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The Science & Technology Weekly – 20 June – 26 June, 2016

science-and-technlogy

Starting 4th April, 2016 we have a started a new initiative to post Science and Technology Compilation of all articles coming in leading news daily on a weekly basis. We look forward to simplify the preparation of aspirants by easing out their task in one of the most vague topics in UPSC preparation. The compilation will make aspirants aware with day to day happenings in the field of science and technology as well list out basics in brief.
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  1. ISRO gears up to test scramjet engine
  2. Human trial of Zika vaccine to start soon
  3. A new theory on how climate impacts rates of violence
  4. NASA, ISRO join hands to develop data satellite
  5. New drugs fail to crack resistance
  6. At a stroke, PSLV C-34 lobs 20 satellites into orbit
  7. Infant mortality rate: Target set by Millennium Development Goals not met
  8. Not all is bright and shining with LED light: Study
  9. Trekkers must take back trash from forests
  10. New Chinese system named world’s top supercomputer

 

[1] ISRO gears up to test scramjet engine

Issue

  • ISRO is gearing up to test a scramjet engine based on air-breathing propulsion.

When will it be tested?

  • The test flight of the indigenously-developed scramjet engine is scheduled to take place from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota sometime in July.

What is scramjet engine?

  • A scramjet (supersonic combusting ramjet) is a variant of a ramjet airbreathing jet engine in which combustion takes place in supersonic airflow. As in ramjets, a scramjet relies on high vehicle speed to forcefully compress the incoming air before combustion (hence ramjet), but a ramjet decelerates the air to subsonic velocities before combustion, while airflow in a scramjet is supersonic throughout the entire engine. This allows the scramjet to operate efficiently at extremely high speeds.

What is technical challenge in it?

  • Maintaining combustion in hypersonic conditions poses technical challenges because the fuel has to be ignited within milliseconds.

Advantages of it?

  • Space agencies across the world are focussing on the development of scramjet technology because it contributes to smaller launch vehicles with more payload capacity and promises cheaper access to outer space.
  • While conventional rocket engines need to carry both fuel and oxidiser on board for combustion to produce thrust, scramjets obtain oxygen from the atmosphere by compressing the incoming air before combustion at hypersonic speed. The scramjet engine can also liquefy the oxygen and store it on board.

 

[2] Human trial of Zika vaccine to start soon

Issue

  • The first Phase-1 human clinical trial of a vaccine for the Zika virus is set to begin.

Background

  • The DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) developed by the U.S-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science, South Korea, has already been tested on animals and found to elicit “robust” antibody and T cell responses.

 

Analysis

  • It is a remarkable achievement to be in a position to carry out clinical trials on humans as the time taken to develop the experimental vaccine has been shrunk significantly.
  • Though the current Zika outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015, the impetus and urgency to develop a vaccine came about only after February 1, 2016 when the WHO declared Zika as a global public health emergency of international concern.

Lessons from Ebola

  • A major lesson learnt from the Ebola epidemic is the overwhelming need to start vaccine trials quickly. Large-scale trials of the vaccine suffered as they began about a year after the outbreak was first reported and just as the number of people infected was reducing.

Challenges in it

  • Zika vaccine development faces a huge hurdle that the Ebola vaccine did not.
  • The candidate Zika vaccine has to be tested on pregnant women as some babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy suffer from microcephaly. Hence, testing a candidate drug/vaccine on pregnant women or women in the child-bearing age can take place only if the vaccine has been found to be very safe in men and non-pregnant women.

 

[3] A new theory on how climate impacts rates of violence

Issue

  • A new study explains why some violent crime rates are higher near the equator than other parts of the world.

Findings of the study

  • The combination of hot climates and less variation in seasonal temperatures leads to a faster life strategy, less focus on the future and lower self-control.
  • The researchers call the new model ‘CLimate Aggression, and Self-control in Humans’ (CLASH).
  • The General Aggression Model suggests hot temperatures make people uncomfortable and irritated, which make them more aggressive. But that doesn’t explain more extreme acts, such as murder. Another explanation known as Routine Activity Theory is that people are outdoors and interacting more with others when weather is warm, which leads to more opportunities for conflict.
  • The CLASH model states that it is not just hotter temperatures that lead to more violence — it is also climates that have less seasonal variation in temperature.
  • Less variation in temperature, combined with heat, brings some measure of consistency to daily life. That means there is less need to plan for large swings between warm and cold weather. The result is a faster life strategy that is not as concerned about the future and leads to less need for self-control
  • People living in these climates are oriented to the present rather than the future and have a fast life strategy — they do things now. With a faster life strategy and an orientation toward the present, people have to practice less self-control.
  • That can lead people to react more quickly with aggression and sometimes violence.

 

[4] NASA, ISRO join hands to develop data satellite

Issue

  • NASA and ISRO are working together to develop a synthetic aperture radar satellite to observe and measure ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapses and natural hazards.

What will be the use of data?

  • The data gathered from this mission will help build climate resilience and potentially save lives.
  • Climate change ranks among the foremost problems for the world along with terrorism, poverty, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction thus it was also a national security issue as it could possibly damage infrastructure, cause famines, migrations and disease outbreaks.

 

[5] New drugs fail to crack resistance

Issue

  • New drugs fail to crack resistance

Impact of this?

  • The challenge of tackling rising drug-resistant infections in India has just become more difficult. Two new drug combinations, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their efficacy in treating infections resistant to even third-generation antibiotics — carbapenems — have been found to have limited efficacy in India.

