SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AUGUST 2016

First human genetic editing trial in China

  • Chinese scientists will perform the world’s first genetic editing trial on humans this month, in an attempt to find a cure for lung cancer.
  • A group of oncologist at the West China Hospital of Sichuan University, Chengdu, will inject patients with cells that have been modified using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique

What is CRISPR?

  • CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, was named “2015 Breakthrough of the Year” by the U.S. journal Science .
  • It allows scientists to selectively edit genome parts and replace them with new DNA stretches.
  • Cas9 is an enzyme that can edit DNA, allowing the alteration of genetic patterns by genome modification.
  • CRISPR is a collection of DNA sequences that direct Cas9 where to cut and paste.

What doctors will do?

  • Doctors will extract T cells, a type of immune cell, from the patient’s blood and then knock out the gene that encodes the PD-1 protein, which normally limits the cell’s capacity to launch an immune response.
  • The edited cells will be multiplied in the lab before being reintroduced to the patients.
  • This process will hopefully kick-start the T cells to launch an attack on the tumour cells.
  • It is like building a cancer-fighting army outside the patient body

IBM’s technology may help detect cancer early

  • Scientists at IBM have developed a new lab-on-a-chip technology that can, for the first time, separate biological particles at the nanoscale and could help detect diseases such as cancer before symptoms appear.
  • Researchers showed size-based separation of bioparticles down to 20 nanometres (nm) in diameter, a scale that gives access to important particles such as DNA, viruses and exosomes.
  • Once separated, these particles can be analysed to potentially unveil signs of disease even before patients experience any physical symptoms and when the outcome from treatment is most positive.
  • Until now, the smallest bioparticle that could be separated by size with on-chip technologies was about 50 times or larger, for example, separation of circulating tumour cells from other biological components.
  • Exosomes are increasingly being viewed as biomarkers for the diagnosis and prognosis of malignant tumours. They are released in easily accessible bodily fluids such as saliva, urine or blood. They represent a precious biomedical tool as they can be used in the context of less invasive liquid biopsies to unveil the origin and nature of a cancer.

Existing challenges

  • Researchers targeted exosomes with their lab-on-chip technology as existing scientific techniques face challenges for separating and purifying exosomes in liquid biopsies.
  • Exosomes range in size from 20-140nm and contain information about the health of the originating cell that they are shed from.
  • A determination of the size, surface proteins and nucleic acid cargo carried by exosomes can give essential information about the presence and state of developing cancer and other diseases.
  • Researchers showed they could separate and detect particles as small as 20 nm from smaller particles, that exosomes of size 100 nm and larger could be separated from smaller ones, and separation can take place in spite of diffusion, a hallmark of particle dynamics at these small scales.

Sorting bioparticles at the nanoscale

  • Lab-on-a-chip technologies have become an incredibly helpful tool for physicians as they can be significantly faster, portable, easy to use and require less sample volume to help detect diseases.
  • The goal is to shrink down to a single silicon chip all of the processes necessary to analyze a disease that would normally be carried out in a full-scale biochemistry lab.

What is nano-DLD?

  • Nanoscale deterministic lateral displacement
  • Using a technology called nanoscale deterministic lateral displacement, or nano-DLD allows a liquid sample to be passed, in continuous flow, through a silicon chip containing an asymmetric pillar array
  • This array allows the system to sort a microscopic waterfall of nanoparticles, separating particles by size down to tens of nanometers resolution.

AYUSH drugs to get trial guidelines

  • To bring research on Ayurvedic drugs and formulations closer to practices in Western medicine, the Indian Council of Medical Research has released a set of guidelines concerning standards that must be adhered to in testing medicines from AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) schools.
  • The draft guidelines say that research on traditional and folk medicines and patented and proprietary varieties of traditional medicines involving human participants must be done using the same ethical principles under which drug trials are conducted.

IPR and patents

  • If a mix of medicinal systems are involved, then there ought to be experts from each of those fields supervising trials and if a product deriving from traditional knowledge were to be commercialised, the “legitimate rights/share of the tribe or community from which the knowledge was gathered should be taken care of appropriately while applying for Intellectual Property Rights and patents for the product”
  • The guidelines deal with emerging fields of research such as synthetic biology and ethical rules governing medical diagnostics, and specify that all participants be made aware of the risks and not be offered undue inducements to participate in the trial of a new drug.

Clinical trials

  • India has several sets of guidelines governing the conduct of clinical trials and stem cell research that are updated from time to time. However, there has been little clarity on how Ayurvedic formulations and other traditional medicines ought to be tested. This is a positive step and is important for traditional Indian formulations to be able to access international markets.
  • A range of companies are employing new approaches such as genetic analysis or trying to determine the molecular basis of the effectiveness of traditional formulations.
  • Among others, one of India’s top pharmaceutical companies, Sun Pharma, has entered into a deal with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology to develop a herbal drug for dengue earlier this year.
  • The ICMR guidelines are not a precursor to a law though adherence to them is required by India’s drug regulator to grant permission for trials.
  • India has frequently seen controversies over the improper conduct of clinical trials and there is a proposed amendment to the Drug and Cosmetics Act that seeks to impose stricter penalties for those found violating clinical trial guidelines.

