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The Science & Technology Weekly – 5 June – 12 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. On wings of fire: Solar plane completes U.S. trip
  2. UN plans to end AIDS threat by 2030
  3. Space-faring nations to pool resources for Earth
  4. Scientists turn CO2 into rock to combat climate change
  5. Time to update science textbooks: New names proposed for 4 elements
  6. Precision drugs can widen options for cancer care 
  7. J&K militants use app to evade Army snooping 
  8. IIT Madras researchers dissolve silver using glucose water 
  9. Warming Indian Ocean impacts rainfall 
  10. A ‘sweet’ option to fix broken bones
  11. Centre plans alternative to Bt cotton 
  12. Pushed into hysterectomies 

[1] On wings of fire: Solar plane completes U.S. trip

Issue

  • The solar-powered airplane on a globe-circling voyage that began more than a year ago in the United Arab Emirates reached a milestone, completing a trip across the United States with a Statue of Liberty fly-by before landing in New York.

Why it is on globe circling voyage?

  • By using only solar power for circumnavigation it intends to bring attention to clean technologies.

About Solar Impulse 2

  • The Solar Impulse 2’s wings, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries.
  • The plane runs on stored energy at night. Ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, although that can double during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Background

  • The trip began in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China and Japan.
  • The plane had a five—day trip from Japan to Hawaii, where the crew was forced to stay in Oahu for nine months after the plane’s battery system sustained heat damage on its trip from Japan.

[2] UN plans to end AIDS threat by 2030

Issue

  • Speaking at a high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on , Health Minister J.P. Nadda reiterated India’s commitment to fast track progress on ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Analysis

  • At the meeting, member states adopted a new political declaration, including time-bound global targets to be reached over the next five years and end the epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
  • The UNGA meeting brings together heads of state and government, people living with HIV (PLHIVs), and donor organisations, to reiterate their commitments made in the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS and to set the world on course to end the epidemic by 2030 within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Strategy Proposed by India

  • Mr. Nadda has proposed strategy to end AIDS. He stated that India was committed to enforcing TRIPS flexibilities to make drugs affordable. The low cost generic medicines produced by the Indian pharmaceutical industry have been instrumental in scaling up access to HIV treatment not only in India but in other parts of the world. More than 80% of the antiretroviral drugs used globally are supplied by the Indian pharmaceutical industry.
  • Adoption of the fast track target — reaching 90% of all people in need with HIV treatment — committed to maintain the TRIPS flexibilities; creating an inclusive society with programmes that work towards restoring the respect and dignity of individuals, and lastly, global solidarity.
  • Prevention must be our primary goal. Prevention must not be forgotten. We need to increase investments. This is the time for developed countries to do more, not less.

Suggestion by UN Secretary -General

  • The world has achieved Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 — which was to halt and reverse the AIDS epidemic by 2015. However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that an action taken now could avert an estimated 17.6 million new infections and 11 million premature deaths between 2016 and 2030.
  • We must make a radical change within the next five years, if we are to achieve that goal. That requires commitment at every level: from the global health infrastructure, to all Member States, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations, to the United Nations Security Council that has dealt with AIDS as a humanitarian issue and a threat to human and national security.
  • The Secretary-General called on the international community to reinforce and expand on the “unique, multi-sector, multi-actor approach” of UNAIDS, and to ensure that the annual target of $26 billion in funding, including $13 billion for the next three years, is met.

[3] Space-faring nations to pool resources for Earth

Issue

 

  • In an attempt to fight climate change, 60 space-faring nations have for the first time collectively agreed to engage their satellites, coordinate their methods and data to monitor human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • This was agreed at a meeting occurred at the invitation of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and French space agency Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES).

Centralisation of data

  • The world’s space agencies decided to establish “an independent, international system” to centralise data from their Earth-observing satellites through the ‘New Delhi Declaration’ that officially came into effect on May 16, 2016.
  • New Delhi Declaration- The New Delhi Declaration officially came into effect Monday 16 May, translating the intent of the world’s space agencies to support the Paris Agreement reached at the COP21 climate conference. This declaration is a first, having achieved consensus across the global space community. More than 60 nations have signed up to work together to establish an international, independent system for estimating and curbing global greenhouse gas emissions based on accepted data.
  • The statement noted that without satellites, the reality of global warming would not have been recognised and the subsequent historic Paris agreement at the United Nations headquarters in New York on April 22 this year would not have been signed.
  • The key to effectively implementing the agreement lies in the ability to verify that nations are fulfilling their commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which can only be accomplished by satellites.
  • The goal now will be to inter-calibrate these satellite data so that they can be combined and compared over time. Earth observation satellites provide a vital means of obtaining measurements of the climate system from a global perspective.

