy. So, our problem is not only ignorance, not only poverty, but it all begins from laziness. There is an anecdote that goes like this: Why aren’t Indonesians rich? Because there’s only one breadwinner for nine freeloaders. Why are Chinese rich? Because there are nine breadwinners and only one freeloader. It’s that simple.
To be able to achieve what those countries have achieved, all spheres [government, education, public, families, even digital] must be integrated. What are the plans for this?
“It’s easy to talk about coordination in Indonesia, but to actually do it is another story.”
That’s the dilemma. It’s easy to talk about coordination in Indonesia, but to actually do it is another story. We don’t seem to want to get there.
This library obviously exists to give a space for the whole society. And the only thing that is sophisticated about this library is the ‘case’. We expect in the future, the human resources and the content will suit the necessary sophistication. That’s why we invite people to come, give us suggestions and criticism of what they want this library to be like in the future.
So societies have to play their parts too, don’t they?
We keep on promoting this, but [the National Library building.Ed] is only a symbol of civilization. There is no way people of Bekasi would come here every day, let alone those in Bandung, Surabaya, eastern Indonesia, Papua, and Sumatra.
What we hope is that we will have libraries, as mandated in the law, across the country. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but we should have plenty of them where they can serve the community well, to provide the community with the needed reading materials. And there should be an education on how to implement the applied knowledge. At the end, the library will become the bridge of past, present, and future knowledge – it will take the people to a civilized society.
Last question, are there any programs in which volunteers or interns can be involved in the National Library?
We are very open to synergize. Recently, we had a meeting with world-class librarians. They are the volunteers of reading culture. Some of them donate from their own pocket, some raise their own funds or get the funding from a CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility.Ed] program.
We designed this library to have plenty of rooms for public discussion. And if you would like to invite experts, you can hold the discussion here. You’re most welcome.
Thank you for your time, Sir.
The pleasure is all mine. Please, support us. We are on the same boat.
[Jakarta, LTTW] The presence of animals and plants is unquestionably essential for the continuation of life as we know it. Imagine if lions were wiped out from African savannah; it would adversely impact the ecosystem of the continent. Many animals have gone extinct, and many of them are still waiting for their impending doom. A great number of species are currently in the brink of extinction, such as horned guan in Mexico, sea lions, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran orangutans, mountain gorillas, and many more.
This extinction is not a natural event; it is the result of human mistakes, negligence, and cruelty. Humans are just too greedy – the only thing that matters to them is making profit without thinking about the consequences. They should realize that profit is not only about money, but there is also humanity aspect to it. Jane Goodall is one of the very few who apply the concept of ‘profit for humanity’ [Sacred Bridge Foundation’s term]. That’s why, Listen to the World thinks that it is important for us to get to know more about Jane Goodall.
With the appearance of “Jane” in Hollywood recently – a film documenting her life, is very enlightening. This documentary was directed by Brett Morgan, an American director known for his acclaimed works such as Cobain: Mountain of Heck, Chicago 10, to name a few.
Perhaps, before the documentary was released, only NatGeo channel avid viewers and academics that are familiar with her name and reputation. This documentary has shed light on her, making her more popular in public sphere. The documentary was released just in time when animal extinction issue has become the center of attention.
Dreams are an important part in children’s growth, echoing Albert Einstein’s famous quote ”imagination is more important than knowledge.” This word of wisdom is corresponding to Goodall’s life, which dream was built on his childhood dream. This dream would materialize within her and lead her to study about animals and environment. Her love for animals has made her an authority on zoology and ethology.
At the age 27, Goodall inadvertently began to study the life of apes when she was working as an assistant to Louis Leakey, an anthropologist. At that time, Goodall was studying the so-called ‘human ancestors’. Goodall recalled the time of her early career, when she was still lacking in experience and had to face a lot of criticism. But, thanks to Leakey, who believed in her wholeheartedly, she could continue her research and stayed on track.
Goodall grew up in the time of Counter Culture Movement in the US back in the 60s, where gender equality issue began to take center stage. Goodall has shown the world of science that women could take part just like men with her brevity for conducting research in Tanzania. Not only that, Goodall made very strong criticism toward animal exploitation in research, which eventually changed the way scientists treat lab animals. Her passion for animals and nature has forced African people and government to adopt a nature-friendly tourism to save animals from extinction and curb the destruction of their habitat due to humans’ activities. Her thoughts and actions have brought about a new set of ethics in the world of science.
Goodall’s field works have shed lights on the life of primates; among others are the social hierarchy in a chimpanzee colony and a ground breaking method of friend-making between human and chimpanzee, known as the “Banana Club.” She also gained a new perspective based on her experience living with chimpanzees that not only are they herbivores, they are also carnivores and sometimes cannibals. Moreover, she discovered that chimps are able to build hunting tools, just like humans.
Jane does not only care about nature and animals; she also cares about humans’ life and well-being. In the International Day of Peace, Jane Goodall (who was appointed UN Messenger of Peace) spoke about the impact of Syrian war to humanity, which has created refugees. Refugees are people who are fear for their life and safety. And just like humans, animals are living things, too, equipped with emotions and a sense of fear.
“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved. Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference. The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. The greatest danger to our future is apathy. Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change. I think the best evenings are when we have messages, things that make us think, but we can also laugh and enjoy each other’s company.”
It’s been decades since Jane Goodall decided to live with what she believes in, and she is not slowing down despite her age. She keeps on campaigning for peace and ethics for a better world.
Sacred Bridge Foundation believes that plants, animals, and humans are part of nature, in which they live in harmony. But humans have done nature a great wrong; how much longer mankind can survive? Jane Goodall is another proof that it is the minority that can make a change.
