(Current Affairs For SSC Exams) Science & Technology, Defense, Environment | August : 2012

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 13 May 2012 launched Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) on a Pegasus rocket. The jet was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall
Islands. NuSTAR will help scientists find the most subtle and energetic black holes, which will enable them to understand the structure of the universe. The project aims to study energetic phenomena such as clusters of galaxies, black holes and the explosions of massive stars. It will also study the Sun’s atmosphere for hints on how it is heated. The NuSTAR will work in coordination with other telescopes in space, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which observes lower-energy X-rays. The project will open a new avenue on the universe and will provide complementary data to NASA’s larger missions including Fermi, Chandra ,  Hubble and Spitzer. The total budget of the project is estimated to be  180 million dollar, including the cost of development, the launch vehicle and two years of in-orbit operations. The entire project including the telescope and
Pegasus launcher was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp.


A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying.


Even though a single raindrop can weigh 50 times more than a mosquito, the insect can still fly in the rain. They found the mosquito’s strong exoskeleton and low mass render it impervious to falling raindrops. The research team, led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Hu and his doctoral student Andrew Dickerson, found that mosquitoes receive low impact forces from raindrops because the mass of mosquitoes causes raindrops to lose little momentum upon impact. To study how mosquitoes fly in the rain, the research team constructed a flight arena consisting of a small acrylic cage covered with mesh to contain the mosquitoes but permit
entry of water drops. They used a water jet to simulate rain stream velocity and observed six  mosquitoes flying into the stream. All the mosquitoes survived the collision. “The collision force must equal the resistance applied by the insect. Mosquitoes don’t resist at all, but simply go with the flow,” Hu said. The team also filmed free flying mosquitoes that were subjected to rain drops. They found that upon impact the mosquito is adhered to the front of the drop for up to 20 body lengths. “To survive, the mosquito must eventually separate from the front of the drop. The mosquito accomplishes this by using its long legs and wings, whose drag forces act to rotate the mosquito off the point of contact. This is necessary, otherwise the mosquito will be thrown into the ground at the speed of a falling raindrop,” Hu said. The results of the research will appear in the latest
issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


A rare kind of mineral known as “green rust”, which could be used to scrape toxic metals and  radioactive species from the environment, also played a similar and crucial role early in Earth’s history. Research suggests for the first time that ‘green rust’ was likely widespread in ancient oceans and may have played a vital role in the creation of our early atmosphere. Led by Newcastle University, the study shows that during the Precambrian period, green rust ‘scavenged’ heavy metals such as nickel out of the water, the journal Geology reports.


Only discovered last decade, green rust is a highly reactive iron mineral which experts hope could be used to clean up metal pollution  and even radioactive waste, according to a Newcastle statement. Newcastle University’s Simon Poulton, professor, said this latest discovery proved the effectiveness of green rust as an environmental cleaner. “Because it is so reactive, green rust has hardly ever been found before in nature and never in a water system like this,” explains Poulton, who led the research team involving experts from the Universities of Newcastle, Nancy, Southern Denmark, Leeds, Brussels and Kansas, and the Canadian Light Source and Indonesian Institute of Sciences. “The discovery of green rust in Lake Matano, Indonesia, where we carried out our experiments shows for the first time what a key role it played in our ancient oceans — scavenging dissolved nickel, a key micronutrient for methanogenesis.” Sequoia is the Fastest Computer in the World Sequoia, the US super computer, was crowned the fastest computer in the world on 17 June 2012. Situated at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Sequoia is able to make 16.32 quadrillion calculations per second (16.32 petaflops/s). Developed by IBM, the supercomputer belongs from IBM’s BlueGene family, which runs on Power processors, chips that are made at IBM’s plant in East Fishkill. The powerful Supercomputing System Sequoia help the United States keep its nuclear stockpile safe, secure and effective without
the need for underground testing. The U.S. is the top consumer of high-performance systems. With 253 of 500 systems US holds the highest share of world’s fastest computers. Asia holds 121 systems, with China (68 systems) and Japan (34 systems) leading in that region. Europe has 107 systems with the U.K. (25), France (22) and Germany (20) in a tight race. Top 500 systems also appear in scattered countries such as Israel, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Australia. The top 10 Powerful Supercomputers of the world: 1. Sequoia at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California - US 2. K Computer at RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science campus in Kobe - Japan 3. Mira at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois - US 4. SuperMUC at Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching - Germany 5. Tianhe-1A at National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin - China 6. Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee - US 7. Fermi at CINECA in Bologna - Italy 8. JuQueen at Forschungszentrum Juelich in Julich - Germany 9. Curie thin nodes at CEA/ TGCC-GENCI in Bruyeres-le- Chatel - France 10. Nebulae at National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen - China As per the June 2012 Top 500  Supercomputers list (it is published twice in a year) two supercomputers from India figured in the top 100. The CSIR Centre for Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation (C-MMACS), ranked 58, while SAGA-220, developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the IISc, ranked 86. Earlier in November 2007, India had got nine supercomputers in the Top 500 list. Eka’s, developed by the Computational Research Laboratories Ltd (CRL), a unit of Tata Sons, the Hewlett-Packard (HP) system was ranked the world’s fourth-largest supercomputer. The system cost around 30 million dollar(around  165 crore rupees ) and was built in just six weeks. It was the first time
that an Indian supercomputer figured among the world’s top 10. Though the system now ranks 129  in the top 500 list. PARAM 8000 is broadly considered as India’s first supercomputer. It was built by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) with Russian collaboration. The  University of Mannheim, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville every year prepares the
list of TOP 500 supercomputers in the world.