[4] Scientists turn CO2 into rock to combat climate change

Issue

  • Scientists have turned carbon dioxide into stone in a matter of months by pumping it deep underground, offering a revolutionary new way of storing the greenhouse gas to tackle climate change.

Analysis

  • The pioneering experiment in Iceland mixed CO emissions with water and pumped it hundreds of metres underground into volcanic basalt rock — where it rapidly turned into a solid.
  • We need to deal with rising carbon emissions. This is the ultimate permanent storage — turn them back to stone.
  • Carbon dioxide is a key factor in global warming, and experts have long called for innovative “carbon capture and storage” solutions.
  • Scientists had feared it could take hundreds or even thousands of years for the mildly acidic liquid to solidify. But 95 per cent of the injected mixture — which they had tagged with tracer chemicals in order to check it didn’t leak out — had became chalky white stone within two years.
  • In the future, we could think of using this for power plants in places where there’s a lot of basalt — and there are many such places.
  • A 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without carbon sequestration technology, adequately limiting global warming could prove impossible.

Previous attempts

  • Previous attempts to inject CO into sandstone soils or deep saline aquifers have struggled, as they relied on capping rocks to hold the gas down — triggering fears it could eventually leak.

[5] Time to update science textbooks: New names proposed for 4 elements

Issue

  • The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the gatekeeper to the periodic table, has announced the proposed names for elements 113, 115, 117 and 118: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson.
  • Analysis
  • The new names for the four superheavy, radioactive elements will replace the seventh row’s uninspired placeholders of ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium.
  • IUPAC officially recognized the elements in December and gave naming rights to teams of scientists from the United States, Russia and Japan, who made the discoveries.
  • Nihonium, symbol Nh, was discovered by scientists at the Riken institute in Japan. They are the first from Asia to earn the right to propose an addition to the table.

Nihonium

  • The name comes from “Nihon”, which is one of the two Japanese words for Japan. The other word, “Nippon”, made its way to versions of the periodic table in 1908 as element 43, nipponium, but was never officially accepted.

Other Elements

  • A trio of research institutions — the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), in Russia; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee; and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California — were given the right to propose names for elements 115 and 117.
  • Moscovium, symbol Mc, is named for Moscow, which is near the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Tennessine, symbol Ts, gets its name from the state of Tennessee, where Oak Ridge National Laboratory is. After californium, it is the second element named for one of the 50 states.
  • Naming rights for element 118 belonged to the same Russian researchers and the Americans from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They selected Oganesson, symbol Og, for Yuri Oganessian, who helped discover several superheavy elements.
  • If accepted, it will be only the second time that an element is named for a living person. The first was element 106, seaborgium, named for Glenn T. Seaborg.

[6] Precision drugs can widen options for cancer care

Issue

  • Using a patient’s individual tumour biomarkers to determine the best treatment can improve success rates, studies showed.

Analysis

  • Unlike chemotherapy and radiation therapy, targeted medicine allows to preserve healthy cells.
  • This approach, especially immunotherapy, which boosts the immune system to destroy tumour cells — is revolutionising oncology, according to the study released at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
  • With genomic testing of tumours becoming increasingly available, such studies will help more patients benefit from precision medicine approaches.

[7] J&K militants use app to evade Army snooping

Issue

  • A new app, “Calculator”, found on the smartphones of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, helps them remain in touch with their handlers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) without being detected by the Army’s technical surveillance.

Analysis

  • With the number of militants infiltrating from PoK showing a steep rise this year, the Army found that terrorists carried smartphones with no messages stored in the device.
  • The Army’s signal unit, which relies mainly on technical intercepts like usage of wireless and mobile phones by infiltrating terror groups to track them, is trying hard, along with National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and other agencies, to crack this mechanism used by the terrorists.
  • The technology was first used by a U.S.-based company during Hurricane Katrina so that the affected residents could remain in touch with each other.
  • The agencies came to know that the terror outfit had modified it and created the application “Calculator”, which can be downloaded on smartphones attached to the off-air network created specifically for them.

