It was a hot, dusty day in Egypt in early 1927. Temperature outside was a scorching 40˚C.
The atmosphere inside the great Deir el-Bahri Temple complex in Thebes, Egypt was, however, was charged with excitement and speculation.
HERBERT WINLOCK, an American Egyptologist and the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s archaeological team in Egypt, was staring at a scene of brutal destruction that had all the hallmarks of a vicious personal attack. Signs of desecration were everywhere; eyes had been gouged out, heads lopped off, the cobra-like symbol of royalty hacked from foreheads.
Winlock had unearthed a pit in the great temple complex at Deir el-Bahri and found smashed statues of a pharaoh—pieces “from the size of a fingertip,” Winlock noted, “to others weighing a ton or more.” The images had suffered “almost every conceivable indignity,” he wrote, as the violators vented “their spite on the brilliantly chiselled, smiling features of the Pharaoh.”

Figure 1 – Herbert Eustis Winlock, the American Egyptologist, who decoded the hieroglyphics which mentioned the name of the greatest pharaoh of Egypt.

The actual mummy, however, was nowhere to be seen.
It would take almost 80 years after this incident when the greatest pharaoh would finally get to see the light of the day again after resting for nearly 3000 years. For many years, it was believed that nothing was left of the body, save some fragments found in a Canopic jar along with the Pharaoh’s nurse Sitire- Ra.

In 2006, however, the Egyptologist Zahi Hawass claimed to have located the legendary Pharaoh’s mummy on the third floor of the Cairo museum. Researchers identified the mummy by matching a tooth known to be the Pharaoh’s with an empty socket in the mummy’s jaw and DNA testing with the Pharaoh’s grandmother.
The mystery of a 3000 year old puzzle was finally solved.
The legend was real.
The greatest pharaoh to have ever ruled Egypt was finally known to the world, after 3000 years of obscurity.
She was Queen Hatshepsut.

Figure 2 – HAIL TO THE QUEEN – Pharaoh Hatshepsut. (1507-1458 BCE)


Her name meant “Foremost of Noblewomen.”
Pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as a pharaoh (king) for more than 20 years. Under her, Egypt, already a prosperous land, reached its pinnacle of glory. Although technically, she wasn’t the first female Pharaoh of Egypt, there is no doubt that she was the greatest among all, both men and women. Her name became synonymous with wealth, prosperity, architecture and greatness. Achieving almost a mystical goddess like aura, no other pharaoh, before or after, could even come close to her greatness in the temples she built. She came from a long line of Pharaohs and was the first to break the norm, then prevalent in Egypt, of having only male rulers to the throne. She had long been acquainted with a position of power and chose instead to have herself crowned pharaoh of Egypt, instead of simply being “the wife of the pharaoh.”

Figure 3 – A seated statue of Hatshepsut, before she became the Pharaoh of Egypt.

She was a woman in a man’s position and understood she needed to take measures to protect herself as ruler so she chose to depict herself as a daughter of the god Amun, the most popular and powerful deity of the time. What is most ironical is the fact that after her death, the subsequent rulers didn’t want to have their pharaoh rule ‘tarnished’ by the name of a female pharaoh. So, Thutmose III, the next Pharaoh, ordered every temple and every monument in her name to be defaced and forgotten.
What they couldn’t realize was the fact that the greatest pharaoh in the whole of Egypt had already carved up her name in gold in the annals of History, impossible to erase.
Depicted (at her own orders) as a male in many contemporary images and sculptures, she remained largely unknown to scholars until the 19th century, but when she was found, it left the world stunned and in awe.

“In the history of Egypt during the dynastic period (3000 to 332 B.C.) there were only two or three women who managed to rule as pharaohs, rather than wielding power as the ‘great wife’ of a male king. And there is no doubt that Hatshepsut is the greatest of them all.”

~ Egyptologist Ian Shaw.
Figure 4 – Inscription in the walls of The Temple of Karnak, depicting Hatshepsut, in full Pharaohs costume. Note the false beard.


Egyptians held Sun as a powerful deity whom they named as AMUN or AMUN – RA. The people who followed the religion of the sun was the long line of Pharaohs that started with Pharaoh Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt from 1526-1506 BC. Amenhotep I and his wife Senseneb had a child who was named as Thutmose I, who ruled as the Pharaoh of Egypt from 1506-1493 BC. Thutmose I and his wife Queen Ahmose were the parents of the future pharaoh Hatshepsut. The couple had 3 more children of which Nefrubity was the sister of Hatshepsut. Thutmose I also had a second mistress named Mutnofret, who bore him Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s future husband.
After Hatshepsut became the pharaoh of Egypt, she claimed to be of divine birth, the result of a union between her mother and the god Amun. She also claimed that Thutmose I had named her as his successor before his death.

Figure 5 – The royal bloodline of Hatshepsut. She came from a long line of Kings.
Figure 6 – Pharaoh Thutmosis I and his Queen Ahmose, the parents of Hatshepsut.
Figure 7 – A happy family. Pharaoh Thutmosis II, Pharaoh Hatshepsut and their only daughter, Neferure.

Archaeologists have indeed found a relief decorating Hatshepsut’s enormous funerary complex, depicting Thutmose I crowning her daughter as king in the presence of the Egyptian gods, chief among them is the Sun god Amun, confirming the fact that Thutmose I indeed wanted her daughter Hatshepshut to be the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Still, Hatshepsut didn’t ascend to being a Pharaoh, immediately after her father’s death. After the demise of Pharaoh Thutmose I, the Egyptian throne passed to Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband. In ancient Egypt, it was not unusual for royalty to marry within their family. Hatshepsut was appointed “God’s Wife of Amun” by her mother and came to know the intricacies of the cult first hand as well as the power of authority. The royal family had a daughter by the name of Neferure, who would go on to assume official duties in temples.

Figure 8 – The god Amun-Ra. A combination of god AMUN, the creator of the Universe and god RA, the god of sun and light. Amun Ra was the most revered god in the whole of Egypt, comparable to Zeus, the king of gods, according to Greek mythology.


Pharaoh Thutmose II had another wife Iset, who bore him Thutmose III. When Thutmose II died in 1479 BCE, Thutmose III was just a child. He couldn’t assume the throne so Hatshepsut acted as a regent (temporary ruler) to the young pharaoh. She did this for three years.
Then, for reasons yet unknown, Hatshepsut took on the mantle of the Pharaoh. She took on the full regalia of an Egyptian pharaoh and even adopted a new throne name of Maatkare, sometimes translated as Truth (maat) is the Soul (ka) of the Sun God (Re). By calling herself Maatkare, Hatshepsut was likely reassuring her people that they had a legitimate ruler on the throne. Statues were created depicting her as a male king, right down to the beard. However, she did allow some feminine traits to come through as the names that she used as king were formed with grammatically feminine participles, thus openly acknowledging her female status.

Figure 9 – The arts flourished under Hatshepsut’s reign, sparking a renaissance that influenced Egyptian art for more than a millennium. Here, Four seal amulets inscribed with her throne name, Maatkere, is shown.

It is generally agreed upon by Egyptologists that Hatshepsut was never pretending to be a man, when a pharaoh. In fact, she was proud to be a female pharaoh as inscriptions on her erected monuments reads proudly, “Daughter of Re and His Majesty, Herself.” Her attire as a male ruler is believed to have been motivated by the presence of a male co-ruler (still infant Thutmose III)—a circumstance with which no previous female ruler had ever contended. Hatshepsut married her daughter Neferure to the young Thutmose III, a marriage that would last for 11 years until her death.
As a God’s Wife of Amun, Hatshepsut would have known of the oracles of the god – oracles which would eventually be taken so seriously that Amun was the de-facto (patron) ruler of Thebes and Upper Egypt – and so she claimed of an oracle predicting her rise to power. The legitimacy of her rule as Amun’s daughter would have carried a great deal of weight with the people of Egypt. Having married her daughter to her successor, and established herself as the daughter of the most powerful god in Egypt (Amun), Hatshepsut set about to rule her country and create her legacy.

Figure 10 – Golden Egyptian Sandals, presumed to be of Pharaoh Hatshepsut herself.


After crowning herself as the Pharaoh, Hatshepsut immediately went to work on great public works projects. She employed the great architect Ineni, who also had worked for her father, her husband, and for the royal steward Senemut. Her reign included no great military conquests; the art produced under her authority was soft and delicate; and she constructed one of the most elegant temples in Egypt against the cliffs outside the Valley of the Kings.
✓ Following the tradition of most pharaohs, Hatshepsut had monuments constructed at the Temple of Karnak. She also restored the original Precinct of Mut, the ancient great goddess of Egypt, at Karnak that had been ravaged by the foreign rulers during the Hyksos occupation. She had twin obelisks, at the time the tallest in the world, erected at the entrance to the temple. One still stands, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth; the other has broken in two and toppled.

Figure 11 – The main grand entrance to the Temple of Karnak. Note the obelisk in the centre, beyond the gate.

✓Another project, Karnak’s Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and originally may have stood between her two obelisks. It was lined with carved stones that depicted significant events in Hatshepsut’s life.

Figure 12 – The Red Chapel of Karnak, built by Hatshepsut herself.

✓ The Temple of Pakhet was built by Hatshepsut at Beni Hasan in the Minya Governorate south of Al Minya. The name, Pakhet, was a synthesis that occurred by combining Bast and Sekhmet, who were similar lioness war goddesses, in an area that bordered the north and south division of their cults. The cavernous underground temple, cut into the rock cliffs on the eastern side of the Nile.

Figure 13 – The Temple of Pakhet at Beni Hasan. Pakhet was the name of a lion goddess.

✓ Perhaps, her most famous and grandest legacy is the commissioning of her exquisite temple at Deir el-Bahri at Thebes early on. Despite the enormous scale of the complex—roughly the length of two and a half football fields—its overall impression is one of lightness and grace, unlike the fortresslike temples of her predecessors. The temple’s lower levels featured pools and gardens planted with fragrant trees. Supersized images of Hatshepsut were everywhere. Some 100 colossal statues of the female pharaoh as a sphinx guarded the processional way.

