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Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Virus outbreak can potentially spur the next quantum leap for computing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Qubit, superposition.

Mains level : Paper 3- What do you understand by quantum technology? What are its applications? How it is different from the classical computer technology?

The article suggests that the corona crisis would speed up research in the field of quantum computing. The tremendous speed offered by quantum computers will help us find a cure for diseases like Covid-19 in a much shorter duration. This article explains the limitations of classical computers, working of quantum technology, and how quantum computer overcomes these limitations.

Use of supercomputer to find the cure of Covid-19

  • The whole world is pressurized into quickly discovering a vaccine and a cure for covid-19.
  • IBM’s Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer, was used for running numerous simulations and computations.
  • These simulations and computations help scientists find promising molecules to fight the pandemic.
  • The latest update says the Summit has been able to identify 77 candidate molecules that researchers can use in trials.
  • This was achieved in just two days, while, traditionally, it has taken months to make such progress.

Computing capacity as a limit on molecular discoveries

  • Today, faster molecular discoveries are limited by computing capacity.
  • Molecular discoveries are also limited by the need for scientists to write codes for harnessing the computing power.
  • It is no secret that classical computing power is plateauing (e. it is not growing anymore)
  • And till we have scalable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), scientists will have to write code for not only different scenarios but also for different computing platforms.
  • So, what we need today is more computing power.

The following points explain the limits of classical computers. Pay attention to the Moore’s law, and how it explains the development of semiconductor technologies and in turn computers as a whole.

What is the solution to the limits of classical computers?

  • Given that we have already neared the peak of classical computing, the solution probably is quantum computing.
  • Not just vaccines, quantum computing can accelerate many innovations, such as hyper-individualized medicines, 3-D printed organs, search engines for the physical world etc.
  • All innovations currently constrained by the size of transistors used in classical computing chips can be unleashed through quantum computing.
  • Moore’s law: In 1965, Gordon Moore had said the number of transistors that can be packed into a given unit of space will double about every two years.
  • Subsequently, in an interview in 2005, he himself admitted that this law can’t continue forever.
  • He had said: “It is the nature of exponential functions, they eventually hit a wall.”
  • Over the last 60 years, we reaped the benefits of Moore’s law in many ways.
  • For instance, compared to initial days of the Intel 4004, the modern 14nm processors deliver way bigger impact—3,500 times better performance and 90,000 times improved efficiency, at 1/60,000th the cost!
  • Yet, we are also seeing his 2005 statement coming true. All the experts agree that the ‘wall’ is very near.
  • So, what next? The answer again is probably the same—quantum computing.

Quantum technology is one of the emerging and revolutionary technologies, you should be aware of the terms and general principle which lies at the heart of such technology. So, terms like superposition, qubit, binary etc are important if you want to answer a questions related to this technology.

Quantum computing and its applications

  • It is no more a concept, there are working models available on the cloud.
  • How it works: Quantum computing uses the ability of sub-atomic particles to exist in multiple states simultaneously, until it is observed.
  • The concept of qubits: Unlike classical computers that can store information in just two values, that is 1 or 0, quantum computing uses qubits that can exist in any superposition of these values,
  • This superposition enables quantum computers to solve in seconds problems which a classical computer would take thousands of years to crack.
  • Applications: The application of this technology is enormous, and just to cite a few, it can help with the discovery of new molecules, optimize financial portfolios for different risk scenarios.
  • It can also crack RSA encryption keys, detect stealth aircraft, search massive databases in a split second and truly enable AI.

Investment in the development of technology

  • In the Union budget this year, the Indian government announced investments of ₹8,000 crores for developing quantum technologies and applications.
  • Globally, too, countries and organizations are rushing to develop this technology and have already invested enormous capital towards its research.

Conclusion

Historically, unprecedented crises have always created more innovations than routine challenges or systematic investments. Coincidentally, current times pose similar opportunities in disguise for the development of quantum technologies.


