January 2015

NOFN: National Optical Fibre Network.
DTTI: Defence Trade and Technology Initiative.

DSC Prize 2015
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri has won the DSC Prize for South Asian fiction, the third straight year a writer of Indian origin has carried off the annual $50,000 prize that recognises the region’s top literary talent. Lahiri was best-known author on a shortlist of five writers with her entry “The Lowland”, a tale of Indian brothers bound by tragedy.

Ashok Chakra 2015
India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashoka Chakra, has been given posthumously to two soldiers who died fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir—Major Mukund Varadarajan and Naik Neeraj Kumar.

Major Varadarajan of the army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles died in April 2014, in heavy firing by terrorists who were hiding in a village in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir. The 31-year-old officer managed to kill three terrorists before dying.

Naik Neeraj Kumar Singh, also from Rashtriya Rifles, was killed while he was leading a search operation at Kupwara in Jammu & Kashmir in August 2014. He rescued an injured soldier and shot dead one of the terrorists. He refused to be moved to safety until he fell unconscious.

Padma Awards 2015
President of India has conferment Padma awards to 104 persons, including 20 Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri awardees.  17 of the awardees are women and the list also includes 17 persons from the category of foreigners, NRIs or Persons of Indian origin (PIO) and four posthumous awardees.

Padma award is one of the highest civilian awards of the country. The Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of high order and Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field.

The Padma Vibhushan award has been given to:  BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal,  leading thespians of hindi cinema Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan,  Dr D Veerendra Heggade, Social Worker from Karnataka, Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Swami Rambhadracharya, Prof Malur Ramaswamy Srinivasan, scientist from Tamil Nadu, Kottayan K. Venugopal and Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan.

Among the Padma Bhushan awardees are: Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subhash C. Kashyap, lawyer Harish Salve, former wrestler Satpal and mathematician Prof Manjul Bhargava.

Among the Padma Shree awardees are: Prof Yogesh Kumar Chawla, Director of PGIMER, Chandigarh, Chewang Norphel, who has earned fame in Ladakh by harnessing rivulets which freeze in the winters, lyricist Prasoon Joshi, Hindi film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, badminton ace P.V. Sindhu, Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh, woman hockey player Saba Anjum, economist Bibek Debroy, former Infosys honcho T.V. Mohandas Pai and eye surgeon at AIIMS Prof Yog Raj Sharma.

First new antibiotic discovered in 30 years
For the first time in over 30 years, a new antibiotic has been discovered.  Antibiotics have been the magic bullets for human health for decades but irrational use and mindless popping has made majority of the world’s bugs resistant to them.

Now, in a massive breakthrough at a time when even the World Health Organization has sent out a chilling warning that the world is staring at a post antibiotic era when common infections will no longer have a cure, scientists have created the first new antibiotic in decades—Teixobactin—that can treat many common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, Septicemia and C diff. 

Teixobactin could be available in the next five years.  Testing on mice has already shown that the antibiotic works well at clearing infections, without side-effects.  The team is now concentrating on upscaling production so that it could be tested in humans.

Most antibiotics target bacterial proteins, but bugs can become resistant by evolving new kinds of proteins.  What is unique about the new antibiotic is that it launches a double attack on the building blocks of bacterial cell walls themselves.

The World Health Organization says that a comprehensive study of antibiotic development, covering innovative, small firms, as well as pharma giants, found that only 15 antibiotics of 167 under development had a new mechanism of action with the potential to meet the challenge of multi-drug resistance.

Neutrino project approved
The Union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved setting up of India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) in Bodi West Hills, Tamil Nadu, at an estimated cost of ₹1500 crore. The project will be jointly supported by the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology.

An Inter-Institutional Centre for High Energy Physics (IICHEP) will also be established in Madurai, which is about 110 km from the proposed site of the neutrino observatory. Along with the setting up of the underground laboratory and the IICHEP, the government of India has also approved the construction of a 50,000 tonne magnetised iron calorimeter detector (ICAL) to study the properties of the neutrino, in particular the mass hierarchy among different types of neutrino.

The underground project will comprise a complex of caverns; the main cavern, which will house the current detector, will be 130 meters long, 26 meters wide and 30 meter high. There will be two smaller caverns to be used for setting up experiments for neutrino double detector and dark matters.

The project would put India back on the world map of underground science, a position that was held during second half of the 20th century when Indian scientists had the privilege of working at the world’s deepest underground lab at Kolar Gold Mines.

A pioneer in the field of neutrino science, India was a world leader in 1965. In the mid-1990s, with the closing of the Kolar Gold Fields which was the site of the experiments, experimental neutrino research in India came to a halt, and the INO is expected to revive the lost advantage.

Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are also one of the least understood. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. Because neutrinos are electrically neutral, they are not affected by the electromagnetic forces which act on electrons.

Neutrinos are affected only by a “weak” sub-atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it. If neutrinos have mass, they also interact gravitationally with other massive particles, but gravity is by far the weakest of the four known forces.

Three types of neutrinos are known. Each type or “flavour” of neutrino is related to a charged particle (which gives the corresponding neutrino its name).  Hence, the “electron neutrino” is associated with the electron, and two other neutrinos are associated with heavier versions of the electron called the muon and the tau.

Dawn spacecraft gets close view of Ceres
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has got a close-up view of its target dwarf planet Ceres, obtaining navigational images of more than half of Ceres using its framing camera.

Ceres lies between Mars and Jupiter and is the largest body in the main asteroid belt, with a diameter of 950 km.  Scientists believe that there are large amounts of ice located on Ceres and there might even be an ocean currently being concealed by the surface.  Scientists estimate that if Ceres were composed of 25 percent water, it may have more water than all the fresh water on Earth.

Dawn was originally launched in 2007 with a mission of studying the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.  It first arrived at Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt, in July 2011 and has already successfully completed a 14 month study of the protoplanet, which included more than 30,000 images of Vesta.

Should the mission be a success, Dawn will be the first spacecraft to successfully orbit and study two separate extraterrestrial bodies.  The spacecraft will arrive at Ceres on 6 March 2015, when it will be captured into orbit to begin its study of the dwarf planet.

Microsof HoloLens to help NASA explore Mars
NASA has teamed up with Microsoft to develop a new software that will enable scientists to work on Mars virtually using a wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens. 

Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, the software called OnSight will give researchers a means to plan and, along with the Mars Curiosity rover, conduct science operations on the Red Planet.

OnSight will use real rover data and extend the Curiosity mission’s existing planning tools by creating a 3D simulation of the Martian environment where scientists around the world can meet. Program scientists will be able to examine the rover’s worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.

Until now, rover operations required scientists to examine Mars imagery on a computer screen and make inferences about what they are seeing. But images, even 3D stereo views, lack a natural sense of depth that human vision employs to understand spatial relationships. The OnSight system uses holographic computing to overlay visual information and rover data into the user’s field of view.

Holographic computing blends a view of the physical world with computer-generated imagery to create a hybrid of real and virtual. To view this holographic realm, members of the Curiosity mission team don a Microsoft HoloLens device, which surrounds them with images from the rover’s Martian field site.  They then can stroll around the rocky surface or crouch down to examine rocky outcrops from different angles. The tool provides access to scientists and engineers looking to interact with Mars in a more natural, human way.


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