Figure 14 – An aerial majestic view of the temple complex of Deir el-Bahri at Thebes, Egypt. The greatest creation of Hatshepsut, the Temple was a landmark for future Egyptian pharaohs who was in awe of the architecture.

Lining the terraces were more images of the ruler (some more than 10 feet tall) in various devotional attitudes—kneeling with offerings to the gods, striding into eternity or in the guise of Osiris, god of death and resurrection. Most statues are massive, masculine and meant to be seen from a distance. Atop its columned halls, whose walls were covered with lovely carvings, stood the temple proper whose smaller rooms contained statues of the queen. Some wall scenes showed her birth as a divine event in which the god Amun, disguised as her father Thuthmose I, impregnated her mother, indicating that the god had personally placed her on the throne. Hatshepsut herself inscribed on one of her obelisks at Karnak which still resonate with almost charming insecurity:

“Now my heart turns this way and that as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”


So beautiful were her buildings that later pharaohs claimed them as their own and so numerous were her monuments and temple projects that, today, there are few museums in the world which do not house works she commissioned.

Figure 15 – Osiris, the god of death and afterlife. Perhaps only second in importance to god Amun, Osiris is one of the most important icons in the whole of Egyptian mythology.
Figure 16 – Rest in Peace. The tomb of Hatshepsut at the Valley of the Kings in Thebes.


Hatshepsut understood that the prosperity of Egypt lay in trade and business. Hatshepsut’s temple also featured a series of reliefs marking the achievements of her reign, including a storied trading expedition to the mysterious and distant land called Punt, believed to be somewhere on the coast of the Red Sea, perhaps in current-day Eritrea. This trading expedition to Punt was roughly during the 9th year of Hatshepsut’s reign. It set out in her name with five ships, each measuring 70 feet (21 m) long, bearing several sails and accommodating 210 men that included sailors and 30 rowers. Many trade goods were bought in Punt, notably frankincense and myrrh.

Figure 17 – The depiction of Hatshepsut’s Voyage to the mysterious land of Punt. To this day, Egyptologists are quite not certain where Punt might be. Note the large sails of the ships.

Hatshepsut’s delegation returned from Punt bearing 31 live myrrh trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the voyage. This was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees. It is reported that Hatshepsut had these trees planted in the courts of her mortuary temple complex. Egyptians also returned with a number of other gifts from Punt, among which was frankincense. Hatshepsut would grind the charred frankincense into kohl eyeliner. This is the first recorded use of the resin. Hieroglyphs even show the queen of the land of Punt, Queen Ati. The reliefs show the Egyptians loading their boats in Punt with an array of highly prized luxury goods—ebony, ivory, gold, exotic animals and incense trees.

“Never was brought the like of this for any king who had been since the beginning.”

~ Inscription from “Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant.” by Shelley Wachsmann.

Hatshepsut also sent raiding expeditions to Byblos and the Sinai Peninsula shortly after the Punt expedition.
Under the peaceful foreign policy of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Egypt thrived, people were happy and prosperity reached its pinnacle. It was the golden age of the Egyptian civilization.

Figure 18 – A hieroglyph showing Egyptian soldiers ready to board a ship to Byblos.


Hatshepsut probably died around 1458 B.C., when she would have been in her mid-40s. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings (also home to Tutankhamen, the famous boy-king), located in the hills behind Deir el-Bahri. It was her last wish to be with her beloved father so she had his sarcophagus reburied in her tomb so they could lie together in death. Thutmose III went on to rule for 30 more years, proving to be both an ambitious builder like his stepmother and a great warrior. However, Egyptologists agree that he came nowhere close to the achievements of Hatshepsut.

Figure 19 – Pharaoh Thutmose III, the successor to Hatshepsut. He tried to remove Hatshepsut from history by defacing every monument that bore her name. But in vain.

Late in his reign, Thutmose III had almost all of the evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule–including the images of her as king on the temples and monuments she had built eradicated. “We believe that because it happened so late in Thutmose III’s reign, that it wasn’t personal enmity or jealousy,” says Dorman of the rampage. For some reason, Thutmose III must have decided it was necessary to essentially rewrite the official record of Hatshepsut’s kingship —which meant eradicating all traces of it to suggest that the throne had gone directly from his father to him. While numerous theories abound, most contemporary Egyptologists believe Pharaoh Thutmose III undertook this endeavour to possibly to erase her example as a powerful female ruler, or to close the gap in the dynasty’s line of male succession.

Figure 20 – A modern computer generated image of the great Pharaoh Hatshepsut how she must have looked like.

Egyptologists believe that Hatshepsut’s unconventional reign may have been too successful, a fact which Thutmose III considered a dangerous precedent, best be erased to prevent the possibility of another powerful female ever inserting herself into the long line of Egyptian male kings.
As a consequence of this denial and defacement, scholars of ancient Egypt knew little of Hatshepsut’s existence until 1927, when they were able to decode and read the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri.

Figure 21 – It was this very inscription in the walls of the temple of Thebes which brought Pharaoh Hatshepsut from the depths of oblivion to the world arena, way back in 1927.


Examination of the mummy showed that Hatshepsut died from an abscess following the removal of a tooth. Some scholars are of the opinion that Hatshepsut died from bone cancer, attributing this to a carcinogenic skin lotion found in possession of the Pharaoh. Other members of the queen’s family are thought to have suffered from inflammatory skin diseases that tend to be genetic. It is likely that Hatshepsut inadvertently poisoned herself while trying to soothe her itchy, irritated skin.
Still, whatever is the cause of her death, Hatshepsut’s legacy still reverberates on. Under her, the land reached its golden era, in every aspect of life. The success of her incredible reign is due entirely to her personal abilities as a leader who saw what needed to be done and was able to do it well.

Figure 22 – Hatshepsut, in the posture of a Sphinx, guardian of the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri, Thebes, Egypt. Sphinx is generally seen as a protector of important Egyptian monuments.

The story of Hatshepsut will probably never be complete. Her eternal legacy is important to note, not only for women who are competing with men for positions of power, but for anyone who feels disenfranchised and powerless in society. Certainly Hatshepsut began her life with advantages, being the daughter of a king, but she refused the traditional role assigned to women and discarded even her parentage in order to become who she knew she really was: the daughter of Amun and pharaoh of Egypt.

She’s like an iceberg. On the surface we know quite a lot about her. But there’s so much we don’t know. One thing, however, we do know for sure: In ancient Egypt, just like today, you simply can never keep a good woman down.

~ Joyce Tyldesley, scholar and author of the 1996 biography Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh.

Hatshepsut’s image couldn’t be erased because even with the weight, the beard, and the nail polish, she was a pharaoh, and a grand one. And she will forever be remembered, honoured and respected as the Greatest Pharaoh in the history of the great Egyptian civilization.



“In a short time, the whole mountain next to Sanggar, appeared like a body of liquid fire, extending itself in every direction. The fire and columns of flame continued to rage with unabated fury, until the darkness caused by the quantity of falling matter obscured it. I felt the end of the world was upon me.” – THE RAJAH OF SANGGAR.


Its name meant “gone” in a local language as in the people who was annihilated by the volcano. When it exploded in 1815, it became quite clear that the world will never be the same again.

It stood tall at 13,000 feet and when it exploded, the monster blasted 12 cubic miles of gases, dust and rock into the stratosphere and onto the island of Sumbawa and the surrounding area. Rivers of incandescent ash poured down the mountain’s flanks and burned grasslands and forests. The ground shook, sending tsunamis racing across the Java Sea. The blast itself was equivalent to the simultaneous detonation of 2.2 million Hiroshima Atomic bombs! The boom was heard as far as 2600km (1600 miles) in Perth, Australia. An estimated 10,000 of the island’s inhabitants died instantly. Another 80,000 from, across the world, died in the next 3 years.

Figure 1 – The blast from the past – A 19th Century painting of the “THE LARGEST VOLCANO ERUPTION IN THE LAST 10,000 YEARS.”

Climate experts believe that the giant was partly responsible for the unseasonable chill that afflicted much of the Northern Hemisphere in 1816, known as “The Year without a summer.” It may have even played a part in the creation of one of the 19th century’s most enduring fictional characters, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. The eruption of this monster was ten times more powerful than that of Krakatau, another volcano that exploded just 68 years later, which is 900 miles away.
All around the world crops failed, famine came through, weather patterns were drastically altered, and ocean currents shifted and thousands of people were killed and affected.
The world had changed forever.
The name was TAMBORA.

Figure 2 – The world knows Mary Shelley for her immortal creation, “Frankenstein” which was in fact, inspired by Tambora’s mega eruption.


It was the beginning of the 19th century.
The small and then unknown island of Sumbawa, some 1000km from Indonesia, was the outpost of the Dutch East Indies. Barely 6000 miles in area, Sumbawa had been settled by people from the neighbouring larger islands of Java, Celebes, and Flores about four hundred years earlier. Although the Dutch had occupied the island in the beginning of the 19th century, the region enjoyed considerable prosperity and political independence. The beginning of the dry season in April, 1815 meant a busy time for the local farmers which formed the majority of the local population. Coffee, pepper and Cotton formed the major cash crops of the area. But rice was the staple diet.

Figure 3 – The exact location of Tambora.

In a few weeks the rice would be ready, and the Raja of Sanggar, a small kingdom on the northeast coast of the island, would send his people into the fields to harvest. Until then, the men of his village, called Koteh, continued to work in the surrounding forests, chopping down the sandalwood trees vital to shipbuilders.
The area was frequented by pirates but early in the morning of April 5, 1815, the Rajah of Sanggar had a major source of anxiety in front of him. The magnificent mountain Tambora, the tallest peak in an archipelago, was rich in cloudy, volcanic summits. The broad, forested slopes of Tambora dominated the Sanggar Peninsula, and its distinctive twin peaks served as a major navigation point for shipping. The long-dormant Tambora had, for some years past, begun to rumble periodically, sending forth dark clouds from its airy summit.

