India to become Aatmanirbhar in Phosphatic Fertilisers
Why in News?
- In order to improve the availability of phosphatic fertilisers (DAP and NPK) and to reduce the dependence on imports by making India truly Aatmnirbhar in fertilisers, Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers chaired a meeting with officials of Department of Fertilizers and stakeholders of Fertilizers industries.
- An Action Plan was chalked out for making India Aatmanirbhar in fertiliser production through indigenous resources.
- Directed to commercially exploit and ramp up the production in the existing 30 lakh MT of Phosphorite deposits which are available in Rajasthan, central part of peninsular India, Hirapur(MP), Lalitpur(UP), Mussoorie syncline, Cuddapah basin(AP).
- Rock Phosphate is the key raw material for DAP and NPK fertilisers and India is 90% dependent on imports.
- Volatility in international prices affects domestic prices of fertilisers and hinders the progress and development of agriculture sector in the country.
New Generation Agni P Ballistic Missile
Why in News?
- Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully flight tested a New Generation Nuclear Capable Ballistic Missile Agni P from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha, Balasore.
- Agni P is a new generation advanced variant of Agni class of missiles.
- It is a canisterised missile with range capability between 1,000 and 2,000 kms.
About Agni Missiles
- The Agni missile is a family of medium to intercontinental range ballistic missiles developed by India, named after one of the five elements of nature.
- Agni missiles are long range, nuclear weapons capable surface to surface ballistic missile. The first missile of the series, Agni-I was developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) and tested in 1989.
- After its success, Agni missile program was separated from the IGMDP upon realizing its strategic importance. It was designated as a special program in India’s defence budget and provided adequate funds for subsequent development.
Delta and Delta Plus Variants
Why does a virus mutate?
- Virus by its very nature mutates. It is part of its evolution. The SARS-Cov-2 virus is a single-stranded RNA virus.
- So, changes in the genetic sequence of the RNA are mutations.
- The moment a virus enters its host cell or a susceptible body, it starts replicating. When the spread of infection increases, the rate of replication also increases.
- A virus that has got a mutation in it is known as a variant.
What is the impact of mutations?
- The normal process of mutations begins to impact us when it leads to changes in transmission levels or on treatment. Mutations can have positive, negative or neutral effects on human health.
- Negative impacts include clustering of infections, increased transmissibility, ability to escape immunity and infect someone who has prior immunity, neutralization escape from monoclonal antibodies, improved binding to lung cells and increased severity of infection.
- Positive impacts can be that the virus becomes non-viable.
Why are frequent mutations seen in SARS-CoV-2 virus? When will the mutations stop?
SARS-CoV-2 can mutate due to the following reasons:
- Random error during replication of virus.
- Immune pressure faced by viruses after treatments such as convalescent plasma, vaccination or monoclonal antibodies (antibodies produced by a single clone of cells with identical antibody molecules).
- Uninterrupted transmission due to lack of COVID-appropriate behaviour. Here the virus finds excellent host to grow and becomes more fit and more transmissible.
- The virus will continue to mutate as long as the pandemic remains.
What are Variants of Interest (VoI) and Variants of Concern (VoC)?
- When the mutations happen – if there is any previous association with any other similar variant which is felt to have an impact on public health – then it becomes a Variant under Investigation.
- Once genetic markers are identified which can have association with receptor binding domain or which have an implication on antibodies or neutralizing assays, we start calling them as Variants of Interest.
- The moment we get evidence for increased transmission through field-site and clinical correlations, it becomes a Variant of Concern. Variants of concern are those that have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Increased transmissibility
- Change in virulence/ disease presentation
- Evading the diagnostics, drugs and vaccines
- The 1st Variant of Concern was announced by the UK where it was found. Currently there are four variants of concern identified by the scientists – Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
What are Delta and Delta Plus variants?
- These are the names given to variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus, based on the mutations found in them. WHO has recommended using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1), Delta (B.1.617), etc., to denote variants, for easier public understanding.