Back2Basics: Difference between bit and qubit

  • A binary digit, characterized as 0 and 1, is used to represent information in classical computers.
  • A binary digit can represent up to one bit of information, where a bit is the basic unit of information.
  • In classical computer technologies, a processed bit is implemented by one of two levels of low DC voltage.
  • And whilst switching from one of these two levels to the other, a so-called forbidden zone must be passed as fast as possible, as electrical voltage cannot change from one level to another instantaneously.
  • There are two possible outcomes for the measurement of a qubit—usually taken to have the value “0” and “1”, like a bit or binary digit.
  • However, whereas the state of a bit can only be either 0 or 1, the general state of a qubit according to quantum mechanics can be a coherent superposition of both.
  • Moreover, whereas a measurement of a classical bit would not disturb its state, a measurement of a qubit would destroy its coherence and irrevocably disturb the superposition state.
  • It is possible to fully encode one bit in one qubit.
  • However, a qubit can hold more information, e.g. up to two bits using superdense coding.
  • For a system of n components, a complete description of its state in classical physics requires only n bits, whereas in quantum physics it requires 2n−1 complex numbers.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What nation can learn from Kerala in the fight against Covid-19?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- What are the factors that helped Kerala deal with Covid-19 successfully compared to the rest of the country?

With figures emerging of Kerala’s success in dealing with the Covid-19, the rest of the nation has lessons to learn from it. This article describes the approach adopted by Kerala, and how various factors like robust health infrastructure, past experience etc. are helping it.

Kerala stands out in India: some figures and facts

  • The COVID curve in Kerala is flattening.
  • Every day, for a week now, the number of recoveries has exceeded the number of new infections.
  • The recovery rate in Kerala is nearly 50 per cent while the all-India average is around 11.
  • While the mortality rate among the infected is 5 per cent in Kerala, the all-India average is 3.4 per cent.
  • The transmission rate of a primary carrier is 6 while in Kerala it is only 0.4.

With Covid-19, we are in unknown territory in many ways. If Kerala emerges as the success model, the question can be framed from that perspective. So, note down the factors described below that are helping the state in tackling Covid-19 successfully.

Preparing for the next challenge

  • Kerala is preparing for the next challenge, the outcome of which will determine the result of the war against COVID.
  • Lifting of the lockdown is going to result in an influx of returning migrants from foreign countries and other states.
  • Hundreds of thousands would have to be quarantined, tested and, if positive, treated, ensuring there is no secondary spread.
  • State authorities have already identified accommodation and other facilities for more than two lakh persons.
  • Use of big data analytics: The state is also exploring the possibility of big data analytics to plan a strategy and, if necessary, for reverse quarantining.
  • Authorities have access to WHO data covering nearly two-thirds of the state`s population.
  • Integrating this data with the information currently being generated, we will be able to map vulnerable sections of the population, simulate scenarios and plan ahead.
  • Exit strategy: An exit strategy from the lockdown is being prepared to protect livelihoods and stimulate the economy.

Strength of the public health system of Kerala

  • The single most important factor that enabled Kerala to be prepared for the COVID is the strength of the public health system.
  • Kerala’s health system is a proud legacy of our past.
  • It has had a big push in infrastructure and equipment investment of around Rs 4,000 crore from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board.
  • Five thousand seven hundred and seventy-five new posts have also been created.
  • The Aardram Health Mission was launched with a focus to transform the PHCs into family health centres.
  • Distinctive feature: There is also the distinctive flavour of Kerala — mass participation in preventive and palliative healthcare.
  • Training to health workers: The morale of health personnel has been exceptionally high.
  • Special training, protective gear, scientific duty rotation and, most importantly, societal empathy and solidarity, have all contributed.

Learning from the past experience

  • Nipah outbreak experience: The recent experiences of successful containment of the Nipah outbreak and management of the two post-flood health situations have provided a kind of herd immunity to the health workers to crisis situations.
  • Covid-19 preparedness: Once news of the Wuhan pandemic came, the Kerala health system scrambled to readiness — the control room was set up, mock drills were organised and the first influx was contained.
  • Once migrants from the Gulf and Europe began to return, things began to get out of hand.
  • But now this battle has been successfully concluded.