The earliest ancestors of modern human may have originated in Asia and not Africa as widely believed, according to a new study based on fossil discovery  in Myanmar. Previous fossil finds have long suggested that Africa was the cradle for anthropoids, which include monkeys,  apes and humans. Now, an international team in Myanmar has found the tooth of a pre-human ancestor which may prove that anthropoids originated in Asia. The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , could shed light on a pivotal step in primate and human evolution, the researchers said. The four teeth of  the prehistoric human —called afrasia djijidae as it forms a missing link between Africa and Asia — were recovered after six years of hard work. They date back to 37 million years and resemble those of another anthropoid, the  38-million-year-old Afrotarsius libycus , recently found in the Sahara Desert of Libya, Live Science reported. The anthropoids in Libya were far more diverse at that early time in Africa than scientists had thought, suggesting they actually originated elsewhere. And the close similarity between Afrasia and Afrotarsius now  suggests that early anthropoids colonised Africa from Asia, the team said. This migration from Asia ultimately helps set the stage for the
later evolution of apes and humans in Africa. “Africa is the place of origin of man, and Asia is the place of origins of our far ancestors,”  researcher Jean-Jacques Jaeger, a palaeontologist at University of Poitiers in France, said. However, the researchers said that it remained an open question how early anthropoids actually migrated from Asia to Africa. Back then, the two continents were separated by a more extensive version of the modern
Mediterranean Sea, called the Tethys Sea. Early anthropoids, the team believes, may have either swum from island to island from Asia to Africa, or possibly have been carried on naturally occurring rafts of logs and other material washed out to sea by floods and storms. “Around 34 million years ago, there was a dramatic glacial event that cooled the world climate and affected Asia more than Africa. “During that crisis, we suppose that all primitive Asian anthropoids disappeared,” Jaeger said. The anthropoids we see in Asia now, such as gibbons and orangutans, “immigrated from Africa some 20 million years ago,” Jaeger added.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment


Google has done the unthinkable — the creation of an ‘artificial brain’ from 16,000 computer processors, with more than a billion connections. The team led by Google’s Jeff Dean then fed it random images culled from 10 million YouTube videos — and let it ‘learn’ by itself. Surprisingly, the machine focused in on cats. “We never told it during the training ‘this is a cat’,” said Dean. “It basically invented the concept of a cat.” “Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held intuition, our experimental results reveal that it is possible to train a face detector without having to label images as containing a face or not,” says the team. “We also find that the same  network is sensitive to other high level concepts such as cat faces and human bodies.” “Starting with  these learned features, we trained our network to obtain 15.8 per cent  accuracy in recognising 20,000 object categories from ImageNet, a leap of 70 per cent relative improvement over the previous state-of-the-art,” it said, Daily Mail reports. The ‘brain’ was a creation of the company’s ‘blue sky ideas’ lab, Google X, reportedly
located in Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters — known as ‘the Google plex.’ Engineers are free to work on projects such as connected fridges that order groceries when they run low — or even tableware that can connect to social networks. Other Google engineers have reportedly researched ideas as far-out as elevators to space.


Sunflower is one of the largest produced oilseed crops in the country annually. Though it is grown on a large scale for oilseed  production in India the crop suffers huge losses due to many pest and disease outbreaks. Especially during the flowering and grain formation stages sudden outbreak  of diseases like the powdery mildew infects crop growth and yield. The disease produces white powdery growth on the leaves. White to grey mildew appears on the upper surface of older leaves. As plants mature black pin head sized are visible in white mildew areas. Infested leaves lose lustre, curl, become pale in colour and die.  The disease appears on the upper surface of leaves in the form of pale yellow or pale brown minute discoloured specks from which powdery mass radiates to all sides of leaves. Heavily infested leaves dry and shed prematurely. Soon these specks get covered with whitish powdery mycelial growth which increase in size and develop to cover much of the plant area with white powdery growth. Gradually, the infection spreads to other parts of the plant. The disease is
prevalent more under dry conditions especially at the end of the winter months. Management

  • Reducing the likelihood of a disease outbreak is more effective than trying to control the disease once it is established.

  • Avoid growing crops in situations of high humidity.

  • Morning watering limits the build-up of humidity in the crop overnight.

  • Avoid high plant densities which leads to heavy infection.

  • Application of sulphur dust at 25-30kg/ha or calixin 1 ml/ litre is found effective in reducing the disease incidences.

  • Under high incidences spraying of difenoconazole 1ml/litre is very effective.


“It’s a nice feeling to be upright, to walk and to have people at eye level,” said a beaming Peter Kossmehl at the Potsdam Rehabilitation Centre in Germany. The 40-year-old from the German state of Brandenburg had just tried out a bionic exoskeleton — a wearable, battery-powered robot — that enables paraplegics to take a few steps again. The rehab centre is one of the first facilities in Europe to test the robot, called Ekso and made by Ekso Bionics. The California-based company introduced Ekso in the fall of 2011. Now it is to be tested worldwide on paraplegics, stroke and multiple sclerosis patients and other people with lower-extremity paralysis or
weakness. “In Germany, only patients in Aachen have tested the robot Ekso so far — that was a few weeks ago,” said company spokesman Bastian Schink. After them, eight people in Potsdam strapped on and tried out the approximately 23-kilogram exoskeleton. With the help of sensors in its foot units, weight shifts are converted into steps. “I’d like to give my patients the opportunity to stand erect again as soon as possible,” said Bettina
Quentin, director of physiotherapy at the rehab centre south of Berlin. But Quentin, like many experts, warns against excessive expectations. “People who function well with their wheelchair will always be faster in them than
with the exoskeleton,” said Jan Schwab, head of spinal cord injury research at the Charite University Hospital’s Department of Experimental Neurology in Berlin. “The psychological benefits of a patient standing upright shouldn’t be underestimated, though.” The reactions of the Potsdam patients appeared to confirm this. “I’m not walking by myself,” he remarked. “It’s only passive walking.” Kossmehl, too, thinks more development work is needed. “But it’s just the right aid for the rehab centre,” he said. In the view of Ruediger Rupp, director of the Department of Experimental Neurorehabilitation in the Paraplegiology Clinic at Heidelberg University Hospital, the robot is no substitute for a wheelchair, especially considering that it is not suitable for all patients. There are about 60,000 paraplegics in Germany, “of whom fewer than 10 per cent are candidates (for the
robot),” he said. “That’s a very select group.” Someone who can hardly move his or her torso, for example, would have great difficulties with the robot.


