Curious Bends – Kinshasa in Danger, a Chinese Collider Larger than LHC, ISRO’s Booklet and More

Curious Bends is a weekly newsletter curated by science journalists Akshat Rathi and Vasudevan Mukunth. Subscribe here.

1. Almost all of India’s water is contaminated by sewage

“The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon recently admitted before the National Green Tribunal that untreated sewage from the city mixes with treated wastewater in the drains into the Yamuna. The putrid river that flows through New Delhi is only one of the many severely polluted surface water bodies in the country. Government agencies estimate that as much of 80% of India’s surface water is contaminated and most of it comes from sewage. The effects of this contamination are immediately felt with the onset of the monsoons.” (4 min read,

2. Africa’s third largest city is waiting for a population bomb to go off

“Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the third largest city in Africa and home to over 10 million people. Some scholars predict that, by 2050, the city’s population could skyrocket to 30 million, more than Cairo but less than teaming Lagos, which has the marked advantage of not being in the middle of a jungle. This growth will likely be powered predominantly by migration, which presents singular urban integration challenges. Sebastien Goethals spends a lot of his time thinking about this. As part of the community of engineers and architects looking at how the DRC, a perpetual cautionary tale, can develop or adapt its infrastructure, Goethals makes it his business to see his adopted city for what it could be rather than what it is.” (6 min read,

3. New York’s penal colony through the eyes of the people who live and work there

“It is the deaths that have lately moved the gaze of New Yorkers back to Rikers, where we have been troubled to read stories like the one about a schizophrenic, diabetic inmate named Bradley Ballard who was locked alone in his cell for six days without medication, insulin, food, or running water; officers and health workers remarked on the smell coming from his cell, but no one got up to help him until he went into cardiac arrest, covered in his own feces and with a rubber band around his genitals that had caused sepsis to set in. Or the one about Victor Woods, who went into a violent seizure while a guard sat watching him and drinking a cup of coffee. Or, just a few weeks ago, the news about 22-year-old Kalief Browder, accused of stealing a backpack; his three years on Rikers without a trial had been chronicled in The New Yorker. He hanged himself after he got out, as he’d tried to do while in jail. There were ten deaths last year alone, and stabbings and slashings have doubled since 2010.” (61 min read,

4. China wants to build a particle smasher bigger than the LHC

“The Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs was discovered, produces the particle in proton-proton collisions. Experiments at the LHC will continue to study the Higgs over the next decades. But scientists around the world—including the group in China—are also planning ahead for ways to get an even closer look at the bizarre particle. If constructed in China, the proposed Higgs-factory collider would be the biggest particle physics project ever undertaken there. “It is putting a stamp on the country’s arrival on the international stage in some sense,” says Charlie Young, a physicist at SLAC. “It’s the science, but it’s also more than just the science.”” (4 min read,

5. ISRO has released an illustrated booklet about Mars and MOM

“Indian space programme is mainly focused towards the development of space technologies that are mainly intended for the rapid and overall development of the country. But, the scientific satellites and spacecraft like Chandrayaan-1 and Mars Orbiter Spacecraft of our country have made valuable contribution towards further enhancing our knowledge about the universe. The ability of satellites to bring about significant improvements to our lives is without any doubt. But, to enable them to perform their assigned task properly, it is essential that those satellites have to be taken into space and placed in proper orbits around the Earth.” (24 pages,

Chart of the Week

“Poor countries often complain that their best minds are draining away—and for the most part they are right. The poorer the country, the larger the proportion of inventors who push off. Between 2007 and 2012, for example, 86% of Vietnam-born people who filed for patents did so while working outside Vietnam. By contrast, only 8% of Norwegian-born inventors were living outside Norway when they applied for patents. We know this because of the remarkably detailed records kept by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. This does not mean that countries will become more skilled if they prevent their most talented people from leaving, of course. Even if it were possible to identify the brainiest inhabitants of a country and take away their passports, they would not all become inventors. Some could end up sweeping the streets due to lack of opportunity at home. It is probably better to let them leave for countries where their talents are better used, and then try to entice them back (as China does) or at least try to persuade them to lend their skills to the country of their birth.” (2 min read,

Patents filed by emigrants. Source: The Economist

Patents filed by emigrants. Source: The Economist