Technology involved

  • The technology is based on the concept of ‘cognitive digital radio’ that enables users to turn their smartphones into peer-to-peer, off-grid communication tools.
  • The network generates its own signal through proprietary ad hoc networking protocols and automatically coordinates with other units within range which enables users to send and get text messages, share their GPS locations on offline maps regardless of access to WiFi or cellular service.

[8] IIT Madras researchers dissolve silver using glucose water

Issue

  • In a finding that may have many implications, IIT Madras researchers have found that silver can slowly dissolve in water if heated to about 70 degree C in the presence of glucose.

Analysis

  • As much as 0.5 weight per cent of a silver plate can get dissolved in glucose water within a week.
  • Like gold, silver is a noble metal and is therefore supposed to be inert (resistant to chemical corrosion, especially to chemical reagents used in daily life).
  • However, Department of Chemistry, IIT Madras has found that silver atoms gets released from a plate in a simple, two-step mechanism — silver ions are first formed at the metal surface, which later form specific metal complexes with sugar.
  • Atoms are highly reactive on the surface of the metal as they less connected and less bound and this allows the atoms to be released
  • Metal dissolution leads to corrosion of the plate and nanoscale pits get formed on the plate. Further dissolution occurs at the pits and as a result the pits get bigger, making a polished silvery metal appear black. Under favourable conditions, up to 10 per cent of the metal can get dissolved in 90 days.

Effect on Health

  • Dissolution of silver by glucose directly from the metallic state gets enhanced in the presence of ions such as carbonate and phosphates. The study found that enhancement of silver dissolution in glucose was about 10 and 7 times in the presence of 50 ppm of phosphate and carbonate respectively. But in the absence of glucose, phosphate and carbonate were found to have no significant effect on silver dissolution.
  • We store water in vessels made of different metals. We don’t know what happens to the water. When we cook food, especially using lots of spices that are reactive, we may be consuming some metal too. We are damaging the health of our population by using poor chemistry vessels.
  • Chemistry of sugars at metal surfaces can have tremendous impact on our population if ingredients of steel, copper and brass can dissolve in water and get accumulated in our food. The extent to which dissolution occurs is much larger than the permissible limits of many metals in water.
  • While the presence of certain metals at specific concentrations might be beneficial, it can be extremely toxic in the case of others.

Other impact of the study

  • An offshoot of the study is that the method can be used for developing novel and green extraction processes for noble metals. In general, toxic chemicals such as cyanide are used for extracting silver.
  • The newly developed method can extract silver effectively by a simple and green method. It does not require any harmful chemicals or high temperature or expensive set-up.

[9] Warming Indian Ocean impacts rainfall

Issue

  • The rapid warming of the Indian Ocean is taking away rain from the central-eastern Indian region, researchers have concluded.

Analysis

  • Over the decades, there has been significant decrease in the annual rainfall over central Indian region. The analysis of the historical rainfall data of the past 60 years starting with 1951 revealed that the decrease was to the tune of 1.49 mm per year.
  • Mostly, it’s the Monsoon Depression (MD) that is formed over the Bay of Bengal that brings rain to the region. Climatological analysis revealed that there has been a significant “reduction in the mid-tropospheric relative humidity,” one of climate factors that influences rainfall, which led to the decrease in the number of mons0on depression.
  • High sea surface temperature, presence of low level cyclonic vorticity over the Bay of Bengal, and weak vertical wind shear are considered to be the other essential parameters responsible for the formation and intensification of monsoon depression.
  • The rapid warming of the surface of the western equatorial Indian Ocean has in turn reduced the advection of moisture into the Bay of Bengal. The reduced advection of moisture has adversely impacted the genesis/intensification of monsoon depressions.

[10] A ‘sweet’ option to fix broken bones

Issue

  • A team of scientists from Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has developed an alternative: a bone reconstruction method similar to sutures.
  • Suture- a stitch or row of stitches holding together the edges of a wound or surgical incision.

Analysis

  • Suture marks on injuries fade away with time. There was an era, however, when these stitches would have to be cut after the injury healed. But for injuries to the bone, there are only two options: a cast for minor fractures, and implants like metal rods for more serious injuries.