What kind of physical and chemical changes take place in the earth’s crust during an earthquake? How does the temperature change and will there be some melting of the rock? Answers to such fundamental questions are expected from the results of a unique Rs.300-crore project under which scientists will drill a seven-km deep borehole into an earthquake zone for an on-thespot measurement of various physical and chemical changes.
Under the project — Deep Scientific Drilling into Earthquake zone of Koyna-Warna region (Maharashtra) — seismologists and other scientists from the National Geophysical Research Institute (CSIR-NGRI) plan to
establish a deep borehole observatory in the seismicallyactive intra-plate fault zone in Koyna-Warna region. Former NGRI Director and currently a member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Prof. Harsh K. Gupta is the advisor of the project. Continuous monitoring of this borehole at seven-km depth would enable measurement of physical and mechanical properties of rocks, hydrology, temperature and other parameters in the near-field of earthquakes before, during and after their occurrence. “It is expected to lead to a better understanding of the mechanics of earthquake faulting and the physics of reservoir trigger mechanism” said the project leader, Dr. N. Purnachandra Rao. He said the Koyna-Warna deep drill hole would be the first of its kind in the world to directly investigate earthquakes in a stable continental crust, unlike the deep borehole drilled on a plate boundary fault In San Andreas Fault in California. Besides, that was up to a depth of three km, “whereas what we are going to get here is the representative earthquakes of the region within a depth of seven kilometres,” Dr. Rao added. Pointing out that Koyna- Warna region was known for Reservoir Triggered Seismicity (RTS), he said that triggered earthquakes have been occurring regularly in an area of 20 x 30 sq.km ever since the impounding in Koyna reservoir in 1962. While the largest earthquake in that region was of 6.3 magnitude on Richter scale, hundreds of others of varying magnitude have been recorded. “Since there is no other source of seismic activity within 50 km of the Koyna-Warna region, it forms an excellent natural laboratory for earthquake studies,” Dr. Rao said. Explaining the importance of the project, he said so far scientists
have been drawing indirect inference from measurements on the surface of the earth. “We have been measuring from the surface and trying to understand what is happening inside. But now we will measure right at the spot.” This would be extremely valuable knowledge for whole world and has the potential to facilitate earthquake forecasts in future. A seismic network of 15 sensors operating in the region for the last six years helped the
scientists to precisely locate the area where the earthquakes are occurring. “This would help us to plan the exact location for drilling”, Dr. Rao said. While earthquakes normally occur in the crust down to 35 km depth, the drilling could be done only up to a depth of 12 km with the present technology. Dr. Rao said that most of the earthquakes in that region were occurring within 7 km and there was no need to go beyond that depth. Besides, they would be drilling into hard granite rock and the cost of the drilling would go up exponentially as they go down further. Koyna-Warna region was like a laboratory where earthquakes were constantly occurring within a  shallow depth range. “It makes it feasible for drilling and setting up an observatory for earthquake studies,” he added. Dr. Rao said NGRI would be installing seismometers, temperature loggers, strain meters (to measure
deformities in the rock) and some instruments to measure physical parameters like density all along the borehole at different depths up to seven km. He observed that in plate boundary zones where the earthquakes were usually extensive and deeper, it would be difficult to pinpoint an area for drilling. In a bid to supplement these studies, a new institute, Seismological Research Laboratory was being established by the Ministry of Earth Sciences at Karad, Maharashtra. It is planned to develop into a centre of excellence in earthquake and related studies.


In a path breaking development, a team of scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital invented an easy technique, that  will help doctors to diagnoses autism in children earlier. The pioneering technique will pave the way for an early detection and better treatment of the brain disorder in young children. The work detail of the new technique was published in journal BMC Medicine on 26 June 2012. The technique, uses EEG scalp scanning equipment used for decades to diagnose epilepsy to spot weaknesses in the brain’s wiring. The researchers who carried out tests on more than 1000 children aged between two and 12 years found that it was up to 90 per
cent accurate in detecting the disease. Every two in 1000 children worldwide is suffering from Autism. The symptoms of the disease vary from child to child, however, the disease have some very common and invariable
characteristics like difficulty with social interaction, difficulty with communication and a need for routine and repetitive behaviour. Since there is no permanent cure of the disease, patients are usually treated by a combination of speech, behavioural and other therapies. Diagnosis of autism is more often a lengthy and complicated process and the average child is not diagnosed until the age of five and a half.


Periodical pruning of branches in fruit trees is important for getting a good yield. In crops like cotton, castor, sesame, the practice of nipping is essential for enhancing the number of branches. Similarly in sugarcane, pruning of the mother shoot is an important practice to be followed by farmers. Scarce labour Though this practice is being advocated, many farmers are not following this due to labour scarcity. But some of them use a sickle or other available farm tools to prune the main shoot. Existing tools available today are not much popular because the user needs to bend down and hold the stem to prune the sugarcane. While doing so the probabilities of injuring the hands due to presence of sharp spines on the stem or the serrated margin of the leaves pose a problem. Practical problem These make labourers slow down the operation. To address these practical problems the Planning and Monitoring department, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore has fabricated a tool. Named cane seedling pruner, the device has two parts, one a handle  and another hook with an internal knife. The upper portion of the hook has a two inch length pipe to hold the handle stick. A labourer can handle the tool with the help of the handle and place the main shoot in the inner portion of the knife.  With just one pull, the stem can be pruned. Using this tool a person can cover an entire sugarcane field without bending his body. Advantages According to Dr. G. Kathiresan, Director, Planning and Monitoring department the farmer can save the two thirds of money required for pruning, it is easy to use, aids growth of more tillers from the pruned cane seedlings, can be used to harvest fruits like papaya, drumstick, sapota and the like, by changing the length of the handle.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment


