November 2014

ABBREVIATIONS
ILIA: Indian Language Internet Alliance.
IPDS: Integrated Power Development Scheme.

AWARDS
Breakthrough Prize
In 2014, 12 scientists won the award.  2014 was also the first time that mathematicians were honoured. Five won for work ranging from algebraic geometry to analytic number theory. In future, just one prize a year will go to a mathematician. Six prizes went to researchers in life sciences for discoveries in areas ranging from bacterial immunity to genetic regulation. The physics prize went to a group that showed the expansion of the universe was accelerating, not slowing as assumed.

The winners in 2014 were:
C. David Allis of the Rockefeller University for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their critical roles in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin organization, advancing our understanding of diseases ranging from birth defects to cancer.

Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier University for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Emmanuelle Charpentier of Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umea University for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine.

Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine.

Victor Ambros of the University of Massachusetts Medical School for discovering a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.

Gary Ruvkun of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School for discovering a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.

Simon Donaldson, Stony Brook University and Imperial College London, for the new revolutionary invariants of four-dimensional manifolds and for the study of the relation between stability in algebraic geometry and in global differential geometry, both for bundles and for Fano varieties.

Maxim Kontsevich, Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, for work making a deep impact in a variety of mathematical disciplines, including algebraic geometry, deformation theory, symplectic topology, homological algebra and dynamical systems.

Jacob Lurie, Harvard University, for his work on the foundations of higher category theory and derived algebraic geometry; for the classification of fully extended topological quantum field theories; and for providing a moduli-theoretic interpretation of elliptic cohomology.

Terence Tao, the University of California, Los Angeles, for numerous breakthrough contributions to harmonic analysis, combinatorics, partial differential equations and analytic number theory.

Richard Taylor, Institute for Advanced Study, for numerous breakthrough results in the theory of automorphic forms, including the Taniyama-Weil conjecture, the local Langlands conjecture for general linear groups, and the Sato-Tate conjecture.

Saul Perlmutter, the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Supernova Cosmology Project Team; Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Brian P. Schmidt, Australian National University, and the High-z Supernova Search Team, for the most unexpected discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing as had been long assumed.

Breakthrough Prize was created in 2012 by Russian billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and other tech industry luminaries. Each prize is worth $3 million, almost three times the cash a Nobel Prize winner receives.

Jnanpith Award, 49th
The 49th Jnanpith Award has been given to Hindi poet Kedarnath Singh, for his outstanding contribution towards Indian literature.  He is one of the most prominent modern poets writing Hindi, as also an eminent critic and essayist. He is best known for his poetry collection Akaal Mein Saras.

Along with the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, it is one of the two most prestigious literary honours in India. The award was instituted in 1961.

Infosys Prize 2014
In the Engineering and Computer Science category, Jayant Haritsa, Professor, Supercomputer Education and Research Centre at the Indian Institute of Science, for his contributions to the design and optimisation of database engines.

For Humanities, Shamnad Basheer, Founder and Managing Trustee, Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access, for his analysis of legal issues surrounding pharmaceutical patent injunctions and enforcement.

The Life Sciences category award went to Shubha Tole, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, for her study of the hippocampus and amygdala – centers of learning and memory.

The Mathematical Sciences category prize was awarded to Madhu Sudan, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research New England, for his contributions to probabilistically checkable proofs and error-correcting codes.

For the Physical Sciences, the prize was awarded to Srivari Chandrasekhar, Scientist G, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, for his research on the synthesis of complex molecules from natural sources.

For Social Sciences, Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for her work in development economics, especially work related to India and Africa.

International Children’s Peace Prize, 2014
Indian-American student Neha Gupta has won the Award for her exceptional work to raise money for underprivileged children around the world. Netherlands King Willem-Alexander, former archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (winner of the award in 2013) presented her the award during a ceremony at The Hague, Netherlands.

