Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Life deep beneath Antarctica’s ice shelves

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Life under Antarctic

Mains level : Not Much

Researchers have accidentally discovered living under the ice shelves of the Antarctic — in extremely cold and harsh conditions.

Life beneath the Antarctic

  • Scientists have discovered sessile sponges — a pore bearing multicellular organism and other alien species — attached to the sides of rock beneath the ice sheets.
  • The unidentified species are estimated to be related to sponges, ascidians (sea squirts), hydroids, barnacles, cnidarian or polychaete. All of these look like bristle worms.
  • Scientists are yet to discover how these organisms access food.
  • They would use Environment Deoxyribonucleic acid (e-DNA) technology in future to identify the organisms.

Organisms discovered

Sponges

  • Sponges are the members of the phylum Porifera.
  • They are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them, consisting of jelly-like mesohyl sandwiched between two thin layers of cells.

Ascidians

  • Ascidians, or sea squirts, are invertebrate chordates that belong to the earliest branch in the chordate phylum.
  • Ascidians are found all over the world, usually in shallow water with salinities over 2.5%.

Hydroids

  • Hydroids are a life stage for most animals of the class Hydrozoa, small predators related to jellyfish.
  • Some hydroids such as the freshwater Hydra are solitary, with the polyp attached directly to the substrate.

Barnacles 

  • Barnacles are a highly specialized group of crustaceans.
  • A barnacle is a type of arthropod related to crabs and lobsters.

Cnidarians

  • Cnidarians, also called coelenterate, any member of the phylum Cnidaria (Coelenterata), a group made up of more than 9,000 living species.
  • Mostly marine animals, the cnidarians include the corals, hydras, jellyfish, Portuguese men-of-war, sea anemones, sea pens, sea whips, and sea fans.

Now take this chance to revise your biology basics on various phyla. It will be beneficial for state PSC exams. UPSC has also begun puzzling us on core biology questions.

Defying old theories

  • The discovery has left many of them baffled for it contradicts earlier theories of non-survival of life in such extreme conditions.
  • Until now, scientists believed that sea life decreased with an increase in the depth of the Antarctic ice floor.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Mechanophotonics: Manipulating light through crystals

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mechanophotonics, Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

Mains level : Not Much

Crystals are normally rigid, stiff structures, but researchers from the University of Hyderabad have shown how crystals can be sliced and even bent using atomic force microscopy. They have named this technique as “mechanophotonics”.

The newscard discusses an out of the box technology which if brought to reality in practical use, can create immense disruptions in the technology market.

Manipulating light through crystals

  • Manipulating them with precision and control comes in very useful in the field of nanophotonics, a qualitative, emerging field.
  • The aim is to go beyond electronics and build-up circuits driven entirely by photons (light).

If the technique can be successfully developed, this can achieve an unprecedented level of miniaturisation and pave the way to all-optical-technology such as pliable, wearable devices operated by light entirely.

What Indian researchers have achieved?

: Bending light path

  • Light, when left to itself moves along straight paths, so it is crucial to develop materials and technology that can cause its path to bend along what is required in the circuits.
  • This is like using fibre optics, but at the nanoscale level using organic crystals.
  • The Hyderabad group has demonstrated how such crystals can be lifted, bent moved, transferred and sliced using atomic force microscopy.

: How?

  • Researchers add a crucial piece to the jigsaw puzzle of building an “organic photonic integrated circuit” or OPIC.
  • Generally, millimetre- to centimetre-long crystals were bent using hand-held tweezers.
  • This method lacks precision and control. Also, the crystals used were larger than what was required for miniaturisation.
  • The atomic force microscopy (AFM) cantilever tip could be used to lift a crystal, as crystals tend to stick to the tip due to tip–crystal attractive forces.
  • Thus they demonstrated the real waveguiding character of the crystal lifted with a cantilever tip.

In 2014, for the first time, the group led by Rajadurai Chandrasekar of the Functional Molecular Nano/Micro Solids Laboratory in University of Hyderabad demonstrated that tiny crystals could be lifted and moved with precision and control using atomic force microscopy.

What is Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)?

  • AFMs are a type of electron microscope used for the observation at an atomic level.
  • It is commonly used in nanotechnology.
  • The AFM works by employing an ultra-fine needle attached to a beam.
  • The tip of the needle runs over the ridges and valleys in the material being imaged, “feeling” the surface.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Emphasising self-reliance in science

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Draft fifth Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

The article discusses the features in the fifth Science, Technology and Innovation policy and also suggests the areas that needs attention.

Draft Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy

  • The new policy envisages technological self-reliance and aims to position India among the top three scientific superpowers.
  • For that to happen, the draft policy says, we need to attract our best minds to remain in India by developing a people-centric science, technology, and innovation ecosystem.
  • It aims at doubling private sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development every five years.

Following are the highlights of the policy

1) Funding issue

  • Raising our R&D investment in science (about 0.6% now) to 2% of the GDP has been a national goal for a while.
  • Despite strong recommendations in the past by several scientific bodies and leading scientists and policymakers, we are still well short of that goal.
  • The 2020 draft policy blames this on “inadequate private sector investment” and adds that “a robust cohesive financial landscape remains at the core of creating an STI-driven Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
  • Government is trying to shift the responsibility of financing R&D to different agencies such as the States, private enterprises, and foreign multinational companies.
  • But it is doubtful if the various funding models that are presented are workable or practical, especially during a pandemic.
  • Private sector cannot be expected to pay for basic research as return on investment in basic research takes too long from a private sector perspective.
  • The fact is that basic science research in India is suffering from the lack of adequate funding despite grand proclamations.
  • We need to implement the self-financing revenue model proposed in the Dehradun Declaration for the CSIR labs back in 2015.

2) A decentralized institutional mechanism

  • Policymakers are considering alternative mechanisms of governance of the financial landscape.
  • The issue of the administrative burdens of researchers and the problem of journal paywalls is also being considered.
  • Policymakers are also exploring international best practices of grant management.
  • The draft policy visualises a decentralized institutional mechanism for a robust STI Governance.
  • This intention is in fact defeated in the document itself, where several new authorities, observatories and centres have been proposed.
  • Decentralisation of administrative architecture is essential, but we need to explore the practical option of providing more autonomy to research and academic centres for financial management.

3) Steps to tackle the discrimination

  • The number of suicides of students is on the increase in the IITs.
  •  In 2019, more than 2,400 students dropped out from the 23 IITs in just two years, over half of them belonging to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes.
  • Caste discrimination could be one of the reasons for these tendencies.
  • As a part of inculcating an inclusive culture in academia, the document promises to tackle discriminations “based on gender, caste, religion, geography, language, disability and other exclusions and inequalities”.
  • It mentions more representation of women and the LGBTQ community.

Way forward

  • The document should prioritise important issues and amplify first the problems which have cultural and administrative dimensions.
  • The document does not mention how to stem the rot within, although it speaks extensively about science communication and scientific temperament.
  • There is need to facilitate an environment that encourages a mindset that constantly challenges conventional wisdom as well as open-minded inquiry among the students.

Consider the question “As India aspires to be the scientific superpower, suggest the areas which the new Science, Technology and Innovation policy should focus on”

Conclusion

With the advent of new disruptive technologies, global competitiveness will be increasingly determined by the quality of science and technology, which in turn will depend on raising the standard of Indian research/education centres and on the volume of R&D spending. India has no time to waste.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

The threat of deepfakes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AI and deepfakes

Mains level : Paper 3- Deepfakes and threats associated with it

Deepfakes creates media in which it challenges our ability to detect real from fake, it blurs the line between two. This article explains the threat associated with it.

What are deepfakes and threat associated with it

  • Deepfakes are synthetic media (including images, audio and video) that are either manipulated or wholly generated by Artificial Intelligence.
  • AI is used for fabricating audios, videos and texts to show real people saying and doing things they never did, or creating new images and videos.
  • These are done so convincingly that it is hard to detect what is fake and what is real.
  • They are used to tarnish reputations, create mistrust, question facts, and spread propaganda.

Legal provision in India

  • Deepfakes even have the power to threaten the electoral outcome.
  • So far, India has not enacted any specific legislation to deal with deepfakes.
  • However, there are some provisions in the Indian Penal Code that criminalise certain forms of online/social media content manipulation.
  • The Information Technology Act, 2000 covers certain cybercrimes.
  • But this law and the Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018 are inadequate to deal with content manipulation on digital platforms.
  • The guidelines stipulate that due diligence must be observed by the intermediate companies for removal of illegal content.
  • In 2018, the government proposed rules to curtail the misuse of social networks.
  • Social media companies voluntarily agreed to take action to prevent violations during the 2019 general election.
  • The Election Commission issued instructions on social media use during election campaigns.

How to deal with the problem of deepfakes

  • Only AI-generated tools can be effective in detection.
  • Blockchains are robust against many security threats and can be used to digitally sign and affirm the validity of a video or document.
  • Educating media users about the capabilities of AI algorithms could help.
  • Six themes identified in the workshop convened by the University of Washington and Microsoft are to dela with the deepfakes
  • 1) Deepfakes must be contextualised within the broader framework of malicious manipulated media, computational propaganda and disinformation campaigns.
  • 2) Deepfakes cause multidimensional issues which require a collaborative, multi-stakeholder response that require experts in every sector to find solutions.
  • 3) Detecting deepfakes is hard.
  • 4) Journalists need tools to scrutinise images, video and audio recordings for which they need training and resources;
  • 5) Policymakers must understand how deepfakes can threaten polity, society, economy, culture, individuals and communities.
  • 6) Any true evidence can be dismissed as fake is a major concern that needs to be addressed.

Consider the question “What are the deepfakes and threats associated with it? How these threats can be tackled?”

Conclusion

In today’s world, disinformation comes in varied forms, so no single technology can resolve the problem. As deepfakes evolve, AI-backed technological tools to detect and prevent them must also evolve.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Know the scientist: Dmitri Mendeleev

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dmitri Mendeleev, Periodic table

Mains level : NA

Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and inventor who formulated the Periodic Law and the Periodic Table of Elements.

Chemistry can, no wonder, find their place in exam if core Biology could do in 2020 CSP.

Q.Which of the following statements is/are correct regarding the general difference between plant cells and animal cells?

  1. Plant cells have cellulose cell walls whilst animal cells do not.
  2. Plant cells do not have plasma membrane unlike animals cells which do
  3. Mature plant cell has one large vacuole whilst animal cell has many small vacuoles

Select the correct answer using the given code below-

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Dmitri Mendeleev

  • Mendeleev was born in the Siberian town of Tobolsk.
  • In 1861, Mendeleev published a textbook named Organic Chemistry, which won him the Demidov Prize of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
  • While explaining the chemical and physical properties of elements, he discovered similarities in the progression of atomic weights.
  • He found that the order of atomic weights could be used to arrange the elements within each group and the groups themselves.
  • Thus, Mendeleev formulated the periodic law. His Osnovy khimii (The Principles of Chemistry) became a classic, running through many editions and many translations.

The Periodic Law

  • Using the Periodic Law, Mendeleev developed a systematic table of all the 63 elements then known.
  • He even predicted the locations of unknown elements together with their properties within the periodic table.
  • When these predicted elements, notably gallium ( 1875), scandium (1879), and germanium (1886) were discovered, Mendeleev Periodic Table began to gain wide acceptance.
  • Incidentally, in 1870, German chemist Julius Lothar Meyer also published a paper describing the same organisation of elements as Mendeleev’s. But the latter is given credit for the table.
  • In all, Mendeleev predicted 10 new elements, of which all but two turned out to exist. Element 101 is named Mendelevium in his honour.

Also read:

Mendeleev and his periodic table of elements

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Exploiting 5G strategically

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IOT, 5G technology

Mains level : Paper 3- Chinese 5G technology and threats associated with it

The article examines the threat posed by the Chinese 5G technology to the world and India.

Implications of Chinese 5G technology for Nepal

  • The launch of 5G in Nepal would mean that Nepal’s business interests could pass into Chinese control.
  • Real-time information on weather, routes, map, etc could be based on Chinese 5G, thus making locals or visitors to Nepal dependent on it.
  • A related development of infrastructure along the borders, where most mountaineering sites are, could make Nepal’s borders vulnerable and damage its tourism industry.
  • With lower incomes, the tourism industry might get lured into Chinese cheap loans, leading to a strategic debt trap.
  • Such development would have several ramifications for India.

Implications of Chinese 5G technology for the world

  • 2020 has been no ordinary year —Militaries have been pushed to the borders, treaties, and agreements are being signed, and a record number of military deals have happened.
  • This year has witnessed the most unprecedented intensification of global military conflicts since the Gulf War.
  • AI applications have been at display in warfare, with drone killing machines being advertised.
  • There is no option left but to get the 5G technology now.
  • Huge Chinese investments across the world to spread a 5G network will encompass the planet — a “digital encirclement of the world”.
  • Combined with the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), this encirclement would be complete.
  • Intrinsic to the BRI is the fact that Chinese companies will build digital infrastructure.
  • Militaries who allow Chinese 5G, could then become hostage to Chinese technology, as seen during the pandemic.

Indian 5G technology: Advantages and challenges ahead

  •  India is likely to survive the Chinese 5G invasion if it accelerates the launch of the Indian 5G.
  • India is working on technologies that would enable it to launch Indigenous 5G that would run IoT platforms for civilians as well as military applications.
  • The banning of Chinese apps and blocking of hardware supply chains would be the correct counteroffensive to protect the business and security interests of the country.
  • The problem is India being poor in “implementation”.
  • Where India starts losing out is in slow adoption, getting entangled in policy processes and the crosshairs of the bureaucracy. 

Consider the question “What are the concerns with the adoption of Chinese 5G technology? How indigenous 5G technology help India and what are the challenges in developing it?” 

Conclusion

India must get its timing right. The implementation of 5G, though a bit delayed, can make India a good alternative to China. But agreements like RCEP and China’s other debt strategies will remain a larger threat to the world.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Why the universe has less ‘antimatter’ than matter?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Matter, Anti-matter

Mains level : Formation of the universe and the Big Bang

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in DownToEarth.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The known forces of nature can be divided into four classes, viz, gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. With reference to them, which one of the following statements is not correct?

(a) Gravity is the strongest of the four

(b) Electromagnetism act only on particles with an electric charge

(c) Weak nuclear force causes radioactivity

(d) Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons inside the nuclear of an atom.

What is Antimatter?

  • Antimatter is the opposite of normal matter. More specifically, the sub-atomic particles of antimatter have properties opposite those of normal matter.
  • The electrical charge of those particles is reversed.
  • Antimatter was created along with matter after the Big Bang, but antimatter is rare in today’s universe.
  • To better understand antimatter, one needs to know more about the matter.
  • The matter is made up of atoms, which are the basic units of chemical elements such as hydrogen, helium or oxygen.

Their existence

  • The existence of antimatter was predicted by physicist Paul Dirac’s equation describing the motion of electrons in 1928.
  • At first, it was not clear if this was just a mathematical quirk or a description of a real particle.
  • But in 1932 Carl Anderson discovered an antimatter partner to the electron — the positron — while studying cosmic rays that rain down on Earth from space.
  • Over the next few decades’ physicists found that all matter particles have antimatter partners.
  • Scientists believe that in the very hot and dense state shortly after the Big Bang, there must have been processes that gave preference to matter over antimatter.
  • This created a small surplus of matter, and as the universe cooled, all the antimatter was destroyed, or annihilated, by an equal amount of matter, leaving a tiny surplus of matter.
  • And it is this surplus that makes up everything we see in the universe today.