Testing and tracing in Kerala

  • A route map of each COVID positive case is prepared and given publicity, alerting everybody who might have been in contact.
  • The protocol of cycles of intense test, trace, isolate and treatment has been the norm.
  • Kerala has the highest test rate in the country.
  • Break the Chain Campaign to promote social distancing has been successful.
  • Lockdown by itself is not going to contain the COVID spread. It would continue to multiply within households and dormitories.
  • Testing has been woefully insufficient in the national response so far.

Welfare payment in Kerala more than the rest of the country

  • In Kerala, 55 lakh elderly and disadvantaged have received Rs 8,500 as welfare payments.
  • An equal number of workers have been paid Rs 1,000-3,000 each from the welfare funds.
  • Every family has been provided with a food kit.
  • Interest-free consumption loan of Rs 2,000 crore has been distributed.
  • Besides, nearly 4 lakh meals are distributed every day to the needy from community kitchens set up by local governments.
  • Local governments are also duty-bound to monitor the camps of migrant workers, set up new ones and ensure medicine and food to them.

Decentralisation paying off in Kerala

  • All the above was not made possible by the state government alone.
  • It is the synergy generated by integrating state government plans and programmes with the local governments, the co-operatives, women neighbourhood groups (Kudumbashree) and civil society organisations that make Kerala distinct.
  • The floods and the pandemic have given testimony for the potential of democratic decentralisation.
  • It is a case of multi-level planning with technical committees and groups working at the state level coordinated by the chief minister.

Conclusion

Though it is too early to declare Kerala as a success story, still there are many lessons to be learned by the rest of the country in its fight against Covid-19.

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

Insolvency code should be suspended for six months to help companies recover

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IBC, difference between operational and financial creditor, threshold limit to file insolvency case etc.

Mains level : Paper 3- Purpose and issues with IBC, its various provisions and changes that needs to be made in the wake of Covid-19.

This article argues the suspension of IBC for six months. The issues arising out of suspension like damage to the creditors are also dealt with here. Reading of this article will help us understand the finer details of IBC that are relevant from the UPSC point of view. We have also covered one article from livemint dealing with the same issue, but that article covered the issue in a broader sense.

Who are operational and financial creditors?

  • After the lockdown is over, several companies are likely to default on their dues to both operational and financial creditors.
  • Who is a financial creditor? The financial creditors include banks and others who have given financial assistance to a company in the form of loans and debentures.
  • According to a 2018 amendment to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) 2017, flat purchasers are also deemed as financial creditors.
  • An operational creditor is just about anyone who has to receive money from a company.
  • The IBC provides a fast-track mechanism to deal with companies which are unable to repay their creditors and have become financially unviable.
  • Section 22 of the Code mandates the appointment of a Resolution Professional (RP) who is expected to miraculously turn around the company in 330 days.
  • If this attempt fails, the company goes into liquidation.

The two types of creditors were in the news, so pay attention to these terms.

Increase in threshold limit to file an insolvency petition

  • The IBC’s provisions have been extensively used by various creditors whose dues were not paid.
  • What was the threshold limit? Initially, the threshold limit was just Rs 1 lakh and the IBC became an effective recovery mechanism for all operational creditors.
  • What is the limit now? Just before the lockdown, the finance minister raised the threshold for invoking the insolvency provisions to Rs 1 crore.
  • This limit was raised to prevent proceedings being initiated against small and medium enterprises.

Possibility of the domino effect after the lockdown is over

  • After the lockdown, several enterprises, large, medium and small, might not be able to pay their dues, at least in the short-term.
  • The easiest way for a creditor to recover money is to initiate insolvency proceedings against the debtor company and threaten it with liquidation.
  • The shutdown of business after the lockdown could have a domino effect.
  • How would the domino effect come into play? If an auto-manufacturer has shut down its operations, the ancillary units will not get their dues.
  • This would then lead to non-payment to downstream vendors and service providers as well.
  • It might take at least three to four months for the situation to stabilise.

