Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Did Indian scientists make space bricks with ‘urine’ as claimed by NDTV? Not really: Here are the facts

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Did Indian scientists make space bricks with 'urine' as claimed by NDTV? Not really: Here are the facts

— Consider reading the article Did Indian scientists make space bricks with ‘urine’ as claimed by NDTV? Not really: Here are the facts on OpIndia website —

Propagandists at the NDTV were called out once again, this time, by an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru for spreading deliberately mischievous misinformation to cast aspersions on the efforts made by Indian scientists. In the headline of its report, NDTV claimed that Indian scientists were using urine to make space bricks when the scientists were, in fact, using urea.

NDTV spreads deliberate misinformation

Soon, hatemonger Ashok Swain jumped on to the scene to take a dig at India and claimed that “India’s Obsession with Urine has reached the Moon”.

Tweet by Ashok Swain

Responding to NDTV’s fake news, Aloke Kumar made it clear that urine was not used. Visibly irritated, he advised the ‘news’ network to change their headline and “pay your people enough so that they properly read press releases”. NDTV does appear to have taken at least the first part of his advice seriously and rectified its headline.

Commenting on the chain of events where NDTV first spread fake news and then Ashok Swain used that fake news to mock the researchers, Kumar compared the whole affair to a circus.

So NDTV distorts our story to make ‘urine’ (which was not used) a headline and then Swain uses that to make fun of our research on space bricks.

Well boys and girls, the circus is in town and the clown master has spoken. https://t.co/zr08jFCq5c

— Aloke Kumar (@aalokelab) August 14, 2020

Aloke Kumar told OpIndia, “We used urea in our study. Urea can come from many sources, and in our case it was an artificial additive. Some research labs are working on the use of urine as a urea source for such work, so that future moon colonies can exploit human waste in a constructive fashion.”

The IISc-ISRO Space Bricks Research

The press release by IISC makes it clear that urea is only one of the key components. It says, “In what could be a significant step forward in space exploration, a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has developed a sustainable process for making brick-like structures on the moon. It exploits lunar soil, and uses bacteria and guar beans to consolidate the soil into possible load-bearing structures.”

The press release further said, “The process developed by the IISc and ISRO team uses urea — which can be sourced from human urine — and lunar soil as raw materials for construction on the moon’s surface. This decreases the overall expenditure considerably. The process also has a lower carbon footprint because it uses guar gum instead of cement for support. This could also be exploited to make sustainable bricks on Earth.”

The researchers “first mixed the bacteria (Sporosarcina pasteurii) with a simulant of lunar soil. Then, they added the required urea and calcium sources along with gum extracted from locally-sourced guar beans. The guar gum was added to increase the strength of the material by serving as a scaffold for carbonate precipitation. The final product obtained after a few days of incubation was found to possess significant strength and machinability.”

NDTV went out of its way to malign the research

As it turns out, the NDTV had only reproduced a report by PTI but it appears that they went out of their way to use a headline that would give people the impression that urine was being used. For instance, Economic Times which reproduced the PTI report did not use such a misleading headline. The headline ET used was, “Indian scientists develop sustainable process for making brick-like structures on the moon”.

Headline of ET report on space bricks

A casual glance at the headlines used by some of the other media networks reveals quite clearly the extent of the maliciousness of the NDTV headline.

Headlines of media reports on the matter

Thus, quite clearly, it was extremely mischievous of NDTV to claim that the scientists at ISRO and IISc were using urine for making space bricks. The breakthrough made by Indian scientists is indeed worthy of great praise and appreciation, however, consistent with its track record, NDTV chose to spread misinformation about it instead.

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