Studying the difference between matter and antimatter

  • A Quark is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter.
  • Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei.
  • The behaviour of quarks, which are the fundamental building blocks of matter along with leptons, can shed light on the difference between matter and antimatter.
  • Since they are unstable, they will “decay” — fall apart — into other more stable particles at some point during their oscillation.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Metal CO2 Battery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Metal-CO2 battery

Mains level : Optimization of space missions and thier payloads

India’s planetary missions like Mars Mission may soon be able to reduce payload mass and launch costs with the help of an indigenously developed Metal- CO2 battery with CO2 as an Energy Carrier.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles produce one of the following as “exhaust”:

(a) NH3

(b) CH4

(c) H2O

(d) H2O2

Metal CO2 Battery

  • An IIT professor recently demonstrated the technical feasibility of Lithium- CO2 battery in simulated Mars atmosphere for the first time.
  • The development of Metal-CO2 batteries will provide highly specific energy density with the reduction in mass and volume, which will reduce payload mass and launch cost of planetary missions.
  • Metal-CO2 batteries have a great potential to offer significantly high energy density than the currently used Li-ion batteries.
  • They provide a useful solution to fix CO2 emissions, which is better than energy-intensive traditional CO2 fixation methods.

It’s working

  • A primary Li-CO2 battery uses pure carbon dioxide as a cathode.
  • According to chemical knowledge, Lithium metal can react with CO2 to form lithium oxalate at room temperature.
  • While at high temperatures, lithium oxalate decomposes to form lithium carbonate and carbon monoxide gas.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) Technology

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : QKD

Mains level : Quantum Mechanics and its development in India

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has successfully demonstrated communication between its two labs using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology.

Q. What is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) Technology? Discuss how it enables secure communication networks. (150W)

What is QKD Technology?

  • Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a secure communication method which implements a cryptographic protocol involving components of quantum mechanics.
  • It enables two parties to produce a shared random secret key known only to them, which can then be used to encrypt and decrypt messages.
  • It gives the ability of the two communicating users to detect the presence of any third party trying to gain knowledge of the key.
  • This is a result of a fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics: the process of measuring a quantum system, in general, disturbs the system.
  • By using quantum superposition or quantum entanglement and transmitting information in quantum states, a communication system can be implemented that detects data leak.

How does it work?

  • In the QKD, encryption keys are sent as qubits in a fibre optic cable. Time-bin encoding is used to encode qubit on a photon.
  • Quantum computing uses qubits as basic resources, similar to how bits are used as basic resources in classical computing.
  • The QKD is designed in a way that if an illegitimate entity tries to read the transmission, it will disturb the qubits – which are encoded on photons.
  • This will generate transmission errors, leading to legitimate end-users being immediately informed.

Advantages of using QKD

  • It allows the detection of data leak or hacking because it can detect any such attempt.
  • It also allows the process of setting the error level between the intercepted data in dependence.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Narrow Band-Internet of Things (NB-IoT)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IoT , AI

Mains level : Internet based applications

In a first, BSNL launches world’s largest NB-IoT to provide connectivity for millions of unconnected machines, sensors and industrial IoT devices across the country.

What is NB-IoT?

  • NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology that works virtually anywhere.
  • It will connect many more devices to the Internet of Things and make many new applications a reality.
  • It is optimized for applications that need to communicate small amounts of data over long periods of time.
  • Since it operates in licensed spectrum, it is secure and reliable providing guaranteed quality of service.
  • It connects devices more simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of fairly infrequent 2‑way data, securely and reliably.

And the best is, it provides-

  • very low power consumption
  • excellent extended range in buildings and underground
  • easy deployment into the existing cellular network architecture
  • network security & reliability
  • lower component cost

Back2Basics: Internet of Things (IoT)

  • The IoT describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet.
  • The definition of the IoT has evolved due to the convergence of multiple technologies, real-time analytics, AI, sensors, and embedded systems.
  • In the consumer market, IoT technology is most synonymous with products pertaining to the concept of the “smart home”, including devices and appliances.
  • It supports one or more common ecosystems and can be controlled via devices associated with that ecosystem, such as smartphones and smart speakers e.g. Alexa.

Remember this PYQ?

When the alarm of your smartphone rings in the morning, you wake up and tap it to stop the alarm which causes your geyser to be switched on automatically. The smart mirror in your bathroom shows the day’s weather and also indicates the level of water in your overhead tank. After you take some groceries from your refrigerator for making breakfast, it recognises the shortage of stock in it and places an order for the supply of fresh grocery items. When You step out of your house and lock the door, all lights, fans, geysers and AC machines get switched off automatically. On your way to office, your car warns you about traffic congestion ahead and suggests an alternative route, and if you are late for a meeting, it sends a message to your office accordingly.

In the context of emerging communication technologies, which one of the following terms best applies to the above scenario?

(a) Border Gateway Protocol

(b) Internet of Things

(c) Internet Protocol

(d) Virtual Private Network


Also read:

[Burning Issue] Internet of Things (IoT)

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Countering deepfakes, the most serious AI threat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deepfakes

Mains level : Paper 3- Threats of the deepfakes

Deepfakes poses threaten the society at various level due to their disruptive potential. The article explains the threat and suggest the measures to deal with the threat. 

Understanding deepfakes

  • Deepfakes are the digital media (video, audio, and images) manipulated using Artificial Intelligence.
  • This synthetic media content is referred to as deepfakes.
  •  They make it possible to fabricate media — swap faces, lip-syncing, and puppeteer.
  • Access to commodity cloud computing, algorithms, and abundant data has created a perfect storm to democratise media creation and manipulation.
  • Synthetic media can create possibilities and opportunities for all people.
  •  But as with any new innovative technology, it can be weaponised to inflict harm.

Threat posed by deepfakes

  • Deepfakes, hyper-realistic digital falsification, can inflict damage to individuals, institutions, businesses and democracy.
  • Nation-state actors with geopolitical aspirations, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises can manipulate media narratives using deepfakes, with easy and unprecedented reach and scale.
  • Pornographic deepfakes can threaten, intimidate, and inflict psychological harm and reduce women to sexual objects.
  • Deepfakes can be deployed to extract money, confidential information, or exact favours from individuals.
  • Deepfakes can cause short- and long-term social harm and accelerate the already declining trust in news media.
  • Such an erosion can contribute to a culture of factual relativism, fraying the increasingly strained civil society fabric.

Undermining democracy

  • A deepfake can also aid in altering the democratic discourse and undermine trust in institutions and impair diplomacy.
  • False information about institutions, public policy, and politicians powered by a deepfake can be exploited to spin the story and manipulate belief.
  • A deepfake of a political candidate can sabotage their image and reputation.
  • Voters can be confused and elections can be disrupted.
  • A high-quality deepfake can inject compelling false information that can cast in doubt the voting process and election results.
  • Deepfakes contribute to factual relativism and enable authoritarian leaders to thrive.
  • Another concern is a liar’s dividend; an undesirable truth is dismissed as deepfake or fake news.

Solution to the problem

  • Media literacy for consumers and journalists is the most effective tool to combat disinformation and deepfakes.
  • Improving media literacy is a precursor to addressing the challenges presented by deepfakes.
  • Meaningful regulations with a collaborative discussion with the technology industry, civil society, and policymakers can facilitate disincentivising the creation and distribution of malicious deepfakes.
  • We also need easy-to-use and accessible technology solutions to detect deepfakes, authenticate media, and amplify authoritative sources.

Conclusion

Deepfakes can create possibilities for all people. However, as access to synthetic media technology increases, so does the risk of exploitation. To counter the menace of deepfakes, we all must take the responsibility to be a critical consumer of media on the Internet, think and pause before we share on social media, and be part of the solution to this infodemic.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Room Temperature Superconductivity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Not Much

A study has shown that a new material superconducts at 15 degrees Celsius but at extremely high pressure.

In India, we often get to hear about the transmission losses in DISCOMS. Such losses can be zeroed with the application of superconducting cables (which is practically impossible unless we find a normal working one). The phenomena, superconductivity, however, is not new to us, UPSC may end up asking some tricky statements in the prelims regarding it.

What is Superconductivity?

  • A superconductor is a material, such as a pure metal like aluminium or lead, that when cooled to ultra-low temperatures allows electricity to move through it with absolutely zero resistance.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes was the first scientist who figured out exactly how superconductor works in 1911.
  • Simply put, superconductivity occurs when two electrons bind together at low temperatures.
  • They form the building block of superconductors, the Cooper pair.
  • This holds true even for a potential superconductor like lead when it is above a certain temperature.

What is the new material?

  • A new material composed of carbon, hydrogen and sulphur superconducts at 15 degrees Celsius.
  • However, it needs ultrahigh pressure of about 2 million atmospheres to achieve this transition, putting off any thoughts of application to the future.
  • The pressure they needed was 267 Gigapascals (GPa), or 2.6 million atmospheres.
  • The pressure at the centre of the Earth is 360 GPa, so it is 75% of the pressure at the centre of the Earth.

What are Superconductors?

  • Superconductors are materials that address this problem by allowing energy to flow efficiently through them without generating unwanted heat.
  • They have great potential and many cost-effective applications.
  • They operate magnetically levitated trains, generate magnetic fields for MRI machines and recently have been used to build quantum computers, though a fully operating one does not yet exist.

Issues with superconductors

  • They have an essential problem when it comes to other practical applications: They operate at ultra-low temperatures.
  • There are no room-temperature superconductors. That “room-temperature” part is what scientists have been working on for more than a century.
  • The amount of energy needed to cool a material down to its superconducting state is too expensive for daily applications.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Indian IT industry must seize the opportunity of Chinese tech exit

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Opportunity of Indian IT industry

The article analyses the significance of the Indian ban on Chinese apps. The ban also presents Indian IT companies with unique opportunity.

Context

  • The current India-China border standoff has entered into cyberspace.

How China took lead in IT

  • The Chinese government censored and banned several popular Western websites and applications years ago.
  • In the intervening years the Chinese Internet market exploded and has grown to over 900 million users.
  • The Chinese government insulated Chinese entrepreneurs from Big Tech in Silicon Valley.
  • Home-grown apps at first were faithful reproductions of Silicon Valley, but soon morphed into distinctly Chinese applications tailored solely to the home market.
  • According to the 2016 White House report, the Chinese have leapfrogged even the U.S. in AI research.
  • In this case, the intellectual property being produced actually belongs to China and is not a faithful duplicate of someone else’s product or technology.
  • This has far-reaching implications.

Significance of India’s ban

  • India now has the lowest Internet data costs in the world.
  • In its attempt to dominate the rest of the world, the Chinese Internet industry desperately needs India’s 500-plus million netizens to continue to train AI algorithms they put together.
  • The ban on apps in India is not only a geopolitical move but also a strategic trade manoeuvre that can have a significant economic impact.
  • Ban on Chinese apps allows our home-grown IT talent to focus on the newly arrived Internet user.
  • However, India’s focus remains on exporting IT services while paying little attention to servicing our own nation’s tech market.
  • India spent the last two decades exporting technology services to developed countries in the West, the vacuum created as the Indian Internet grew has been filled by American Big Tech and by the Chinese.
  • After the removal of more than 118 Chinese apps, Indian techies have started trying to fill the holes.

Way forward

  • The primary Indian IT objective must shift from servicing others to providing for ourselves.
  • Focus should not be simply to replace what the exiting firms have so far been providing.
  • Focus should be on providing services and products of high quality that will be used by everyday Indians across the country.
  • The aim of providing netizens with the same services across diverse markets is overarching — regional barriers created by language exist within our own nation.
  • The fundamental focus of the new digital products should be to provide for hyper-regional necessities and preferences.
  • Hyper-local and hyper-regional services with great accessibility that are also portable across our linguistic diversity, are likely to succeed in creating one of the strongest Internet markets in the world.

Consider the question “What are factors responsible for the lack of innovation in the Indian IT industry? How the ban on Chinese apps provide the IT industry with the opportunity to fill the vacuum?”

Conclusion

Indian IT companies must seize the opportunity provided by the exit of Chinese IT companies and come up with products transcending regional barriers and allowing accessibility.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

What is Carbon-14 (C14) Battery?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : C-14, Carbon Dating

Mains level : Scientific management of nuclear waste and its disposal

A California-based company has made a self-charging battery, which can run for 28,000 years on a single charge, by trapping carbon-14 (C14) nuclear waste in artificial diamond-case.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The known forces of nature can be divided into four classes, viz. gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. With reference to them, which one of the following statements is not correct?

(a) Gravity is the strongest of the four

(b) Electromagnetism act only on particles with an electric charge

(c) Weak nuclear force causes radioactivity

(d) Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons inside the nuclear of an atom.

What is C14?

  • Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons.
  • There are three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon on Earth: carbon-12, which makes up 99% of all carbon on Earth; carbon-13, which makes up 1%; and carbon-14, which occurs in trace amounts.
  • Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues (1949) to date archaeological, geological and hydrogeological samples.

C14 battery

  • The battery works by generating electricity on its own from a shower of electrons as a result of radioactive decay scattered and deposited in the artificial diamond-case.
  • The battery can be used in electric vehicles, mobile phones, laptops, tablets, drones, watches, cameras, health monitors and even sensors.
  • It is also said to be extremely safe and tamper-proof as it is coated with a non-radioactive diamond which prevents radiation leaks.

Best example of nuke waste recycling

  • It is estimated that 33 million cubic metres of global nuclear waste will cost over $100 billion to manage and dispose of.
  • And a lot of this waste is graphite that is one of the higher risks of radioactive waste and one of the most expensive and problematic waste to store.

Its applications

  • The company says its battery can be used to powerhouses, and that any excess electricity generated can be sold to the grid.
  • As the new battery need not be replaced, it can be installed in hard to reach places like pacemakers and implants, where a regular change of battery is not possible.
  • Another area of use is space electronics. The battery is said to power space equipment in rockets.
  • It can power the electrical needs of space crafts, like providing power to cockpits and assisting launch into the upper atmosphere.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

AI integration will be at the core of the transition

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AI

Mains level : Paper 3- AI and its applications

The article tracks the latest developments in the field of AI by the leading technology companies.

Integrating AI in the phone

  • Over the last few years, most mobile phone manufacturers have been content with design upgrades, apart from specs.
  • Samsung launched a device which has been able to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) in its phones.
  • In the case of S-Pen, Samsung demonstrated that it has been able to reduce latency between pen operation and what appears on the screen to 9 milliseconds using predictive analysis.
  • Latency is a major concern in technologies like smart cars.
  • Samsung also showcased active noise cancellation, which again uses prediction analysis to drown out ambient noises.
  • Apple’s virtual event also focused on higher integration and more uses of AI.
  • Siri has become even smarter and is increasingly being integrated with more services.
  • The camera function of Apple devices, for instance, pieces together a picture using best angles to create the perfect image.
  • Samsung and Apple now can monitor health more accurately using their smartwatches.

Future scope

  • This indicates how much further we are moving towards a future with more edge computing.
  • This computing will power technologies like a smart car.
  • Given the progress in IoT, there is a huge likelihood that those betting early on AI integration will reap the biggest rewards of the connected living market.

Consider the question “What is artificial intelligence? How it could transform the world of technology?”

Conclusion

Integration of AI in the devices we use in everyday life holds a promising future for us. India must encourage its development.


Source-

https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/ai-integration-will-be-at-the-core-of-the-transition-to-future-technologies-such-as-smarts-cars/2047309/

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

What are Time Capsules?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Time capsules

Mains level : NA

Ahead of the laying of the foundation stone for a temple, claims and denials have emerged about plans to put in a time capsule, or ‘Kaal Patra’.