On a break from his studies in the MIT Media Lab, Anirudh Sharma SM ’14 traveled home to Mumbai, India. While there, he noticed that throughout the day his T-shirts were gradually accumulating something that resembled dirt.
“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma says. “This is a major health issue.”
Soot comprises tiny black particles, about 2.5 micrometers or smaller, made of carbon produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Breathing in the particles can lead to lung damage, cancers, and other conditions.
A 2015 conference paper presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimated that in 2013 more than 5.5 million people worldwide died prematurely from air pollution. In India alone, air pollution has been linked to anywhere from 1.1 million to 1.4 million premature deaths over the past few years, according to various studies.
Back at MIT, Sharma set out to help solve this dire air-pollution issue. After years of research and development, Sharma’s startup Graviky Labs has developed technology that attaches to exhaust systems of diesel generator chimneys to capture particulate matter. Scientists at Graviky then treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for artists around the world.
So far, the startup, which is commercially piloting its KAALINK devices for use on diesel generators across India, has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, which equates to cleaning roughly 1.6 trillion liters of outdoor air. More than 200 gallons of Air-Ink have been harvested for a growing community of more than 1,000 artists, from Bangalore to Boston, Hong Kong, and London.
“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma says.
KAALINK is a cylindrical device that retrofits to the exhaust systems of vehicles or diesel generators and relies on static electricity, a phenomenon in which energized materials attract particles. Inside the device are cartridges filled with a high-energy plasma. An applied voltage triggers the plasma to attract soot particles flying by, ridding the air of roughly 85 to 95 percent of particles without affecting the exhaust system.
A KAALINK device can stay on an exhaust system for about 15 to 20 days. Users then empty the disposable cartridges into special Graviky Labs collection units, where they are sent straight to the startup’s lab for treatment. This system — co-invented by Nitesh Kadyan and Nikhil Kaushik — removes heavy metals and toxins to create usable Air-Ink.
Similar soot-capturing processes exist, Sharma says, but they capture the soot by dissolving it in liquids, which makes the treatment process complex and expensive. Graviky, on the other hand, captures the particulate matter in its basic dry form. “Other processes convert air pollution into water pollution, and essentially generate more waste,” Sharma says. “We minimize the process and create a recycling stream from particulate matter waste that would have otherwise gone into our lungs.”
Currently, KAALINK isn’t a consumer product. Graviky primarily sells the filter to companies and organizations in India for capturing soot from the diesel generators that help power hospitals, malls, schools, apartment complexes, and other buildings. Companies have also sought to retrofit diesel generators with KAALINK to make them carbon neutral. Graviky later buys back the captured particulate matter from the owners of these engines to incentivize pollution capture.
Spreading the Message
Posted all over Graviky Lab’s Facebook page today are photos of art made from the Air-Ink and paint, including portraits, street murals, body art, sketches, and clothing prints. In London, an Air-Ink mural was featured for several weeks in Piccadilly Circus, and the city’s Museum of Writing has a permanent exhibit on Air-Ink.
One Boston artist using Air-Ink is Sneha Shrestha, a native of Nepal who paints mantras in her native language, meshing Sanskrit and graffiti styles. She has been using Air-Ink for “handstyles” (a unique graffiti artist signature) and has received requests from galleries worldwide to create art using this ink.
Using Air-Ink, a product made and shipped out from Bangalore, also holds personal significance for the artist from Kathmandu. “I am taking waste collected from a place close to my hometown and I am creating something beautiful out of it,” says Shrestha, who is also founder and senior advisor of the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal. “My work is inspired by the culture and native language of my hometown and Air-Ink added another layer of connection to where I am from.”
Air-Ink, she adds, could be a valuable tool in raising awareness about air pollution globally. “Air-Ink makes the concept of pollution more tangible for a wider audience,” she says. “When you can see what polluted air looks like in a tangible form, it definitely raises curiosity and start conversations about pollution.”
A successfully funded Kickstarter campaign over the summer sold out on various Air-Ink markers and decorated T-shirts, postcards, motorcycle helmets, and shoes. According to Graviky, each ounce of Air-Ink — about enough to make one marker — offsets 45 minutes of air pollution generated by a vehicle.
But the aim wasn’t always to create art. “I started with the general question, ‘What are the things you can do with carbon that’s collected?’” Sharma says of his early days designing the technology in the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group with Pattie Maes, a professor of media technology and academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences.
The initial prototype for the device, developed in 2012, was actually a printer that sucked in carbon and filled an ink cartridge, and would be used strictly for paper printing. But the printer wasn’t scalable, so Sharma refined the bulky device into an exhaust retrofit that could go “beyond the lab and have real-world impact,” he says.
In 2013, Sharma launched Graviky headquarters, ready to release the product in heavily polluted India. “It’s pretty dire here,” Sharma says. “Primary schools have been shut down because of air pollution. It’s a catastrophe. I wanted to create technologies that are new and can have a large social impact, and that brought me back here.”
At first, there was still no specific application for the ink. Then, about a year ago, the startup decided to find new ways to further spread its mission. It chose to do so through art. “Art helps us raise awareness about where the ink and paint comes from. Artists are spreading the word that this is a very special ink that makes a difference,” Sharma says.
In March, Tiger Beer reached out to Graviky to create a large campaign against air pollution. For the project, Graviky gave 150 liters of Air-Ink — or, roughly 2,500 hours of air pollution, according to Graviky — to artists in Hong Kong, known for its high air pollution, to create murals. This effort won the startup several awards, including a Gold at Cannes Lions for outdoor impact innovation.
Now, as the community of artists using Air-Ink grows, Sharma hopes Graviky’s message gets heard worldwide. “Air pollution knows no borders,” he says. “It’s in India, Boston, and places all over the world. Our ink sends a message that pollution is one of the resources in our world that’s the hardest to capture and use. But it can be done.”