NASA to explore asteroid Bennu during its close encounter with Earth

  • A near-Earth asteroid that is coming towards our planet after being dislodged by a gravitational pull can indeed strike us and cause massive destruction, but according to experts, it has a only a one in 2,700 chances of hitting.
  • Such an event will not take place for 150 years and the people living in the year 2135 would know whether the asteroid named Bennu posed an actual threat to hit Earth

OSIRIS-REx Mission

  • It is headed by NASA and the University of Arizona, plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft on September 8 in efforts to reach Bennu in August 2018.
  • OSIRIS-REx will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on an Atlas V 411 rocket
  • In August 2018, OSIRIS-REx’s approach to Bennu will begin. It will use an array of small rocket thrusters to match the velocity of Bennu.
  • The spacecraft will begin a detailed survey of the asteroid two months after slowing to encounter Bennu. After the selection of the final site, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample
  • The sampling arm will make contact with the surface for about five seconds, during which it will release a burst of nitrogen gas. This will cause rocks and surface material to be stirred up and captured in the sampler head
  • In March 2021, the window for departure from the asteroid will open and OSIRIS-REx will begin its return journey to Earth, arriving two and a half years later in September 2023

What are asteroids?

  • Asteroids are small, airless rocky worlds revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets. They are also known as planetoids or minor planets.
  • In total, the mass of all the asteroids is less than that of Earth’s moon. But despite their size, asteroids can be dangerous. Many have hit Earth in the past, and more will crash into our planet in the future.

What Are The Differences Between An Asteroid, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteor and Meteorite?

  • Asteroid: A relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun.
  • Comet: A relatively small, at times active, object whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas.
  • Meteoroid: A small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun.
  • Meteor: The light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes; a shooting star.
  • Meteorite: A meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands upon the Earth’s surface.

Where asteroids are located?

  • Most asteroids lie in a vast ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
  • Not everything in the main belt is an asteroid — for instance, comets have recently been discovered there, and , once thought of only as an asteroid, is now also considered a dwarf planet.
  • Many asteroids lie outside the main belt. For instance, a number of asteroids called Trojans lie along Jupiter’s orbital path.
  • Three groups — Atens, Amors, and Apollos — known as near-Earth asteroids orbit in the inner solar system and sometimes cross the path of Mars and Earth.

Human Exploration of Asteroids

  • The first spacecraft to take close-up images of asteroids was NASA’s Galileoin 1991, which also discovered the first moon to orbit an asteroid in 1994.
  • In 2001, after NASA’s NEAR spacecraft intensely studied the near-earth asteroid Eros for more than a year from orbit, mission controllers decided to try and land the spacecraft. Although it wasn’t designed for landing, NEAR successfully touched down, setting the record as the first to successfully land on an asteroid.
  • In 2006, Japan’s Hayabusa became the first spacecraft to land on and take off from an asteroid. It returned to Earth in June 2010, and the samples it recovered are currently under study.
  • NASA’s Dawn mission, launched in 2007, began exploring Vesta in 2011. After a year, it left the asteroid for a trip to Ceres, with a planned arrival time of 2015. Dawn was the first spacecraft to visit Vesta, and will also be the first to explore Ceres.
  • In 2012, a company called Planetary Resources, Inc. announced plans to eventually send a mission to a space rock to extract water and mine the asteroid for precious metals. Since then, NASA has begun to work on plans for its own asteroid-capture mission.

Move over chemo, now harness the immune system to fight cancer

  • Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, long a medical dream, is becoming a reality
  • Use of immunotherapy instead of traditional chemotherapy – Rather than attacking the cancer directly, as chemo does, immunotherapy tries to rally the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease. This is a fundamental change in the way that we think about cancer therapy
  • The immune system — a network of cells, tissues and biochemicals they secrete — defends the body against viruses, bacteria and other invaders. But cancer often finds ways to hide from the immune system or block its ability to fight.
  • Immunotherapy tries to help the immune system recognise cancer as a threat, and attack it.

What is immunotherapy?

  • A widely used type of immunotherapy involves drugs that free immune cells to fight cancer by blocking a mechanism — called a checkpoint — that cancer uses to shut down the immune system.
  • These drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat advanced melanoma
  • Patients are clamouring for checkpoint drugs, including one, Keytruda, known to many as “that Jimmy Carter drug” which, combined with surgery and radiation, has left the former president with no sign of recurrence even though melanoma had spread to his liver and brain.

Kudankulam plant safest in the world, says Russian official

  • The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is the first in the world to have post-Fukushima safety enhancement requirements implemented and operated successfully
  • While Unit 1 at Kudankulam is functional and producing electricity after initial hiccups, Unit 2 had attained criticality on July 10 and is planned to be connected to the grid in August.