Figure 4 – The idyllic landscape of Java, 1814, prior to Tambora’s destruction. It was the colony of the Dutch but enjoyed prosperity and political independence.

A British ship captained by the diplomat and naturalist John Crawfurd sailed near the belching mountain in 1814 and witnessed:

“At a distance, the clouds of ashes which it threw out blackened one side of the horizon in such a manner as to convey the appearance of a threatening tropical squall. . . . As we approached, the real nature of the phenomenon became apparent, and ashes even fell on the deck.”

The local people seemed not to worry that much. Some thought it the celebration of a marriage among the gods, while others viewed it more darkly. The rumblings signified anger, they said. They believed the gods were angry that the people had allowed foreign white men with their ships and guns to enslave them on plantations on nearby Java and Macassar.

Figure 5 – With an energy of 2.2 million atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tambora exploded in the evening of April 5, 1815.

On the evening of April 5, 1815, at about the time his servants would have been clearing the dinner dishes, the Rajah heard an enormous thunderclap. Everyone was staring up at Mount Tambora. A skyward jet of flame burst from the summit, lighting up the darkness and rocking the earth beneath their feet. The noise was incredible and painful.
Huge plumes of flame issued from the mountain that lasted for three hours, until the dark mist of ash became confused with the natural darkness, seeming to announce the end of the world. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the column of fire collapsed, the earth stopped shaking, and the bone-jarring roars faded.

“Children screamed and wept and their mothers, too, Believing the world had been turned to burning ash.”

Over the next few days, Tambora continued to bellow occasionally, while ash drifted down from the sky. Like the calm before a storm, Many villagers thought that the worst was over. Little did they know, that this was just beginning of hell.

At around 8 pm on April 15th, Tambora roared back to life in a deafening thunder. This time three distinct columns of fire burst in a roar from the summit to the west, blanketing the stars and uniting in a ball of swirling flame at a height greater than the eruption of five days before. The mountain itself began to glow as streams of boiling liquefied rock coursed down its slopes. At 8:00 pm, the terrifying conditions across Sanggar grew worse still, as a hail of pumice stones descended, some “as large as two fists,” mixed with a downpour of hot rain and ash. The village of Koteh, along with all other villages on the Sanggar peninsula, ceased to exist entirely, almost immediately. It was one of the first victims of Tambora’s spasm of self-destruction. The column of smoke, ash and Pumice shot up 40 kms in the sky.

Figure 6 – A painting of 1819 depicts the terrified people fleeing the volcano. Tambora killed 10,000 people around Sumbawa instantly.

A decade after the event, a native poet from the village of Bima, gave the terrifying eyewitness account of that night:

“The mountain reverberated around us,
As torrents of water mixed with ash fell from the sky.
Children screamed and wept, and their mothers, too,
Believing the world had been turned to burning ash.”

On the northern and western slopes of the volcano, whole villages with people in it were instantly buried under an inch thick ash. The rest were consumed with a vertical hell of flames, ash, boiling magma and hurricane strength winds.
A “violent whirlwind” struck Koteh, blowing away roofs. As it gained in strength, the volcanic hurricane uprooted large trees and launched them like burning javelins into the sea. Horses, cattle, and people alike flew upward in the fiery wind.

Figure 7 – The ash from Tambora , after it’s explosion, fell as far as Borneo which is approximately 1150 km away.

The Rajah of Sanggar miraculously survived the scene of Apocalypse, perhaps by hiring the best horses and steering away from the destruction well ahead. He writes about it:

“Between 9 and 10 p.m. ashes began to fall, and soon after a violent
whirlwind ensued, which blew down nearly every house in the village of
Sanggar, carrying the ataps or roofs, and light parts away with it. In the
part of Sanggar adjoining Tambora its effects were much more violent,
tearing up by the roots the largest trees and carrying them into the air,
together with men, horses, cattle, and whatever else came within its

At ten o’clock the magma columns—which now consisted almost entirely of molten rock and ash, most of the water having boiled away and evaporated—collapsed under their own weight. The eruption destroyed the top three thousand feet of the volcano, blasting it into the air in pieces, leaving behind only a large crater three miles wide and half a mile deep, as though the mountain had been struck by a meteor. Propelled by the force of the eruption, gray and black particles of ash, dust and soot rose high into the atmosphere, some as high as twenty-five miles above the crumbling peak of the mountain, where the winds began to spread them in all directions. As they moved away from the eruption, the largest, heaviest particles lost their momentum first and began to fall back towards the ground. This gave the ash cloud the shape of a mushroom or an umbrella, with the still-erupting Tambora as the fiery shaft.

Figure 8 – This 2007 model of Tambora’s Sulfate cloud shows its global reach. The cloud reached 24-32 kms above the Earth’s surface.

The whirlwind lasted about an hour. No explosions were heard till the whirlwind had ceased, at about 11 a.m. From midnight till the evening of the 11th, they continued without intermission; after that time their violence moderated, and they were only heard at intervals, but the explosions did not cease entirely until the 15th July. An estimated 10,000 people was annihilated by the monster, the largest human casualty due to a volcano, in recorded history.


The distant effects of the eruption were astonishing.
Explosions were heard through the night of 10 -11 April in Bengkulu (1800 kms away), Mukomuko (2000 kms away) and even Trumon (2600 kms away) on Sumatra.
Across eastern Java the explosions were strong enough to shake houses.

Figure 9 – A harbor scene by Caspar David Friedrich, painted after the Tambora eruption, depicts a vivid sky.

The residents of Surakarta (800 kms away), quoted by James Raffles, a local doctor, noted that:

“On Tuesday the 11th, the reports were more frequent and violent through the whole day: one of the most powerful explosions occurred in the afternoon about 2 pm, this was succeeded, for nearly an hour by a tremulous motion of the earth, distinctly indicated by the tremor of large window frames; another comparatively violent explosion occurred late in the afternoon, but the fall of dust was scarcely perceptible. The atmosphere appeared to be loaded with a thick vapour: the Sun was rarely visible, and only at short intervals appearing very obscurely behind a semi-transparent substance.”

The commander of the Dutch ship Benaras, which was moored in Sumatra at the time of the explosion [some 2000 kms away], Captain Wood, became increasingly concerned about the gloomy skies. He writes:

“It was now evident that an eruption had taken place from some volcano, and that the air was filled with ashes or volcanic dust, which already began to fall on the decks. . . . the appearance altogether was truly awful and alarming. By noon, the light that had remained in the eastern part of the horizon disappeared, and complete darkness had covered the face of day.

The darkness was so profound throughout the remainder of the day, that I never saw anything equal to it in the darkest night; it was impossible to see your hand when held up close to the eye.”

Pumice flood (the liquid flow of a type of volcanic rock) was the major hazard to shipping near Tambora that was a persistent problem and posed a threat to any ship passing by.
The British ship Fairlie encountered one in the South Indian Ocean in October 1820, some 5 years later, more than 2,000 miles west southwest of Tambora. The crew initially mistook the ash for seaweed, but when they approached they were shocked, “to find it was burnt cinders, evidently volcanic. The sea was covered with it.”

Figure 10 – The residents in and around the island of Sumbawa was instantly buried under an inch of ash. Skeletal remains of the same from 2004 archaeological excavation has brought up this poignant scene.

• “The sea rose 12 feet higher than it had ever known to do before.”

What survivors remained from the death blow of from the pumice, ash and magma, they faced another deadly element: giant waves from the sea. Tambora generated enormous size Tsunamis that completely decimated everything and everyone in its path. Generated as the pyroclastic currents (flow of volcanic rocks) hit the water, the waves were observed across the region on the night of 10 April. Tsunami completely inundated Sanggar with a peak height of four metres around 10 pm.

Figure 11 – Pottery and other household items excavated from a buried village on the lower slopes of Tambora in 2004.

Lt. Philips, in charge of a British vessel describes the scene as:

“The sea rose nearly twelve feet higher than it had ever been known to do
before, and completely spoiled the only small spots of rice land in Sanggar, sweeping away houses and every living and non-living thing within its reach.”

The tsunami hit Besuki in eastern Java (roughly 500 kms away) by midnight (thus travelling around 250 km/hr.) and Surabaya, with a height of up to two metres, hurling boats inland. Since the volcano is almost completely surrounded by the sea, this interaction may have resulted in a nearly circular 40-kilometre diameter curtain of rising ash. The tsunami killed at least 5,000 people in and around the areas of Java.
Tambora continued rumbling intermittently, at least up to August 1819. A small cone and lava flow, called Doro Afi Toi, erupted within the caldera sometime between 1847 and 1913. A strong earthquake recorded on 13 January 1909 may be related to this activity. Since then all appears to have been quiet.


The Tambora explosion of 1815 had far reaching consequences, literally. The eruption has been deemed as, “The last great subsistence crisis in Europe’s history.” Weather data for the early nineteenth century indicate a two- to three-year period of weather extremes following the eruption. Throughout 1816, average surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were as much as 10˚C lower than normal! Throughout Europe, the summers of 1816 and 1817 were cold and wet. Snow fell in many areas.

Figure 12 – Painting of Chichester Canal, showing the vivid sunsets caused by the volcanic aerosols of Tambora. By J.M.W Turner, 1825.

In Highgate, outside London, the great English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge summed up the wave of violent summer storms as, “this end of the world weather.”

Figure 13 – The English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “this end of the world weather.” , referring to the gloomy skies in England after Tambora erupted.