A first-year Schreyer Honours College scholar in the Eberly College of Science at Pennsylvania State University, Neha was inspired by what she saw during a visit to India with her grandparents, and founded Empower Orphans, an organization designed to support orphaned and abandoned children in India and the US. Her work, which she started at age 9, has grown into a charity that to date has raised over $1 million and has helped more than 25,000 children.

The International Children’s Peace Prize was created by the Amsterdam-based children’s rights organization, KidsRights, and is awarded to a child whose work and actions have made a significant, positive impact in improving children’s rights worldwide. The award is widely accepted as the most prestigious international award a young person can win.

Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, 2014
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been conferred the award in “recognition of its path-breaking achievement, culminating in the Mars orbiter mission, its significant contribution in strengthening international cooperation in peaceful use of outer space”. The award jury also noted the pioneering role played by ISRO in the application of advanced technologies in promoting broad-based and sustainable social and economic development and addressing basic needs of the people, particularly in remote and rural areas of the country.

Aditya Vikram Birla Kala Shikhar Award, 2014
Renowned exponent of the Kathak dance Pandit Birju Maharaj has been conferred the 2014 award. Lata Mangeshkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pandit Ram Narayan, M F Hussain, Habib Tanvir, Gangubai Hangal, Girija Devi are some of the past recipients of the award. The award carries a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh.

Lighthouse Activity Award, 2014
Aaranyak, a Assam-based NGO working for the conservation of nature, has won the United Nations award for its community-based flood early warning system that has benefited 40 villages in flood-prone Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts.

It has won the award jointly with Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The award was declared by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn and will be showcased at a series of special events during the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2014.

BOOKS
‘Final Test : Exit Sachin Tendulkar
The book, written by Dilip D’Souza, makes you relive those magical moments including the anxiety and excitement before and during the last Test match of Sachin Tendulkar. The book as a whole covers every detail of the final test match of the Master and you can keep it as a souvenir once you have read it as all the statistics, scorecard and moments are perfectly captured.

DISCOVERY
Ancient canyon discovered in Tibet
An ancient, deep canyon buried along the Yarlung Tsangpo river in south Tibet has been found. According to a team of researchers from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the China Earthquake Administration, the ancient canyon—thousands of feet deep in places—effectively rules out a popular model used to explain how the massive and picturesque gorges of the Himalayas became so steep and so fast.

After analysing the data, researchers found that at several locations there were sedimentary conglomerates, rounded gravel and larger rocks cemented together—associated with flowing rivers until a depth of 800 metres or so. This suggested that the river once carved deeply into the plateau.

“Combining the depth and age of the paleocanyon with the geometry of the valley, we found that the river existed in this location prior to about three million years ago but at that time, it was not affected by the Himalayas,” explained a researcher. However, as the Indian and Eurasian plates continued to collide and the mountain range pushed northward, it began impinging on the river.

Suddenly, about 2.5 million years ago, a rapidly uplifting section of the mountain range got in the river’s way, damming it and the canyon subsequently filled with sediment.

The new hypothesis rules out a model called tectonic aneurysm that has been around for about 15 years, which suggested that the rapid uplift was triggered by intense river incision.

The team has reported its findings in the journal Science.

The missing link of horse world discovered
Experts have uncovered a fossil from an ancient relative of the animals that lived 54.5 million years ago in what is now India that, they say, is the ‘missing link’ that shows horses and rhinos were once related. The discovery also sheds new light on how India shifted over time.

Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs belong to a biological group, or order, called Perissodactyla. Also known as ‘odd-toed ungulates’, animals in the order have, as their name implies, an uneven number of toes on their hind feet and a distinctive digestive system.

In 1990, two researchers, David Krause and Mary Maas of Stony Brook University, published a paper suggesting that several groups of mammals that appear at the beginning of the Eocene, including primates and odd- and even-toed ungulates, might have evolved in India while it was isolated. Cambaytherium is the first concrete evidence to support that idea.

Working at the edge of a coal mine in Gujarat, India, a team of Johns Hopkins researchers and colleagues have filled in a major gap in science’s understanding of the evolution of a group of animals that includes horses and rhinos. That group likely originated on the sub-continent when it was still an island headed swiftly for collision with Asia.