Harvard researchers have invented a way to keep any metal surface free of ice and frost — a discovery that will prove beneficial in refrigeration systems, wind turbines and the construction industry. The surfaces treated with the chemical quickly shed even tiny, condensation droplets or frost. The technology prevents ice sheets from developing on surfaces — and any ice that does form, slides off effortlessly. The group, led by Joanna Aizenberg, professor of materials science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), previously introduced the idea that it was possible to create a surface that completely prevented ice with icerepellent coatings, inspired by the water repellent lotus leaf, the journal ACS Nano reports. Yet this technique can fail under high humidity as the surface textures become coated with condensation and frost. To combat this problem, researchers recently invented a radically different technology that is suited for both high humidity and extreme pressure, called SLIPS (Slippery Liquid Infused Porous Surfaces). “Unlike lotus leafinspired
icephobic surfaces, which fail under high humidity conditions, SLIPS-based icephobic (non-stick) materials, as our results suggest, can completely prevent ice formation at temperatures slightly below zero degree Celsius while dramatically reducing ice accumulation and adhesion under deep freezing, frost-forming conditions,” said Aizenberg.


Scientists at the Tomato Genome Consortium (TGC) successfully sequenced the genomes of tomato. It will increase the vegetable’s production worldwide and decrease its price. It took seven years for the scientists to crack the genome. Indian scientists were also the part of the research. National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, National Institute of Plant  Genome Research, The University of Delhi (South Campus) and the Indian Agriculture Research Institute under the auspices of the  Indian Initiative on Tomato Genome Sequencing participated in the TGC. At present, Indian scientists are trying to develop tomatoes that can remain fresh for 15-30 days in normal weather conditions. The sequences provide a detailed overview of the tomato genome, revealing the orientation, order, types and relative positions of their 35000 genes. The sequences will help scientists decode the relationships between tomato genes and traits. It will also increase their understanding of genetic and environmental factors that play an important role to determine a field crop’s health and viability. The Department of Biotechnology funded the Indian initiative and it was supported by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.


In Kerala, even though 60 per cent of the milk requirement is met by procurement from other states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, cattle rearing is fast declining due to high cost of production, labour shortage and shrinking land. Heavy dependence on other states for raw materials pushes up the cost of concentrate feeds. “Dry straw (hay) used to feed cattle has become scarce due to decline in area under rice cultivation. It becomes a dire necessity for dairy farmers to start  growing green fodder (grass) if they desire to run their unit profitably,” says Dr.S. Prabhu Kumar, Zonal Project Director, ICAR, Zonal Project Directorate, Bangalore.


He adds that mere distribution of milch animals by the Government is of no use to farmers. Along with the animals they must be also made aware of the importance of growing their own fodder for the animals. Buying several commercial feeds available in the markets today is not profitable for a small farmer and is sure to burn a hole in their pocket, according to him. Take the case of the Koipuram Milk society established on the banks of river Pampa nearly 20 years back by one Mr. Gopalakrishnan Nair to prevent dairy farmers from being exploited by middlemen who were not providing timely price for the milk supplied. During peak production time farmers used to get only Rs.2.40 per litre of milk while the market price was Rs. 6 per liter. The society was initially started with 400 members and 1,500 litres of milk was sent daily to the milk marketing federation of Kerala for further processing and sales. The price was fixed by the society.


Since 1995 the society encouraged fodder production for its members and introduced different fodder grasses like Congo Signal, Gunnie grass, Hybrid Napier like CO1, CO2 and CO3 in the area. By 2009, 150 hectares in the region were brought under different types of fodder cultivation. “We brought four cuttings of CO4 Hybrid Napier grass from Tamil Nadu Agriculture  University Coimbatore, and multiplied it in our KVK farm. “Today our farmers are selling this fodder to several private farms in  Kollam, Allapuzha, Kottayam and Idukki Districts. On an average 800-1,200 Kg of green fodder is being sold today by the farmers of this society,” says Dr. C. P. Robert, Programme Co-ordinator, CARDKVK (Christian agency for rural development- Krishi Vigyan Kendra), Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. CARD KVK has been in the forefront of fodder promotion  in the Pathanamthitta district and has been conducting many trials to identify suitable forage varieties for the district. Dairy farmers are given training on scientific fodder management practices as and when the need arises.


“Feeding one bundle (15Kg) of CO4 grass has been found to increase milk yield by almost 200 ml per cow. Seeing this superior growth characteristic, farmers are replanting CO4 variety today and it has almost replaced the previous CO3 variety,” says Dr.Robert. Till date several lakh cuttings of this grass have been sold to different agriculture project areas in Kerala. MARKETING Farmers are selling this fodder for Rs1.30 a kg and are  able to harvest 7-8 cuttings a year (the cuttings may vary with the availability of water). Many are able to get an average yield of 270 tonnes per hectare and earn Rs. 15,000 as net profit annually. The society also generates 300 days of employment through this activity a year, according to Dr. Robert.