Do you know?

A rubidium standard or rubidium atomic clock is the most inexpensive, compact, and widely produced atomic clock, used to control the frequency of television stations, cell phone base stations, in test equipment, and global navigation satellite systems like GPS.

What is a Time Capsule?

  • It is a container of any size or shape, which accommodates documents, photos and artefacts typical of the current era and is buried underground, for future generations to unearth.
  • The time capsule requires special engineering so that the contents don’t decay, even if pulled out after a century.
  • Material such as aluminium and stainless steel are used for the encasing, and documents are often reproduced on acid-free paper.
  • While the term “time capsule” was coined in the 20th century, among the earliest examples of one dates back to 1777, found by historians inside the statue of Jesus Christ in Spain during its restoration.

There’s a global society:

International Time Capsule Society

  • The International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), based in the US and formed in 1990, is now defunct but continues estimating the number of time capsules in the world.
  • As per its database, there are “10,000-15,000 times capsules worldwide”.

Are there any time capsules in India?

  • There have been a number of prominent examples.
  • One time capsule, outside the Red Fort and placed underground in 1972 by then PM Indira Gandhi, was dug out by the subsequent government.
  • Other time capsules are at a school in Mumbai, IIT-Kanpur, LPU in Jalandhar, and Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.
  • The Red Fort time capsule was supposed to be dug out after 1,000 years.

Significance of time capsules

  • Historians often criticize the idea of being motivated.
  • This exercise is inevitably a subjective exercise, geared towards glorification not to construct the real picture.
  • All historians look at this time capsule exercise with suspicion.
  • It’s not a valid historical method — who decides what matter, what artefacts, written documents are going into it?

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

How to treat data as public good

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Non-personal data

Mains level : Paper 3- Issue of data sharing

This is the age of Big data. Even after anonymising it, we gain useful information using analytical tools. So, given its potential, there is a call for treating the public data as a public good. This article analyses the suggestion of Kris Gopalakrishnan panel in this regard.

Why data matter

  • By one brave count, the world generates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.
  • A significant chunk of it is highly valuable.
  • With the increasing sophistication of tools designed to analyse it, the value of the data is increasing further.
  • This analysis of data can yield market patterns, traffic predictions, epidemic risks and much more.[Remember why Google shows you only particular ads.]
  • Data need not be either big or personal for it to be highly sought after.

Non-personal data: A public good

  • Would it not be better if at least some data were treated as a public good?
  • Treating it as a public good will allow its open use by startups, do-gooders and government bodies.
  • Dealing with such questions, a centre-appointed panel, headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, submitted its draft report on the regulation of non-personal data in India.
  • “Non-personal data” is defined as that which is either devoid of people’s details or anonymized to prevent individual identification.

Proposals of Kris Gopalan panel

  • The panel has proposed a new data authority to regulate non-personal data.
  • It has also outlined the need of a framework that would require companies to share its databanks with others.
  • Sharing of databank will help the country catalyse business innovation, bolster India’s startup ecosystem, and help governments and local authorities frame data-enriched public policies. 

Challenges

  • What data a private entity can be forced to disclose must follow a commonly accepted set of principles.
  • Data authority demanding companies to share data painstakingly acquired often with large sums invested to acquire it won’t work.
  • Also, if sharing data blunts companies’ strategic edge over competitors, they would probably appeal against it in court.
  • If enterprises fear that their confidential learnings could be threatened by intrusive data authority, then the cause of innovation would actually be set back.

Way forward

  • A clear set of guidelines could be set down that specify what sort of data qualifies as a public good and must be kept open to all.
  • For other kinds of data, maybe a market mechanism could evolve that lets various parties bid for privately-held information.

Consider the question “There is a growing demand for treating the non-personal data as a public good. What are the benefits and challenges of treating the non-personal data as public good?

Conclusion

Given its potential, big data does deserve regulation. But it needs to be done with clarity.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explaining Lithium increase in the Universe

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Explaining the increase of Li in the the Universe

Mains level : Not much

In a study recently published in Nature Astronomy scientists from Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) along with their international collaborators have provided a robust observational evidence for the first time that Li production is common among low mass Sun-like stars during their He-core burning phase.

Importance of lithium in our life

  • Light inflammable, metal lithium (Li) has brought about transformation in modern communication devices and transportation.
  • A great deal of today’s technology is powered by lithium in its various shades [remember Li-ion battery!].
  • But where does the element come from?
  • The origin of much of the Li can be traced to a single event, the Big-Bang that happened about 13.7 Billion years ago, from which the present-day Universe was also born.

Why lithium was thought to be different?

  • Li content in the physical Universe has increased by about a factor of four over the life of the Universe.
  • However, the rest of the elements carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, nickel and so on which grew about a million times over the lifetime of the Universe.
  • Li, however, understood to be an exemption!
  • Current understanding is that lithium in stars like our Sun only gets destroyed over their lifetime.
  • As a matter of fact, the composition of all the elements in the Sun and the Earth is similar.
  • But, the measured content of Li in the Sun is a factor of 100 lower than that of the Earth, though both are known to have formed together.

So, what the new finding suggests?

  • This discovery challenges the long-held idea that stars only destroy lithium during their lifetime.
  • It implies that the Sun itself will manufacture lithium in the future.
  • This is not predicted by models, indicating that there is some physical process missing in stellar theory.
  • Further, the authors identified “He flash”.
  • “He flash” is an on-set of He-ignition at the star’s core via violent eruption at the end of the star’s core hydrogen-burning phase, as the source of Li production.
  • Our Sun will reach this phase in about 6-7 billion years.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Gold Nanoparticles and their applications

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gold Nanoparticles

Mains level : Applications of nanomaterials

Indian researchers have successfully synthesized gold nanoparticles (GNPs) using psychrotolerant Antarctic bacteria through a non-toxic, low-cost, and eco-friendly way.

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.   GNPs are another distinct development.

What are Gold Nanoparticles?

  • Metallic NPs have been efficiently exploited for biomedical applications and among them, GNPs are found to be effective in biomedical research.
  • And NPs are those materials that are at least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers.
  • NPs have a high surface-to-volume ratio and they can provide the tremendous driving force for diffusion, especially at elevated temperatures.
  • GNPs are melted at much lower temperatures (300 °C) than bulk gold (1064 °C).
  • NPs have been found to impart various desirable properties to different day-to-day products.
  • For example, GNPs are found to have greater solar radiation absorbing ability than the conventional bulk gold, which makes them a better candidate for use in the photovoltaic cell manufacturing industry.

Properties of GNP

1) Biomedical

  • Genotoxicity describes the property of a chemical agent that is capable of damaging the genetic information of DNA and thus causing the mutation of the cell, which can lead to cancer.
  • The study revealed the genotoxic effect of GNPs on a sulphate reducing bacteria (SRB).
  • These GNPs can be used as composite therapeutic agent clinical trials, especially in anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-diabetic, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

2) Optical

  • GNPs have unique optical properties too. For example, particles above 100 nm show blue or violet colour in the water, while the colour becomes wine red in 100 nm gold colloidal particles.
  • They can thus be used for therapeutic imaging.

3) Electronics

  • GNPs are also found to be useful in the electronics industry.
  • Scientists have constructed a transistor known as NOMFET (Nanoparticles Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor) by embedding GNPs in a porous manganese oxide.
  • NOMFETs can mimic the feature of the human synapse known as plasticity or the variation of the speed and strength of the signal going from neuron to neuron.
  • These novel transistors can now facilitate better recreation of certain types of human cognitive processes, such as recognition and image processing and have their application in AI.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GPAI and its members

Mains level : GPAI

India joins Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) as a founding member to support the responsible and human-centric development and use of AI.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Discuss India’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) unveiled by the NITI Aayog.

About GPAI

  • GPAI is an international and multi-stakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.
  • It is the league of leading economies including India, USA, UK, EU, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, and Singapore.
  • GPAI will be supported by a Secretariat, to be hosted by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, as well as by two Centers of Expertise- one each in Montreal and Paris.
  • This is also the first initiative of its type for evolving better understanding of the challenges and opportunities around AI using the experience and diversity of participating countries.
  • In order to achieve this goal, the initiative will look to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities.

Aims and Objectives

  • In collaboration with partners and international organizations, GPAI will bring together leading experts from industry, civil society, governments, and academia to collaborate to promote responsible evolution of AI.
  • It will also help evolve methodologies to show how AI can be leveraged to better respond to the present global crisis around COVID-19.

India and AI

  • It is pertinent to note that India has recently launched the National AI Strategy and National AI Portal.
  • It has also started leveraging AI across various sectors such as education, agriculture, healthcare, e-commerce, finance, telecommunications, etc. with inclusion and empowerment of human being approach by supplementing growth and development.
  • By joining GPAI as a founding member, India will actively participate in the global development of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging upon its experience around the use of digital technologies for inclusive growth.

Also read:

[op-ed snap] India takes the first step to building an AI vision

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Airborne Rescue Pod for Isolated Transportation (ARPIT)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ARPIT

Mains level : Not Much

The Indian Air Force has developed and inducted an Airborne Rescue Pod for Isolated Transportation (ARPIT).

This rescue pod ARPIT can be used as an example of self-sufficiency under the ambitious Atmanirbhar Abhiyan.

What is ARPIT?

  • ARPIT is a lightweight isolation system made from aviation certified material.
  • It has a transparent and durable cast Perspex for enhanced patient visibility which is larger, higher and wider than the existing models.
  • The isolation system caters for the suitable number of air exchanges, integration of medical monitoring instruments, and ventilation to an intubated patient.
  • In addition, it generates high constant negative pressure in the isolation chamber for prevention of infection risk to aircrew, ground crew and health care workers involved in air transportation.
  • It utilizes High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) H-13 class filters and supports invasive ventilation using Transport Ventilator.

It’s utility

  • This pod will be utilized for the evacuation of critical patients with infectious diseases including COVID-19 from high altitude area, isolated and remote places.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Electrolytic splitting of Water

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Electrolytic splitting of Water

Mains level : Hydrogen as a clean fuel

Scientists from The Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences (CeNS), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), have found out a low cost and efficient way to generate hydrogen from water using Molybdenum dioxide as a catalyst.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Hydrogen is the future of clean and sustainable energy. Discuss.

Electrolytic splitting of water

  • Electrolysis of water is the decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen gas due to the passage of an electric current.
  • This technique can be used to make hydrogen gas, the main component of hydrogen fuel, and breathable oxygen gas, or can mix the two into oxyhydrogen, which is also usable as fuel, though more volatile and dangerous.
  • It is a promising method to generate hydrogen but requires energy input that can be brought down in the presence of a catalyst.

Using Molybdenum Catalyst

  • The scientists have shown that Molybdenum dioxide (MoO2) nanomaterials annealed in hydrogen atmosphere can act as efficient catalysts to reduce the energy input to bring about water splitting into Hydrogen.
  • Molybdenum dioxide has the potential to replace the currently employed catalyst platinum, which is expensive and has limited resources.
  • MoO2 is a conducting metal oxide that is one of the low-cost catalysts with good efficiency and stability for hydrogen evolution.
  • The catalyst is highly stable for a longer duration of reaction with sustained hydrogen evolution from water.
  • About 80 % efficient conversion of electrical energy into hydrogen has been achieved using this catalyst.

Significance

  • Hydrogen is considered as the future of clean and sustainable energy as it can be generated from water and produces water on energy generation without any carbon footprint.
  • Hydrogen can be directly used as a fuel similar to natural gas or as input for fuel cells to generate electricity.
  • It is the future energy for a clean environment and an alternative to fossil fuels, underlining the necessity of low-cost catalysts for its production.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

What is Superconductivity?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Not Much

On a larger scale, electric grids, such as high power lines, lose over 5 per cent of their energy in the process of transmission.

In India, we often get to hear about the transmission losses in DISCOMS. Such losses can be zeroed with the application of superconducting cables (which is practically impossible unless we find a normal working one). The phenomena, superconductivity, however is not new to us, UPSC may end up asking some tricky statements in the prelims regarding it.

Heat losses

Waste heat is all around you. On a small scale, if your phone or laptop feels warm, that’s because some of the energy powering the device is being transformed into unwanted heat.

Where does this wasted heat come from?

  • These elementary particles of an atom move around and interact with other electrons and atoms.
  • Because they have an electric charge, as they move through a material — like metals, which can easily conduct electricity — they scatter off other atoms and generate heat.

Understanding Superconductivity

  • A superconductor is a material, such as a pure metal like aluminium or lead, that when cooled to ultra-low temperatures allows electricity to move through it with absolutely zero resistance.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes was the first scientist who figured out exactly how superconductor works in 1911.
  • Simply put, superconductivity occurs when two electrons bind together at low temperatures.
  • They form the building block of superconductors, the Cooper pair.
  • This holds true even for a potential superconductor like lead when it is above a certain temperature.

What are Superconductors?

  • Superconductors are materials that address this problem by allowing energy to flow efficiently through them without generating unwanted heat.
  • They have great potential and many cost-effective applications.
  • They operate magnetically levitated trains, generate magnetic fields for MRI machines and recently have been used to build quantum computers, though a fully operating one does not yet exist.

Issues with superconductors

  • They have an essential problem when it comes to other practical applications: They operate at ultra-low temperatures.
  • There are no room-temperature superconductors. That “room-temperature” part is what scientists have been working on for more than a century.
  • The amount of energy needed to cool a material down to its superconducting state is too expensive for daily applications.

Future scope

  • In a dramatic turn of events, a new kind of superconductor material was discovered in 1987 at IBM in Zurich, Switzerland.
  • The material was a kind of ceramic. These new ceramic superconductors were made of copper and oxygen mixed with other elements such as lanthanum, barium and bismuth.
  • They contradicted everything physicists thought they knew about making superconductors.
  • Since then, curiosity regarding the superconductors has been ever increasing.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

R&D: Path to self-reliant India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level : Paper 3- Importance of innovation for self-reliance.

What does it take to be self-reliant? (Hint: R&D!) This is the question this article tries to answer.  After independence, we had a good start in R&D. But what went wrong? What was the role played by globalisation? Did the globalisation deliver on its promise of technology transfer? And finally, what lies on the way forward for India? This article answers all such question.

What went wrong: historical perspective

  • India chose the path of self-reliance in state-run heavy industries and strategic sectors after independence.
  • In the decades following independence, this choice of self-reliance had placed India ahead of most developing countries.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, however, India did not modernise these industries to climb higher up the technological ladder.
  • The private sector, which had backed the state-run core sector approach in its Bombay Plan, stayed content with near-monopoly conditions in non-core sectors in a protected market.
  • Little effort was made to modernise light industries or develop contemporary consumer products.
  • India’s industrial ecosystem was thus characterised by low productivity, poor quality and low technology, and was globally uncompetitive.

What did India lose in the ‘lost decades’?

  • India completely missed out on the ‘third industrial revolution’.
  • Third industrial revolution comprised electronic goods, microprocessors, personal computers, mobile phones and decentralised manufacturing and global value chains during the so-called lost decade(s).
  • Today, India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market.
  • However, it does not make any of these phones itself.
  • India manufactures only a small fraction of solar photovoltaic cells and modules currently used, with ambitious future targets.

What happened to ‘self-reliance’ after India embraced globalisation?

  • At the turn of the millennium, when India embarked on liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.
  • So, the very concept of self-reliance was rubbished.
  • This happened in the belief that it was like reinventing the things already invented and wasting money on it.
  • And when advanced technologies could simply be bought from anywhere at lower costs. 
  • Two related ideas have prevailed since then, and neither delivered the desired results.