Though paleontologists had found remains of Perissodactyla from as far back as the beginnings of the Eocene epoch, about 56 million years ago, their earlier evolution remained a mystery, says Ken Rose of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Cambaytheri and other finds from the Gujarat coal mine also provide tantalizing clues about India’s separation from Madagascar, lonely migration, and eventual collision with the continent of Asia as the Earth’s plates shifted.

HEALTH
Dengue vaccine clears clinical trials
A vaccine for dengue has cleared international clinical trials and may be brought to market in 2015, said multinational pharma company Sanofi Pasteur. There is no cure for dengue so far.

The third phase of Sanofi Pasteur’s clinical trial study lasted over two years and its successful results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The third-phase trials, like two earlier ones, were conducted in Latin America and Asia, including India.

The study involved giving healthy children and teens three injections of either the dengue vaccine or a placebo over the span of a year. “Those who received three doses of the vaccine had up to 95.5% protection against severe dengue and 80.3% reduction in risk of hospitalisation,” stated the published study.

The World Health Organization has set a goal to halve the number of dengue deaths by 2020. Each year, an estimated 5 lakh dengue patients, including children, require hospitalization. About 2.5% of the patients die.

Severe dengue (also known as dengue haemorrhagic fever) is a potentially deadly disease that can cause plasma leakage, fluid accumulation, inability to breathe, severe bleeding, and impaired functioning of bodily organs.

PLACES
Catolina
Catalonia is one of the Spain’s richest and most highly industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded. On 9 November 2014, the region voted in a symbolic ballot on whether to break away as an independent State, defying fierce challenges by the Spanish government.  Catalonia’s long-standing yearning for greater autonomy swelled in recent years of economic hardship, sharpened by resistance from Madrid.

Catalonia took a step towards greater autonomy in 2006 when it formally adopted a charter that gave it the status of a ‘nation’.

Catalonia comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain.  With a distinct history stretching back to the early middle ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.

Doha
Doha, capital of Qatar, has been chosen as host city for the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. The fast-growing city alongside the Arabian Gulf will become the first from the Middle East to stage the blue riband event.

PROJECTS
Integrated Power Development Scheme
Moving towards PM Narendra Modi-led government’s objective to provide 24×7 power supply, the Union Cabinet has approved multiple schemes to improve transmission and distribution networks. The Rs 32,600 crore Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) will strengthen the transmission and distribution networks and metering in urban areas and smarten it with information technology.

The Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) is aimed at strengthening sub-transmission and distribution network in the urban areas; metering of distribution transformers /feeders /consumers in the urban areas; IT enablement of distribution sector and strengthening of distribution network.

The scheme will help in reduction in AT&C losses, establishment of IT enabled energy accounting /auditing system, improvement in billed energy based on metered consumption and improvement in collection efficiency.

China launches world’s longest train
In an initiative to build a new silk road linking Asia and Europe though Central Asia, China, on 18 November 2014, launched a cargo train, named “Yixinou”, connecting world’s largest commodity market in Yiwu with the Spanish capital Madrid. The journey marked the longest route taken by a freight train, longer still than Russia’s famed Trans-Siberian Railway.

While container-borne trade still moves mostly by sea, the growing appetite of the Chinese market for European luxury goods means that Eurasian railway freight is catching up.

Eight countries—China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and Spain—are part of the route. The total travel time is 21 days.

SPACE RESEARCH
Philae becomes first spacecraft to land on a comet
On 12 November 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a probe on a comet—a first in space exploration and the climax of a decade-long mission to get samples from what are the remnants of the birth of Earth’s solar system.

The box-shaped 100-kg lander, named Philae, touched down on schedule after a seven-hour descent from spacecraft Rosetta around half a billion kilometers from Earth.  Philae used a harpoon or two to attach itself to the surface to avoid bouncing off into the vastness of space again.

Scientists hope that samples from the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will help show how planets and life are created as the rock and ice that make up the comet preserve organic molecules like a time-capsule.