Conservationists in Nepal are to send drone aircraft into the skies in the battle to save the Himalayan nation’s endangered tigers and rhinos from poachers. WWF Nepal said it had successfully tested two unmanned “conservation drones” earlier this month in Chitwan National Park, in Nepal’s southern plains, the home of a number of the world’s rarest animals. The remote controlled aircraft, being used for the first time in Nepal, would
monitor the animals and poachers via cameras and GPS to capture images and video, the organisation said in a statement earlier this week. The aircraft, with a two-metre wing span and a range of 25 kilometres can stay in the air for 45 minutes, flying at an altitude of up to 200 metres. “WWF Nepal has been introducing new science and technology to aid ongoing conservation efforts in Nepal. The conservation drones are the latest addition,” said Anil Manandhar, the organisation’s representative in Kathmandu. “We believe that this technology will be instrumental in monitoring Nepal’s flagship species and curbing illegal wildlife trade.” Thousands of tigers and greater one-horned rhinos, also known as the Indian rhinoceros, once roamed Nepal and northern India but their numbers plunged over the last century due to poaching and human encroachment on their habitat.


A minor planet that was discovered by Chinese astronomers, has been named after a well-known late Chinese scientist and educator Yan Jici, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The minor planet, known as No 10611, was discovered by the Beijing Schmidt CCD Asteroid Program under the National Astronomical Observatories with the CAS in  1997, and was bestowed with the name in memory of Yan, Xinhua quoted CAS as saying. Yan, a veteran Chinese scientist, was the honorary chairman of the Central Committee of the Jiu San Society and vice-chairman of the Sixth and Seventh National People’s Congress Standing Committee. He was also one of the initiators of University of Science and Technology of China, one of China’s top universities. He cultivated young experts in science and technology. Yan died of illness in Beijing in 1996, at the age of 96.


A joint team of Indian railways and IIT-Kanpur developed the real-time train running information system, a technology which will help a mobile user to get the information about the exact location of a train. Under the new technology the user will have to type the train number and SMS it to 09415139139 or 09664139139 for getting the exact location of a train on real-time basis. The satelite-based train tracking system was jointly developed by the Centre For Railway Information Systems (CRIS), the IT arm of Indian railways and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur to overcome the limitations of the existing Train Running Information System. At present the real-time train running information system service covers 36 pairs of premier trains. Some of the trains which have been provided with the new technology include Mumbai Rajdhani, Howrah Rajdhani, Dibrugarh Rajdhani, Sealdah Duronto and Shatabdi trains for Bhopal, Kanpur  and Amritsar. The Indian Railway has allocated 121 crore rupees for the project and the service is likely to be extended to all major trains over the next 18 months. The Indian Railways has received the permission from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to operate the system through its satellite. The railways department, however, sought fresh order from ISRO, to extend the facility to other major trains.


A new brain scan shows what it looks like when a person runs out of patience or loses self-control. The study could also modify  previous thinking that considered self-control to be like a muscle.University of Iowa neuroscientist William Hedgcock confirms previous studies that show self-control is a finite commodity that is depleted by use. But Hedgcock’s study is the first to actually show it happening in the brain, using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) images that scan people as they perform self-control tasks, the Journal of Consumer Psychology reports. The images show the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) fires with equal
intensity throughout the task. ACC is the part of the brain that recognises a situation in which self control is needed and says: “Heads up, there are multiple responses to  this situation and some might not be good.” However, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) fires with less intensity after prior exertion of self-control. DLPFC is the part of the brain that manages self-control and says: “I really want to do the dumb thing, but I should overcome that impulse and do the smart thing”. Hedgcock said that loss of activity in the DLPFC might be the person’s self-control draining away. The stable activity in the  ACC suggests people have no problem recognising a temptation. Although they keep fighting, they have a harder and harder time not giving in.


A new project to develop a search engine which will draw its results from sensors is being undertaken by computer scientists at the University of Glasgow. The European-funded project, known as SMART, for “Search engine for Multimedia Environment generated content”, aims to  develop and implement a system to allow internet users to search and analyse data from these  sensors, a university release said.  By matching search queries with information from sensors and cross-referencing data from social networks such as Twitter, users will be able to receive detailed responses to questions such as “What part of the city hosts live music events which my friends have been to recently?” or “How busy is the city centre?” Currently, standard search engines such as Google are not able to answer search queries of this type, the release added. Dr Iadh Ounis, of the University of Glasgow said: “The SMART engine will be able to answer high-level queries by automatically identifying cameras, microphones and other sensors that can contribute to the query, then synthesising results stemming from distributed sources in an intelligent way.” SMART is likely to be tested in a real city by 2014.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment


In a rare space event, Venus, the second closest planet from the sun, passed in front of the sun on 5 June 2012. The rare planetary display began shortly after 2200 GMT on 5 June 2012 in parts of North America. Subsequently, it was visible in Central America, and the northern part of South America. The view at the time the Venus was crossing though the Sun was incredible, as a tiny black dot appeared on the solar surface.
Venus is 100th of the diameter of the sun so while moving across from one side to the other, just a black spot placed over on the disc of the sun. The celestial phenomenon which repeats itself in more than 100 year, will now be rewitnessed only in 2117. The space phenomenon is seen when the Venus passes between the Sun and the Earth. It occurs in intervals of 8, 121½, 8 and 105½ years. The last Transit of Venus occurred on 8
June 2004 and was visible across India. The transit which took place on 5 June 2012, completes the pair of 2004-12. The latest Venus transit is only the eighth since the invention of the telescope, and the last until 10-11 December 2117.


The Transit of Venus occurs when it comes between the sun and earth. Venus is significantly smaller in size than the sun and hence appears like a small dot on a big plate.


One of the heftiest dinosaurs that strode the Earth may have weighed as much as six buses less than thought, according to a new formula that will also place other dinosaurs in a lower weight class. TheBerlin Brachiosaur  was previously estimated to weigh as much as 80 tonnes. But a new calculation of its mass, published by scientists recently, suggests it would have tipped the scales at a relatively featherweight 23 tonnes. “Our results would suggest that many of the previous estimates (for all dinosaurs) are indeed too heavy,” study author Bill Sellers told AFP. For most dinosaurs, the discrepancy would not be as big as that for the Brachiosaurus, “but
certainly we would suggest that lighter estimates are likely to be correct.” The team of biologists used 14 large-framed modern mammals to devise a new method of estimating body mass using only the skeleton. “It’s a mathematical technique that effectively wraps a skin as tightly as it can around the bones,” explained Sellers of the University of Manchester. “This gives us a ‘skin and bones’ model (from) which we can measure the volume.” The study revealed that the weight of modern-day animals was 21 per cent more than the socalled “wrapping volume” — which equation was then applied to the dinosaur bones.