So, what are these two basic ideas?

1. Unsuitability of PSUs in the globalised world

  • The first idea was that public sector undertakings (PSUs) are, by definition, inefficient and sluggish for the competitive globalised scenario.
  • No effort was made to engender either real autonomy or a transition to new technological directions.
  • Instead, PSUs with capability and scale were undermined or abandoned, along with many nascent research and development (R&D) efforts, for instance, in photovoltaics, semiconductors and advanced materials.

So, what was the result of this attitude towards PSUs?

  • The private sector displayed little interest in these heavy industries and showed no appetite for technology upgradation.
  • With entry of foreign corporations, most Indian private companies retreated into technology imports or collaborations.
  • Even today, most R&D in India is conducted by PSUs.
  • And much of the smaller but rising proportion of private sector R&D is by foreign corporations in information technology and biotechnology/pharma.
  • Conclusion: Given the disinclination of most of the private sector towards R&D and high-tech manufacturing, significant government reinvestment in PSUs and R&D is essential for self-reliance.

2. Foreign companies were expected to bring new technologies in India

  • The second idea was that inviting foreign direct investment and manufacturing by foreign majors would bring new technologies into India’s industrial ecosystem.
  • This was thought to obviate the need for indigenous efforts towards self-reliance.

So, what happened on the ground?

  • But mere setting up of manufacturing facilities in India is no guarantee of absorption of technologies.
  • There is no evidence from any sector that this has taken place or has even been attempted.
  • The fact is, foreign majors jealously guard commercially significant or strategic technologies in off-shore manufacturing bases.
  • Conclusion: The key problem of self-reliance is therefore neither external finance nor domestic off-shore manufacturing, but resolute indigenous endeavour including R&D.

Let’s look at experience of other Asian countries towards self-reliance

Three models emerge from Asian countries.

1. Focus on technology and industries

  •  Japan’s post-war success, was seen as a template by some countries to follow.
  • These include countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong
  • These countries took huge technological and industrial strides in the 1970s and 80s.
  • South Korea emerged as a global powerhouse in manufacturing, but also in indigenously developed technologies.
  • Taiwan developed technologies and manufacturing capacities in robotics and micro-processors.
  • While Singapore and Hong Kong adapted advanced technologies in niche areas.
  • These self-reliant capabilities were enabled, among other factors, by planned state investments in R&D including basic research (3-5% of GDP), technology and policy support to private corporations, infrastructure and, importantly, education and skill development (4-6% of GDP).

2. Focus on off-shore manufacturing and not on self-reliance

  • Countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam have focused on off-shore manufacturing lower down the value chain and without the thrust on self-reliance.
  • This is useful for job creation but is an unsuitable model for a country of India’s size and aspirations.

3. China: Transition from low-end manufacturing to dominant role in supply chains

  • China is, of course, unique in scale and in its determination to become a superpower not just geopolitically but also in self-reliant S&T and industrial capability.
  • China advanced purposefully from low-end mass manufacturing to a dominant role in global supply chains.
  • It has now decided on shifting to advanced manufacturing.
  • It has set itself a target of becoming a world leader by 2035 in 5G, supercomputing, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, biotech/pharma and other technologies of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

Way forward for India

  • India may well have missed the bus in many of technologies in which the U.S., Europe and China have established perhaps insurmountable leads.
  • Yet, self-reliant capabilities in electric and fuel cell vehicles, electricity storage systems, solar cells and modules, aircraft including UAVs, AI, robotics and automation, biotech/pharma and others are well within reach.
  • Large-scale concerted endeavours would, however, be required, since self-reliance will not happen by itself.
  • State-funded R&D, including in basic research, by PSUs and research institutions and universities needs to be scaled-up significantly, well above the dismal 1% of GDP currently.
  • Upgraded and reoriented PSUs would also be crucial given their distinctive place in the ecosystem.
  • Private sector delivery-oriented R&D could also be supported, linked to meaningful participation in manufacturing at appropriate levels of the supply chain.
  • India’s meagre public expenditure on education needs to be substantially ramped up including in skill development.

Consider the question “The path to the self-reliance of any country goes through robust capabilities in the R&D. Comment”

Conclusion

Self-reliance would need a paradigm shift in our approach toward many things. First and foremost is the R&D. Potential of the PSUs has to be tapped to their fullest in the realms of R&D. The second area of focus should be education. These two areas are the key to achieve self-reliance and should be the focus of policymakers.


Back2Basics: Bombay Plan

  • The Bombay plan was a set of proposal of a small group of influential business leaders in Bombay for the development of the post-independence economy of India.
  • This plan was published in two parts or volume- first in 1944 and second in 1945.
  • The prime objectives of the plan were to achieve a balanced economy and to raise the standard of living of the masses of the population rapidly by doubling the present per capita income within a period of 15 years from the time the plan goes into operation.

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Energy-efficient Photodetector for Security Application

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Photodetectors and their applications

Mains level : NA

Indian scientists have fabricated an economical and energy-efficient wafer-scale photodetector using gold – silicon interface, for security applications.

A basic question on the working principle of Photodetectors can be asked in the Prelims.

What are Photodetectors?

  • Photodetectors, also called photosensors, are sensors of light or other electromagnetic radiation.
  • A photodetector has a p–n (positive-negative) junction that converts light photons into the current.
  • The absorbed photons make electron-hole pairs in the depletion region.
  • Photodiodes and phototransistors are a few examples of photodetectors. Solar cells convert some of the light energy absorbed into electrical energy.
  • The material cost and the intricate fabrication processes involved in realizing high-performance detectors make them unaffordable for day to day applications.

Applications

  • Photodetectors are the heart of any optoelectronic circuit that can detect light.
  • They are employed for a wide variety of applications ranging from controlling automatic lighting in supermarkets to detecting radiation from the outer galaxy as well as security-related applications.
  • They range from simple devices that automatically open supermarket doors, to receivers on the TV remote controls.

What did Indian researchers achieve?

  • The scientists have fabricated gold (Au) – silicon (Si) interface, which showed high sensitivity towards light demonstrating the photodetection action.
  • The Au–Si interface was brought about by galvanic deposition, a technique for electroplating of metals, wherein water-based solutions (electrolytes) are used, which contain the metals to be deposited as ions.
  • In addition, a nanostructured Au film also was deposited on top of p-type silicide (having an excess of positive charges), which acts as a charge collector.

Benefits

  • Being a solution-based technique, the method is highly economical and enabled large-area fabrication without compromising the detector response.
  • The process is quick, taking only minutes to fabricate a detector of any arbitrary area and exhibited a rapid response of 40 microseconds.
  • This photodetector displayed long-term environmental stability.
  • The Indian invention provides a simple and cost-effective solution-based fabrication method for high-performance photodetector.
  • It could help detect weak scattered light as an indication of unwanted activity.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] HCARD robot to assist frontline COVID-19 healthcare warriors

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HCARD

Mains level : Technology assistance for COVID-19 containment

HCARD, a robot, to assist frontline COVID-19 healthcare warriors has been developed by a CSIR lab.

It is very unlikely to create a prelim question on HCARD. However, developments as such help in exemplifying the scientific developments which helped contain such highly contagious outbreaks.

What is HCARD?

  • The robotic device HCARD, an acronym for Hospital Care Assistive Robotic Device, can help frontline healthcare workers in maintaining physical distance from those infected by the coronavirus.
  • The device is equipped with various state-of-the-art technologies and works both in automatic as well as manual modes of navigation.
  • This robot can be controlled and monitored by a nursing booth with a control station having such features as navigation, drawer activation for providing medicines and food to patients, sample collection and audio-visual communication.
  • The cost of this device is less than Rs 5 lakh and the weight is less than 80 kilograms.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

The Curie Family and its Nobel legacy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Radioactivity

Mains level : NA

This newscard is inspired by an article published in the DTE which talks about a family which has received a total of four Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single-family.

Last year in 2019 CSP, there was a question on pure Biology about Hepatitis and its variants. With such news trending, we can expect a core chemistry or physics based question coupled with a slight Current Affairs blend.

The ‘Nobel’ family

  • On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolated radioactive radium salts from pitchblende, a mineral, in a laboratory in Paris, France.
  • They were inspired by French physicist Henri Becquerel’s 1896 experiment on phosphorescence or the phenomenon that allows certain objects to glow in the dark.
  • They were able to find traces of two radioactive elements—polonium (Element 84) and radium (Element 88).
  • Curie shared the 1903 Nobel with her fellow researcher Pierre Currie and Becquerel for their combined work on radioactivity.

Important facts

  • In 1903, Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics making her the world’s first woman to win the prize.
  • In 1911, she created history again by becoming the first woman to have won two Nobel awards.
  • The 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Marie after she managed to produce radium as a pure metal. This proved the new element’s existence beyond doubt.
  • However, this was not the last Nobel for the Curie family.
  • The 1935 Nobel in Chemistry went to Irène Curie and her husband and co-researcher Frédéric Joliot for their joint work on the artificial creation of new radioactive elements.
  • The Curies have received a total of four of Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single-family. They also have the unique distinction of having three Nobel-prize winning members in the family.

Birth of Radioactivity

  • While delivering a lecture at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden in 1911, Curie shared some critical details about “radioactive elements” and the phenomenon called “radioactivity”.
  • She also spoke about the chemical properties of radium, the new element that was about a million times more radioactive than uranium.
  • Radium in solid salts was about 5 million times more radioactive than an equal weight of uranium.

Back2Basics: Radioactivity

  • Radioactivity refers to the particles which are emitted from nuclei as a result of nuclear instability.
  • It is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation.
  • The most common types of radiation are called alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, but there are several other varieties of radioactive decay.
  • Radioactive decay rates are normally stated in terms of their half-lives, and the half-life of a given nuclear species is related to its radiation risk.
  • Examining the amounts of decay products makes possible radioactive dating.

Its applications

  • Medical use: Many diseases such as cancer are cured by radiotherapy. Sterilization of medical instruments and food is another common application of radiation.
  • Scientific use: Alpha particles emitted from the radioisotopes are used for nuclear reactions.
  • Industrial use: Radioisotopes are used as fuel for atomic energy reactors. Also used in Carbon dating.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] ‘NanoBlitz 3D’ tool to map properties of nano-materials

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level :  NanoBlitz 3D

Mains level : NA

Indian scientists have developed an advanced tool for mapping nano-mechanical properties of materials like multi-phase alloys, composites, and multi-layered coatings.

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.  NanoBlitz 3D is another distinct development. We can expect a prelims question asking what the NanoBlitz 3D is , with confusing options like 3d printing tool etc.

 NanoBlitz 3D

  • Scientists from Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) an autonomous institute under the Dept. of S&T have developed this tool.
  • It is an advanced tool for mapping nano-mechanical properties of materials like multi-phase alloys, composites, and multi-layered coatings.
  • The tool has been useful to yield excellent results on a wide range of material systems, including glass-fibre-reinforced polymer composites, dual-phase steels, softwood and shale.
  • An important aspect of this technique is its high-throughput, with just a few hours of testing required for generating more than 10,000 data points that can be processed using machine learning (ML) algorithms.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Ionospheric Electron Density (IED) and its applications

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IED

Mains level : Not Much

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG), Mumbai, have developed a global model to predict the ionospheric electron density with larger data coverage—a crucial need for communication and navigation.

We can gauge these days that PIB is coming with ample news which is visibly important and are focused on basic GS concept. Ionospheric Electron Density is one such concept. Its significance for prelims cannot be denied.

Ionospheric Electron Density (IED)

  • The ionosphere exists between about 90 and 1000 km above the earth’s surface.
  • Radiation from the sun ionizes atoms and molecules here, liberating electrons from molecules and creating a space of free electron and ions.

Studying IED

  • The ionospheric variability is greatly influenced by both solar originated processes and the neutral atmosphere origin.
  • Scientists have tried to model the ionosphere using theoretical and empirical techniques; however, the accurate prediction of electron density is still a challenging task.
  • In recent years, Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) are showing potential to handle more complex and non-linear problems.

What are Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs)?

  • ANNs are computing systems vaguely inspired by the biological neural networks that constitute animal brains.
  • Such systems “learn” to perform tasks by considering examples, generally without being programmed with task-specific rules.
  • For example, in image recognition, they might learn to identify images that contain cats by analyzing example images that have been manually labeled as “cat” or “no cat” and using the results to identify cats in other images.
  • They do this without any prior knowledge of cats, for example, that they have fur, tails, whiskers and cat-like faces.
  • Instead, they automatically generate identifying characteristics from the examples that they process.

Significance of IED

  • Due to the ability of ionized atmospheric gases to refract high frequency (HF, or shortwave) radio waves, the ionosphere can reflect radio waves directed into the sky back toward the Earth.
  • Radio waves directed at an angle into the sky can return to Earth beyond the horizon.
  • This technique, called “skip” or “skywave” propagation, has been used since the 1920s to communicate at international or intercontinental distances.

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.

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.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Making use of technology to trace Covid-19 cases

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aarogya Setu App.

Mains level : Paper 3- Using technology for tackling the Covid-19.

The article argues for the greater adoption of technology in tracing the Covid-19. Taking a cue from the success of JAM and UPI, recently launched app Aarogya Setu could also be the next game-changer in the fight against the pandemic. However, there are several challenges that are also discussed here.

Success story of domestic digital platforms

  • The success of two domestic digital payment platforms offers us an opportunity to show how the tracing of COVID-19 cases can be done at scale and with greater speed.
  • The JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity for DBTs (Direct Benefit Transfers) and UPI (Unified Payments Interface) have made India a technology leader in money transfers.
  • The JAM has lent efficiency to the transfer of funds to the needy.
  • It was drafted into action recently to channel payments to the more vulnerable who need help in dealing with the adverse economic consequences of the lockdown.
  • The UPI is emerging as a transaction vehicle of choice for all retail payments.
  • In March, 148 banks were on the UPI platform, helping process over 120 crore transactions worth over Rs 2 lakh crore.

The success story of the UPI and JAM is important from the UPSC point of view. Riding on the success of these two, the Aarogya Setu could also become the third and help in the fight against the epidemic. So, we should be aware of the basics of its working and problems the app could face.

How the Aarogya Setu works?

  • Widespread adoption is required: The success of India’s Aarogya Setu mobile application will depend on its widespread adoption.
  • Based on bluetooth technology: The app relies on bluetooth technology to map and deconstruct the contact history of individuals who may have come in contact with potential carriers of the coronavirus.
  • Exchange of information between apps: If two individuals are at the same place at the same time, their apps can exchange information-up to a maximum distance of about 15 feet.
  • Exchange of the above information is without the server knowing anything about it.
  • The app notifies users and authorities of individuals who are at risk.
  • Privacy safeguards: Some privacy safeguards have been put in place to ensure that individuals do not share personally identifiable information with each other but only with authorities — that too, in select cases.
  • A confidence-building measure would be to release the code for public scrutiny with the aim of further bolstering privacy standards.

What are the possible challenges in the success of Aarogya Setu?

  • The distribution of the detection framework necessitates a rethink, beyond an app.
  • Issues with app download in India: Nandan Nilekani has underlined that app downloads in India are perhaps the most expensive compared to any other developed or fast-developing nation.
  • Despite the falling cost of data, Indian users consider several factors before downloading an app such as required storage space, the potential impact on battery and data usage.
  • Given India’s open internet, several publishers from across industries and geographies are vying for smartphone real estate.
  • Challenge involved: In such a situation, drawing attention to particular use-cases i.e. Aarogya Setu-howsoever urgent-is challenging.