How it is done

  • What they are using is an unlikely ingredient: maltitol, derived from maltose, a sweetening agent found in most sugar-free foods such as ice-creams.
  • Maltitol is combined with other components to make long chain-like structures that become plastic. This is then used to fill in the bone gap caused by fracture, instead of the traditional rod.
  • But maltitol also reacts to water. And as the body is primarily made of water, the bonds start breaking slowly, over a course of time.  In other words, once the bone grows back, the structure simply disintegrates.
  • This material would be a huge advantage over existing ones, such as metal rods, which do not allow growth of the bone.
  • Alternatives to maltitol were too soft to be used for bone reconstruction. The advantage of using maltitol to make the scaffold is that drugs can then be injected into it to hasten healing. The other benefit of using maltitol is fewer side-effects.

[11] Centre plans alternative to Bt cotton

Issue

  • The Union government is working to develop a suite of Bt cotton genes that can be integrated into traditional varieties and be made available to farmers as a viable alternative to the current technology, which is largely sourced from Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd. (MMB).

Analysis

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has for many years unsuccessfully tried to develop Bt cotton, which contains insecticidal genes sourced from a soil bacterium and targeted at key cotton pests. Now this project would be led by  the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
  • There were already several genes available in various labs and stages of development, but the aim was that India not be dependent on foreign technology.
  • Controversy over Bt cotton
  • While Bt cotton has always been controversial, it is now in the throes of a new controversy with the Agriculture Ministry mooting a change in the way seed companies and seed-technology companies such as the MMB share royalty, technology and determine the price as which farmers buy cotton seed.
  • Different arms of government are split over whether seed tech companies have the right to, or are obliged to license, their technology to seed companies on request. More clarity is expected to emerge on this issue within the next few months.

Slew of technologies

  • Institutes such the National Botanical Research Institute, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources will be among the key agencies for identifying and developing new genes.
  • Cotton is the only genetically-modified seed that’s legally allowed in India. Gm food crops such as brinjal and mustard, which are in advanced stages of regulatory clearances, are yet to become available to farmers due to stringent opposition by anti-GM activist groups.

Challenges

  • Translating genes into commercial products is a huge challenge because historically multinational companies’ research budgets far outweighed that of Indian research agencies.

[12] Pushed into hysterectomies

Issue

  • Hysterectomies have been reported from rural pockets of about half a dozen States — Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, especially in the last six years.
  • Hysterectomy- a surgical operation to remove all or part of the womb.

Reason

  • Poor illiterate women are prescribed the procedure for white discharge, irregular menstrual cycles, even abdominal pain.
  • Their willingness to undergo the procedure stems from the fear of cancer (which doctors convince them of) to the belief that their uteruses are of no use once they have had children.
  • Loss of daily wages during menstruation only makes the prospect more appealing.

Effect of this

  • A number of young women are being pushed to menopause and to a life of battling health conditions such as weakness, aching joints and hormonal imbalance — all of which they can barely afford to treat.
  • Calling the practice a “human rights violation”, Chittorgarh-based Narendra Gupta of Prayas moved a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2012. Most States have been made respondents in the case, he says. “The total number of hysterectomies in India is lower than in the West. But it is alarming that 30-32 is the average age group of women undergoing the procedure here, while in the West post-menopausal hysterectomy is common

Connecting the dots

  • In 2010, the Andhra Pradesh government dropped hysterectomies from Aarogyasri, the State insurance scheme, after finding that it was only fuelling what was already an established medical malpractice in various parts of the State.
  • The same year, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Gujarat also noticed a high number of hysterectomy claims under its community health insurance scheme in Ahmedabad district.
  • Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) is fuelling this practice but performing hysterectomies is a moneymaking racket even without insurance.

Way Forward

  • Hysterectomies cause physical and emotional damage to women. There is a need for regulation like in the case of the PNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act) that doesn’t allow an ultrasound without proper documentation.
  • At present private hospitals are hand in glove with diagnostic centres that would do a sonography, give the report in an hour, and conclude that the uterus is about to become cancerous.
  • In the absence of composite national data, regulation is difficult. But for the first time, the National Family Health Survey-4 has included a question on hysterectomies. This fact sheet, yet to be published, will be the first comprehensive data on the worrying trend.
  • These numbers will push the government to set up guidelines for private hospitals, and tighten norms of insurance schemes.
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  • CM_GoGo

    Indian ocean warming which weakens over monsoon is known as – indian ocean Dipole .

  • Thanks, the spellings have been rectified.

  • abhi

    Check the blue picture of Science and Technology weekly… spelling of science is Wrong

  • nimesh kumar

    Thanku sir

  • Vladimir

    Awesome

  • kingka2

    Solar Impulse 2 had a stop in India as well.

  • kingka2

    Thank you FORUMIAS.