An archaeologist says he found the oldest piece of rock art in Australia and one of the oldest in the world- an Aboriginal work created 28,000 years ago in an Outback cave. The dating of one of the thousands of images in the Northern Territory rock shelter known as Nawarla Gabarnmang will be published in the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science . University of Southern Queensland archaeologist Bryce Barker said Monday that he found the rock in June last year but only recently had it dated at New Zealand’s University of Waikato radiocarbon laboratory. “It’s the oldest unequivocally dated rock art in Australia” and among the oldest in the world, Barker said.


The stem of all plants is green due to the presence of hypodermal chlorenchyma in its cortex. But when the stem axis, especially the dicot stem axis, ceases to elongate and undergoes secondary growth, its green colour disappears and becomes pale or dark brown in colour. The secondary growth is not only responsible for change in  surface colour but also contributes to the thickness of the axis due to the formation of periderm. This is
effected in the cortex by a lateral meristem called phellogen and the formation of secondary vascular tissues (secondary xylem and  secondary phloem), which is effected in the stele (vascular cylinder) by the vascular cambium. Among these two tissue gains due to secondary growth, the periderm is responsible for the change in  stem surface colour. The periderm is the protective tissue of secondary origin replacing the primary structure  of the young stem, the epidermis. It consists of the phellogen (cork cambium), the meristem that produces the periderm; the phellem (commonly  called cork), the protective tissue formed outwardly by the phellogen . The phelloderm , a living parenchyma tissue, is formed inwardly by the phellogen. In a stem, the periderm is most commonly formed in the sub epidermal layer. In some species, however, the first periderm appears rather deep within the stem. All the living tissues above the periderm die due to the insertion of the nonliving cork between these tissues and the living inner tissues of the plant. Now the stem surface is exposed by the cork cells. The
walls of the cork cells may be coloured brown, yellow or the lumen of these cells may contain resinous or tanniferous materials. That is why the older stems exhibit brown colouration on their surface.


China on 16 June 2012 launched its fourth human spaceflight Shenzhou-9 from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre in north-western Gansu state. The 30.3 feet long and 9.1 feet diameter, Shenzhou -9 spacecraft will conduct the first manned docking mission and set the foundation for Chinese plans to build a space station by 2020. Shenzhou-9 is expected to take at least 20 days to complete its space mission. In the course of the mission the crew will accomplish automated docking procedure followed by scientific experiments, technical tests and physical exercises conducted in the space lab. The crew will conduct manual docking with the Tiangong-1 or heavenly palace space laboratory module, which has been orbiting the earth since 29 September 2011. China, notwithstanding its assurance given to the world community that it will not get indulged in space warfare, is
spending billions of dollars to accomplish its ambitious space programmes. China, in December 2011, had revealed a five-year space programme, in which it vowed to set up a space lab and collect sample from the moon by 2016. Earlier, the Chinese government had undertaken a mission to get to the moon and set up a manned space station by year 2020. China, launched its manned space programme in year 1999 with the launch of Shenzhou-1 with no crew on board. In 2001, Shenzhou-2 was blasted off with small animals aboard, and in 2003, China launched its first manned space craft. Since then, it has completed a space walk in 2008 and an
unmanned docking between a module and rocket in 2011. The launch of Shenzhou-9 is a testimony to China’s determination to develop its technological competence vis-a-vis United States and Russia.


One of two female fighter pilots will become the first Chinese woman in space later this month, after the two were short-listed for a place in the three-person team that will blast off in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, the state  news agency Xinhua said. Chinese media described Major Liu Yang, from Henan, as a “hero pilot” who achieved a successful emergency landing after a dramatic bird-strike incident spattered the windshield of her plane  with blood. Meanwhile, her rival, Captain Wang Yaping, from Shandong, is said to have flown rescue missions during the Sichuan earthquake and piloted a cloud-seeding plane to help clear the skies of rain for the Beijing
Olympics in 2008. “They are selected as members of the first batch of female astronauts in China because of their excellent flight skills and psychological quality,” said Xinhua. This month’s mission is regarded as an important stage in China’s ambitious space programme. “The Shenzhou-9 will perform our country’s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module,” Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program, told state media. “This will be a significant step in China’s manned space flight history,” he said. China will be the eighth country to see one of its female citizens go into space, and only the third to put one there itself. Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman to go into space in 1963. Both the women short-listed are in their 30s and have one child: Chinese authorities have decreed that only
mothers can train as astronauts, apparently because of their concern that spaceflight might affect women’s fertility. Earlier this year, the deputy editor-in-chief of an official magazine said women astronauts should also have no scars — which might open and bleed in space — nor body odour. “They even must not have decayed teeth because any small flaw might cause great trouble or a disaster in space,” said Pan Zhihao of Space
International , published by the China Academy of Space Technology. But he also told China Daily that female astronauts tend to be more “keen and sensitive with better communication skills than their male counterparts.”