Safety Features

  • There are a number of advanced active and passive safety systems which ensure unprecedented design-level nuclear and ecological safety of the plant
  • Double localising and protective containment, passive heat removal system from reactor plant automatically, core catcher, and closed industrial water intake are some of the safety features incorporated.
  • The reactor is protected from the impact of any earthquake, tsunami, tornado and hurricane.
  • Sea Water
    • Given that a large amount of seawater is drawn in to cool the reactors, measures have been taken to preserve the biological diversity of the Mannar Bay adjacent to Kudankulam.
    • Seawater is supplied from the so-called “bucket” constructed in the sea into the special facilities and systems which ensure that fish and plankton return to sea.

India and Russian Nuclear Cooperation

  • As part of India-Russia nuclear cooperation, the Rosatom state nuclear corporation is scheduled to construct six units of VVER-1000 light-water reactors at Kudankulam.
  • In December 2014, both sides announced a decision for the construction of at least 12 more units in India.
  • On India’s request, additional safety measures are being enforced in Units 3 and 4 to withstand even higher seismic, climatic and technical impact
  • On Units 5 and 6, in November 2015, Russia submitted the technical-commercial offer and their design had been agreed upon.
  • In February, a road map for construction of Units 5 and 6 prior to the General Framework Agreement (GFA) has been signed. The GFA is expected to be signed in autumn this year
  • Russia is awaiting India’s decision on another site for setting up additional reactors.

It’s another giant leap, says Moon Express co-founder

  • An Indian American entrepreneur has begun a countdown for launching a moon lander next year after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it has approved his company’s venture.
  • Naveen Jain, the founder of Moon Express, termed the U.S. government’s approval for the MX1-E moon lander “another giant leap for humanity.”

Moon Express

  • The company was co-founded in 2010 by space visionary, Dr Bob Richards, Naveen Jain and serial entrepreneur and artificial intelligence and space technology guru Dr Barney Pell.
  • The MX-1 will ride to the moon orbit on a space vehicle from Rocket Lab USA.
  • One of that company’s backers is Khosla Ventures created by Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who is an Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi graduate and who co-founded Sun Microsystems.
  • Moon Express CEO Bob Richards cited the discovery of water on the moon as an incentive for lunar ventures.
  • The discovery was accomplished by the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft with ISRO’s Moon Impact Probe (MIP) and NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3).
  • The recent discovery of water on the moon is an economic game changer for humanity’s future. Water is the oil of the solar system and the moon has become a gas station in the sky.
  • Moon Express is the first private company to get government approval for a moon venture.
  • The FAA described the MX-1E as a spacecraft that can orbit to the moon, make a soft landing on the lunar surface, and move on it by making “hops”.
  • Moon Express needed the FAA approval because the Outer Space Treaty requires private ventures to be authorised by a government that has signed the treaty.

Doppler radar to boost weather forecasting

  • In a bid to improve weather forecasting services, Indian Space Research Organisation has commissioned a Doppler weather radar at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvanthapuram.

The C- band Polarimetric Doppler weather radar (C-DWR)

  • It is the first of its kind in South India.
  • The data generated by the DWR would be shared with the India Meteorological Department to supplement its prediction.
  • It would be made available to researchers and other user agencies also.
  • The only other C- DWR in the country is at Chirapunji.
  • Two more units are coming up at Bhuj in Gujarat and Gopalpur in Odisha.
  • The DWR is expected to aid rainfall estimation and detect thunderstorm, cyclones and other severe weather events within a radius of 400 km.
  • Features
    • It has instruments to measure rainfall intensity, wind shear and velocity and locate a storm centre and the direction of a tornado or gust front.
    • Equipped with a parabolic dish antenna and a foam sandwich spherical radome, the radar is designed to improve precision in long range weather forecasting and surveillance using the Doppler effect.
    • It works by bouncing a microwave signal off a target and analysing how the object’s motion has altered the frequency of the return signal.

ScatSat- 1 to help in predicting cyclones

  • India is set to acquire the capability for more accurate prediction and tracking of cyclones, with the launch of the ScatSat-1 satellite in September, ISRO chairman A.S.Kiran Kumar said on Thursday

Salient Features

  • The indigenously developed weather forecasting satellite will be equipped with on board instruments to monitor sea surface winds and help predict the genesis of cyclones
  • The primary payload of ScatSat-1 is a scatterometer to keep a watch on the speed and direction of ocean winds that indicate the formation and strengthening of cyclones.
  • The satellite will have the capacity to monitor temperature and humidity and transmit 48 images per day.
  • The best thing about this 301 kg satellite is that it is being built at 60% of the actual cost, and in one-third of the estimated time.
  • About 40% of satellite is made by recycling the leftover equipment from previous satellite missions.
  • It is a polar orbiting satellite that will take two days to cover the globe. The data will be used by NASA, European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well.
  • Scheduled to launched by the PSLV- C35, the satellite is expected to replace Oceansat-2 which is out of service after completing its life span.

What is scatterometer?

