September 2014

ABBREVIATIONS
FPI: Foreign Portfolio Investors.

AWARDS
Boxer Manoj Kumar to get Arjuna Award
Forced to take the legal route after being denied the honour initially, boxer Manoj Kumar has been bestowed the Arjuna Award as the sports ministry finally accepted his nomination.

The controversial recommendation of boxer Jai Bhagwan for the Arjuna Awards had led to Manoj approaching the sports ministry officials, who, he said, had assured him that his name would be added to a list of 15 athletes in a review meeting. But after being snubbed for a second time in the review meeting, Manoj took the legal route and filed a case in the Delhi High Court.

The Ministry admitted in the court that Manoj was initially not considered for the award by the committee as they mistakenly believed that he was involved in a doping case.

Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Awards, 2014
Biological Sciences: Dr. Roop Mallik, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
Chemical Sciences: Dr. Kavirayani Ramakrishna Prasad, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore; Dr. Souvik Maiti, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), New Delhi.
Earth, Atmosphere, Ocean and Planetary Sciences: Dr. Sachchida Nand Tripathi, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur
Engineering Sciences: Dr. S Venkata Mohan, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad; Dr. Soumen Chakrabarti, IIT, Mumbai
Mathematical Sciences: Dr. Kaushal Kumar Verma, IISc, Bangalore
Medical Sciences: Dr. Anurag Agrawal, CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi
Physical Sciences: Dr. Pratap Raychaudhuri, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai; Dr. Sadiqali Abbas Rangwala, Raman Research Institute, Bangalore.

The award is given to recognize outstanding Indian work in science and technology and consists of a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh, a citation and a plaque.
 
Prof Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar (1894-1955) was a well-known scientist and professor of chemistry. He served as the first director-general of CSIR from 1942 to 1954.

CSIR Awards for S&T Innovations for Rural Development, 2013
CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB), Hyderabad, and Directorate of Rice Research, ICAR, Hyderabad, have won the award for development and deployment of an improved Samba Mahsuri rice variety which is bacterial blight resistant, high yielding and possesses fine-grains.

The CSIR Diamond Jubilee Technology Award 2014
Avra Laboratories Pvt. Limited, Hyderabad has been given the award for development and commercialization of Irinotecan, a drug for colorectal cancer.

DEFENCE
INS Sumitra commissioned
INS Sumitra, an indigenously built naval offshore patrol vessel (NOPV), was commissioned into the naval fleet on 3 September 2014. The vessel will give a boost to coastal surveillance and anti-piracy and counter maritime terrorism operations of the Navy. It is the fourth in the series of indigenous NOPV developed for Indian Navy and is the biggest NOPV to be developed at Goa Shipyard.

It also has medium and short range weapons installed, including 76mm guns, Close-in Weapon System (CIWS), electronic support and a communication intelligence system. There is also a helipad to operate one light weight Dhruv helicopter.

ENVIRONMENT
World wildlife population down by half since 1970
According to the 2014 Living Planet Report of World Wildlife Fund, the world populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles fell overall by 52% between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. Humankind’s demands were now 50% more than nature can bear, with trees being felled, groundwater pumped and carbon dioxide emitted faster than Earth can recover.

However, there was still hope if politicians and businesses took the right action to protect nature, the report said.

The report’s finding on the populations of vertebrate wildlife found that the biggest declines were in tropical regions, especially Latin America. The worst decline was among populations of freshwater species, which fell by 76 percent over the four decades to 2010, while marine and terrestrial numbers both fell by 39 percent.

The main reasons for declining populations were the loss of natural habitats, exploitation through hunting or fishing, and climate change.
To gauge the variations between different countries’ environmental impact, the report measured how big an “ecological footprint” each one had and how much productive land and water area, or “biocapacity”, each country accounted for.

Kuwaitis had the biggest ecological footprint, meaning they consume and waste more resources per head than any other nation, the report said, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Many poorer countries—including India, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo—had an ecological footprint that was well within the planet’s ability to absorb their demands.

The report also measured how close the planet is to nine so-called “planetary boundaries”, thresholds of “potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it”.

Three such thresholds have already been crossed—biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels and nitrogen pollution from fertilisers. Two more were in danger of being breached—ocean acidification and phosphorus levels in freshwater.

“Given the pace and scale of change, we can no longer exclude the possibility of reaching critical tipping points that could abruptly and irreversibly change living conditions on Earth,” the report said.

RESEARCH
Scientists successfully communicate brain-to-brain
In a groundbreaking scientific achievement that rivals Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call or Guglielmo Marconi’s first radio broadcast, scientists have successfully achieved brain-to-brain transmission of information between humans.