Researchers from the University of Bristol and other institutions have found the “first unequivocal” chemical evidence of dairying practices by Saharan people about 5,000 years ago — at a time when the region was in a
humid phase and had plenty of plant cover. Researching the earliest evidence of dairying has so far been confined to Europe, Near East and Eurasia. This is the first time an attempt is made to study African samples. The results are published today (June 21) in Nature. Till date evidence of domestication of cattle, sheep and goats came from faunal samples. But faunal remains have  been “highly fragmentary and poorly preserved.” Reconstructing evidence of herding has therefore been difficult. Even indirect evidence of dairying is “missing.” Of course, rock paintings and engravings have provided some  compelling indirect evidence. The researchers therefore turned to molecular and isotope analysis of absorbed food residues found on potsherds to know the details. The rationale is simple: analysing food residues is a sure way of understanding diet and subsistence practices of humans a few thousand years ago. Making the study possible has been the exemplary preservation of absorbed organic residues, particularly lipids, on potsherds. This is unlike in the case of European sites where only 40 per cent of potsherds provided any evidence of lipids, and that to at very low concentrations. “This remarkable preservation [in the case of African samples] is likely to be related to the extremely arid conditions prevailing in the region” in the last hundreds of years. The researchers used carbon 13 isotopic ratios to study the major alkanoic acids of milk fat. The lipids belonged to three categories — “high abundance” of C16:0 and C18:0 (lipid numbers) fatty acids derived from degraded animals fats. There were carbon isotopes (C13 to C18) which are demonstrative of “bacterial origin” and diagnostic of “ruminant animal fats.” In the second category, the carbon isotopes found were diagnostic of plant oils and a certain kind of wax of vascular plants. The third type of residue indicates the “drying reaction of plant oils,” and reflects either “processing of both plant and animal products in the same vessel or the multiuse of the vessels.” Of the three types, only those indicative of degraded animal fats were taken up for detailed analysis. Compared with present day animal
fats, about 50 per cent of lipid samples recovered from the potsherds fall within or on the edge of isotopic range of dairy fats. About 33 per cent fall within the isotope range for ruminant adipose fats. “The unambiguous conclusion is that the appearance of dairy fats correlates with the abundant presence of cattle bones in the cave deposits, suggesting a full pastoral economy,” they write. They also found unequivocal evidence for “extensive processing of dairying products” in pottery in the Libyan Sahara between 5,200-3,800 years ago. This confirms that “milk played an important part in the diet of these prehistoric pastoral people.” This is quite surprising
considering the fact that these people were able to consume milk despite suffering from lactose intolerance. The study thus provides a window to the “evolutionary context for the emergence of lactase persistence in Africa.”

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment


The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have joined forces to adapt new measures to tackle the growing climate related risks and constraints that prevail in rural areas. The two organizations and their partners emphasized adoption of a different perspective and approach by listening, observing and learning from the people that they are supposed to help with research findings, technology and know how. According to a press release from ICRISAT, Director General of ICRISAT Dr William D Dar had mentioned in his keynote address that they would hold themselves accountable. “We will measure results and stay focused on clear goals: boosting farmers’ incomes and over the next decade helping 50 million men, women and children lift themselves out of poverty,” he had said, according to the release. As is well known, smallholder farmers living in the semi-arid tropics and coastal areas are most vulnerable to changes brought about by climate change. Director General of ICAR Dr S  Ayyappan was also present at the meeting. In his opening address he had said that the collaboration of the two institutions was not recent but dated back a few decades. The  collaboration has been beneficial, particularly in addressing the farmers’ problems. “As far as climate change is concerned, it is a global phenomenon. The increase in the atmospheric temperature due to rising greenhouse gas levels such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide has been the prime driver of climate change. During the deliberations, it was reported that the early signs of increasing climatic variability are gradually becoming more visible in the form of increasing melting of
Himalayan glaciers, flash floods, and intense rainfall over short periods. In the case of India, climate change would manifest itself in many ways. For one, it would increase the already existing stresses thereby increasing the
vulnerability of food production and livelihoods of the farming community. And predictably, the  small and marginal farmers are most vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change. Why do all metals turn red when heated? Materially, many of the hard metals are considered as  ‘blackbodies’. All those materials that are perfect absorbers of all wavelengths of light when they are cool and emitters of all wavelengths of light when they are heated, are known as blackbodies. However, the wavelength (or colour) of the light they emit with greatest efficiency (maximum light throughput) varies with the temperature that they are heated to or maintained at. Let us know this wavelength as ‘lambda max’. This means that a blackbody body heated to a particular temperature would appear in the colour of the lambda max wavelength because it is at that wavelength that the optical energy is emitted from the body with maximum throughput. The ‘lambda max’ and the temperature at which the blackbody is heated to are inversely related; the hotter the black body the lower is the lambda max. This is a universal law, known as ‘Wien’s Displacement Law’ and is independent of the chemical composition and physical fabric of the solid body as long as the body behaves as a blackbody when heated. In other words, the mathematical product of the lambda max and the absolute temperature of the body is a universal constant, known as Wien’s Constant with a value of about 2.9x10{+-}{+3}mK when wavelength is taken in metres (m) and the temperature in Kelvin scale (K). Accordingly, metals, behaving like blackbodies, would appear in red colour (wavelength of about 700 nanometres) when heated to about 3,800 K (or about 3,500o C). It is on this basis (Wien’s Displacement Law) that metals turn red when heated (to about 3,500o C). It is also the reason why metal objects exposed to blacksmith’s kiln change their appearance from red to yellow via orange because of gradually raising temperature of the kiln. Finally, it is worthwhile to know that the surface temperatures of the distant stars and heavenly bodies are estimated on the basis of the spectrometric measurement of the lambda max they emit (after accounting for the Doppler Shift). Since Sun appears yellow, its surface temperature is estimated to be about 5,500o C.