In Hungary, the snow was coloured brown from volcanic dust in the atmosphere. Yellowish and reddish snow fell even as far south as the heel of the Italian boot. Crop failures were widespread. The Alpine regions of France, Switzerland, and Austria suffered the most. Snow and frost came early and stayed late, severely shortening the growing season in 1816 and also, to some extent, in 1817. Attempts to replant summer wheat were frustrated by a lack of seed in state granaries. As a result of these factors, there was famine in many European countries in 1816, especially in cities. In Paris a record number of people starved to death. Harvests failed in Ireland, and famine gripped that country. Ensuing health problems led to a typhus epidemic that lasted from 1817 to 1819. The number of deaths is not known but has been estimated at more than 100,000.
North eastern North America also experienced disastrous weather in the spring and summer of 1816.

Figure 14 – A scene depicting the impact of the Tambora Explosion in North America. The lakes were covered in ash and transport was next to impossible.

One Professor Dewey in Williamstown, Massachusetts reported:

“Cucumbers and other vegetables nearly destroyed. . . . June 10th, severe

frost in the morning. . . . Ten days after the frost, the trees on the sides of
the hills presented for miles the appearance of having been scorched.
June 29th and 30th some frost. July 9th, frost, which killed parts of
cucumbers. August 22nd, cucumbers killed by the frost. August 29th,
severe frost. Some fields of Indian corn were killed on the low grounds,
while that on the higher was unhurt. Very little Indian corn became ripe
in the region.”

Figure 15 – Schematic figure showing the spread of Aerosols and Sulphur across the globe after the eruption of Tambora.

The region experienced an abnormally dry year. But like Europe, there were record low temperatures during the growing season, with night frosts and even occasional snowstorms. Cold weather predominated throughout Canada and as far south as New Jersey. Throughout Canada and New England, the dryness and cold weather devastated crops, including wheat and the all-important hay and corn, which provided fodder for farm animals. The eruption of Tambora in 1815 devastated the island of Sumbawa; produced famine and disease on nearby islands; disrupted the monsoon and caused famine in India (which killed an approximate 60,000 people). Tambora is also the reason behind the worldwide cholera pandemic [which started in 1817], which killed an approximate 1-2 million people. It also led to cold weather, crop failures, and food riots in Europe and produced the infamous “The Year without a Summer” in North America.

Figure 16 – Tambora caused a massive 10°C drop in global temperatures. Europe especially was affected. The blue zone is the drop in temperature and the yellow zone is the rise in temperature.
Figure 17 – A farmer witnesses the loss of his crop in Massachusetts, USA. Tambora caused a massive loss of crops all around the world causing widespread famine.

Lord Byron’s oft-quoted poem, DARKNESS, paints an almost apocalyptic picture of what the weather was like in 1816 in England, after Tambora exploded. An extract from which is as follows:

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light.

Figure 18 – Lord Byron on his balcony at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, 1820. He witnessed the change in weather and the thunderstorms after Tambora and composed his famous apocalyptic poem, ” DARKNESS” based on the same.


Tambora erupted with a 7 VEI (Volcanic Explosivity Index) [A scale to measure the explosion of a volcano, somewhat like the magnitude scale for earthquakes], the highest in the scale being 8. The explosion is termed as the “Largest Volcano eruption in recorded human history of 10,000 years.” Never before in the history of humankind has a single volcano caused the largest devastation and the most severe weather conditions known to man.

Figure 19 – Tambora today. A close watch on the still active volcano is kept at all times by Indonesian geologists.

Around 60,000 lives were lost in Sumbawa and Lombok alone, and perhaps, in reality, more than 200,000 perished as a direct result of the eruption. The eruption pumped around 30 mega tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere. This generated up to 100 mega tonnes of sulphuric acid aerosol, noted across the globe in the guise of various atmospheric optical phenomena.

Figure 20 – The NASA satellite image of the monster. Note the huge sphere. That’s the Tambora Caldera.

Today, Tambora is still categorized as an active volcano and there is a 30% chance of another Tambora sized eruption striking this century, according to the UN. What is more worrying is that there are around 800 million people who live today within 62 miles of the Volcano’s blast zone. Today, scientists, who study global climate trends, closely monitor the situation around Tambora and emergency evacuation protocols are in place, in case of another eruption. They use Tambora as a benchmark study, identifying the period 1815 to 1816 in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica by their unusually high sulphur content— a signature of a great upheaval long ago and a world away.

Figure 21 – THE DAY THE EARTH EXPLODEDThe gigantic explosion of MOUNT TAMBORA, in all its monstrosity.

Environmental historian Gillen D’Arcy Wood of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, perfectly sums up Tambora and its impact on humankind:

“I think of Tambora as the most recent and most drastic climate deterioration on human communities. It’s a study of human vulnerability.”

There cannot be any doubt that if history could be re-run from April 1815 without Tambora going off, the world would have been a much different place today.




For a brief moment, imagine you are a beetle or a bug. Your life hangs in a balance every second. You’ve got to look out your back every minute. Any wrong step and you can get crushed, killed and eaten by a larger animal. You may not even see that coming and by the time you realize what happened, you are already dead. You’ve got to feed, mate, reproduce and bring the next generation. All while you are alive, of course. THAT is a long and risky business.

You never know when a danger is looking out for its next meal. And the next meal can be YOU.

Figure 1 – Insects make up the largest phylum in the entire animal kingdom with over 5.5 Million species.

Now imagine you have a weapon. Something that’s incredible. Whenever you sense a danger around you, all you have to do is just lock, load and fire away. And BOOM! You are saved from certain death and you live to eat and live another day. THAT would be amazing!
Now, humans normally do not wage war for the sake of survival as such. But believe me or not, world wars in the insect world are happening everywhere right this very second you are reading this. We all know that if an organism isn’t able to sustain its life force for generations, it gets extinct. That’s the cardinal rule Darwin proposed, lavishly as “Survival of the fittest.”
Now, to survive, you need to have everything a soldier needs when he or she is at war. Strength, speed, tactics and most importantly, weapons. Mother Nature is the greatest architect of all and she has imbued the insects with terrifying weapons at their disposal for both defence and offence. One that will shock you and even leave you in awe and make you go, “You don’t wanna mess with them!”

Figure 2 – Chemical Warfare is a common sight in the insect world, especially with ants.


Many insects are equipped to wage chemical warfare against their enemies. In some cases, they manufacture their own toxic or distasteful compounds. In other cases, the chemicals are acquired from host plants and sequestered in the haemolymph or body tissues. When threatened or disturbed, the noxious compounds may be released onto the surface of the body as a glandular ooze, into the air as a repellent volatile, or aimed as a spray directly at the offending target. Entomologists say that insects mount a chemical defence in one of the four ways –

# REPELLENCY – There is nothing like a bad smell to increase your chance of not getting killed. A foul smell or a bad taste is often enough to discourage a potential predator. Whenever it feels threatened, some bugs release gases that are extremely obnoxious to the predator. Now, if the insect smells THAT bad, imagine how worse it would taste like! (even though it might not be so) and ultimately saved from danger.

Figure 3 – Stink Bugs secrete a chemical which is foul smelling and deters predators from attacking it.

# INDUCE CLEANING – Imagine attacking an insect and suddenly it bursts out a chemical. You start to feel itchy. The chemical fully kicks in and you constantly start to scratch yourself to relieve the discomfort. By the time you feel good and look around, several minutes later, the insect is long gone, perhaps resting in his home, kilometres away! In Scientific words, irritant compounds often induce cleaning behaviour by a predator, giving the prey time to escape.

Figure 4 – Harvestman is a type of arachnid. It looks like a spider but actually isn’t. They produce a chemical that induces allergies in predators, thus sparing the Harvestman from death.

# ADHESION – While some insects rely on its chemical weaponry to repel a predator, some others use something entirely unique to pin down a prey to the exact spot. Kind of like a superglue, but several times stronger. And stickier! Some insects throw sticky compounds that harden like glue to incapacitate an attacker. The predator is pinned down and simply cannot move. Like stuck in a quicksand and slowly dying a painful death.

Figure 5 – The Giant Golden Orb Weaver Spider builds one of the most technically intricate webs in the entire spider kingdom and it’s super sticky!

# PAIN OR DISCOMFORT – When you are blessed with deathly chemicals, why not use it to ensure your safety? Well, that’s exactly what insects who does have this arsenal might thing. The whole point of having the chemicals is to cause pain and discomfort to the predator. When the prey stings/bites the predators with its chemicals, it might as well be in pain for several hours, if not dead.

Figure 6 – Wasps have their inherent stinger in the back which can cause great pain if stung.



Swallowtail butterflies are some of the world’s most beautiful butterflies. Spread over every continent on earth except Antarctica and housing over 550 species, the Swallowtails are a true sight to behold. As with every butterflies, they undergo series of transformations from its caterpillar stage to ultimately form the butterfly itself. The caterpillar stage is the one where it has to feed voraciously on plant leaves to gather up enough energy for transformation process later. Not surprisingly, it is also the most vulnerable stage in its life cycle and often prone to predator attacks.

Figure 7 – The caterpillar of Swallowtail Butterfly. They are extremely vulnerable at this stage. So, they use a chemical for their defense that is stinky and provides protection from predators.

They cannot fly away and save themselves as they have yet no wings. But they have something in their arsenal that deters predators. When the caterpillar is disturbed or feels threatened, eversible glands called OSMETERIA, located just behind the head, release a repellent volatile which are chemically either Terpenes or Aliphatic Acids/esters, by rearing up and waves its body back and forth which wards off invaders. This chemical is extremely stinky and for good reason, the predator leaves the caterpillar alone.

Figure 8 – The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.(Papilio glaucus)
  • THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND:- The Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar intentionally feeds on plants that are known to produce toxic chemicals. Taking the example of The P. glaucus caterpillar. It feeds on several plants including the Wild Cherry Bark. (Prunus serotina) This plant has the cardiac glycoside called PRUNASIN, a glucoside of R- Mandelonitrile. It is hydrolysed in the caterpillar to form Benzaldehyde and Hydrogen Cyanide. This Hydrogen Cyanide leads to poisoning of the predator trying to eat the caterpillar.
Figure 9 – The chemical structure of Prunasin.
Figure 10 – The chemical reaction of Prunasin. Hydrogen Cyanide is formed which, if ingested, is toxic to the predators.