  • A scatterometer in the satellite will help predict formation of cyclones in the seas. Such predictions help in timely evacuation and minimise human casualties.
  • A scatterometer is a microwave radar sensor. It measures the scattering effect produced while scanning the surface of the Earth from an aircraft or a satellite.
  • It will measure the direction and speed of winds over the seas and oceans.

Background

  • SCATSat-1 is an OceanSat-2 follow-up mission, actually a gap-filler mission between OceanSat-2 and -3, under development at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) with the objective to continue the global ocean wind vector data acquisition started by the OSCAT (OceanSat-2 Scanning Scatterometer).
  • The satellite has been designed to withstand multiple system failures, unlike the last one.
  • The information of global ocean surface winds is an important ingredient for weather forecasts. In particular, a need for global coverage of scatterometer data became evident, when NASA’s SeaWinds scatterometer on the QuikSCAT spacecraft ceased nominal operations in November 2009.
  • Currently India is dependent on NASA’s ISS-RapidScat for prediction of cyclone forecasting and weather prediction

World’s largest marine protected area

  • US. is all set to expand a national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world’s largest marine protected area. US President Obama has decided to quadruple the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, originally created by ex-president George W. Bush in 2006. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will contain some 582,578 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas. The designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing monument. Recreational fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices.
  • The seventh India-Japan International Conference on ‘Science and Technology: Future Challenges and Solutions’, was recently held in Mysore, Karnataka.

Tiantong-01:

  • China has successfully launched its first satellite for mobile telecommunication, Tiantong-01. It is the first satellite of China’s homemade satellite mobile telecom system, and a key part of the country’s space information infrastructure.

Global Green Award:

  • Dr. Dhrubajyoti Ghosh has received the Luc Hoffman award, one of the highest international awards in environmental leadership. Dr. Ghosh was involved in mapping East Kolkata Wetlands and calculating its economic value. He is the first Indian environmental activist to receive the Luc Hoffman award.

Unique ID numbers to elephants

  • Elephants that are in possession of the Karnataka Forest Department, private organisations and individuals will be implanted with a microchip, which are equipped with unique numbers. Nearly 60 elephants will now be identified with their number in order to aid the forest department in monitoring them. The initiative is being undertaken by the forest department to check false information private owners and, even forest authorities furnish during investigation processes.

Disappearing trick of fish can fool predators

  • The silvery skin of fish like herrings, sardines, mackerel and tuna act like mirrors, reflecting their watery surroundings to better blend in and the effect serves as a kind of underwater invisibility cloak that helps them hide even from animals with super sight, new research has found.
  • Researchers have long assumed that some animals could see through this silvery disguise, thanks to a superpower of their own: the ability to detect a property of light — called polarisation — that humans can’t see.
  • Octopuses and squid, shrimp and other crustaceans, and some fish such as trout and salmon all have the gift, called polarisation vision.
  • The polarisation state of light changes when it bounces off a silvery fish’s shiny scales.
  • The fish were photographed from six to 10 feet away using a custom-built underwater camera with tiny polarising filters.

Scientists find inflated planet

  • Astronomers claim to have discovered one of the most inflated giant planets known to date, orbiting a mildly evolved star about 2.4 times larger than our Sun.
  • The exoplanet designated KELT-12b was spotted by a team of researchers led by Daniel Stevens of the Ohio State University in the U.S. A planet that expands in size when its parent star is at the end of its life is called “inflated” and gas giants exhibit this phenomenon.

Flash-charging electric bus

  • India might follow Geneva’s example of operating eco-friendly electric buses with flash-charging facility.
  • These buses can be charged automatically within 15 seconds when it arrives at a bus-stop,
  • ABB India Ltd has joined hands with TOSA (Trolleybus Optimisation Systeme Alimentation) to provide the flash charging facility.
  • The charging is done through a structure on the bus-top which automatically connects to the power point on the roof of the bus stop.

Paper-based device can spot substandard meds

  • Scientists have developed a simple, inexpensive paper-based device which can identify poor-quality or degraded medications within minutes.

Three strains of fungi to help recycle rechargeable batteries

  • Scientists have found a low-cost and environment-friendly method to recycle used rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, with the help of fungi.
  • Old batteries often wind up in landfills or incinerators, potentially harming the environment. And valuable materials remain locked inside.
  • Now, a team of researchers at the University of South Florida in the U.S. is turning to fungi to drive an environmentally friendly recycling process to extract cobalt and lithium from tonnes of discarded batteries.
  • While other methods exist to separate lithium, cobalt and other metals, they require high temperatures and harsh chemicals.
  • To drive the process researchers are using three strains of fungi — Aspergillus niger , Penicillium simplicissimum and Penicillium chrysogenum .

Man with a huge ‘negative’ carbon footprint

  • Known as the “man with the largest negative carbon footprint in the world,” Indian-born American electrical engineer Jayant Baliga is the inventor of the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT), a device that enabled the electronics in the now ubiquitous CFL lamp. An alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Dr. Baliga, who won the global energy prize in 2015, was in the city last month to preside over the convocation of his alma mater and receive an honorary doctorate from the institution.
  • While he has many inventions to his credit, the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the IGBT, which functions as a kind of electronic switch.