- Delta variant, also known as SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617, has about 15-17 mutations. It was first reported in October 2020. More than 60% of cases in Maharashtra in February 2021 pertained to delta variants.
- It is the Indian scientists who identified the Delta Variant and submitted it to the global database. Delta variant is classified as a Variant of Concern and has now spread to 80 countries, as per WHO.
- Delta variant (B.1.617) has three subtypes B1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3, among which B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.3 have been classified as Variant of Interest, while B.1.617.2 (Delta Plus) has been classified as a Variant of Concern.
- The Delta Plus variant has an additional mutation in comparison to Delta variant; this mutation has been named as the K417N mutation. ‘Plus’ means an additional mutation has happened to the Delta variant. It does not mean that the Delta Plus variant is more severe or highly transmissible than the Delta variant.
Why has the Delta Plus Variant (B.1.617.2) been classified as a Variant of Concern?
The Delta Plus variant has been classified as Variant of Concern because of the following characteristics:
- Increased transmissibility
- Stronger binding to receptors of lung cells
- Potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response
- Potential post vaccination immune escape
Electrically configured nanochannels
Why in News?
- Scientists have developed electrically configured nanochannels that can eliminate unwanted energy waste and promise wave-based computing. This can revolutionize on-chip data communication and processing in future.
- It is composed of logic circuits having a large number of transistors interconnected by metallic wires.
- The data carried by electric charges suffer undesirable heating limiting its integration density.
- Spintronics, also known as spin electronics, or the study of the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment, in addition to its fundamental electronic charge, in solid-state devices offer to harness electron spins.
- Their collective precession can carry information encoded in its amplitude, phase, wavelength, and frequency without any physical motion of particles, eliminating unwanted energy waste and promising wave-based computing.
- To this end, Professor Anjan Barman and coworkers from the S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences have developed electrically reconfigured parallel nanochannels that tune the behaviour of spin waves in nano-structure elements.
- They have done this by periodically tailoring the property that confers a preferred direction on the spin of a system, also called anisotropy using the electric field — technically called the principles of voltage-controlled magnetic anisotropy.
- In the recent research, spin-waves were efficiently transferred through these nanochannels, and this could be switched ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ and its magnitude altered by a meagre voltage of few volts.
- The team believes that in future, these nanochannels can be engineered further to transfer specific bands of frequencies through designed parallel channels towards development of on-chip multiplexing devices.
National Statistics Day
- The birth anniversary of PC Mahalanobis is observed as National Statistics Day.
- Often referred to as the ‘father of Indian statistics’, PC Mahalanobis, was born on June 29, 1893 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal.
- He was a key member of the first Planning Commission of independent India and a Padma Vibhushan awardee.
- The first National Statistics Day was observed on June 29, 2006. The day is dedicated to statistics in daily life and creating awareness among people on how statistics helps in framing policies.
- The key contribution of PC Mahalanobis is known as “Mahalanobis distance’.
- The formula is used to find the distance between a point and a distribution, based on measurements in multiple dimensions. It is widely used in the field of cluster analysis and classification.
2021 National Statistics Day Theme:
- End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture (Sustainable Development Goal or SDG 2 of the UN) is the theme of this year’s National Statistics Day. Goal 2 seeks “sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security.”
PC Mahalanobis and immense contribution
- With the objective of providing comprehensive socio-economic statistics, PC Mahalanobis had established the National Sample Survey in 1950. He had also set up the Central Statistical Organization to coordinate statistical activities in the country.
- A few of his major works include, the introduction of techniques for conducting large-scale sample surveys.
- He is credited with calculating acreages and crop yields by using random sampling methods. PC Mahalanobis had also devised a statistical method, which could be used to compare the socio-economic situation of different groups of people.
- PC Mahalanobis was a pioneer in applying statistics to planning for flood control.
Black Sea drills
Why in News?
- Ukraine and the United States launched joint naval exercises in the Black Sea in a show of Western cooperation with Kiev as it faces off with Russia.
- The Sea Breeze drills — which have taken place 21 times since 1997 — will involve some 5,000 military personnel from more than 30 countries.