Steps that should be taken to avoid the domino effect

  • Moratorium on the IBC: The most important, and immediate, step that needs to be taken is to have a six-month moratorium on the IBC.
  • It may be necessary to promulgate an ordinance suspending the prospective operation of Sections 7 and 9 of the IBC so that no fresh petition is filed against a company.
  • Impact on creditors: While this could hurt some of the creditors, the damage that could be done to the corporate sector by invoking the IBC is likely to be far greater.
  • A distressed creditor is not without a remedy as he can always approach the civil courts for relief, which will not be so severe on a defaulting company.
  • If an insolvency petition is filed and the RP appointed, it is difficult to stop the insolvency process.
  • The IBC requires a financially-stressed company to be taken over by a financially-sound
  • For example, Essar Steel was taken over by ArcelorMittal and Bhushan Steel was taken over by Tata Steel.
  • In the current scenario, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for an RP to find a suitable buyer and the only option would be to liquidate the company.
  • Using the insolvency process to recover dues is contrary to the IBC’s objectives.

The objective of the IBC is not just insolvency but the reorganisation of companies, maximisation of value of assets and the need to balance the interests of all stakeholders. Pay attention to this point.

How the suspension of the IBC will be beneficial?

  • Suspending the IBC for a short period would enable several companies to return to normalcy.
  • It will help them function without the constant threat of an insolvency application and its Board of Directors and management being taken over by the RP.
  • Moreover, the National Company Law Tribunal benches will simply be unable to take any additional workload.

Conclusion

Suspending the IBC for six months would be a much-needed step to prevent further damage to the economy. It would be in the larger public interest. Indeed, at this critical stage, permitting the legal remedy of insolvency could be the last nail in the coffin of many companies.


Back2Basics: What is the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code?

  • IBC provides for a time-bound process to resolve insolvency.
  • When a default in repayment occurs, creditors gain control over debtor’s assets and must take decisions to resolve insolvency.
  • Under IBC debtor and creditor both can start ‘recovery’ proceedings against each other.
  • Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 was implemented through an act of Parliament.
  • It got Presidential assent in May 2016.
  • The law was necessitated due to huge pile-up of non-performing loans of banks and delay in debt resolution.
  • Insolvency resolution in India took 4.3 years on an average against other countries such as United Kingdom (1 year) and United States of America (1.5 years), which is sought to be reduced besides facilitating the resolution of big-ticket loan accounts.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

What is Post-intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PICS

Mains level : Mental health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Various news reports in recent weeks have pointed out that for some COVID-19 patients who needed intensive care, the journey to recovery is a long one.
  • After leaving the ICU, they may suffer from what is known as post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), which can happen to any person who has been in the ICU.

Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current Coronavirus (COVID-19), can be scary and can affect our mental health. This pandemic is going to leave a bigger trauma for those who had lost their dear ones as well those who recovered.

What is PICS?

  • PICS comprise impairment in cognition, psychological health and physical function of a person who has been in the ICU.
  • Further, such patients may experience neuromuscular weakness, which can manifest itself in the form of poor mobility and recurrent falls.
  • The psychological disability may arise in a person in the form of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Its symptoms

  • The most common PICS symptoms are generalized weakness, fatigue, decreased mobility, anxious or depressed mood, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances and cognitive issues.
  • These symptoms may last for a few months or many years after recovery, the authors of the aforementioned article note.
  • Patients who develop this may take at least a year to fully recover, until which time they may have difficulty in carrying out everyday tasks such as grooming, dressing, feeding, bathing and walking.

What causes PICS?

  • A combination of factors can affect aspects of an ICU survivor’s life.
  • PICS may be induced if a person was on prolonged mechanical ventilation, experienced sepsis, multiple organ failure and a prolonged duration of “bed-restore deep sedation”.

Treatment

  • It is recommended that to avoid PICS, patients’ use of deep sedation is limited and early mobility is encouraged, along with giving them “aggressive” physical and occupational therapy.
  • Further, patients should be given the lowest dose of pain medications when possible and should be put on lung or cardiovascular rehabilitation treatments along with treatments for depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Anastomosis surgery for re-implantation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anastomosis Surgery

Mains level : Not Much

The chopped off-hand of a Punjab Police officer has been successfully re-implanted after hours of surgery.