Tiny giant

  • A CFL lamp needs such a switch as opposed to a tungsten-based lamp. In the latter, energy is lost due to the heating required by the tungsten filament. A CFL lamp works through a gas discharge. IGBTs are used to generate the gas discharge, which lights up the bulb. The IGBT’s other advantage was to allow for electronics to fit into the small volume of the base below the gas tube.
  • The use of electronics helped bring down the size, as well as the cost, of CFL lamps. Compared to incandescent bulbs, CFL bulbs improved lighting efficiency by 75 per cent. Use of CFL lamps instead of traditional lighting, in the last 25 years, has saved the world 73,000 Terawatt-hours of energy and almost 5.7 trillion litres of gas, and has helped decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 49.5 billion metric tonnes.
  • Yet it was not easy for this component to be accepted initially, and there were many sceptics, said Mr. Baliga. “I had to convince not only the management at the GE research labs where I worked but even the Chairman of GE Jack Welch. After his buy in, I had to execute the design and fabrication of the device in a manufacturing line resulting to product availability in less than one year,” he said. General Electric then accepted the technology for a range of small appliances (steam irons, space heaters, etc), major appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, etc), air-conditioning heat pumps, numerical controls for factory automation (robotics), lighting products, and even in their medical products (X-ray, CAT, MRI).
  • Selling a disruptive technology wasn’t easy. Dr Baliga recalls how it turned out that his product came to impact the entire portfolio at GE:
  • “One of the Vice-Presidents at GE was trying to create a new product – adjustable speed motor drive for air-conditioning heat pumps. He challenged us at the GE research labs to create a viable technology. In response, I proposed the IGBT and informed him of other potential applications within GE.”
  • The old or traditional motor drives used induction motors and dampers to regulate the output power to loads such as compressors in air-conditioners. Dampers waste a lot power as heat, making the efficiency only 50 per cent. The IGBT was used to create an adjustable (or variable) frequency power source by using pulse-width modulation. In simpler words, Dr. Baliga says, “Moving from the traditional motor drive to the one based on IGBT is a paradigm shift – from analogue power control to digital power control with a massive increase in efficiency!”
  • Company-wide adoption
  • According to the scientist, “The V-P got excited and went all the way to the top and informed Chairman Jack Welch. Jack Welch decided to come from his head-office in Connecticut to my labs in Schenectady, New York, to be briefed on this innovation that would impact the entire portfolio of products at GE.” Dr. Baliga says a a 30-minute presentation convinced Mr. Welch. “His reaction was to support my proposed development and commercialization effort. But he embargoed any release of information on the IGBT so that GE could exploit it for its products. This prevented my scientific publications on the IGBT for several years.”
  • His advice to inventors and entrepreneurs is to get to understand the applications of the innovation. “Only then can it be marketed successfully. It is important to understand the complexities of manufacturing the invention to get it to the marketplace quickly,” he said.
  • All this happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when venture capital activity in North Carolina was very small when compared with the Silicon Valley. He recalls, “In the 1970s, and 1980s, I worked for a large company (GE) to bring my ideas to the market. In 2000, I began to create start-up companies in North Carolina. Seed funds were available to get the companies going. But even after demonstrating that my ideas worked, it was difficult to get the larger amount of funds to grow my company. So, we ended up with a successful exit by having the companies acquired.”
  • 4 start-ups
  • Dr. Baliga has been successful in founding four start-ups. “Silicon Wireless Corp created a revolutionary super-linear power RF MOSFET for use in cellular base stations. The company grew to 42 employees and was acquired by Fairchild.” Another one, Silicon Semiconductor Corp was started to commercialise his silicon chip set for powering microprocessors inside laptops and servers. This company’s technology was licensed for production by Linear Technologies Inc. A third start-up Micro-Ohm Corp was begun to create a revolutionary TMBS rectifier used in solar panels and power supplies. It was licensed to Vishay-Siliconix and became their most successful new rectifier product in 25 years, he said. “Giant Semiconductor Corp was created to commercialize my GD-MOSFET technology. This technology was licensed to Alpha and Omega Corp and is also made now by Infineon, Fairchild, and other companies for automotive electronics.”
  • Dr. Baliga’s 1979 theory relating properties of semiconductors to the performance of power devices resulted in an equation named Baliga’s figure of merit (BFOM). This led to a comparison among semiconductor materials – Silicon, Gallium Arsenide and Silicon Carbide. “This predicted 13.7x enhanced performance by replacing Silicon with Gallium Arsenide which I demonstrated at GE in the 1980s. It predicted 200x enhanced performance by replacing Silicon with Silicon Carbide which I successfully demonstrated at my PSRC labs in North Carolina

NASA new space mission aims at unveiling origin of life

  • The $800 million NASA mission is called OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
  • The unmanned spacecraft will travel to an asteroid near Earth called Bennu to collect space dust that may reveal how the materials necessary for life — such as carbon and ice — made their way to our planet.
  • Launching on September 8 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the 2,087 kg sport utility vehicle-sized spaceship is set to embark on a multiyear mission, returning its bounty of space dirt in 2023.
  • The problem is that in zero gravity, such a device could just scatter dust instead of collecting it.
  • So a reverse-vacuum concept called Muucav, (“vacuum” spelled backwards)is being used. But the final name is TAGSAM, an acronym for the Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism.