BOMBARDIER BEETLE (Brachinus spp.)

If you thought the butterfly is an easy way out, have a look at the Bombardier beetle. The Bombardier Beetle is a worldwide species and has over 500 members in its family. True to its name, the beetle is equipped with a terrifying cannon of its own in its rear end.

Figure 11 – The tank of the insect kingdom – infamous Bombardier Beetle.

When threatened, the beetle will position its rear end of the body to the predator and literally blasts a toxic cocktail of chemicals, with a popping sound, which are mixed in a special chamber in the beetle. This boiling, noxious, pungent spray that can repel even the most daring of predators. The chemical itself is 100˚C and cause intense chemical burns in the predator.

Figure 12 – The Bombardier Beetle in action.
  • THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND:- In the bombardier’s abdomen is a chamber that holds a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and chemicals called hydroquinones. When the beetle feels threatened, this chamber empties into another reaction chamber that contains catalysts to kick off the explosion. Here, the hydrogen peroxide rapidly decomposes into oxygen and boiling water, while the hydroquinones oxidize into benzoquinones–highly irritating chemicals that have been known to stain the skin of human handlers, a yellowish brown for up to three weeks.
Figure 13 – The structure of Benzoquinone – the main element behind the beetle’s explosive cannon.
  • This mix explodes out of the beetle, not as a single stream, but as a volley of rapid-fire blasts. The consequent chemical burn incapacitates smaller attackers like ants and larger enemies like amphibians.Benzoquinones react with skin and nervous system violently. It causes initial excitation of the nerves and then rigid paralysis, if injected in large amounts.

You’ve got 100˚C temperature, you’ve got a chemical burn, the steam comes off like a smoke, and then also the reaction kind of hisses.

~ Entomologist Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institute.

VELVET WORM (Oroperipatus spp.) –

One of the few creatures to have remained the same since 500 Million years, the Velvet Worm or Onychophora, is a family that has nearly a 180 species distributed all around the tropics. The name itself gives a first-hand impression of the worm’s appearance. Smooth, velvety with a waterproof skin, the Velvet Worm has their bodies covered with Papillae which are essentially tiny protrusions with bristles sensitive to touch and smell and makes their skin water repellent. With 13-43 pairs of feet, each feet has hooked claw made up of Chitin, a type.of protein. It is used by the worm to walk on uneven terrain with ease.

Figure 14 – The Velvet Worm.

Don’t let the appearance of Velvet Worm fool you. These worms have a unique chemical arsenal which makes it a time tested mean killing machine, one of the reasons how this cold blooded assassin has been around the block for so long. The Velvet Worm is an ambush predator and hunts other small invertebrates at night. They subdue their prey by squirting a sticky, instant hardening slime from a pair of glands called oral tubes. After the prey is ensnared, the velvet worm bites into it, injecting digestive saliva that helps liquefy the insides for easier snacking.

Figure 15 – The Velvet Worm has two glands on the side of his head called oral tubes from which it spits out its sticky glue.
  • THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND:- The slime is a complex mixture of large protein molecules and fatty acids. They combine to form tiny globules. The protein and fat are produced separately and outside the gland cells, the nanoglobules create the thread forming adhesive properties. The slime is 90% water and 10% adhesive proteins, which have a tensile stiffness similar to Teflon, in composition. As the water evaporates quickly, these proteins start to tangle and form tight chemical bonds. As the prey struggles to break free, the proteins become springier, stickier and harder by the second. After the prey is trapped, the worm bites and injects its digestive saliva which makes the insides of the target into liquid soup, which is then sucked up by the worm.
Video 1 – An animation showing how the Velvet Worm traps its prey.

MALAYSIAN EXPLODING ANT (Colobopsis saundersi)

High in the tree tops of Borneo, there is an ant that houses a deadly secret. On the outside, it’s just an inconspicuous, brownish-red ant. It lacks large mandibles, cannot sting, and generally seems like easy pickings for any predator with a taste of ant meat.

Figure 16 – The Malaysian Exploding Ant – The masters of Suicide.

But when these ants feel threatened, they raise up their rumps as a warning. If the attacker still doesn’t back off, the ants perform something that’s so unique that it isn’t found anywhere in the ant kingdom. It commits suicide. And it does so, by exploding itself. When they explode they flex so hard that their abdomen bursts. In doing so, the ants unleash a secretion that is bright yellow, sticky, and toxic. This lethal yellow goo has a distinct and not unpleasant smell that’s strangely reminiscent of curry. By tearing themselves apart, the ants sacrifice themselves to protect the rest of the colony.

Figure 17 – The green, thick fluid is the ultimate chemical weapon that the ant deploys against its predators. But not before it has blown itself up.
  • THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND:- The species produce mixtures of polyacetate-derived aromatics, including hydroxyacetophenones, which display pH-dependent color changes, and aliphatic hydrocarbons and alcohols. The cause of the irritants is because of the presence of compounds like m-cresol and Resorcinol.
Figure 18 – Resorcinol is the chemical behind the ant’s irritant chemical. It is toxic to predators and hence one ant blows itself up for the protection of the colony as a whole.
  • The yellow colour that is seen after explosion is because of the phenolic ketones like 2,4- dihydroxyacetophenone, 2,4,6-trihydroxyacetophenone and 2-methyl-5,7- dihydroxychromone. The bright red colour of the ant, which itself serves as a warning for predators (called Aposematism), is because of the fact that these compounds even change colour, according to the pH of the surroundings.
Figure 19 – The structure of 2,4,6 Trihydroxyacetophenone, the main chemical behind the red warning colouration of the ant – a sort of signal for a predator to back off.

SPITTING SPIDER (Scytodes thoracica) –

Most spiders build webs for catching their prey. Some build trapdoors and some even don’t build anything like that. But the strangest of them all is a spider that has a terrifying weapon. A weapon that is so effective and dead accurate in its precision that they have been dubbed as “Nature’s strangest hunters.” Meet the Spitting Spider. Belonging to a family of Scytodidae and having over 239 species all across the globe, the Spitting Spiders don’t simply wait for the prey to collide with their webs. They have their own stash of armaments right with them, ready to lock, load and fire.

Figure 20 – The Spitting Spider. It doesn’t build a web like the other spiders. Instead, it spits them. And they are dead accurate for killing a prey.

With 6 eyes instead of the usual 8 and a characteristic “Slow walking behaviour”, the Spitting Spider is a classic “Track and Lure” predator. Efficient, deadly and a master of chemical warfare.
When ready, the spitting spider will raise its fangs and vibrate it at 1800 times per second and eject a sticky concoction of liquid silk, mixed with venom, which immediately congeals upon contact. Spitting spiders use alternating fangs to eject two zigzagging strands of silk, which overlap to form a neat and super-strong net that pins its prey in place. The attack takes just 1/700th of a second to complete. The spider will then approach its prey. After ensnaring its prey, the spitting spider will inject a dose of venom to paralyse it and then corrosive saliva to liquefy its insides. It will then suck this out through several bite holes in the body.

Figure 21 – The ZigZag pattern of the Spider Web that it throws at a prey to pin it down.
  • THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND:- Surprisingly, less is known about the chemical composition of Spitting Spider silk. Transmision Electron Microscopy of the venom gland (producing both silk and venom) reveals a mass of closely packed fibrils in water solution constituting, together, a liquid crystalline material. The other substance occupying the Venom gland’s volume is a viscous gluey substance responsible for the spit’s stickiness.
Video 2 – The Spitting Spider in action. It has no problem taking down a highly venomous Tree Scorpion, which is itself a highly successful predator.
  • Although the exact composition is yet to be known, it is presumed to be a solution of glycoproteins, neurotransmitter-like compounds, and free Amino Acids. The basic silk structure is comprised of Fibroin protein. Fibroin itself is a combination of Spidroin 1 and Spidroin 2 proteins. The Spidroin protein consists of 4-9 Alanine Amino Acid in a block, arranged in a β Block. The elasticity of the silk is attributed to Glycine which the silk is rich in. The venom of Spitting Spider is neurotoxic in nature, which essentially shuts down the nervous system of the prey by causing paralysis and ultimately, death.
Figure 22 – The Chemical Structure of the Fibroin protein present in tbe Spider silk.
Figure 23 – The proteins of Spidroin are arranged in a cylindrical shape called B- Block.


Although the insects are, without a doubt, masters of chemical warfare, there are several other animals which employ several defensive mechanisms to ensure their survival. Although it is not restricted to chemicals specifically, yet the defensive mechanisms is enough to put us in awe.
Take the case of Spanish Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl), for example. Found in Morocco, this lizard like creature (It’s an amphibian), has a unique defence mechanism that it resorts to, when it feels threatened. It will push its ribs through sides of its body. As the sharp bones pierce its own skin, it produces a toxin (a milky alkaloid), which it secretes through the newly opened pore in its skin.

Figure 24 – The Spanish Ribbed Newt. Note the yellow dots. This is where the ribs are pushed out from the newt’s body so that the toxin can ooze out.

When the predator tries to eat it, the newt injects its stinging toxin, via its protruding spear shaped ribs, into the mouth of the predator. The newt itself has an enhanced immune system which makes it immune to its own toxin and heals the pores too. It is form of self-mutilation which actually saves the newt from certain death.

Figure 25 – The Arrows mark the places where the ribs form a spine like structure to deter predators.

Let’s take another example. This time in the oceans. The Sea Cucumber (Actinopyga echinites). As you can probably imagine, it literally looks like a cucumber on the sea floor. Innocent as it may seem, the sea cucumber has a unique defence mechanism which makes it a top candidate of predators’ “avoid-at-all-cost” list.

Figure 26 – The Sea Cucumber. It may look funny and innocent but it’s chemical tactics are way above any normal conscience.