Anastomosis is a general term in surgical sciences used to join amputated limbs or organs. The term has made headline due to its recent application. A piece of general information regarding novelties of medical sciences should be known to the aspirants.

Anastomosis Surgery

  • A surgical Anastomosis is a surgical technique used to make a new connection between two body structures that carry fluid, such as blood vessels or bowel.
  • It involves conjoining various parts of the arm and the hand — bones, muscles, tendons, arteries, veins as well as nerves.
  • Both radial and ulnar arteries, accompanying nerves and the dorsal vein were anastomosed successfully, allowing for the hand to receive adequate circulation.
  • The bones are attached using K wires (used for orthopaedic surgery) which can be removed once the bones conjoin organically.

In which cases is re-implantation possible?

  • When a surgeon makes that decision, the factors that he or she considers include how much time has elapsed since the injury.
  • The condition of the severed organ and the nature of the injury are also taken into account.

Can a reattached hand get its function restored?

  • That is the goal of doing such surgery. The extent of restored function, however, can vary from case to case.
  • While a successful surgery can result in the good return of motor function, studies have shown that sensory recovery can often be poor.
  • Whether the blood circulation is optimum after surgery can only be observed within the next few days.
  • The patient also needs to attend regular physiotherapy sessions for total restoration of motor movement and sensation in his hand.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Trimeresurus Salazar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trimeresurus Salazar

Mains level : Not Much

The new species, Trimeresurus Salazar is a snake been discovered in Arunachal Pradesh.

Another specie spotted with one more peculiarity, the name Salazar 🙂 Such species are most likely to be asked in prelims to match the columns with their habitat state.

Trimeresurus Salazar

  • Salazar’s pit viper belongs to the genus Trimeresurus Lacépède comprising “charismatic venomous serpents with morphologically as well as ecologically diverse species”.
  • Pit vipers are venomous snakes distinguished by their heat-sensing pit organs between the eye and the nostril.
  • The name was inspired by Salazar Slytherin, the co-founder of J.K. Rowlings’ fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Plasmonic Semiconductor Nanomaterials

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nanomaterials, Semiconductors

Mains level : Applications of nanomaterials

Researchers are exploring ways to develop plasmonic semiconductor nanomaterials for removal of toxic organic compounds from water by harvesting solar light.

Nanotechnology is a pathbreaking technology which can create many new materials and devices with a wide range of applications, such as in nanomedicine, nanoelectronics etc.  PSN is one such application. Topics like PSN are most likely to be asked in the competitive examinations.

Plasmonic Semiconductor Nanomaterials

  • PSN are metal-like materials with free electrons on the surface that oscillate collectively when hit by light.
  • It uses solar light to increase the photocatalytic efficiency to degrade pollutants as well as generate renewable Hydrogen.
  • These materials can easily adsorb toxic ions like arsenic and fluoride, which are often found in water in North East India and convert it to its not toxic forms when they are exposed to sunlight.
  • PSN can be used for hydrogen energy generation, a process which has shown high photon to hydrogen conversion efficiency under visible and near infra-red light.

What are Semiconductors?

  • Semiconductors are materials which have a conductivity between conductors (generally metals) and nonconductors or insulators (such as most ceramics).
  • Its resistance falls as its temperature rises; metals are the opposite.
  • They can be pure elements, such as silicon or germanium, or compounds such as gallium arsenide or cadmium selenide.

Back2Basics: Nanomaterials

  • Nanomaterials are materials of which a single unit small-sized (in at least one dimension) between 1 and 100 nm (the usual definition of nanoscale).
  • Materials with structure at the nanoscale often have unique optical, electronic, or mechanical properties.
  • They are created from the gas phase by producing a vapour of the product material using chemical or physical means.
  • Examples of nanomaterials include carbon nanotube, nanoparticles, metal rubber, quantum dots, nanopores and many more.