Quess satellite

  • China has launched the world’s first quantum satellite- Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or QUESS. It is an effort to establish communications that cannot be hacked.The satellite is named “Micius

Details:

  • In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground.
  • The satellite will be put into Earth orbit around 500 km above ground.
  • The craft’s main instrument is a “Sagnac” interferometer that is used to generate two entangled infrared photons by shining an ultraviolet laser on a non-linear optical crystal.
  • The main goals of QUESS will be to demonstrate quantum key distribution (QKD) between the satellite and two stations on the ground – the Nanshan 25 m telescope at the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory in western China and the Xinglong Observatory in Yanshan, around 200 km south of Beijing.
  • The 500 kg satellite contains a quantum key communicator, quantum entanglement emitter, entanglement source, processing unit, and a laser communicator. A rocket named the Long March-2D launched the satellite into space. The launch site was in China’s northwest Gobi Desert.
  • The satellite is built to circle Earth at an altitude of around 310 miles (500 km) and complete one lap every 90 minutes.

Aims of this mission:

  • It is a proof-of-concept mission designed to facilitate quantum optics experiments over long distances to allow the development of quantum encryption and quantum teleportation technology.
  • The satellite’s two-year mission will be to develop ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications, allowing users to send messages securely and at speeds faster than light.
  • The scientific goals are to implement a series of science missions between Quantum Science Satellite and quantum communication ground stations.

The major tasks are as follows:

  • Quantum Key Distribution from Satellite to Ground: To set up an ultra-long-range quantum channel between ground and satellite with the assistance of high-precision acquisition, tracking and pointing system, implement a quantum key distribution between the satellite and the ground stations, and carry out unconditional secure quantum communication experiments.
  • Global Scale Quantum Communication Network: To set up a real wide-area network for quantum communication using the satellite repeater and two arbitrary quantum ground stations and their auxiliary local-area fiber quantum networks.
  • Quantum Entanglement Distribution from Satellite to two ground stations: Distribution of quantum entangled photons from the satellite to two distant ground stations whose distance is larger than one thousand kilometers; test of the entanglement properties at a large scale and nonlocality of quantum mechanics.
  • Quantum Teleportation from Ground to Satellite: as a totally new way of communication, quantum teleportation is the fundamental process of quantum networks and quantum computing. A high quality quantum entanglement source on the ground will be built to achieve ground-to-satellite teleportation experiments based on photon entanglement.

How does it work?

  • The satellite will create pairs of so-called entangled photons – tiny sub-atomic particles of light whose properties are dependent on each other – beaming one half of each pair down to base stations in China and Austria.
  • This special kind of laser has several curious properties, one of which is known as “the observer effect” – its quantum state cannot be observed without changing it.
  • So, if the satellite were to encode an encryption key in that quantum state, any interception would be obvious. It would also change the key, making it useless.
  • If it works, it will solve the central problem of encrypted communications – how to distribute keys without interception – promising hack-proof communications. The encrypted message itself can be transmitted normally after the key exchange.

Background:

  • Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated. It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it. Quantum communications technology is nearly impossible to hack because any interference to transmission of information destroys
  • Many countries are working on quantum communications, including fiber-optic quantum key distribution networks in the United States, Europe, and China. However, China is the first one to launch a satellite to develop the complex technology.

Significance of this launch:

  • This is an attempt to develop a hack-proof communications system. During its two-year mission the space object will transmit un-hackable encryption keys from outer space to the Earth’s surface. If the experiment works it could solve the main problem of distributing encryption keys that cannot be stolen. That would result in hack-proof communications.
  • It will also provide new knowledge about quantum entanglement. That happens when pairs or groups of very tiny particles are made or work together so the quantum state of each particle is part of a whole system

What Is Quantum Entanglement?

  • Quantum entanglement is one of the central principles of quantum physics. In short, quantum entanglement means that multiple particles are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s quantum state determines the possible quantum states of the other particles.
  • This connection is independent of the location of the particles in space. Even if you separate entangled particles by billions of miles, changing one particle will induce a change in the other. Even though quantum entanglement appears to transmit information instantaneously, it doesn’t actually violate the classical speed of light because there’s no “movement” through space.
  • It is hence difficult to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it.

quantum entanglement explained

So what exactly is a quantum-enabled satellite?

  • It contains a laser that transmits a pair of entangled photons – minuscule sub-atomic particles of light – down to two separate base stations.
  • One half of the pair goes to one base station, the other to the second.
  • These photons suffer from something known as the ‘observer effect’, which means that the moment anyone tries to intercept them, their quantum state is immediately changed.