The sea cucumber is equipped with a potent toxin that is both hemotoxic (destroys Red Blood cells) and neurotoxic (destroys nervous system) called Holothurin which kills. But it’s not the toxin that makes them absolutely unique. They engage in a process called Evisceration. Here, the sticky tubules and all the other organs of the organism itself are expelled through the posterior end at the predator. It entangles them in a deadly hug and then it injects the toxin into the predator, killing it instantly.

Figure 27 – An ethereal picture of the Sea Cucumber.
Figure 28 – The chemical structure of Holothurin toxin from the Sea Cucumber. It is both a hemotoxic and Neurotoxic and can easily cause death to the predators of the Sea Cucumber.


Charles Darwin once remarked, “Natural Sciences are all about fascinating causality.” In the natural world, it is either eat or be eaten. You can be a predator in one second and a prey in the very next. It, thus, comes as a no surprise that animals have been endowed with superpowers that can put any human imagination to shame. Quite evidently, scientists are carrying out research to put these natural arsenals for the good of mankind. Spider silk, for example, is being tested to manufacture high quality Kevlar bulletproof jackets. Snake Venom is being tested as a potent painkiller.

Figure 29 – It is estimated that 1.28 million species of insects remain to be discovered. Who knows what other weapons and answers they hold!

New species are being discovered every day and it is evident that several amazing creatures and their unique lifecycle still remains to be explored and discovered. We never know what the future is like but what here’s what we do know for sure – it is Mother Nature, the master creator, herself who holds the key to humanity’s future. A future that is one with her.

In the footsteps of the Giants…

– The story of Britain’s Jurassic Coast.

(An incredible journey through 187 Million years of Earth’s History)

INTRODUCTION“England’s greatest Fossil Hunter.”
The year was 1811.
A young girl was walking along the shoreline between the towns of Exmouth and Studland in United Kingdom. Suddenly, she tripped upon something and fell on the ground. When she managed to get up, she saw something that piqued up her interest almost immediately. It looked like a bone, poking from the ground. When she managed to unearth the piece of bone, she gasped at the enormous size and immediately realized that she has stumbled upon something big.
What the girl eventually unearthed was the first complete skeleton of a “sea monster” that at first was thought to be an enormous crocodile. Upon further examination, the 5.2-meter-long, dolphin-like creature was named Ichthyosaurus, or “fish lizard.” Eleven years later, in 1823, the girl made a second major discovery: the first nearly complete fossil of Plesiosaurus giganteus, a marine reptile with a long, curving neck, paddle-like flippers and a relatively small head.

Figure – A 1863 illustration of Icthyosaur and Plesiosaur – The two apex predators of the seas in the Jurassic era.

She was Mary Anning. Born in Lyme Regis in 1799, Anning overcame her low social status, lack of formal education and poverty to become one of England’s greatest fossil hunters.
In her book, “Jurassic Mary,” author Patricia Pierce narrates how, as a child, Anning accompanied her father, a carpenter, on coastal walks in search of fossils he could sell to supplement his meagre income. After her father’s death in 1810, Anning continued to walk the shoreline near Lyme Regis, where frequent landslides and harsh winter storms would often expose new fossils. It was here Anning went on to discover several incredible fossils in her entire lifetime which basically laid the foundations of the science of modern Palaeontology in England.
She became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America, and was consulted on issues of anatomy as well as about collecting fossils.

Figure 1 – Mary Anning and her dog, Tray,1842. Anning was undoubtedly England’s greatest Fossil hunter.

“…the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

~ Charles Dickens, 1865.

The place where Anning discovered the fossil came to be known as the Jurassic Coast, one of Earth’s greatest natural wonders.

Figure 2 – The Map of the famous Jurassic Coast.

Situated along the undulating shoreline between the towns of Exmouth in East Devon and Studland in West Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is renowned for the nearly continuous 185-million-year record of Earth’s history exposed in its sensational sea cliffs. These vibrant sedimentary rocks record one of the world’s best stratigraphic sequences from the Mesozoic Era, which lasted from 252 million to 66 million years ago and was distinguished by a rapid diversification of life as well as several major extinctions. At different stages during this vast timespan, the area where the coastline now extends has been a desert, a tropical sea, an ancient forest, and a lush swamp. All these times and environments have been recorded in different rock layers.

Figure 3 – The step by step formation of The Jurassic Coast.

Our Earth has been through several stages of biological and geological evolution to come to the state we see today. Scientists refer to this scale as Geologic Time scale which has the following periods –
✓ PALAEOZOIC ERA = From 544 MYA to 245 MYA.
✓ MESOZOIC ERA = From 245 MYA to 65 MYA.
✓ CENOZOIC ERA = From 65 MYA to Present.


Figure 4 – The Geologic Time Spiral.

1) The Palaeozoic Era has been subdivided into –
CAMBRIAN = 544 – 485 MYA. Evolution of shells and many major groups of animals that still exist today.
ORDOVICIAN = 485 – 419 MYA. Evolution of snails, algae.
SILURIAN = 419 – 410 MYA. Evolution of first fish, spiders and centipedes.
DEVONIAN = 410 – 360 MYA. Evolution of amphibians. Diversification of fishes.
CARBONIFEROUS = 360 – 290 MYA. Evolution of insects and oxygen rich atmosphere.
PERMIAN = 290 – 245 MYA. Evolution of deserts.

Figure 5 – Artist’s impression of the oceans in the Palaeozoic Era.
Figure 6 – Some of the actual fossils of the Palaeozoic era.
Figure 7 – The actual fossil of a Trilobite, one of the dominant creatures that ruled the seas in the Ordovician period.

2) The Mesozoic Era has been subdivided into –
TRIASSIC = 245 – 200 MYA. All the land masses of Earth were lumped together into one super-continent called Pangaea. The landscape was arid and most of Pangaea was covered by deserts.

Figure 8 – The Super Continent – Pangea. The ocean surrounding it was Tethys. Late Triassic Period.
Figure 9 – The Nothosaurus – One of the earliest sea monsters of the Cretaceous period.

The red rocks exposed in the cliffs of East Devon formed in deserts here between 252 and 201 million years ago, during the Triassic Period. Fossils from these rocks are rare.

Figure 10 – The red sandstones of the Jurassic Coast.

JURASSIC = 200 -145 MYA. The age of giant reptiles and dinosaurs.

Figure 11 – The Jurassic Period was the one when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Figure 12 – The Jurassic landscape.
Figure 13- The Megalosaurus was an efficient predator of the Jurassic era.
Figure 14 – The Brachiosaurus – The gentle giant. One of the largest herbivores ever to roam earth.

At the start of the Jurassic Period sea levels rose. The desert that had existed here during the Triassic Period was transformed into a tropical sea.
The rich marine ecosystems supported a huge variety of animals from lobsters and starfish to sharks, Ichthyosaurs and even Pliosaurs, the mega-predators of the Jurassic oceans.
Grey clays, yellow sandstones and golden lime stones form the cliffs in West Dorset. These rocks were laid down in shallow seas during the beginning and middle of the Jurassic Period, between 200 and 164 million years ago. They are a globally renowned source of fossils including ammonites, fish and giant marine reptiles.
The coast around Weymouth and Portland exposes rocks that formed towards the end of the Jurassic Period, between 164 and 145 million years ago. One of the very last rocks to form here in the Jurassic was the Portland Limestone, famous around the world as a highly desirable building stone.

Figure 15 – The white Portland Limestone of the Jurassic Coast, a highly desirable building stone used extensively today.

CRETACEOUS145 – 65 MYA. The end of dinosaurs and the emergence of flowering plants.

Figure 16- Cretaceous was the period when the dinosaurs became extinct and the climate of the planet underwent a drastic change.
Figure 17 – The Spinosaurus was the terror of the land during the Cretaceous period.
Figure 18 – The GigantosaurusMeasuring a gigantic 50 feet, it was the largest land predator that ever lived on Earth.

Marked by low sea levels and coastal forests and swamps. It ended with the great Chalk sea when sea levels were 200m higher than they are today. Along the dramatic Purbeck coastline the rocks of the Cretaceous period are revealed – limestones from swamps and lagoons, sands and grits from rivers and shallow seas and the iconic white Chalk, the last rock to be laid down during the Mesozoic Era. Together they record 80 million years of history, the time between 145 and 65 million years ago.

Figure 19 – The Cretaceous period was the time of formation of the so called Fossil Forest, containing hundreds of fossils of plants from swamps. Note here the big mounds of Gymnosperm plants.

3) The Cenozoic Era has been divided into –
TERTIARY65 – 1.8 MYA. The rise of mammals and recovery of life after the mass extinction of dinosaurs, by an asteroid. A key site for fossils of this era is Messel Pit in Germany.
QUATERNARY1.8 MYA – PRESENT. The rise of human beings or Homo sapiens. Ice ages mark this period.

Figure 20- The Tertiary Period saw the rise of Woolly Mammoths and the two horned Woolly Rhinoceros.
Figure 21 – The earliest humans such as the Homo floresiensis arrived in the Quaternary Period.

Towards the end of the Jurassic Period, sea levels emerged and a number of islands emerged. Forests of giant cypress and ferns flourished before being flooded under a shallow salt water lagoon. Thick blankets of algae grew across the forest floor and around the base of trees. These are preserved today in what is known as the Fossil Forest, most easily viewed from a ledge to the east of Lulworth, and comprising the most complete record of a Jurassic Forest in the world. The site would have been home to lush swamps populated by fearsome dinosaurs. A wealth of Cretaceous fossils have been found in the Purbeck Beds including dinosaur footprints and the microscopic teeth of mammals.
Jurassic Coast has been the home to several incredible fossils. Some of them are –
a) LOBSTERS – They don’t just make dinner, they also make incredible fossils. Their hard shells preserves them for a long time, almost perfectly.