Following are the suggestions to overcome the shortcoming of the Aarogya Setu. Though they are for Aarogya Setu, we can apply these in other situations in which mobile technology bases app is used by the government in the larger public interest such as rescue operation or warnings in case of disaster.

So, what could be the alternate strategy?

  • The alternative strategy involves using the reach of the other famous apps (for ex. Paytm) to do what we want to do i.e. tracing by delinking.
  • Delinking involves separating the technology we want to use for tracing (the backend) from the channels (the front end).
  • A fine-tuned backend can be pushed to, and used by, publishers (other apps) who already have the reach.
  • Similarity with UPI: This is akin to the UPI being used by several banks and technology firms for payment.
  • The government did build its frontend in the form of the BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) app but mostly for signalling purposes.
  • In the current context, the government can consider using its own app for tracing and for additional use-cases such as passes and approvals for movement when the lockdown is gradually eased out.
  • It could even host other health-related features.
  • Expanding its ambit and making it a conduit like JAM will likely increase the incentive for people to embrace it.

Limitations of using GPS and Bluetooth for tracing in India

  • Another area where improvisations are called for is the tooling for tracking.
  • While reports have indicated that the developers are using bluetooth for tracing and are also capturing GPS coordinates, both users and device manufacturers limit their usage of these technologies in favour of other optimisations.
  • Users are concerned with both data and battery usage while device manufacturers kill background jobs even if the publishers have sought and secured permissions from users.
  • These tendencies are pronounced on Android, the dominant mobile operating system in India.
  • What are the other options? In such a scenario, developers ought to think about using other techniques.
  • For instance, using cell tower data and WiFi identifiers to bolster tracing efforts.
  • This is especially important in a context where only a third of our population has smartphones and even fewer people have devices with bluetooth capability.
  • Even the recently announced Google-Apple partnership may not have meaningful results in this setting.

Conclusion

With the potential ramifications of COVID-19’s spread in India and across the globe, the nation’s recent history of technological successes and a government committed to agile governance, the pandemic presents an opportunity for the country to show its people and the world how technology is a force of good.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Covid-19: Software vendors focus on big data, AI despite fall in IT spending

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Leveraging AI and Big data for dealing with Covid-19, and how the IT industry could turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity?

The article discusses how COVID-19 has prompted the software companies to focus on technologies that are still in demand. The IT companies have started to focus on ways to leverage the potential of AI and the Big data to deal with the pandemic.

Impact on IT companies and how they are planning to cope with it?

  • Fall in spending: Spending on information technology (IT) globally is expected to shrink by 3-4% by the end of 2020.
  • Impact: That would have a severe impact on hardware and slowdown in the software and service businesses.
  • How companies are planning to deal with the situation? Software vendors such as IBM, SAP Software Solutions and Microsoft Corporation plan to make use of emerging technologies to become more relevant to their customers.
  • IBM has created an AI platformWatson Assistant for Citizens’ on its public cloud.
  • The platform helps citizens understand and respond to common questions about covid-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
  • While the ongoing pandemic is having a dreadful impact on companies at scale, matured ones are taking a pause and rethinking their analytics approach.
  • Using data analysis to prepare contingency plan: Data science teams are being called into action to crunch petabytes of data and build best business models on trusted data for decision-makers to quickly prepare contingency plans.
  • This is where we are seeing enterprises using AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to mine the data and build predictive or prescriptive models in IBM Cloud Pack for Data.

UPSC could ask question connecting the use of IT and its potential to deal with the pandemics. And it could also be other way round you can cite the example of use of IT in the health sector.

Adoption of the AI by various sectors

  • The government and public service agencies as well as healthcare and research companies urgently need AI solutions and analytics as they are in a race to find a treatment for the deadly disease.
  • Other industries with high end-user touch-points like banks, insurance, retail, etc. are also in urgent need to use AI/ML-driven analytics and cognitive technologies to automate their communications, streamline predictions, decision making, etc.

AI and Big data could be a game-changer across the various sectors, health being one of them. As among the buzzwords in technologie today UPSC could ask about AI and Big data.

Covid-19 as an opportunity for the IT industry

  • The covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for IT vendors to build and improve on their capabilities on AI and big data.
  • Leveraging AI: They are also keeping an eye on emerging uses cases in AI for disease detection, tracking, and prevention.
  • Relatively smaller companies are also launching dedicated AI-based apps to assist people amid the covid-19 crisis.
  • Eka Software Solutions recently released ‘COVID-19 Risk Monitoring’, it help customers quickly gain visibility in supply chain risks by showing a company’s contract position across countries with reported cases of the virus.
  • Based on company data, the app instantly visualises contracts at risk and provides businesses with the ability to identify alternate suppliers to maintain business continuity.

Conclusion

As the epidemic is far from being tamed, various sectors are likely to feel the existential crisis and IT could be one of them. But they can also turn this crisis into an opportunity by leveraging the AI and Big data in tackling the epidemic at various levels.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Laser Surface Micro-texturing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Laser surface micro-texturing

Mains level : NA

International Advanced Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI) an autonomous R&D Centre of Dept. of Science and Technology has developed ultrafast laser surface texturing technology, which can improve the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines.

Laser surface micro-texturing

  • This technology offers precise control of the size, shape and density of micro-surface texture features. This has gained momentum as a way to control friction and wear.
  • In this technology, a pulsating laser beam creates micro-dimples or grooves on the surface of materials in a very controlled manner.
  • Such textures can trap wear debris when operating under dry sliding conditions and sometimes provide effects like enhancing oil supply (lubricant reservoir) which can lower friction coefficients and may enable reduced wear rate.
  • The texture surfaces were created on automotive internal combustion engine components, piston rings and cylinder liners using 100 fs pulse duration laser.
  • The micro dimples of 10-20 μm diameter and about 5-10 μm deep which have been created with laser beams had a regular pattern.

Benefits of micro-texturing

  • The created textures were tested in an engine test rig under different speeds and temperatures of coolant and lubrication oil, and it was observed that there was a 16% reduction in the lube oil consumption with the use of texture on the piston rings.
  • The 10-hour lube oil consumption test shows that the blowby substantially reduced with textured rings.
  • Fabrication of a pattern of micro dimples or grooves on the surface of materials results in a change in surface topography which generates additional hydrodynamic pressure, thereby increasing the load-carrying capacity of the surfaces.
  • Hence these become useful for trapping wear debris when operating under dry sliding conditions and sometimes provide effects like enhancing oil supply (lubricant reservoir) which can lower friction coefficients and may enable reduced wear rate.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] National Supercomputing Mission (NSM)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Supercomputers

Mains level : Applications of Supercomputers

The Union Ministry of Science & Technology has informed about the progress of the National Supercomputing Mission.

National Supercomputing Mission (NSM)

  • NSM is a proposed plan by GoI to create a cluster of seventy supercomputers connecting various academic and research institutions across India.
  • In April 2015 the government approved the NSM with a total outlay of Rs.4500 crore for a period of 7 years.
  • The mission was set up to provide the country with supercomputing infrastructure to meet the increasing computational demands of academia, researchers, MSMEs, and startups by creating the capability design, manufacturing, of supercomputers indigenously in India.
  • Currently there are four supercomputers from India in Top 500 list of supercomputers in the world.

Aims and objectives

  • The target of the mission was set to establish a network of supercomputers ranging from a few Tera Flops (TF) to Hundreds of Tera Flops (TF) and three systems with greater than or equal to 3 Peta Flops (PF) in academic and research institutions of National importance across the country by 2022.
  • This network of Supercomputers envisaging a total of 15-20 PF was approved in 2015 and was later revised to a total of 45 PF (45000 TFs), a jump of 6 times more compute power within the same cost and capable of solving large and complex computational problems.

IWhat is a Supercomputer?

  • A supercomputer is a computer with a high level of performance as compared to a general-purpose computer.
  • The performance of a supercomputer is commonly measured in floating-point operations per second (FLOPS) instead of million instructions per second (MIPS).
  • Since 2017, there are supercomputers which can perform over a hundred quadrillion FLOPS (petaFLOPS).
  • Since November 2017, all of the world’s fastest 500 supercomputers run Linux-based operating systems.

Why do we need supercomputers?

  • Developed and almost-developed countries have begun ensuring high investments in supercomputers to boost their economies and tackle new social problems.
  • These high-performance computers can simulate the real world, by processing massive amounts of data, making cars and planes safer, and more fuel-efficient and environment-friendly.
  • They also aid in the extraction of new sources of oil and gas, development of alternative energy sources, and advancement in medical sciences.
  • Supercomputers have also helped weather forecasters to accurately predict severe storms, enable better mitigation planning and warning systems.
  • They are also used by financial services, manufacturing and internet companies and infrastructure systems like water-supply networks, energy grids, and transportation.
  • Future applications of artificial intelligence (AI) also depend on supercomputing.
  • Due to the potential of this technology, countries like the US, China, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia have created national-level supercomputing strategies and are investing substantially in these programmes.

When did India initiate its efforts to build supercomputers?

  • India’s supercomputer programme initiated in the late 1980s, when the United States ceased the export of a Cray Supercomputer due to technology embargos.
  • This resulted in India setting up C-DAC in 1988, which in 1991, unveiled the prototype of PARAM 800, benchmarked at 5 Gflops. This supercomputer was the second-fastest in the world at that time.
  • Since June 2018, the USA’s Summit is the fastest supercomputer in the world, taking away this position from China.
  • As of January 2018, Pratyush and Mihir are the fastest supercomputers in India with a maximum speed of Peta Flops.

What are the phases of the National Supercomputing Mission?

Phase I:

  • In the first phase of the NSM, parts of the supercomputers are imported and assembled in India.
  • A total of 6 supercomputers are to be installed in this phase.
  • The first supercomputer that was assembled indigenously is called Param Shivay. It was installed in IIT (BHU) located in Varanasi.
  • Similar systems, Param Shakti (IIT Kharagpur) and Param Brahma (IISER, Pune) were also later installed within the country.
  • The rest will be installed at IIT Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Studies (JNIAS).

Phase II:

  • The supercomputers that are installed so far are about 60% indigenous.
  • The 11 systems that are going to be installed in the next phase will have processors designed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and will have a cumulative capacity of 10 petaflops.
  • These new systems are to be constructed more cost-effectively than the previous ones.
  • One of the 11 proposed supercomputers will be installed
  • at C-DAC exclusively for small and medium enterprises so that they can train employees as well as work on supercomputers at a very low cost.

Phase III:

  • The third phase aims to build fully indigenous supercomputers.
  • The government had also approved a project to develop a cryogenic cooling system that rapidly dispels the heat generated by a computing chip. This will be jointly built together by IIT-Bombay and C-DAC.

What are the advantages of the National Supercomputing Mission?

  • The National Supercomputing Mission can ensure accessibility to supercomputers at an affordable rate to the scientific community and medium and small enterprises.
  • It can exponentially enhance the quality and quantity of R&D and higher education in the areas of science and technology.
  • It can solve the current and future challenges that are plaguing the country.
  • Currently, the world’s top supercomputers are mostly under the control of advanced nations like the US, Japan, China and the European Union. This Mission has the potential to bring India into this select league of such nations.
  • These supercomputers can be used in the areas of climate modelling, weather predictions, computational biology, atomic energy simulations, defence, disaster simulation, astrophysics etc.
  • These computers have played a crucial role in scientific and technological advancements in numerous fields.
  • Unlike other computers, these high-performance machines can crunch the most complex of data at a speed, which is millions of times faster than a desktop PC.
  • This mission, aiming to provide supercomputing facilities to about 60-70 institutions across the nation and thousands of active researchers, academicians, is moving fast towards creating a computer infrastructure within the country.
  • This mission can also enhance the country’s capacity to develop the next generation of supercomputer experts.

How do other countries make use of supercomputers?

China:

  • Jiangsu Province has a supercomputer called “Sunway TaihuLight”.
  • This supercomputer performs a wide range of tasks, including climate science, weather forecasting and earth-system modelling to help ships avoid rough seas, improve farmers’ yields and ensure the safety of offshore drilling.
  • TaihuLight has already led to an increase in profits and a reduction in expenses that justify its cost ($270 million).

United States:

  • In the US, supercomputers are radically transforming the healthcare system.
  • The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has used supercomputers to create a far more detailed model of the Hepatitis-C virus, a major cause of the liver disease that costs $9 billion in healthcare costs in the US alone.
  • Using supercomputers, the researchers have now developed a model that comprehensively simulates heart down to the cellular level and can lead to a substantial reduction in heart diseases.

These are some of the very few cases of how supercomputers have enhanced breakthroughs in various fields.

How do supercomputers help fight coronavirus?

  • Earlier, the US had established COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium that will bring together industry, academic institutions, and federal laboratories to try to identify or create candidate compounds that might prevent or treat coronavirus infection.
  • One of the members of the consortium, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, aimed to look into compounds that are already available in the market that might combat COVID-19.
  • For this purpose, the world’s fastest supercomputer “Summit” was used.
  • Like other viruses, the novel coronavirus uses a spike protein to inject cells.
  • Using Summit with an algorithm to investigate which drugs could bind to the protein and prevent the virus from doing its duty, the researchers have a list of 77 drugs that show promise.
  • Starting with 8,000 compounds, Summit has shortened the time of the experiment exponentially, ruling out the vast majority of possible medications before settling on 77 drugs, which are ranked based on how effective they are likely to be at halting the virus in the human body.

Way forward

  • It is evident that supercomputers would become a vital part of our lives as it can provide solutions to the current and future problems and India, one of the most populous nations in the world, must ensure that it also has access to this technology for the welfare of its people.
  • Supercomputers, as they operate at such incredible speeds, will encounter numerous barriers like network and interconnectivity hardware that previous generations of designers did not have to deal with.
  • The cooling system is also one of the major design constraints.
  • Hence, India must give a high emphasis on innovation to tackle these challenges.
  • India must also give high emphasis to the application rather than the technology itself.
  • Supercomputing research also requires fundamental research of the next stages of computing like quantum computing that are still in the theoretical stage.
  • Bureaucratic red-tapism must be circumvented and scientists and researchers must be allowed to take bold and radical steps without fear of reprisal.
  • The government must also invest in necessary physical and digital infrastructure.
  • It must also address the challenges of:
  • Limited funding and delayed release of funds
  • The increasing need for imports for necessary hardware components to build supercomputers

Conclusion:

  • Supercomputers are strategically important for India as it can help the country to become a knowledge-driven economy.
  • This technology also can support cutting edge research that can benefit the economy, society, businesses, environment, etc.
  • Thus, enhancing investments, improving flexibility for research and providing other necessary infrastructures must be ensured for it to grow.
  • Without this technology, India risks being surpassed on the global stage by other nations and will consequently miss the huge benefits that come from having this strategically important technology at the disposal of the country’s best and brightest minds

 

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Picking up the quantum technology baton

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NM-QTA

Mains level : Paper 3- Research on Quantum technology and its applications in India.

Context

With the Budget announcement providing direction for the development in quantum technology, the stakeholders need to roll-out the national mission quickly.

Pushing India into second quantum revolution

  • Budgetary allocation for NM-QTA: In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science — over the next five years she proposed spending ₹8,000 crores (~ $1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
  • This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution, a major scientific effort that is being pursued by the United States, Europe, China and others.