A team of scientists from Harvard University Medical School and experts from France and Spain managed to send messages from India to France, a distance of roughly 6000 km, without any invasive surgery on the four subjects, aged between 28 and 50.

One subject, the emitter, was hooked up to electrodes and shown words translated into binary, which they entered into a computer by moving a white circle to different parts of the screen with their thoughts, such as the top right corner for 1 and the bottom right for 0.

The code was uploaded and then relayed to the receiver thousands of miles away who was fitted with a device that emits electrical pulses through the receiver’s head via a robotic arm in a series of ‘flashes’ called phosphenes. The flashes were sent to different parts of the receivers’ skulls which allowed them to differentiate between 1s and 0s. The messages were successfully interpreted as ‘Hola’ and ‘Ciao.’

Although this is still the first stage, the breakthrough could open the gateway to a whole new method of communication, making it potentially one of the most exciting scientific developments in recent times. For the time being, the process is prohibitively slow for conversation, but it may be immensely valuable in communication with stroke patients.

Water-based nuclear battery developed
Researchers at the University of Missouri have created a water-based nuclear battery that could be used for many applications such as a reliable energy source in automobiles and also in complicated applications such as space flight.

Researcher Jae W Kwon said that betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates power from radiation, has been studied as an energy source since the 1950s.

The battery uses a radioactive isotope called strontium-90 that boosts electro-chemcial energy in a water-based solution and a nano-structured titanium dioxide electrode (the common element found in sunscreens and UV blockers) with a platinum coating collects and effectively converts energy into electrons.

The research is published in “Nature”.

SPACE RESEARCH
MAVEN enters Mars orbit
NASA’s  Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft began orbiting Mars on 21 September 2014, on a mission to study how the Red Planet’s climate changed over time from warm and wet to cold and dry.

The unmanned orbiter travelled more than 10 months and 711 million kilometres to reach Mars for a first-of-its kind look at the planet’s upper atmosphere.

The data from MAVEN spacecraft aims to help scientists understand what happened to the water on Mars and the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere several billion years ago.

MAVEN’s findings are also expected to help add to knowledge of how humans could survive on a future visit to the Red Planet, perhaps as early as 2030.

Mangalyaan successfully slips into Mars orbit
On 24 September 2014, India created history, becoming the first country in the world to succeed on its first Mars mission as ISRO’s Mangalyaan successfully slipped into Martian orbit after a few nail-biting moments. India is also the first Asian country to send successfully send a spacecraft to Mars.

The country joined the United States, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers with the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately called MOM.

The insertion started at 4.17 am when the spacecraft switched over to the medium gain antenna for providing the communication link during the insertion. At 6.56 am, the spacecraft initiated the process of forward rotation, reducing its speed. At 7.17 am, the liquid apogee motor was fired for 24 minutes, reducing the velocity of the spacecraft by 4.2 km per second in relation to Mars. This was soon followed by moments of tension and anxiety when the communication broke as the spacecraft slipped behind Mars. At 7.45 am, the occult ended (occulation is an event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer) and after two minutes communication with the spacecraft resumed and data was flashed about the performance of the liquid apogee motor, confirming successful manouevere.

Mangalyaan, which relies on homegrown technology, is a remarkably low budget mission of about $75 million. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven, which reached its position around the Red Planet on 21 September 2014 has a price tag of $671 million— nearly nine times that of MOM’s.

India’s feat gained significance in the light of the fact that more than half the world’s previous attempts—23 out of 41 Mars missions—failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

India has said its spacecraft is chiefly meant to showcase the country’s high-tech space abilities.

MOM’s scientific goals include using of five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.

None of the instruments will send back enough data to answer these questions definitively, but experts say the data will help them better understand how planets form, what conditions might make life possible and where else in the universe it might exist. Some of the data will complement research expected to be conducted by Maven.

The spacecraft is expected to circle the planet for at least six months, following an elliptical orbit that gets within 365 kilometers of the planet’s surface at its closest and 80,000 kilometers at its farthest.

The spacecraft trajectory would be tracked from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory facilities at Goldstone (US), Madrid (Spain) and Canberra (Australia).

Equipment on board MOM:
Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP)—an absorption cell photometer that allows us to understand the loss process of water from Mars.
Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM)— designed to measure Methane in the Martian atmosphere and map its sources.
Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA)—a quadruple mass spectrometre capable of analysing the neutral composition in the range of 1 to 300 amu with unit mass resolution.
Mars Colour Camers (MCC)—it will send images of the Martian surface and will also be used to probe two Martian satellites—Phobos and Deimos
Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS)—can measure thermal emission, map surface composition and mineralogy of Mars.

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