Comets come from the formation of Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old solar system. Scientists believe they may have brought much of the water in Earth’s oceans.

Rosetta reached the comet, a roughly 3-by-5 km rock discovered in 1969, in August 2014 after a journey of 6.4 billion km that took 10 years, five months and four days. The mission cost close to 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet rather than just flying past to take pictures.

The three-legged lander had to be released at exactly the right time and speed because it cannot be controlled on its descent. On its way down, Philae gathered data and images, which were relayed back to Earth.

Engineers designed the lander not knowing what type of terrain they would find on the comet’s surface. Rosetta had been taking pictures of the comet and collecting samples from its atmosphere as it approaches the sun, showing it is not as smooth as initially hoped, making landing trickier.

The surface was also found to be more dusty than expected, limiting light needed to charge its solar panels and power its instruments once its batteries run out after two and a half days.

Comets – and there are billions of them in the outer regions of our solar system – are debris left over from the formation of solar system, between 4bn and 5bn years ago: they are frozen relics from a bygone age.

Furthermore, there is evidence that millions of impacts by comets, composed of rock and ice, delivered enormous quantities of additional water to the inner planets. Only the Earth retained large amounts of water. So studying the composition of comets significantly increases our understanding of the origins of our planet and our solar system.

Second, comets are known to include organic molecules, and meteorites have been known to contain amino acids, the building blocks of life. More detailed analysis of comets will help answer questions about the origins of life on Earth: could the first living entities on Earth, or their building blocks, have been delivered by extraterrestrial arrivals such as meteorites or comets?

There are other spin-off benefits, such as the development of space and low-energy technology, some of which will eventually find its way into domestic gadgets and be used to benefit humanity, as well as the usual unpredictable benefits of good science.

Mars rover Curiosity discovers first mineral match
Mars rover Curiosity has discovered the first mineral match from the Martian surface. The sample, which was taken from a target called “Confidence Hills”, had more hematite content than any rock or soil sample previously found during the two-year-old mission.

The hole drilled into a mountain yielded the mission’s confirmation of a mineral mapped from orbit. “This connects us with the mineral identifications from orbit which can now help guide our investigations as we climb the slope and test hypotheses derived from the orbital mapping,” said Curiosity project scientists.

The new sample is only partially oxidised and preservation of magnetite and olivine indicates a gradient of oxidation levels.

Zero-gravity 3-D printer installed in ISS
NASA has successfully installed the world’s first zero-gravity 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) to help astronauts experiment with additive manufacturing in microgravity.

The 3D printer has been designed and built by Made In Space, inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) on the ISS.

The goal of the 3D Printing in Zero-G technology demonstration is an experiment to explore the use of additive manufacturing technology as a reliable platform for sustained in-space manufacturing.

The first phase of printing will include, among other things, a series of engineering test coupons which will be returned to Earth for analysis and compared to control samples which were made with the same 3D printer while it was at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, prior to launch.

The science collected from this printer will directly feed into the commercial printer flying up in 2015, which will enable a fast and cost-effective way for people to get hardware to space.

MISCELLANEOUS
World’s most abundant mineral gets a name—Bridgemanite
American geologists have named the earth’s most abundant mineral Bridgmanite. It had hitherto remained nameless as a large enough sample of the mineral, found in the earth’s lower mantle, had not been recovered.

Under the rules of set down by the International Mineralogical Association, a mineral cannot be given a formal name until a specimen has been found and examined first hand.

A group of American geologists were recently able to extract a sample large enough to analyse from a meteorite.

The new name is in honour of Percy Bridgman, a pioneer in the use of high pressure experiments to better understand how many geological formations come about.

Bridgmanite makes up about 70 percent of the earth’s lower mantle and 38 percent of the total volume of the earth. It is made up of high-density magnesium iron silicate.

The lower mantle, which starts at 670 km under the crust, is difficult to access for samples. The researchers looked at a meteorite that had fallen inside Australia in 1879 as a likely candidate for samples, and found what they were looking for.

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