- The exercises will last two weeks and involve around 30 ships, including the missile destroyer USS Ross.
- Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and claims the waters around the peninsula as part of its territory.
- Most countries do not recognise the takeover and stand behind Ukraine’s claims to the waters.
- Washington is a key ally of Kiev in its conflict with Moscow over Crimea and pro-Moscow separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
- In 2018 Russian forces boarded and took control of three Ukrainian Naval ships off the Black Sea peninsula.
Cyber Security Doctrine
Why in News?
- India has made only modest progress in developing its policy and doctrine for cyberspace security despite the geostrategic instability of its region and a keen awareness of the cyber threat it faces, according to a new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
- The report ‘Cyber Capabilities and National Power: A Net Assessment’, which has assessed cyber power for 15 countries, said while India has cyber-intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities, they are regionally focused, principally on Pakistan.
- From the little evidence available on India’s offensive cyber capability, it is safe to assume it is Pakistan-focused and regionally effective.
- Overall, India is a third-tier cyber power whose best chance of progressing to the second tier is by harnessing its great digital-industrial potential and adopting a whole-of-society approach to improving its cyber security.
- The report divides the countries into three tiers based on analysis of core cyber-intelligence capabilities, cyber security and resilience, strategy and doctrine and offensive cyber capability.
- The U.S. is the only country in tier one with world-leading strengths in all categories, while countries like Australia, Canada, China, France, Israel, Russia and the United Kingdom are placed in tier two.
- India, along with Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea and Vietnam, are in tier three with “potential strengths in some categories but significant weaknesses in others”.
- India’s intelligence priorities are deeply shaped by internal and external terrorist threats, internal political violence and the ongoing conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.
- However, India’s cyber-intelligence reach appears weak: it tends to rely on partnerships such as those with the U.S., the U.K. and France for a higher level of cyber situational awareness and to help it develop a greater reach of its own in future.
Amazon hydropower plant
Why in News?
- Developers have built hundreds of hydroelectric plants in the Amazon basin to take advantage of the allegedly “green” energy generated by its complex of rivers.
- But climate researchers now know hydropower is not as good for the environment as once assumed.
- Though no fossil fuels are burned, the reservoirs release millions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide as vegetation decays underwater.
- So called run-of-river (ROR) dams like Belo Monte along the Xingu River, which have smaller reservoirs and channels allowing reduced river flow, were meant to address the problem, but a study found that has not been the case.
- Team studied methane and carbon dioxide emissions during Belo Monte’s first two years of operation and compared the results to levels prior to the reservoirs being filled, finding a threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
- A 2019 study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that some of the world’s hydropower plants are carbon sinks — meaning they take in more carbon through photosynthesis by organisms living in the water than they emit through decomposition — while others are net emitters.
Ten month gap between AstraZeneca doses
Why in News?
- Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered 44-45 weeks apart generated nearly four times the level of antibodies than when the doses were given 8-12 weeks apart, says a report by the Oxford Vaccine Group, the developers of the vaccine.
- Antibody levels remained elevated for nearly a year and a third booster dose of the vaccine, given to a subset of volunteers, also significantly boosted antibody levels to twice that after a second dose.
- Covishield, which is the India-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, is now the mainstay of India’s vaccination programme comprising nearly 88% of the 32 crore doses administered so far.
- Though the dosage interval of the vaccine was initially designed as between 4-6 weeks, a supply crunch in May, as well United Kingdom data on the vaccine’s efficacy administered 8-12 weeks apart weighed on Indian experts to recommend a 12-16 week interval between two doses of the vaccine.
- The latest study also reported reduced common adverse events after the second dose compared to the first.
- After a first dose, antibody levels peaked in 28 days and after 180 days were nearly half as that of the peak. At 320 days, these were only 30% of the peak levels.
- However protection against symptomatic disease is a result of the combined action of vaccine induced antibodies and cellular immunity, or T cell immunity.