Figure 22- Lobsters have been perfectly preserved in Jurassic Coast, thanks to their incredibly tough outer shells.

b) STARFISHES – Their delicate fossils look almost identical to their modern counterparts. Generally they come from rocks that formed in shallow seas.

Figure 23- A wonderful specimen of Sea Urchin found in the Jurassic Coast.

c) FISHES – Sharks and other marine creatures have been perfectly preserved in the Jurassic Coast. They help us understand the ancestry of modern fishes alive today.

Figure 24 – A perfectly preserved fish specimen from Jurassic Coast.

d) MAMMALS – Some of the rarest fossils on the Jurassic Coast come from ancient mammals. We only find mammal fossils here from the middle of the Jurassic Period and the beginning of the Cretaceous period and they are generally just tiny teeth!

Figure 25 – A portion of a tooth of Stereognathus (A mammal like creature) from Jurassic Coast.

e) SEA SHELLS – Molluscs and brachiopods include some of the most common fossils like clams, sea shells and belemnites and also some of the most beautiful like sea-snails, nautilus and ammonites. Generally they are the remains of marine creatures and so are only found here in Jurassic and Cretaceous aged rocks.

Figure 26 – Promicrocerus planicosta, a type of shell found perfectly preserved in Jurassic Coast.

f) PLANTS – Flowering plants didn’t appear until early in the Cretaceous period, so most of the fossilised plants from the Jurassic Coast are conifers, cycads, tree ferns and horsetails.

Figure 27 – Plant wood preserved in Jurassic Coast.

g) DINOSAURS – The Jurassic Coast is one of the most important sources of Jurassic reptile fossils in the world, including ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, giant pliosaurs and even a unique dinosaur called Scelidosaurus. Along with these creatures there are giant amphibians from the Triassic period and pterosaurs, crocodiles and dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, all coming from different parts of the coast.

Figure 28 – An Icthyosaur skull preserved found in the Jurassic Coast.

h) TRACE FOSSILS – Burrows, tracks and trails are probably the most common fossils on the Jurassic Coast. They can be used to help reconstruct seabed habitats and even provide evidence of the recovery of marine ecosystems after the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period. Dinosaur tracks are quite common in certain rock layers.

Figure 29 – Dinosaur footprints in Jurassic Coast.

If you thought that Jurassic coast is only famous for its incredible fossils, you are sadly mistaken. The area boasts of pristine beaches and unique geographical features, found nowhere else in the world.
1] CHESIL BEACH – Beaches are, naturally, a feature of the region, and none are more dramatic than the world famous Chesil Beach. One of the finest examples of a barrier beach in the world, Chesil Beach’s seventeen miles of pebbles and shingle, which reach a height of fifteen meters near the Portland end, have resisted thousands of years of Atlantic storms and given rise to continuing debate over why the stones increase in size as they move east. Geographers have yet to find a theory of the origin of Chesil Beach that explains all of its attributes.

Figure 30 – A stretch of the beautiful Chesil Beach in summer.

2] LULWORTH COVE & DURDLE DOOR – Perhaps the most famous coastal landform on the Jurassic Coast is Lulworth Cove, which demonstrates how the sea has acted on rocks of differing resistance over time. In this case the near-perfect cove has been formed by a stream breaching the outer band of resistant limestone and thus allowing the sea to enter and hollow out the softer clays behind until at the back of the bay chalk forms a resistant cliff. Half a mile to the west of Lulworth is Durdle Door, a near-perfect coastal limestone arch, formed by the corrosive action of the sea on the limestone.

Figure 31 – The Lulworth Cove.
Figure 32 – Durdle Door. Note the arch shape of the rock.

3] OLD HARRY ROCKS – Jurassic Coast is incomplete without the pale cliffs of Old Harry Rocks which have been formed from the remains of microscopic algae that thrived in the ocean that covered this region, during the late cretaceous period. It is also the home to several rare species of butterflies including the Adonis Blue and Chalk Hill Blue.

Figure 33 – The serene Old Harry Rocks. Note the white colour due to centuries of Algae deposition.
Figure 34 – The Adonis Blue butterfly or Polyommatus bellargus, one of the rarest species of butterfly in the world and found in Old Harry Rocks.

Today, the Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protected by many independent organisations like the Jurassic Coast Trust. It is easily accessible from London and people make Jurassic Coast a popular holiday destination. Whether you want to hunt for fossils, visit a museum or simply take in the stunning scenery on a good walk, you’ll find there is plenty of things to do at Jurassic Coast, whatever the time of the year. There is no doubt that Jurassic Coast is one of the many natural wonders of the world and played a pivotal role in laying down the science of Palaeontology.

The next fossil at Jurassic Coast awaits your arrival!

Who knows it might be you the next time making a stunning discovery of a fossil of some unknown giant!


The Story of Tanzanite.

(The rarest gemstone on Earth)


The year was 1967.

Exactly a century before, in 1867, diamond had been discovered in the gravels near the Orange River in Kimberley, South Africa. The significant discovery heralded the beginning of the diamond industry that brought the entire African continent to the forefront of the gemstone industry.

Tanzania, a small country to the north of South Africa, was still light years away from such limelight but everything changed on one morning of July, 1967.
Imagine being the person discovering a gemstone rarer than diamonds. What a story would that make!

Picture 1 – The rarest gem on Earth The incredible TANZANITE.

Masai herdsmen were tending their cattle in the hills of Tanzania, not long after a lightning strike set the surrounding grasslands on fire. The fire had burnt the grasslands and brown stones and rocks littered the landscape, which was quite normal. But Ali Juuyawatu, one of the herdsman, noticed a blue glow to some of the rocks. He took the rocks to a local amateur gemmologist, Manuel D’ Souza, who thought he had a trove of sapphires in his hands.

Picture 2 – Manuel D’ Souza was the gemmologist who first identified Tanzanite from Juuyawatu.

After he completed his identification procedures, it was discovered that the stones were, in fact, rare zoisite crystals. Unknowingly to him and entirely by chance, Juuyawatu had struck something that was far rarer than diamond. He had discovered tanzanite in the hills of northern Tanzania near the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. It was to bring Tanzania to the forefront of Gemmology.

Picture 3 – The Masai tribe of Tanzania.


When De Souza first saw the crystal, he thought at first to be a sapphire. But in reality, it was completely different. It was, however, an American jewellery company, Tiffany & Co. that was responsible for bringing Tanzanite before the world. There is a story which says that when Henry Platt, the President of Tiffany & Co. first saw the gemstone, he declared it to be, “…the most beautiful gemstone to be discovered in 2000 years”.

Picture 4 – Henry Platt, the President of Tiffany & Co. and Audrey Hepburn, the famous Hollywood actress.

He, however, had a problem with the name, Blue Zoisite, as he felt that it sounded more like “Suicide.” And thus, felt would have no appeal to the ladies! So he re-christened it as Tanzanite, after the country in which it had been discovered and ordered his company to promote this gorgeous new gemstone.

One year after the discovery of this exquisite gemstone, Tiffany & Co. launched the Blue-purple Hue gemstone in the US market, which instantly became a sensation among people. The Tanzanite was the most sought after stone in the US, surpassing even diamond in its popularity, almost overnight.

Picture 5 – Tiffany & Co. , one of USA’s most prominent jewellery company.


About 600 million years ago, tectonic movements in the African region, created fractures and folds. Areas of low density were formed at the base due to this folding movements. From the depths of the Kilimanjaro, rose a fluid that was rich in Hydrocarbons and contained Vanadium. Substances in the fluid were concentrated and localized in these elbows. Calcium, Aluminium, Silicon, Oxygen, Hydrogen and Vanadium had organized together and formed brown crystals of Tanzanite. At a high temperature of 600˚C, this Vanadium was transformed. It was this very transformation that gave Tanzanite its brilliant blue colour.

Video – The formation of Tanzanite.


Tanzanite is known as a blue gemstone but it is so much more than that. Its colours vary from light almost sky blue all the way up to a deep midnight blue. Add to this blue some flashes of red and touches of violet and purple and you can see why this gemstone really catches the eye. What makes it stand apart from every other gem, other than it’s brilliance, is that it is found and mined commercially only in one area in the entire world: the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, which is where it gets its name.

Picture 6 – Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak of Africa and the ONLY home of Tanzanite.

One of the most incredible properties of Tanzanite’s appearance is its property of Pleochroism.
In simple words, tilt Tanzanite and you will see three distinct colours in three crystal directions! American Mineralogist described the gem’s pleochroic colours as `red-violet, deep blue, and yellow green.’ Some specimens of Tanzanite can be a distinct blue when viewed from one direction, and vary from violet to red when viewed from other directions.

Picture 7 – PLEOCHROISM in Tanzanite – The property of showing three different colours when viewed from three different directions.

Physical Properties of Tanzanite

Mineralogy – Tanzanite is a blue colour-variety gemstone of the mineral Zoisite.
✓ Colour – Blue to bluish purple to bluish violet. Strong Pleochroism .Tanzanite is seen in a wide range of colour saturations and tones that make it an alternative stone for aquamarine, blue topaz, and sapphire.
Lustre – Vitreous
✓ Transparency – Transparent. Often of high clarity.
Cleavage/Fracture – Perfect cleavage in one direction.
✓ Mohs’ Hardness – 6.5
✓ Chemical Composition – Ca2Al3(SiO4)3(OH)
Crystal System – Orthorhombic
✓ Uses – Gemstone

Picture 8 – In it’s native form, Tanzanite occurs as an Orthorhombic crystal.