Timeline of the development of Quantum Mechanics

  • Science to describe nature on atomic-scale: Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small — at the scale of atoms and elementary particles.
  • Foundation for understanding: For over a century it has provided the foundations of our understanding of the physical world, including the interaction of light and matter.
    • It also led to ubiquitous inventions such as lasers and semiconductor transistors.
    • Despite a century of research, the quantum world still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life.
  • Second revolution: A second revolution is currently underway with the goal of putting our growing understanding of these mysteries to use by actually controlling nature and harnessing the benefits of the weird and wondrous properties of quantum mechanics.
  • Challenge of experimental realisation: One of the most striking of these is the tremendous computing power of quantum computers, whose actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times.
  • Quantum supremacy: The announcement by Google, in October 2019, where they claimed to have demonstrated the so-called “quantum supremacy”, is one of the first steps towards this goal.

Applications and challenges

  • Applications: Besides computing, exploring the quantum world promises other dramatic applications including the creation of novel materials, enhanced metrology, secure communication, to name just a few.
    • Some of these are already around the corner.
    • Application in communication: China recently demonstrated secure quantum communication links between terrestrial stations and satellites.
    • Applications in cryptography: Computer scientists are working towards deploying schemes for post-quantum cryptography — clever schemes by which existing computers can keep communication secure even against quantum computers of the future.
    • Exploring fundamental questions: Beyond these applications, some of the deepest foundational questions in physics and computer science are being driven by quantum information science. This includes subjects such as quantum gravity and black holes.
  • The need for collaboration: Pursuing these challenges will require unprecedented collaboration between physicists (both experimentalists and theorists), computer scientists, material scientists and engineers.
  • Challenges on the experimental front: On the experimental front, the challenge lies in harnessing the weird and wonderful properties of quantum superposition and entanglement in a highly controlled manner by building a system composed of carefully designed building blocks called quantum bits or qubits.
    • These qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their “quantumness” if not controlled properly, and a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work.
  • Challenges on the theoretical front: On the theoretical front lies the challenge of creating the algorithms and applications for quantum computers.
    • These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms.

Where India stands

  • India late in starting work on technology: Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been underway for only about five years, and in a handful of locations.
  • What are the constraints on Indian progress in this field? So far we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high-quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility.
    • Resource and quality manpower problem: The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high-quality manpower is in global demand.
    • In a fast-moving field like this, timeliness is everything — delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit.
  • A previous programme called Quantum Enabled Science and Technology has just been fully rolled out, more than two years after the call for proposals.
  • Laudable announcement: One has to laud the government’s announcement of this new mission on a massive scale and on a par with similar programmes announced recently by the United States and Europe.

Limits and way forward

  • But there are some limits that come from how the government must do business with public funds.
  • Role of the private sector: Here, private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts.
  • For example, unrestricted funds that can be used to attract and retain high-quality manpower and to build international networks — all at short notice — can and will make an enormous difference to the success of this enterprise.
  • Private participation is the effective way: This is the most effective way (as China and Singapore discovered) to catch up scientifically with the international community, while quickly creating a vibrant intellectual environment to help attract top researchers.
  • Connection with industry: Further, connections with the Indian industry from the start would also help quantum technologies become commercialised successfully, allowing the Indian industry to benefit from the quantum revolution.
  • We must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field.
  • For example, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), home to India’s first superconducting quantum computing lab, would be delighted to engage.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Friction-reducing Nanocomposite Coatings

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nano-composites and its applications

Mains level : Not Much

A group of scientists at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI) have developed a process for size-selective deposition of nanocomposite coatings which can reduce friction of these dynamic systems.

What are Nanocomposites?

  • Nanocomposite coatings are formed by mixing two or more dissimilar materials at nanoscale to improve the physical, chemical and physicochemical properties of the new materials.
  • The scientists have found that nickel tungsten-based coatings with infusion of particular sized Silicon Carbide (SiC) submicron particles using a pulsed electroplating can provide an excellent combination of wear and corrosion resistance.

Applications

  • Many aerospace, defence, automobile, space devices need to reduce friction, wear, and tear to enhance the life of components.
  • Lubricating these dynamic systems add to the cost, complexity, and weight of these systems.
  • The coating could help in reducing the friction of such devices.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Quantum coin or ‘qubit’ and Entanglement Theory

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Qubit, Quantum Entanglement

Mains level : Quantum Computing and its applications

Researchers from Raman Research Institute (RRI), an autonomous institution under the Dept. of Science & Technology, have devised a new test for fairness of quantum coin or ‘qubit’ using entanglement theory. The Qubit is the basic unit of information in a quantum computer.

Entanglement Theory

  • It is a special type of correlation that exists in the quantum world with no classical counterpart.
  • The researchers from RRI made use of this quantum resource to arrive at a test for fairness of a quantum coin (a qubit).
  • Their strategy, which makes use of entanglement, enables better discrimination between quantum states. Such advantage is valuable in quantum sensors.
  • This work is a significant contribution to the domain of quantum state discrimination, which is an essential aspect of quantum information science.
  • It brings out the crucial role of entanglement in improving our ability to discriminate quantum states.
  • In this work the researchers concretely implemented the theoretical idea on the simulation facility of the IBM quantum computer.

Quantum coins

  • By repeated trials, one can determine the fairness of a classical coin with a confidence which grows with the number of trials.
  • A quantum coin can be in a superposition of heads and tails.
  • Given a string of qubits representing a series of trials, one can measure them individually and determine the state with a certain confidence.
  • The team has shown that there is an improved strategy which measures the qubits after entangling them, which leads to a greater confidence.

Significance

  • This is a significant contribution to quantum state discrimination, an essential aspect of quantum information science which is expected to influence quantum sensing.
  • The domain of Quantum Information and Quantum Computing Technology is a growing area of research which is expected to influence Data Processing, which in turn, plays a central role in our lives in this Information Age.
  • For instance, bank transactions, online shopping and so on crucially depend on the efficiency of information transfer.
  • Thus the recent work on quantum state discrimination is expected to be valuable in people’s lives in the current era.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC)

Mains level : Read the attached story

Scientists at International Advanced Research for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI), Hyderabad have developed Polymer Electrolyte Membrane fuel cells (PEMFC).

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells

  • Proton-exchange membrane fuel cells, also known as polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells (PEMFC) are a type of fuel cell being developed mainly for transport applications, as well as for stationary fuel-cell applications and portable fuel-cell applications.
  • Their distinguishing features include lower temperature/pressure ranges (50 to 100 °C) and a special proton-conducting polymer electrolyte membrane.
  • PEMFCs generate electricity and operate on the opposite principle to PEM electrolysis, which consumes electricity.
  • They are a leading candidate to replace the aging alkaline fuel-cell technology, which was used in the Space Shuttle.

Working

 

  • The PEMFC uses a water-based, acidic polymer membrane as its electrolyte, with platinum-based electrodes.
  • The protons pass through the membrane to the cathode side of the cell while the electrons travel in an external circuit, generating the electrical output of the cell.

Applications in disaster management

  • Emergency Operation Centres (EOC) backed with 10 kW systems is being planned as a natural disaster management measure.
  • Tamil Nadu is generally affected by five to six cyclones every year, of which two to three are severe and is followed by frequent power cuts.
  • ARCI is now planning to set up a PEMFC system for Tamil Nadu to operate the systems like early warning systems, VHF set, IP phone, BSNL Ethernet and office equipment like scanner, computers, printers, phone, FAX and normal requirements like lighting and fan.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Media Access Control (MAC) Binding

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Media Access Control (MAC) Binding

Mains level : Internet shutdown as an infringement of FR

After seven months, the use of social media was allowed in Jammu and Kashmir with an order laying down the latest rules for the use of the Internet in the UT.  Among various conditions, the order says Internet connectivity will be made available “with mac-binding”.

What is Mac-binding?

  • Every device has a Media Access Control (MAC) address, a hardware identification number that is unique to it. While accessing the Internet, every device is assigned an IP address.
  • Mac-binding essentially means binding together the MAC and IP addresses, so that all requests from that IP address are served only by the computer having that particular MAC address.
  • In effect, it means that if the IP address or the MAC address changes, the device can no longer access the Internet.
  • Also, monitoring authorities can trace the specific system from which a particular online activity was carried out.

Permitted connections

  • The Internet can be accessed on all postpaid devices, and those using Local Area Networks (LAN).
  • While the postpaid SIM card holders shall continue to be provided access to the Internet, these services shall not be made available on prepaid SIM cards unless verified as per the norms applicable for postpaid connections.
  • Apart from this, special access terminals provided by the government will continue to run.
  • It is further directed that the access/communication facilities provided by the government, viz. e-terminals/Internet kiosks apart from special arrangements for tourists, students, traders etc shall continue.

Only 2G permitted

  • Internet speed in J&K is still restricted to 2G.
  • This means very slow services — pictures will take a long time to be sent or downloaded, videos will be nearly impossible to share, and there will be a long loading time for most websites.
  • It also means that although in theory, the “whitelist system” — where people could only access some websites pre-approved by the government — has been removed, some sites designed for a 4G Internet experience will hardly work.

Have curbs been lifted?

  • Not exactly. The latest order is to remain in force till March 17 unless modified earlier.
  • The government has been relaxing Internet and phone usage in the UTs in phases.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

What is the ‘Raman effect’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Spectroscopy, Raman Effect

Mains level : Applications of Raman Effect

 

 

Yesterday, February 28th was celebrated as National Science Day. In 1986, the Govt. of India designated this Day, to commemorate the announcement of the discovery of the “Raman effect”.

CV Raman

  • Raman conducted his Nobel-prize winning research at IACS, Calcutta.
  • While he was educated entirely in India, Raman travelled to London for the first time in 1921, where his reputation in the study of optics and acoustics was known to physicists such as JJ Thomson and Lord Rutherford.
  • The Raman Effect won scientist Sir CV Raman the Nobel Prize for physics in 1930.
  • It was also designated as an International Historic Chemical Landmark jointly by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS).
  • His speciality was the study of vibrations and sounds of stringed instruments such as the Indian veena and tambura, and Indian percussion instruments such as the tabla and mridangam.

The Raman Effect

  • In 1928, Raman discovered that when a stream of light passes through a liquid, a fraction of the light scattered by the liquid is of a different colour.
  • While Raman was returning from London in a 15-day voyage, he started thinking about the colour of the deep blue Mediterranean.
  • He wasn’t convinced by the explanation that the colour of the sea was blue due to the reflection of the sky.
  • As the ship docked in Bombay, he sent a letter to the editor of the journal Nature, in which he penned down his thoughts on this.
  • Subsequently, Raman was able to show that the blue colour of the water was due to the scattering of the sunlight by water molecules.
  • By this time he was obsessed with the phenomenon of light scattering.

Observing the effect

  • The Raman Effect is when the change in the energy of the light is affected by the vibrations of the molecule or material under observation, leading to a change in its wavelength.
  • Significantly, it notes that the Raman effect is “very weak” — this is because when the object in question is small (smaller than a few nanometres), the light will pass through it undisturbed.
  • But a few times in a billion, light waves may interact with the particle. This could also explain why it was not discovered before.
  • In general, when light interacts with an object, it can either be reflected, refracted or transmitted.
  • One of the things that scientists look at when light is scattered is if the particle it interacts with is able to change its energy.

Applications

  • Raman spectroscopy is used in many varied fields – in fact, any application where non-destructive, microscopic, chemical analysis and imaging is required.
  • Whether the goal is qualitative or quantitative data, Raman analysis can provide key information easily and quickly.
  • It can be used to rapidly characterize the chemical composition and structure of a sample, whether solid, liquid, gas, gel, slurry or powder.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Responsible AI for Social Empowerment (RAISE) 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RAISE 20202

Mains level : Creating a roadmap to harness AI

 

 

The Govt. has announced the mega event, RAISE 2020- ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020,’ to be held in April in New Delhi.

RAISE 2020

  • RAISE 2020 is a first of its kind, a global meeting of minds on Artificial Intelligence to drive India’s vision and roadmap for social empowerment, inclusion and transformation through responsible AI.
  • It is India’s first Artificial Intelligence summit to be organized by the Government in partnership with Industry & Academia.
  • The summit will be a global meeting of minds to exchange ideas and charter a course to use AI for social empowerment, inclusion and transformation in key areas like Healthcare, Agriculture, Education and Smart Mobility amongst other sectors.
  • It will facilitate an exchange of ideas to further create a mass awareness about the need to ethically develop and practice AI in the digital era.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed snap] The hype over hypersonics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Avangard-HGV

Mains level : Paper 3- Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, whether India go for developing it- and challenges to Indian security.

Context

Russia announced that its new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), Avangard, had been made operational.

What HGV is and where the US and China stand

  • What is HGV and what is it capable of?
    • Speed over 5 Mach: A hypersonic delivery system is essentially a ballistic or cruise missile that can fly for long distances and at speeds higher than 5 Mach at lower altitudes.
    • Invulnerable to interception: This allows it to evade interception from current Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
    • High manoeuvrability: It can also execute a high degree of manoeuvres.
    • Avangard-Developed by Russia: Russia claims that this HGV can fly at over 20 times the speed of sound.
    • Invulnerable to interception: and is capable of such manoeuvring as to be invulnerable to interception by any existing and prospective missile defence means of the potential adversary.
  • China and the U.S. are also close on the heels: The U.S. has moved from the research to the development stage.
    • Where China stands: China demonstrated the DF-17, a medium-range missile with the HGV, at the military parade in October 2019.
  • What were the reasons for the development: The U.S. walked out of anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002, prompted by the U.S. exit from the treaty and fear of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile defence system.

How would hypersonics complicate the security concerns?

  • First complication-Increase in the possibility of miscalculation: These missiles are being added to the military capabilities of countries that possess nuclear weapons.
    • For these nations, the concern is always an attack on nuclear assets to degrade retaliation
    • Destination ambiguities: Another layer of complication is added by the fact that these missiles bring in warhead and destination ambiguities.
    • Increasing tendency to assume worst: In both cases, when an adversary’s early warning detects such missiles headed in its direction, but cannot be sure whether they are conventional or nuclear-armed, nor ascertain the target they are headed towards, the tendency would be to assume the worst.
    • For an adversary that faces a country with a BMD but itself has a small nuclear arsenal, it would fear that even conventionally armed hypersonic missiles could destroy a portion of its nuclear assets.
    • The tendency to shift to trigger-ready postures: The tendency could then be to shift to more trigger-ready postures such as launch on warning or launch under attack to ostensibly enhance deterrence.
    • Risk of miscalculation: But such shifts would also bring risks of misperception and miscalculation in moments of crisis.
  • Second complication-Offence defence spiral: According to reports, the U.S. has begun finding ways of either strengthening its BMD or looking for countermeasures to defeat hypersonics, besides having an arsenal of its own of the same kind.
    • Possibility of arms race: The stage appears set for an arms race instability given that the three major players in this game have the financial wherewithal and technological capability to play along.
    • This looks particularly imminent in the absence of any strategic dialogue or arms control.
  • Third complication-Possibility of the arms race into outer space: A third implication would be to take offence-defence developments into outer space.
    • Sensors are already placed into space: Counter-measures to hypersonics have been envisaged through the placement of sensors and interceptors in outer space.
    • While none of this is going to be weaponisation of outer space would, nevertheless, be a distinct possibility once hypersonic inductions become the norm.

Conclusion

The induction of this technology would likely prove to be a transitory advantage eventually leading nations into a strategic trap. India needs to make a cool-headed assessment of its own deterrence requirements and choose its pathways wisely.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed snap] Frame rules to govern how devices identify us

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Face recognition technique, its uses and related issue.

Context

Facial recognition technology is set to become an integral part of the law enforcement toolkit, but we should regulate this technology before it pervades our public spaces.

What are the issues with the use of facial recognition?