What are the applications?

  • In the face of ever more powerful hacking and surveillance – which could one day also include powerful quantum computers – the security of commercial communications is also increasingly important. Hence, Quantum computing is largely seen as the next big thing in communications. The technology has applications for precision in everything from healthcare to industrial production

Conclusion:

  • Cybersecurity has been a major focus in recent years for China. Quantum messaging could become a major defense against hackers and have applications ranging from military and government communications to online shopping.

Adopt a Green Highway Program

  • National Green Highways Mission (NGHM) under NHAI has collaborated with Power Finance Corporation Ltd. (PFC) for plantations work on NH 7 in Nagpur region (Borkhedi – Wadner, & Khatara – Kelapur) covering 87 km stretch. Power Finance Corporation Ltd. has provided financial assistance of Rs. 13 crore for plantation and five year maintenance under their CSR funds.
  • This marks the first collaboration with the National Green Highways Mission – NHAI under their ‘Adopt a Green Highways’ Program.
  • Adopt a Green Highway Program is an initiative by NGHM to engage Corporates, Public Sector Units, Governmental organizations, institutions and individuals under CSR and Public Private Partnership for developing green corridor along NHs.

National Green Highways Mission:

  • NGHM was launched under the Green Highways Policy, 2015 to provide a holistic vision of developing eco-friendly and green National Highways.
  • The mission aims to
    • provide a green canopy along 100,000 km of highways and
    • create jobs for 1 million youth.
  • The government has made it mandatory to set aside 1% of the total project cost of any national highway contract to a Green Fund for plantation.
  • Main motto of this mission is to help the environment, help local communities, and generate employment by planting trees along all the highways in the country.

Sunshine, seaweed help to break down dye waste

  • Despite stringent environmental regulations, a comprehensive method of treating industrial dye is not available. The methods available are expensive and do not completely break down the dye molecules to non-toxic constituents but merely concentrate the contaminants. Annually, more than 500 tonnes of non-degradable textile colour wastes are being disposed of in natural streams without adequate treatments
  • Scientists at the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavanagar, Gujarat have been able to completely degrade three industrial dyes — methyl orange, methylene blue and reactive black-5 — in the presence of sunlight.
  • The researchers developed a photocatalyst using titanium dioxide doped with red seaweed polymer carrageenan to degrade the dyes.
  • Titanium dioxide has conventionally been used for photocatalytic degradation of industrial dyes, but it takes a long time to degrade dyes. So the researchers doped titanium dioxide nanoparticles with sulphur and carbon by treating it with carrageenan.
  • The nanocomposite was found to behave as an excellent photocatalyst that helped degrade industrial dyes quickly in a single-step process.

New evidence for northern movement of eastern Himalayan syntaxis

  • The eastern Himalayan syntaxis (convergence of mountain ranges, or geological folds), a gorge along the Parlung river in Tibet, is tectonically active.
  • The coincidence of high mountains and strong rivers that cause erosion makes it a good place to study the role of surface activity, such as erosion, in controlling tectonics. A recent study, published on August 18 in Science, finds that the syntaxis is moving northwards.
  • This contradicts a belief that the surface erosion due to the powerful river and other factors would pin the high-erosion zone to its location. For this purpose the researchers use a new technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) thermochronometry. As rocks get “exhumed,” or rise to the surface from the earth’s crust, they start cooling down. At specific temperatures, the minerals such as quartz contained in the rocks start capturing electrons while continuing to rise, and they cool correspondingly. By observing the history of concentrations of electrons, the researchers estimate the temperature profile against the time and then translate this into knowledge of the depth as a function of time. This gives them an understanding of the rate at which the rocks rose to the surface.
  • In general, the topography of mountain ranges comes to be as a result of various factors such as tectonics, climate and surface processes. In this context, the study contributes to a debate about the relevance of surface processes such as river erosion and other activities to tectonics.
  • The eastern Himalayan syntaxis is an ideal location to study the effects of erosion on tectonics — very tall mountains over 7,000 metres high and powerful rivers. Because the surface processes are so intense, the erosion is rapid.
  • The researchers made their measurements at five regions along the Parlung River which were across the northern end of the exhuming area, and three regions to the south. While the samples from the northern regions were in the range of 30 to 150 thousand years, the ones from the south yielded ages of about 200,000 years. This variation was crucial in inferring the drift.
  • The new data showed that the rate of erosion had increased in the last 1 million years, to rates which could not be explained simply by river incision.
  • Instead tectonic uplift was needed as well to explain the data. Previous studies also indicate continued northward migration of the dome, which the data are consistent with.