Analysis

  • These drugs  are already approved by the FDA based on their study in America that found the drugs to be effective. But that may not apply to India where it will have limited effect. If the drugs work on 10 cases in the US, they will work on three or four cases in India.
  • Resistance to antibiotics has been rising in India, mainly because of their indiscriminate use to treat even routine infections. Earlier this year, experts had said that India’s mounting drug-resistant infections could claim a million lives by 2050.
  • That India’s drug-resistance problem is a global concern became evident late last year when the U.S. government’s Global Health Security Agenda pumped in $8 million to map anti-microbial resistance and build capacities to tackle it better.

 

[6] At a stroke, PSLV C-34 lobs 20 satellites into orbit

Issue

  • In one go, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched 20 satellites. They include two student satellites from Indian universities and 17 of four foreign countries.

Analysis

  • Cartosat-2 which is launched with it would be used for Earth observation. According to ISRO, the imagery sent by the satellite will be useful for cartographic applications, urban and rural applications, coastal land use and regulation and utility management like road networking.
  • ISRO, in 2008, launched 10 satellites in a single rocket. On April 28, 2008, PSLV-C9 launched a Remote Sensing satellite CARTOSAT-2A along with Indian Mini Satellite (IMS-1) and eight nanosatellites.

What are the two student satellite?

  • Sathyabamasat (Sathyabama University, Chennai): The satellite aims to collect data on green house gases.
  • Swayam (College of Engineering, Pune): The satellite aims to provide point to point messaging services to the HAM (amateur radio) community.

 

[7] Infant mortality rate: Target set by Millennium Development Goals not met

Issue

  • Sample Registration System (SRS) Bulletin 2014, published by the Registrar General of India and was released earlier this month shows that none of the ten big states (for which data is available) have been able to reduce the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) as per the target set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Goals and achievement of MDG

  • Under MDG 4, one of the targets is to reduce Infant Mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. At the national level, it translates into a goal of reducing IMR from 88 per thousand live births in 1990 to 29 in 2015. IMR of India as of 2013 was 40 per thousand live births and it’s unlikely that India will achieve the target. The national average for 2014 is awaited.

Performance of states

  • Among the 23 states and UTs for which data has been released, six Union Territories – Delhi, Puducherry, Daman & Diu, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli – and four small North Eastern states –Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur, Tripura – have IMR less than the national target of 29 per thousand live births.
  • Madhya Pradesh continues to be the worst among the states followed by Odisha, Assam and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, none of the ten big states for which data has been released are even close to the national target.
  • From 1990 to 2014, among states where IMR is greater than 40 – the national average as of 2013 – the slowest pace of reduction in IMR was found in Meghalaya (15 per cent), Assam (35 per cent), Bihar (44 per cent) and Rajasthan (45 per cent). As per MDG, the target was to reduce IMR by 66 per cent by 2015.

Other findings

  • A closer look at the data shows that girls share a higher burden of infant deaths. Apart from Assam, Nagaland and Daman & Diu, female IMR is higher in other states (for which data was released).
  • A report by his organisation in 2010 states that child mortality in the poorest quintile is almost three times higher than in the richest quintile in India.
  • Poor nutrition contributes to almost 45% of under-five mortality. It also especially increases the risk of mortality from neonatal infections, pneumonia, diarrhea – all of which are major contributors to infant mortality.
  • A major underlying driver of poor outcomes for mothers and children is early pregnancy, something that has not received enough attention in programs and policies.

 

[8] Not all is bright and shining with LED light: Study

Issue

  • Excessive blue light emitted by light emitting diodes (LED) can adversely impact human health, according to a report recently released by the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health. The report looked at LED street lighting on U.S. roadways.

Findings

  • While LED lighting has several advantages, the excessive blue light it emits can be harmful. The human eye perceives the large amount of blue light emitted by some LEDs as white. Blue light directly affects sleep by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which mediates the sleep-wake cycle in humans.
  • Compared with conventional street lighting, the blue-rich white LED street lighting is five times more disruptive to sleep cycle, the report said. Although more research is needed, evidence available suggests a long-term increase in the risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity caused by chronic sleep disruption due to exposure to blue light.
  • The excessive blue wavelength contributes to glare effects as a result of larger scattering in the human eye.
  • Contrary to the popular notion that bright LED lighting increases road safety, the report says discomfort and disability glare caused by unshielded, bright LED lighting negatively impacts visual acuity, thus “decreasing safety and creating road hazards”.

 

[9] Trekkers must take back trash from forests

Issue

  • As part of a Swachh Bharat Mission drive, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to do away with garbage bins in 10 prominent wildlife parks and make visitors take their litter home.

Why this is done?

  • This was done because people dropped litter around garbage bins, inviting animals and thus aggravating the man-animal conflict.
  • The park compelled the visitors to arrange for jute bags to collect their trash.
  • Government is drawing up a national standard operating procedure. Laws of tiger conservation measures already allow these provisions to be implemented.

 

[10] New Chinese system named world’s top supercomputer

Issue

  • A new Chinese computer system that can make 93 quadrillions calculations per second has claimed the top spot on the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
  • The computer called Sunway TaihuLight is built entirely using processors designed and made in China.

Displaces Tianhe-2

  • The supercomputer installed at the National Supercomputing Centre in China displaced Tianhe-2, an Intel-based Chinese supercomputer that has claimed the top 1 spot on the past six TOP500 lists. The closely watched list is issued twice a year.

Titan now third

  • Titan, a Cray X40 system installed at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is now at the third position.
  • Sequoia, an IBM BlueGene/Q system installed at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Fujitsu’s K computer installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Japan are at the fourth and fifth positions respectively.

Here, a first

  • The latest list marks the first time since the inception of the TOP500 that the U.S. is not home to the largest number of systems.
  • With a surge in industrial and research installations registered over the last few years, China leads with 167 systems and the U.S. is second with 165.
  • China also leads the performance category, thanks to the top two systems on the list.
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  • itzmeprasanna

    Thanks for this summary. I found it very helpful.