  • Enormous possibilities for law enforcement agencies:
    • Detectives have been using facial recognition to solve crimes for almost as long as the camera has been in existence.
    • Use of AI for facial recognition: It is but a logical extension of the modern crime solver’s toolkit to use artificial intelligence (AI) on the most identifiable physical feature of people, their face.
    • Screening faces within hours: An image captured at the scene of a crime can now be screened against photographs of entire populations for a match within a matter of hours.
  • Uneasiness with being watched: The idea of being watched by devices linked to vast databases far out of sight makes liberal societies uneasy.
  • Invasion of privacy:  The intrusion that is causing alarm, however, has nothing to do with the technology itself, and everything to do with the all-pervasive surveillance it enables.

Should there be no rules governing it?

  • Issue of accuracy: How accurately faces are identified by machines is a major point of concern. Deployed in law enforcement, false matches could possibly result in a miscarriage of justice.
    • Judicial scrutiny: Even a low rate of error could mean evidence faces judicial rejection. It is in the judiciary’s interest, all the same, to let technology aid police-work.
  • Racial bias: First up for addressal is the criticism that facial recognition is still not smart enough to read emotions or work equally well for all racial groups.
    • With iterative use, it will improve.
  • Mala fide use: Since such tools can be put to mala fide use as-rogue drones equipped with the technology, for example, should never be in a position to carry out an assassination.
    • Nor should an unauthorized agent be able to spy on or stalk anyone.
    • Caution in the developed countries:  Apart from California, the European Union has also decided to exercise some caution before exposing people to it.
  • Privacy as fundamental rights in India: India, which has recently accepted privacy as a fundamental right, would do well to tilt the Western way on this.

Conclusion

  • We need regulations that restrict the use of facial recognition to the minimum required to serve justice and ease commercial operations. For the latter, customer consent should be mandatory.
  • There will be some overlaps. Its use at an aerobridge to board an aircraft, for example, could serve the interests of both state security and the airline, but data-sharing could risk leakage.

 

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Xenobot

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Xenobot

Mains level : Utility of stem cells in bio-robotics

Scientists in the US have created the world’s first “living machines” — tiny robots built from the cells of the African clawed frog that can move around on their own.

Xenobot

  • Scientists have developed living robots from frogs stem cells.
  • They have named this millimetre-wide robots “xenobots” — after the species of aquatic frog found across sub-Saharan Africa from Nigeria and Sudan to South Africa, Xenopus laevis.
  • Scientists have repurposed living cells scraped from frog embryos and assembled them into entirely new life-forms.
  • The xenobots can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like a medicine that needs to be carried to a specific place inside a patient) — and heal themselves after being cut.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Virtual human’ NEON

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEON

Mains level : Applications of AI

NEONs are being called the world’s first artificial humans. They look and behave like real humans, and could develop memories and emotions — though from behind a 4K display.

NEON

  • Star Labs is headed by India-born scientist Pranav Mistry who underlines that what was showcased at CES was the product of just four months’ work.
  • The company says NEONs are computationally created virtual humans — the word derives from NEO (new) + humaN.
  • For now, the virtual humans can show emotions when manually controlled by their creators.
  • But the idea is for NEONs to become intelligent enough to be fully autonomous, showing emotions, learning skills, creating memories, and being intelligent on their own.
  • Star Labs thinks they can be “friends, collaborators, and companions”, but all that is a few years away.

How does it work?

There are two core technologies behind his virtual humans.

  • First, there is the proprietary CORE R3 technology that drives the “reality, real time and responsiveness” behind NEONs.
  • It is the front-end reality engine that is able to give you that real expression.
  • The company claims CORE R3 “leapfrogs in the domains of Behavioral Neural Networks, Evolutionary Generative Intelligence and Computational Reality”, and is “extensively trained” on how humans look, behave and interact.
  • But in the end, it is like a rendition engine, converting the mathematical models to look like actual humans.
  • The next stage will be SPECTRA, which will complement CORE R3 with the “spectrum of intelligence, learning, emotions and memory”.
  • But SPECTRA is still in development, and is not expected before NEONWORLD 2020 later this year.

How could NEONs be used?

  • NEONs are the interface for technologies and services.
  • They could answer queries at a bank, welcome you at a restaurant, or read out the breaking news on television at an unearthly hour.
  • This form of virtual assistance would be more effective, for example, while teaching languages, as NEONs will be capable of understanding and sympathizing.

How are they different from Virtual Assistants?

  • Virtual Assistants now learn from all the data they are plugged into. NEONs will be limited to what they know and learn.
  • Their leaning could potentially be limited to the person they are catering to, and maybe her friends — but not the entire Internet.
  • They will not be an interface for you to request a song, rather they will be a friend to speak to and share experiences with.
  • Currently, its developer doesn’t want NEONs to have collective memory, or to share data among themselves.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed of the day] The age of ubiquitous drones and the challenges overhead

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Drones, applications and security threats.

Context

Increasing the use of drones in warfare and other areas has brought into focus the potential the use of drones hold and the other issues related to its misuse.

Recent events featuring drones

  • A drone was used by the U.S. to fire the missile at Qassem Soleimani to assassinate him.
  • A few days before that, less-lethal drones monitored crowds of student protesters rocking India.

A potential area of use of drones

  • Military and Policing: Drones are largely used for military or policing purposes, but they also have other uses.
  • Recreation and Sports: They are used for recreation and sports. The Chinese company DJI dominates this space.
  • Logistics: Logistics is another use, with Amazon developing last-mile drone delivery.
  • At scale, this delivery model can save money, energy and time.
  • Domino’s extended this logic to deliver its first pizza by drone in New Zealand and is experimenting with scaling this model up in many markets.
  • Botswana has had some successful trials where drones have delivered blood and life-saving drugs to villages out in the wilderness.
  • Agriculture: A startup called Terraview uses drones with advanced image processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality to increase the productivity of vineyards.
  • A drone can be used to measure the amount of grain that’s piled up after harvest.
  • Mining Output: Tata Steel has used drones quite effectively to measure mining output.
  • Access the inaccessible places: Drones can go where people cannot.
  • So, inspection and repair at remote wind farms on an island, or pipelines in the remote tundra, or equipment in a rainforest can be done more cheaply and precisely.
  • Drone surveillance is now widely used by the insurance industry in the aftermath of floods or pest inspections.
  • They can provide organizations a 360-degree view of the status of any construction project and its assets.
  • Explosive detection and defusing: In many places, it is just safer to send a drone, such as while using explosives in deep mines or defusing suspected bombs.
  • Wildlife protection and survey: drones are used to survey wildlife and detect poaching in the jungles of Africa.

Drones as commodity

  • Drones will soon become a hardware commodity, much like personal computers.
  • It will be the software loaded on it that will be the real force-multiplier.
  • Industry 4.0 revolution: Business like “drones-as-a-service” will emerge, dramatically reducing the time taken for tasks and serving as a vital tool in the Industry 4.0 revolution.

A potent tool for Swarm-attack by military

  • Perhaps the most fascinating developments will occur where drones originated, in
  • Drones will mutate into swarms, where multiple, intelligent, small drones act as one vast network, much like a swarm of birds or locusts.
  • Advanced militaries have drone swarms under trial that could revolutionize future conflicts.
  • These swarms could overwhelm enemy sensors with sheer numbers and precisely target enemy soldiers and assets using data fed into them.
  • They will be difficult to shoot down as there will be hundreds of small flying objects rather than one big ballistic missile.
  • The swarm will use real-time ground data to organize itself and operate in concert to achieve its goal.

Issues with drones

  • It will be us humans who will decide whether we use drones for beneficial or malevolent ends.
  • National Security Issues: Drones have demonstrated the potentials for their threat to the security of a country. Drones are operated remotely and can strike where it want it to strike. Raising serious security issues.
  • Terrorism: Drones have been used by various terrorist organisations like ISIS in Syria and Iraq to hit their targets.
  • Aviation safety: Drones flying too close to commercial aircraft has called for regulations.
  • Privacy: Drones have been used by the paparazzi to take the images of individuals breaching their privacy.

Conclusion

Drones can indeed be a fantastic tool for good projects, from helping save the planet to identifying and nabbing criminals, and preventing the loss of human life. However, for that, we will have to change the DNA that they were born with, as lethal weapons of war. Otherwise, they will remain anonymous killers, wreaking death and destruction as they hover innocuously above.

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Lithium-Sulfur Battery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lithium-Sulfur Battery

Mains level : Application of Li-S batteries in EVs

Researchers from Australia have claimed that they have developed the world’s most efficient lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery, capable of powering a smartphone for five continuous days. With this equivalence, an electric car would be able to drive a distance of over 1,000 km in one charge.

What are Lithium-Sulfur Batteries?

  • Researchers who have developed this new Li-S battery claim it has an “ultra-high capacity” and has better performance and less environmental impact.
  • This means that they may be able to outperform the Li-ion batteries by more than four times.
  • With Li-ion batteries, some disadvantages include their susceptibility to overheating and their being prone to damage at high voltages.
  • Such batteries also start losing their capacity over time — for instance, a laptop battery in use for a few years does not function as well as a new one.

Construction

While the materials used in the Li-S batteries are not different from those in Li-ion batteries, the researchers have reconfigured the design of the sulfur cathodes (a type of electrical conductor through which electrons move) to accommodate higher stress without a drop in overall capacity.

Advantages of the Li-S batteries

  • Li-S batteries are generally considered to be the successors of the Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries because of their lower cost of production, energy efficiency and improved safety.
  • Their cost of production is lower because sulfur is abundantly available.
  • Even so, there have been some difficulties when it comes to commercialising these batteries, mainly due to their short life cycle and poor instantaneous power capabilities.

Why is this development important?

  • As the market share of electric vehicles (EV) is increasing and people are becoming more aware and conscious of global warming and climate change.
  • There is a need for development in terms of the kind of batteries used in these vehicles.
  • The growth of the EV market is linked to the development of batteries that are cost-effective, more efficient and leave a smaller environmental burden.
  • Today, most EV use Li-ion batteries, but are slowly reaching their theoretical limits of being able to provide roughly up to 300-watt hour per kilogram of energy.
  • Thus arises the need for batteries that can store more energy to run these cars, and Li-S batteries are considered to be a good alternative.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Russia’s Avangard Missile

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Avangard and other ICBMs

Mains level : Not Much

  • Russia’s military deployed a new intercontinental weapon, the Avangard hypersonic missile system that can fly 27 times the speed of sound.
  • This will be the Russian military’s first Avangard hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
  • This feat is highly significant and comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite.

Avangard Hypersonic Missile

  • Previously referred to as Project 4202, the Avangard hypersonic missile system is a reentry body carried atop an existing ballistic missile, which has the capability to manoeuvre.
  • The missiles have a range of over 6,000 km, weigh approximately 2,000 kg and can withstand temperatures of over 2000 degree celsius.
  • It’s manoeuvring capability makes it difficult to predict its trajectory and gives it the ability to protect itself from the air and ballistic missile defences by delivering nuclear warheads to targets, for instance, in Europe and the US.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Carbon Dots

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Carbon Dots

Mains level : Applications of Carbon Dots

In an extraordinary waste-to-wealth feat, researchers from Assam have used the commonly found invasive plant water hyacinth to produce carbon nanoparticles.

Carbon Dots

  • The researchers harvested water hyacinth leaves, removed the chlorophyll, dried and powdered it.
  • The sieved powder underwent several treatments including heating at 150 degree Celsius to convert it to carbon dots.
  • When a nanoparticle is less than 10 nanometres call it a dot or nanodot.

Features of these dots

  • These carbon dots were able to give a green fluorescence under UV light.
  • These extremely tiny (less than 10 nanometres) particles can be used for detecting a commonly used herbicide — pretilachlor.
  • The nanoparticles were found to be selective and sensitive for the detection of the herbicide.
  • Some teams are exploring if its fibre can be used to make furniture.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] New System for Measurement of Weight

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kibble Balance, Kilogram and its definiton

Mains level : Not Much


The prototype of one kilogram (NPK-57) is now available in India and placed at the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi. The new definition of kilogram which has come into effect from May 2019 and few countries have developed the system of realization of unit of mass ‘kg’.

How much is a kilogram?

  • Over the centuries, it has been defined and redefined, with a standard in place since 1889.
  • Called Le Grand K, a cylinder of platinum-iridium is locked up in a jar at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris.
  • For nearly 130 years, the mass of this cylinder has been the international standard for the kilogram.

Redefining what constitutes 1 Kg

  • Representatives from 57 countries will vote in Versailles, France, to redefine SI, or the International System of Units.
  • The kilogram’s definition will be based on a concept of physics called the Planck constant.
  • Reports worldwide suggest that the new definition is set to be voted in.

Using a Kibble Balance

  • Kibble balance is a self-calibrating electromechanical balance and provides the measurements of mass, traceable in terms of electrical parameters and provides linkage of macroscopic mass to the Planck constant (h).
  • The advantages of Kibble balance would be that the NPK need not to be sent to BIPM for calibrations and the accuracy and stability of Kibble balance is very high.
  • This is very important where low weights with high accuracies are essential, for example in pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hyperloop

Mains level : High speed connectivity in India: Prospects and Challenges


The new coalition government in Maharashtra is set to discuss the progress of ambitious Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop One.

What is Hyperloop?

  • It is a next-generation travel system that uses pods or capsules travelling at high speeds through low-pressure tubes erected on columns or tunneled underground using magnetic levitation.

How does it work?

  • The system is fully autonomous and sealed, so no driver-related error is anticipated.
  • In a sealed environment with almost no air resistance, the pods are expected to reach very high speeds.
  • The top speed could reach over 700 mph or 1,125 km/h.
  • This speed is more than two and a half times the top speed of the world’s fastest train, the Shanghai Maglev (267 mph or 430 km/h), and some 200 mph faster than the cruising speed of a commercial jetliner (460-575 mph/740-925 km/h).

What was the Branson plan?

  • Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One proposed a hyperloop between Mumbai and Pune, which would reduce the travel time between the two cities to just 25 minutes from the existing three hours.
  • It would link central Pune, Navi Mumbai International Airport, and Mumbai. It was pitched as a plan with potential to transport 26 million people and make 159 million passenger trips per year.
  • The route would be 100 per cent electric, which means a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions up to 86,000 tonnes over 30 years.
  • The project involves construction across a length of 117.5 km; an initial testing track of 11.8 km was to be constructed in the first phase from Pune’s Hinjewadi.

What did the Maharashtra government do to take forward the proposal?

  • It was categorised as a “public infrastructure project”, and received Cabinet clearance to speed up land acquisition for the testing track.
  • The Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority was assigned the task of overseeing the implementation of the first phase.
  • The government also decided to use the “Swiss challenge” method for the bidding of the project.
  • That means the first bidder would be challenged by other global bidders, and in order to stay in the game, would have to match those bids.
  • The method is normally used for unsolicited bids for public infrastructure projects.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Universal Product Code (UPC) or Barcode

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Barcode QR Code

Mains level : Applications of Barcode


Yesterday, engineer-scientist George Laurer died in North Carolina, USA, at age 94. He was the co-developer of the Universal Product Code (UPC), or barcode, in 1973.

What is Barcode?

  • A barcode is a method of representing data in a visual, machine-readable form. Initially, barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines.
  • These barcodes, now commonly referred to as linear or one-dimensional, can be scanned by special optical scanners, called barcode readers.