- The study also reported higher antibody levels after the second dose than prior to it when antibody levels were measured against the coronavirus variants Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351) and Delta (B.1.617.2), also the most prevalent variant in India.
Why in News?
- Noted journalist P. Sainath has been selected as one of the three recipients of the Fukuoka Prize for 2021.
- Sainath will receive the ‘Grand Prize’ of the Fukuoka Prize while the Academic Prize and the Prize for Arts and Culture will go to Prof. Kishimoto Mio of Japan and filmmaker Prabda Yoon of Thailand respectively.
- The Fukuoka Prize is given annually to distinguished people to foster and increase awareness of Asian cultures, and to create a broad framework of exchange and mutual learning among the Asian people.
- The Grand Prize has earlier been awarded to Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, historian Romila Thapar, and sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. Eleven Indians have received the Fukuoka Prize so far.
- The Prize was established in 1990.
- Asteroids, also known as minor planets, are small, rocky bodies that have been left over from the formation of planets about 4.5 billion years ago. Billions of such rocks exist in the solar system, with the majority of them concentrated in a doughnut-shaped main belt of asteroids between the planets Mars and Jupiter.
- As remnants from the planet forming process, they can not only be viewed as building blocks of planets, but could also possibly hold clues explaining the evolution of Earth.
- The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), later renamed NEAR Shoemaker, was a low-cost mission and the first to be flown under NASA’s Discovery programme.
- Its target was the minor planet 433 Eros, which is approximately 355 million km from Earth, and it intended to gather information about its physical properties and composition, among others.
- Eros was discovered by German astronomer Carl Gustav Witt on August 13, 1898, and by French astronomer Auguste Charlois independently on the same day.
- It was given a male name Eros – the son of Mercury and Venus.
- Within weeks from its discovery, it was computed that Eros’ orbit brought it inside the orbit of Mars, making it the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered.
- Launched on February 17, 1996, NEAR was the first spacecraft to rely on solar cells for power for its operations beyond Mars orbit. Even though its primary objective was studying Eros, NEAR performed a 25-minute flyby of the asteroid 253 Mathilde on June 27, 1997.
- NEAR’s closest approach to Mathilde brought it within 1,200 km of the minor planet.
- From this distance, it was able to photograph 60% of the asteroid and gather data that indicated that the asteroid is covered with craters and less dense than previously believed.
- On February 14, 2000 – Valentine’s Day – NEAR finally entered into orbit around Eros, an asteroid named after the god of love in Greek mythology. NEAR thus became the first human-made object to orbit any minor planet.
- A month after entering into orbit, on March 14, 2000, NEAR was renamed NEAR Shoemaker by NASA in honour of planetary scientist and geologist Eugene Shoemaker.
- Shoemaker, who had died in an accident in 1997, was a pioneer in studying asteroid impacts.
Why in News?
- The need for an anti-drone system shielding critical installations in the country came under sharp focus after recent drone attack on an IAF base in Jammu, 14 km from the international border.
How to counter the drone threat
- Several private defence contractors, over the years, have begun to offer off-the-shelf anti-drone tech to counter hostile Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as drones.
- Companies, predominantly based out of Israel, US, and even China, have developed anti-drone systems using existing technologies such as radars, frequency jammers, optic and thermal sensors etc.
But how do these systems stand apart?
- It comes down to the range and the manner in which the threat is assessed and neutralised. Some systems simply monitor and alert the presence of a drone, while others are equipped with ballistics and even lasers.
What are the existing anti-drone systems?
- Rafael, the defence company behind Israel’s famed Iron Dome missile system, has also developed something called the Drone Dome.
- Like the Iron Dome, which identifies and intercepts incoming missiles, the Drone Dome detects and intercepts drones.
- Besides the collection of static radars, radio frequency sensors, and cameras it uses to offer “a 360-degree coverage”, the Drone Dome is also capable of jamming the commands being sent to a hostile drone and blocking visuals, if any, that are being transmitted back to the drone operator.
- Its highlight, however, is the precision with which it can shoot high-powered laser beams to bring down targets.