A state-of-the-art oceanographic and fishery research vessel takes shape

  • Expert Committee constituted by the Ministry of Earth Sciences have drawn up the scientific specifications for a Fishery and Oceanographic Research Vessel (FORV) that would be used for marine and ocean research. The new vessel is being envisaged as a replacement to the ageing Sagar Sampada, which has been facilitating marine research activities of India since 1984.
  • The FORV would have latest
  • hydro-acoustic equipment,
  • low noise signature for minimum fish stock disturbance,
  • together with increased stability in worse weather conditions and
  • overall cost effectiveness.
  • The proposed vessel would have a length 90 metres.
  • The vessel would cost around Rs.700 crore and is expected to be ready for its maiden cruise by 2020.

Mars rover finds buttes and mesas

  • NASA’s Curiosity rover has captured a 360-degree view of eroded mesas and buttes on Mars. The buttes and mesas rising above this surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed
  • The mesas and buttes have a relatively flat foreground, part of a geological layer called the Murray formation, which formed from lakebed mud deposits.
  • Curiosity closely examined that layer — the Stimson formation — during the first half of 2016 while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation.
  • The buttes and mesas of Murray Buttes are capped by material that is relatively resistant to erosion, just as is the case with many similarly shaped buttes and mesas on Earth. The informal naming honours Bruce Murray (1931–2013), a Caltech planetary scientist and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
  • A key goal is to learn how freshwater lake conditions, which would have been favourable for microbes billions of years ago if Mars has ever had life and then evolved into harsher, arid conditions much less suited to supporting life.
  • The mission is also monitoring the modern environment of Mars. These findings have been addressing high-priority goals for planetary science and further aid NASA’s preparations for a human mission to the Red Planet

New species of eel found in Bay of Bengal

  • Scientists have discovered a new species of eel, a marine snake-like fish, from the northern Bay of Bengal along the West Bengal coast.
  • The species Gymnothorax indicus is slender-bodied, about one feet-long and edible

Significance

  • Eels are found mostly at the bottom of rivers and seas. This species was found at a depth of 35 metres in the sea. Globally, about 1,000 species of eels have been identified and, in India, the number stands around 125. Though considered a delicacy in many countries like Japan, the consumption of eels in India is limited to coastal areas.
  • With over-exploitation of fishing resources both freshwater and marine, scientists believe that these newly discovered species may contribute to food security in the future.
  • Over the past two years, West Bengal’s Digha coastline and the adjoining areas of Bay of Bengal have yielded two new species of fish indicating the rich marine biodiversity of the coastal region.
  • In 2015, a short brown unpatterned moray eel, named Gymnothorax mishrai (Bengal moray eel), was discovered here. Two years ago, scientists had discovered another new species of edible marine fish Haplogenys bengalensis (Indian velvetchin) from the same area.

Scientists turn to artificial intelligence to map poverty

  • Stanford scientists have found a low-cost method to map poverty in areas previously devoid of data, by combining satellite images and making use of machine learning.
  • Why important-
    • One of the biggest challenges in providing relief to people living in poverty is locating them. The availability of accurate and reliable information on the location of impoverished zones is surprisingly lacking for much of the world, particularly in African countries.
    • These improved poverty maps could help organisations and policymakers distribute funds more efficiently and evaluate policies.
    • Aid groups and other international organisations often fill in the gaps with door-to-door surveys, but these can be expensive and time-consuming to conduct.
  • How is it done-
  • Researchers used machine learning — the science of designing computer algorithms that learn from data — to extract information about poverty from high-resolution satellite imagery.
  • Because areas that are brighter at night are usually more developed, the solution involved combining high-resolution daytime imagery with images of Earth at night. The researchers used the “nightlight” data to identify features in the higher-resolution daytime imagery that are correlated with economic development.
  • Without being told what to look for, our machine learning algorithm learned to pick out of the imagery many things that are easily recognisable to humans — things like roads, urban areas and farmland
  • The researchers then used these features from the daytime imagery to predict village-level wealth, as measured in the available survey data.
  • They found that this method did a surprisingly good job predicting the distribution of poverty, outperforming existing approaches
  • Results of the two-year research effort have been published in the journal Science .

Rhino horn verification

  • The verification of rhino horns to check their genuineness and updating of the complete inventory of horns kept in various treasuries in the custody of Assam government since 1980, has begun in Assam.
  • The first treasury to be opened will be Golaghat with the highest number of rhino horns in government custody with most from Kaziranga National Park. The rhino horns are scattered in 12 treasuries of Assam, the maximum being in Golaghat followed by Nagaon, Guwahati and Tezpur.

Deep Brain Stimulator

  • Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology (SCTIMST), Thiruvananthapuram have agreed to join hands to develop ‘Deep Brain Stimulator’ (DBS).
  • DBS involves implanting electrodes within certain areas of brain and the regular electrical pulses generated by a pacemaker-like device placed under the skin in upper chest regulates the abnormal impulses of the brain.
  • The DBS consists of implanted pulse generator, electrodes and extension cables which interface with external Programmer module and wireless battery charger.

Applications:

  • DBS is used in typical neurological conditions of Essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease and Dystonia.
  • These devices are currently being imported, limiting its wider usage due to the high cost. The planned joint development is targeted to provide an affordable alternative.