  • CUT – Cut is an important factor that can increase weight unnecessarily whilst impacting negatively on the beauty and value of the piece. Every gemstone has their unique cut and Tanzanite is no different. The most preferred cuts are the Cushion and the Oval Cuts.
  • CLARITY – Any gemstones with obvious flaws or even fractures would be devalued considerably. Eye-visible inclusions decrease the value of tanzanite, particularly in lighter coloured stones. So, it is important the stone is perfectly clear when looked at.
  • CARAT – Tanzanite colour is less saturated in smaller sizes. Gems must be above five carats in size to have fine colour.
  • COLOUR – Deep saturated violet blue or blue violet are the most valuable tanzanite colours. Paler hues are more commonly found and is less expensive.
Picture 9 – Tanzanite is best when it’s in the cushion and the oval cut.
Picture 10 – Clearer than a crystal, the Tanzanite has an amazing clarity without any inclusions or impurities.
Picture 11 – The famous “L’ HEURE BLEU”. Weighing a gigantic 725 carats, it is the world’s largest carved Tanzanite.
Picture 12 – The various colors of Tanzanite. Deeper the blue colour, the more expensive it is.

“The jewel is concentrated brilliancy, the quintessence of light.”



Tanzanite gemstones have only been mined for a few decades and are only sourced from just one small location in Tanzania, not too far from Mount Kilimanjaro in the Merelani Hills of the Lelatema Mountain range, a small strip of land barely 4km in length. They are exquisitely beautiful, nearly mined out and are 1000 times rarer than diamonds.

Picture 13 – The location of the Tanzanite mines.

Based on an independent study conducted in 2012, it is estimated if Tanzanite is mined at the current rate of 2.7 Million carats per year, the Tanzanite stock will be exhausted within 30 years.

In 1967, when the first tanzanite had been faceted and prepared for the market, jewellers and the public knew nothing of the gem. They had never seen its blue colour or even heard its name. In just 50 years, the popularity of Tanzanite skyrocketed, surpassing even Diamond. There cannot be any doubt that Tanzanite will continue to fascinate mankind with its unusual, captivating aura. Its deep blue with the slightly purple tinge is one of the most extravagant colours known to man and personifies immaculate, yet unconventional elegance.


The rarest gem on Earth has an unparalleled beauty and is almost divine in its brilliance. No wonder, it is called The Gift of the Kilimanjaro.



(The miracle drug that got overshadowed by Penicillin)


It was early 1947.

A doctor made the following notes in the chart of a twenty-one-year-old woman who had an advanced stage of tuberculosis of the lung. Treatment had begun on November 20, 1944, and lasted four months, during which she received five courses of a new drug. She improved markedly and two years later, her case was closed as tuberculosis. She subsequently married and had three children.

The woman was ‘Patricia T’, one of the first person ever to receive the treatment of a recently discovered miracle drug by the name of Streptomycin. The product of a purely accidental discovery by two exceptional scientists that was to change the course of medical history forever.

The duo behind this incredible drug was Selman Waksman, a brilliant Ukrainian soil microbiologist and his equally brilliant PhD student at Rutgers University, Albert Schatz. Waksman was the first person to observe that many disease causing organisms of humans, such as typhoid bacillus, disappeared quickly when they were deposited in soil. He reasoned that this must be due to the activity of soil microbes that are harmful to the pathogens, a process he named as ANTIBIOSIS, forming the basis of the word ‘Antibiotics’ that we use today.

Fig 1 – Selman Waksman and his PhD student, Albert Schatz – The minds behind Streptomycin.


Tuberculosis [TB], also called “The White Plague” [The patients turned pale because of the disease], was a rising problem in the world, responsible for the deaths of 25% human beings throughout the 1600s-1800s in Europe.

In the times before Waksman, there was a widely prevalent view that killing the TB bacteria by chemicals was hopeless. Many had tried in the past, always ending in failure. The organism, unlike other bacteria, had a fibrous, waxy, external coat that was thought to retard penetration of any drug. Not surprisingly, when Waksman’s own son, Byron, presented him with an opportunity to search for a drug that could kill the TB bacteria, he blatantly said, “The time has not yet come.”

Fig 2 – A TB patient.
Fig 3 – The Tuberculosis Bacterium. Notice the rod shape of the bacterium.


Schatz, however, was a tenacious young man. He was more concerned with successfully completing his PhD thesis than some “life-changing” discovery. He desperately wanted to find a soil organism that might kill various pathogenic organisms, especially those that were resistant to penicillin, like the TB bacteria. He screened for thousands of samples, day and night. But all his efforts were in vain.

“I generally began my work between five and six in the morning and continued until midnight, or even later. I was testing everything I could find.” recalled Schatz

(From ‘Streptomycin – arrogance and anger’ by Steve Ainsworth, The Pharmaceutical Journal, 25 February 2006.)

With no apparent success in his hand, Schatz, in a desperate attempt, even requested his fellow graduate students give him their cultures before discarding them, in the hope of using those cultures to widen his search from sources, other than the soil.

Fig 4 – The Actinomyces family of bacteria, from which Streptomycin was ultimately derived.


Entirely by chance, Doris Jones, another student, passed her culture plate [where the bacterial colonies are grown], which she thought was useless for her experiments, through a window from her lab to Schatz’s lab. Curiously, the culture of this mould [a colony of bacteria] originally had come from a throat swab of a sick chicken and not from the soil. Schatz observed a mould from the large actinomyces [a rod shaped bacteria] family, from Doris’ culture plate, that tested positive in reducing the population of TB Bacteria in his experimental system.

This mould was found to be Streptomyces griseus and the chemical compound that it released was named Streptomycin, responsible for killing the Tuberculosis bacteria. After searching for several months and testing several thousand samples from the soil, Schatz’s efforts had finally paid off. Schatz immediately reported his findings to Waksman who systematically conducted several experiments on the efficiency of the compound. When it was clear that Streptomycin was the definitive answer to the TB problem, they reported their path-breaking discovery in a three page scientific article and the entire scientific community was stunned.

Fig 5 – The culture plate of Actinomyces.


The mass production of Streptomycin started after the successful trial on a number of guinea pigs. An avalanche of publicity greeted their announcement and hundreds of desperate patients and their families from all over the world sought the new miracle drug. Streptomycin and the drugs that followed had a profound impact on the treatment of tuberculosis. Mortality rates plunged to less than 1 percent and as it became evident that Waksman’s discovery would take the world by storm, TIME magazine ran the story of Streptomycin and Waksman on their November edition, in 1949. Waksman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1952.

Fig 6 – The TIME Magazine honors the incredible discovery of Streptomycin, November 1949.

Finally, it seemed that Tuberculosis, a.k.a the Great White Plague, one of the most dreaded of diseases in the history of humankind, had been conquered.

Although several other drugs stronger than Streptomycin [Isoniazid and Rifampicin leading the forefront], are in the market today, battling the ever stronger TB bacillus, thanks to their Multidrug resistance ability, it is, without any doubt, the brilliant chance discovery of Selman Waksman and Albert Schatz that armed mankind with the first weapon against the perpetual war against Tuberculosis.

All because of the chance discovery of two brilliant minds who missed one opportunity but not the second.

The two greatest antibiotics in medical history had everything different. But had two things in common – sheer luck and accident.

And God said,”Let there be light!” ~ Genesis 1:3

In the beginning, there was nothing. Well, technically the word “beginning” had no meaning because time itself wasn’t present. In the beginning, there was no time. No matter. No plants. No animals. No humans. No space. It was a state of complete nothingness.

What was present before the universe began is still a matter of mystery to the astrophysicists. Recent scientific research says that our universe went on from one state to the other, just like water passes on from its liquid state to the solid state (ice) or gaseous. (Vapour).

What we do know for sure is that there was an explosion. An explosion that is way beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. Scientists name it as Big Bang. It was an explosion of space itself and the beginning of Time.

Fig 1 – And God said, ” Let there be light!”

According to the standard model, the universe was born during a period of inflation that began about 13.8 billion years ago. Like a rapidly expanding balloon, it swelled from a size smaller than an electron to nearly its current size within a tiny fraction of a second.

Fig 2 – The Universe began with an unimaginable explosion, called as Big Bang from a point of Singularity.

Initially, the universe had only pure energy. Some of this energy congealed into particles, which assembled into light atoms like hydrogen and helium. These atoms clumped first into galaxies, then stars and finally planets, like our earth. The process took several million years.

The Big Bang theory was developed by Russian Born Physicist George Gamow in the 1950s. His theory takes us in many steps –


The first 10^-35 seconds saw suden burst of inflation plus dramatic drop in pressure and temperature and a return of temperature as inflation came to a stop.


Matter was created spontaneously in such high temperatures from energy, a mass of exotic particles.


Every matter has its opposite partner. Matter too is no exception. A tiny imbalance of more antimatter may be due to the decay of X Boson particle which produces slightly more matter.


The particles and antiparticles collided. Almost everything was once again converted back to energy as before. A tiny excess of matter was left behind. Temperature dropped.


Every matter has nuclei and every nuclei has protons and neutrons, which formed stable bonds. Only the lightest element formed first, so the young universe was dominated by Hydrogen nuclei and Helium nuclei.


Light particles bounced back and forth and created a fog like structure and prevented particles of matter from joining together.


3,80,000 years after the Big Bang, temperature dropped to a point where atoms could remain stable. Electrons joined to nuclei and formed the first atoms of the first elements. Fog cleared and photons (light particles) traveled in straight lines.


Gradually, everything we know about the Universe, the stars, planets, asteroids, comets and everything else began to form.

Fig 3 – A brief Timeline of our Universe.

The next big question that arises is, “how do you know there was a big bang? Is there any residue left from the big explosion today?”

The answer is Yes. Precisely answered by two American astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, in 1964. They discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation or CMB which in simplest terms, is the heat left behind after the big bang explosion happened. They published a map of the observable Universe and concluded that the CMB is the definite proof that the universe started with a bang.

Fig 4 – The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation Map of Penzias and Wilson. Pink areas are hotter and denser. Blue areas are cooler and less dense. These temperature fluctuations reveal the state of the universe at the instant it came into existence.

The Universe is everything – space, time and all the matter and energy they contain, from the largest stars to the smallest subatomic particles. And it is so vast that it is almost impossible to grasp completely in one go.

Fig 5 – George Gamow – The man who first proposed the theory of the Big Bang as the origin of the observable Universe.