- US-based Fortem Technologies also operates in a similar fashion but uses an interceptor drone — aptly called the ‘DroneHunter’ — to pursue and capture hostile drones. The DroneHunter fires from its ‘NetGun’ a spider web-shaped net to capture targets midair and tow them.
Is there an indigenous solution for India?
- Yes, there is. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed an ‘Anti Drone System’ and it will be deployed this year.
Why in News?
- A wireless pacemaker that can dissolve in the body has been created for patients who need only temporary help to regulate their heartbeat.
- First pacemaker was implanted in 1958.
- While some people require permanent pacemakers, others need them for days or weeks – for example after open-heart surgery.
- While pacemakers can already be used for temporary periods, experts say there are problems, including that leads placed through the skin can pose an infection risk.
- The external power supply and control system can become accidentally dislodged, and heart tissue can be damaged when the device is removed.
- Now researchers have developed a battery-free pacemaker that can be implanted directly on to the surface of the heart and absorbed by the body when no longer needed.
- Device is thin, flexible and weighs less than half a gram – from materials including magnesium, tungsten, silicon and a polymer known as PLGA, all of which are compatible with the body but which undergo chemical reactions that allow them to dissolve and be absorbed over time.
- The device is powered by wireless technology in which radio frequency power from an external device is sent to a receiver within the pacemaker where it is converted into an electrical current that is used to regulate the heart.
- Similar technology was used in applications such as wireless charging of smartphones and electric toothbrushes.
About Artificial cardiac pacemaker
- A cardiac pacemaker is a medical device that generates electrical impulses delivered by electrodes to cause the heart muscle chambers (the upper, or atria and/or the lower, or ventricles) to contract and therefore pump blood; by doing so this device replaces and/or regulates the function of the electrical conduction system of the heart.
- The primary purpose of a pacemaker is to maintain an adequate heart rate, either because the heart’s natural pacemaker is not fast enough, or because there is a block in the heart’s electrical conduction system.
Economical method to extract hydrogen from water
- Hydrogen gas is an environment-friendly fuel — it produces water on combustion in the presence of oxygen. For the same weight, hydrogen can provide nearly three times higher energy than gasoline.
- The quantity of hydrogen available from the Earth’s atmosphere, however, is tiny. The more widely available compound, water, might be a source of producing hydrogen.
- But the chemical reaction requiring the production of hydrogen from water requires an external source of energy.
- The aim of making hydrogen an alternative source of fuel requires minimising the energy input in producing it while maximising the amount of energy extracted from combusting hydrogen.
- Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), in a recent study, used a new catalyst for extracting hydrogen from water.
- Researchers have demonstrated how a magnetised catalyst can speed up hydrogen production while bringing down the energy cost.
- To extract hydrogen from water, researchers insert two electrodes across the water and pass current, which can separate the hydrogen from water.
- The process called electrolysis of water. Earlier studies have shown that metals like platinum, rhodium, and iridium speed up electrolysis.
- Although these metals work well, industrial systems don’t prefer them because they are expensive.
- The study used a compound consisting of cobalt and oxygen to achieve the same goal at a much lower cost.
- To achieve an increased energy efficiency, the researchers turned to less costly metal cobalt, already known for speeding up electrolysis.
- They decorated carbon nanoflorets, nanocarbon structures arranged like a marigold flower with cobalt oxide particles and placed these nanoflorets in the water.
- An electric field applied through the cobalt oxide to water molecules resulted in the electrolysis of water.
- Although cobalt oxide is a well-known electrochemical catalyst, it requires a high amount of energy and produces hydrogen at a low speed.
- The researchers did not rely on the electric field alone to increase the speed of electrolysis. Magnetic fields, which are related to electric fields, can play a crucial role in these reactions.
- The researchers showed that if they introduced a small fridge magnet near their setup, the reaction speed increased about three times.
- Even after removing the external magnet, the reaction still took place about three times faster than in the absence of the magnetic field.
- A one-time exposure of the magnetic field is enough to achieve a high speed of hydrogen production for over 45 minutes.