In a pioneering innovation, the nanotechnology scientist, Rao Papineni and his colleagues invented a cancer treatment system in which a nano-particle carries the payload of anti-cancer drug and releases it only in the cancerous cell, thus protecting healthy cells around. The newly invented system got patented in the USA on 19 June 2012. The title of the patent is ‘High Capacity Non-Viral Vectors.’ The non-viral vectors are nanoparticles. The nano-particles will allow the drug particle to target the diseased site with pinpoint precision. The nano-particles will allow the drug to be released inside the diseased cell. They will enhance the function of the drug. The nano-particles will carry the drug precisely with minimal collateral damage to healthy tissue. Papineni, along with his fellow researchers applied for the patent in 2009. Papineni is presently the chief scientist and senior principal investigator in medical applications of nanotechnology at Carestream Health, Inc USA.


World IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) Launch Day held globally on 6 June 2012. All the major Internet Service Providers, networking equipment manufacturers and web companies around the world came together on the occasion, to permanently enable IPv6 for their products and services. The day, organized by Internet Society, represents a major milestone in the global deployment of IPv6. Previous year the World IPv6 Day was observed on 8 June wherein , top websites and Internet Service Providers around the world, had joined together for a successful 24- hour global-scale trial of the new Internet Protocol, IPv6. World IPv6 Day 2012 was an event sponsored and organized by the Internet Society and several large content providers to test public IPv6 deployment. It was announced on 12 January 2011 with five anchoring companies: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Akamai Technologies, and Limelight Networks.


IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is a latest version of the Internet Protocol (IP) which will succeed IPv4, the communications protocol which is currently being used to direct almost all Internet traffic. IPv6 will allow the Internet to support many more devices by greatly increasing the number of possible addresses.


Probiotics when consumed regularly may be able to prevent many acute diarrhoea cases in children. In 2010, diarrhoea killed more than 210,000 children aged less than five years in India, The Lancet reported recently . The mortality figures were nearly 19,000 in neonates and 193,000 in children aged 1-59 months. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) describe probiotics as “microorganisms that exhibit beneficial health effects for hosts when a sufficient amount of them are ingested.” Masanobu  Nanno, Associate Director of Yakult Central Institute forMicrobiology Research, Yakult Honsha Co Ltd, Tokyo, told a group of journalists that a clinical trial using the company’s probiotic drink — Lactobacillus casei strain  Shirota (LcS) — in an urban slumcommunity in Kolkata showed promise. The clinical trial, funded by the company, was conducted by the Kolkata-based National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. “The funding agency had no role in the design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation or writing the report,” the paper noted. The trial was community-based, randomised, double-blind and  placebo-controlled involving 3,758 children aged 1-5 years from ward 66 in Kolkata Municipal Corporation. While 608 subjects in the study group consumed the  company’s probiotic drink everyday for 12 weeks, the control group (674 children) received a placebo. The children were followed up for a further 12 weeks. At the end of the 24-week study period, the group that received the probiotic drink showed reduced occurrence of acute diarrhea. “The level of protective efficacy for the probiotic group was 14 per cent,” stated the paper published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection. But the authors warn that there is insufficient evidence for “extrapolation of these results for global recommendation.” Besides good sanitation and safe drinking water, probiotics may probably have a role in preventing many deaths caused by diarrhea. The 25 to 35-feet-long gastrointestinal tract of an adult human has about 100 trillion bacteria — good, neutral and pathogenic microorganisms. This is approximately ten times the total number of cells in the human body. In all, the digestive tract has some 400 different types of bacteria that keep the harmful bacteria under check. The intestinal epithelium by itself acts as a
physical barrier to the pathogenic bacteria. However, when the number of good bacteria declines, pathogenic micro-organisms can destroy the integrity of the intestinal wall and cause many illnesses, diarrhea included. The rationale of the study was therefore to populate the digestive tract with good bacteria using the drink rich in Lactobacilli casei strain Shirota. “It is reasonably well established that probiotics can shorten the duration of diarrhea by half-aday,” said Dr. B.S. Ramakrishna, Professor and Head of Gastroenterology, CMC, Vellore. “In a community the incidence of regular diarrhea can come down by 15 per cent.” Similar benefits have
been seen in other two types of diarrhea as well — travellers’  diarrhea and antibiotic-induced diarrhea. “Probiotics has shown some beneficial effects in the case of travellers’ diarrhea,” Dr. Ramakrishna said. “There is  clear evidence of prevention and shortening of duration by half-aday in the case of anti biotic induced diarrhea.” The effectiveness of probiotics in preventing and even reducing the duration of diarrhea has been reported in several studies. For instance, a 2006 meta-analysis found probiotics as “safe and effective for both treatment and prevention of acute pediatric diarrhea.” The study was  published in the International Journal of Probiotics and Prebiotics . A 2002 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found Lactobacilli casei to “significantly reduce the duration of  diarrhea in children.” The study was carried out on 75 subjects at the Delhi University College Hospital and another 75 in a resettlement colony in East Delhi. “Probiotics are generally beneficial in treatment and prevention  of gastrointestinal diseases,” noted a 2012 PLoS ONE paper. It went on to state that “the type of disease and probiotic species (strain) are the most important factors to take into consideration” when choosing to use probiotics for treatment or prevention of gastrointestinal disease.


Science Express — a train for promoting scientific tempers — began its fifth journey, this time to  raise awareness about the country’s unique biodiversity. The ‘Science Express — Biodiversity Special (SEBS)’ was flagged off. It will be stationed at Hyderabad from October 9-19 when the city would host the 11th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The train will culminate for the year at Gandhinagar. Of the 16 coaches comprising the SEBS, eight are dedicated to showcasing biodiversity spread across the various bio-geographical zones.


Archaeologists have discovered a 4,000-year-old tomb in Egypt that contains a sarcophagus inscribed with ancient funeral texts as well as ritual objects. The tomb dates from ancient Egypt’s First Intermediate period (2181-2055 B.C.). Very little archaeological evidence survives from this period. Ritual objects made from alabaster copper, terracotta and other materials were found in the tomb in Deir al-Barsha area in al-Minya province, around 250 km from Cairo.