How the idea took shape

  • Barcode was the brainchild of Woodland; Laurer is credited with bringing the idea to fruition.
  • It was in the 1950s that Woodland thought about developing a system based on barcode symbology, called Bulls-Eye Barcode, which would describe a product and its price in a code readable by a machine.
  • Initially, Woodland took inspiration from the Morse Code, the well-known character-encoding scheme in telecommunications defined by dots and dashes.
  • Woodland’s idea seemed workable but he was unable to develop the system as the cost of laser and computing technology was extremely high in the 1950s.
  • Two decades later, in the 1970s, Laurer, who was then working for IBM, put Woodland’s idea to work, armed with less expensive laser and computing technology.
  • Laurer found that a rectangle system, which we see on most barcodes today, would be more workable than Bulls-Eye, which used a series of concentric circles that looked complicated.

Transformation brought about

  • Today, shoppers simply pick up a product at a store or a mall, and pay the bill as determined by a scan of the barcode.
  • Barcodes can be found in hundreds and thousands of products for identification and scanning, and allow retailers to identify prices instantly.
  • They also allow for easy check-outs and fewer pricing errors, and let retailers keep better account of their inventory.
  • The barcode also changed the balance of power in the retail industry.

Back2Basics

QR Code

  • The Quick Response (QR) code is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional barcode) first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan.
  • In practice, QR codes often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application.
  • A QR code uses four standardized encoding modes (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji) to store data efficiently; extensions may also be used.
  • The main advantage of a QR code is its versatility. QR codes can be used for anything and everything.
  • It became due to its fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

“Contract for the Web”

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WWW

Mains level : Global measures for Internet governance


Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has announced a “Contract for the Web” — aimed at saving the future of his invention, which is now almost an essential condition for human existence.

The Contract for the Web

  • Berners-Lee announced plans for this “Contract” nearly a year ago, and the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit he has founded, worked on it.
  • The idea is to create a global plan of action for all stakeholders to together commit to building a “better” Web.
  • The Contract consists of nine principles — three each for governments, private companies, and individuals and civil society to endorse — with 76 clauses each.
  • The plan of action is that governments who are looking to regulate in the digital era, can use the contract as a roadmap to lay out their policies and laws going forward.
  • Citizen action is an important part of the Contract, and the organisation hopes citizens would hold governments and companies accountable for violations of its terms.

Who has created this Contract?

  • Representatives from over 80 organisations, including governments, companies, civil society activists, and academics.
  • The goal was to create a standard policy for a Web that benefits all. The nine principles emerged after a series of discussions over almost a year.

Principles of the Contract

  1. Governments will “Ensure everyone can connect to the Internet”, “Keep all of the Internet available, all of the time”, and “Respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights”.
  2. Companies will “Make the Internet affordable and accessible to everyone”, “Respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust”, and “Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst”.
  3. Citizens will “Be creators and collaborators on the Web”, “Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity”, and “Fight for the Web” so that it “remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future”.

Legal check

  • The ‘Contract for the Web’ is not a legal document, or a United Nations document — though the organisation is in talks with the UN.
  • The companies that do not implement the Contract would be delisted from it — which may not be the strongest deterrent.
  • It cannot currently bend governments or companies — even those that are on board — to its will.

Why such a contract?

Currently there’s no real accepted standard of best practices for even designing user interfaces, to make sure that people actually understand what they’re consenting to, what information is being collected.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AIP system

Mains level : Indigenization of defense production

  • DRDO is a step closer to boosting endurance of submarines with the indigenous Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System.
  • It has successfully tested the operation of the indigenous land-based prototype.

Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System

  • Air-independent propulsion (AIP) is any marine propulsion technology that allows a non-nuclear submarine to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen (by surfacing).
  • AIP is usually implemented as an auxiliary source, with the traditional diesel engine handling surface propulsion.
  • Most such systems generate electricity which in turn drives an electric motor for propulsion or recharges the boat’s batteries.
  • AIP can augment or replace the diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels.
  • It enables conventional submarines to remain submerged for longer duration.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: Edge Computing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Edge Computing

Mains level : Applications of Edge Computing


  • Cloud computing — by which remote servers hosted on the Internet store and process data, rather than local servers or personal computers — is ready to move to the next level i.e. ‘Edge Computing’.

Cloud Computing

  • Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user.
  • The term is generally used to describe data centres available to many users over the Internet.

Why need an upgrade?

  • Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google — the technology giants that provide cloud computing infrastructure to major corporates and governments.
  • They want to leverage 5G wireless technology and artificial intelligence to enable faster response times, lower latency (ability to process very high volumes of data with minimal delay), and simplified maintenance in computing.
  • This is where Edge Computing comes in — which many see as an extension to the cloud, but which is, in fact, different in several basic ways.
  • By 2025 companies will generate and process more than 75% of their data outside of traditional centralised data centres — that is, at the “edge” of the cloud.

So, what is Edge Computing?

  • Edge computing enables data to be analysed, processed and transferred at the edge of a network.
  • The idea is to analyse data locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without latency, rather than send it far away to a centralised data centre.
  • So whether you are streaming a video or accessing a library of video games in the cloud, edge computing allows for quicker data processing and content delivery.

How is edge computing different from cloud computing?

  • The basic difference between edge computing and cloud computing lies in the place where the data processing takes place.
  • At the moment, the existing Internet of Things (IoT) systems performs all of their computations in the cloud using data centres.
  • Edge computing, on the other hand, essentially manages the massive amounts of data generated by IoT devices by storing and processing data locally.
  • That data doesn’t need to be sent over a network as soon as it processed; only important data is sent — therefore, an edge computing network reduces the amount of data that travels over the network.

And how soon can edge computing becomes part of our lives?

  • Experts believe the true potential of edge computing will become apparent when 5G networks go mainstream in a year from now.
  • Users will be able to enjoy consistent connectivity without even realizing it.
  • Nvidia, one of the biggest players in the design and manufacture of graphics and AI acceleration hardware, has just announced its EGX edge computing platform.
  • This will help telecom operators adopt 5G networks capable of supporting edge workloads.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Dirac metals: New class of quantum materials for clean energy technology

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dirac Metals

Mains level : Applications of Dirac materials


  • Researchers from IIT Bombay have discovered special properties in a class of materials called “semi-Dirac metals” that have been recently talked about in the scientific literature.

What are Dirac metals?

  • Normal metals like gold and silver are good conductors of electricity.
  • A key aspect that decides the quality of conduction is the way energy depends on the momentum of electrons.
  • Dirac metals differ from normal metals in that the energy depends linearly on the momentum. This difference is responsible for their unique properties.
  • Semi-Dirac metals behave like Dirac metals in one direction and like normal metals in the perpendicular directions (since their microscopic structure is different along the two directions).
  • Within any material, charge carriers, such as electrons, acquire an effective mass which is different from their bare mass depending on the nature of the material.
  • The effective mass and the number of states available for the electron to occupy when it is excited by an electric field, for example, determine the conductivity and other such properties.
  • This is also true of a semi-Dirac metal. In particular, the effective mass becomes zero for conduction along a special direction.

Significance

  • Examples of semi-Dirac metals are systems such as TiO2/V2O3 nanostructures (Oxides of Titanium and Vanadium).
  • Through calculations, the researchers have shown that such materials would be transparent to light of a given frequency and polarization when it is incident along a particular direction.
  • The material would be opaque to the same light when it falls on it from a different direction.
  • There are many known applications for transparent conducting films – the common example being touch screens used in mobiles.
  • Optical conductivity is a measure of the opacity offered by the material to the passage of light through it.
  • The research shows a very high optical conductivity of semi-Dirac materials for electromagnetic waves [light waves] of a specific frequency and specific polarization.

Applications

  • The researchers show theoretically that semi-Dirac materials can display such thermoelectric properties.
  • The study of thermoelectrics dwells on the heat-to electricity conversion efficiency, for which there has been recent and tremendous interest due to the advent of nanomaterials and quantum materials.
  • Thermoelectricity is a clean energy technology that uses waste heat to produce electricity typically in low power applications.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: What is Quantum Supremacy, claimed by Google?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quantum Supremacy

Mains level : Quantum Computing and its applications


  • Google announced that it has achieved a breakthrough called quantum supremacy in computing.
  • Scientists have developed an experimental processor that took just 200 seconds, to complete a calculation that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years.

Quantum supremacy

  • It refers to a quantum computer solving a problem that cannot be expected of a classical computer in a normal lifetime.
  • This relates to the speed at which a quantum computer performs.
  • The phrase “quantum supremacy” was coined in 2011 by John Preskill, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology in a speech.
  • According to reports, the quantum processor took 200 seconds to perform a calculation that the world’s fastest supercomputer Summit would have taken 10,000 years to accomplish.

What is quantum computing?

  • Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.
  • Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers.

How is Quantum computer different from a traditional computer?

  • What differentiates a quantum computer from a traditional computer is the way the two store information.
  • Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.
  • Classical computers carry out logical operations using the definite position of a physical state.
  • These are usually binary, meaning its operations are based on one of two positions. A single state – such as on or off, up or down, 1 or 0 – is called a bit.
  • In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what’s known as a qubit.
  • These states are the undefined properties of an object before they’ve been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarisation of a photon.

 What makes a quantum computer so powerful?

  • In their research paper published in the journal Nature, scientists have announced that their Sycamore computer has solved a problem that is considered intractable for classical computers.
  • This was achieved by developing architecture of what is known as “qubits”.
  • “Qubits” is short for “quantum bits”, which are to quantum computers what bits are to traditional computers.
  • The more the number of qubits, the higher the amount of information, which increases exponentially compared to the information stored in the same number of bits.

What exactly has Google achieved?

  • From the development of a single superconducting qubit, the researchers proceeded to systems including architecture of 54 qubits with Sycamore.
  • One of these did not perform, the University of California, Santa Barbara said in a statement.
  • This architecture led to the 53 qubits being entangled into a superposition state.
  • Preparing this superposition state was accomplished in a matter of microseconds.
  • The researchers then sampled from this distribution by measuring the qubits a million times in 200 seconds.
  • The equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years, they wrote in their paper.

Why does it matter?

  • First, it is important to know that scientists are still a long way from developing a quantum computer.
  • What they have achieved is the development of an architecture of qubits, and the demonstration of its computing capabilities.
  • In the long term, scientists are always looking to improve on what they have already achieved.
  • If and when created, a quantum computer could revolutionise science research and technological advances.
  • It could boost areas like artificial intelligence, lead to new energy sources and even to new drug therapies.

Issues with QC

  • On the other hand, there may also be issues of national security.
  • They could also override the encryption that protects our computers and the data we use online.
  • Because of that, the governments of the United States and China consider quantum computing a national priority.
  • As some scientists work on quantum computers, others are devising security techniques that could thwart their code-breaking abilities.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

WiS and WiBS

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WIS, WIBS

Mains level : Applications of Lithium ion battery

  • The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has developed a Lithium-ion battery that will not catch fire.

WiS and WiBS

  • Lithium-ion batteries are vulnerable to fire and explosion, which often happens without warning.
  • This is because they are built with flammable and combustible materials.
  • The researchers has announced the discovery of a new class of “water-in-salt” and “water-in-bisalt” electrolytes—referred to as WiS and WiBS.
  • The new class of electrolytes, when incorporated in a polymer matrix, reduces water activity and elevates the battery’s energy capabilities and life cycle.
  • This rids it of the flammable, toxic, and highly reactive solvents present in current Li-ion batteries. It’s a safe, powerful alternative.

Why it matters

  • Li-ion batteries have emerged as the energy storage vehicle of choice for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and grid storage.
  • These safety advancements, the university release, mark a significant step forward in transforming the way Li-ion batteries are manufactured and used in electronic devices.
  • Li-ion batteries are already a constant presence in our daily lives, from our phones to our cars, and continuing to improve their safety is paramount to further advancing energy storage technology.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Microbial fuel cells

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Microbial fuel cells

Mains level : Microbial fuel cells and its applications


  • The London Zoo has used plants to power camera traps and sensors in the wild. This they achieved by installing microbial fuel cells in Pete, a fern.

Microbial fuel cells

  • They are devices that use bacteria as the catalysts to oxidize organic and inorganic matter and generate current.
  • Electrons produced by the bacteria are transferred to the negative terminal and flow to the positive terminal.
  • Plants naturally deposit biomaterial as they grow which in turn feeds the natural bacteria present in the soil.
  • This creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of vital conservation tools remotely, including sensors, monitoring platforms and camera traps.

Benefits over other power sources

  • Among conventional power sources, batteries must be replaced while solar panels rely on a source of sunlight.
  • On the other hand, plants can survive in the shade, naturally moving into position to maximise the potential of absorbing sunlight.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Elastocaloric effect

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Elastocaloric effect

Mains level : Elastocaloric effect and its applications


Elastocaloric effect

  • When rubbers bands are twisted and untwisted, it produces a cooling effect.
  • This is called the “elastocaloric” effect, and researchers have suggested that it can be used in a very relevant context today.
  • Researchers have found that the elastocaloric effect, if harnessed, may be able to do away with the need of fluid refrigerants used in fridges and air-conditioners.
  • These fluids are susceptible to leakages, and can contribute to global warming.

How it works?

  • In the elastocaloric effect, the transfer of heat works much the same way as when fluid refrigerants are compressed and expanded.
  • When a rubber band is stretched, it absorbs heat from its environment, and when it is released, it gradually cools down.
  • In order to figure out how the twisting mechanism might be able to enable a fridge, the researchers compared the cooling power of rubber fibres, nylon and polyethylene fishing lines and nickel-titanium wires.
  • They observed high cooling from twist changes in twisted, coiled and supercoiled fibres.

Efficiency

  • The level of efficiency of the heat exchange in rubber bands “is comparable to that of standard refrigerants and twice as high as stretching the same materials without twisting”.
  • To demonstrate this setup, the researchers developed a fridge the size of a ballpoint pen cartridge that was able to bring down the temperature of a small volume of water by 8°C in a few seconds.
  • They suggested that their findings may lead to the development of greener, higher-efficiency and low-cost cooling technology.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Nobel Prize in Chemistry: for Lithium ion battery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lithium ion battery

Mains level : Significance of Li-ion batteries in FAME schemes


  • This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power most of the portable devices that we use, such as mobile phones and more recently the e-vehicles.
  • The prize has been given jointly to Stanley Whittingham, John B Goodenough and Akira Yoshino.

Li-Ion battery

  • Whittingham developed the first functional lithium-ion battery in 1976, Goodenough brought in a major improvement in 1980, while Yoshino made the first practical-use lithium-ion battery in 1985.
  • Commercially manufactured lithium-ion batteries, based on what Yoshino had developed, made their first appearance in 1991.

Working

  • Batteries convert chemical energy into electricity.
  • A battery comprises two electrodes, a positive cathode and a negative anode, which is separated by a liquid chemical, called electrolyte, which is capable of carrying charged particles.
  • The two electrodes are connected through an electrical circuit.
  • When the circuit is on, electrons travel from the negative anode towards the positive cathode, thus generating electric current, while positively charged ions move through the electrolyte.

Why Li-Ion battery is the best?

  • Researchers have continued to look for other materials to make more efficient batteries, but so far none of these has succeeded in outperforming lithium-ion battery’s high capacity and voltage.
  • The lithium-ion battery itself has, however, gone several modifications and improvements so that it is much more environment friendly than when it was first developed.

How it is different from conventional batteries?

  • Single-use batteries stop working once a balance is established between the electrical charges.
  • In rechargeable batteries, an external power supply reverses the flow of electric charges, so that the battery can be used again.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] High Temperature Fuel Cell System

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fuel Cells

Mains level : Fuel cell technology and its uses


  • The President of India unveiled the first Indigenous High Temperature Fuel Cell System developed by CSIR.

What is Fuel Cell?

  • A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of a fuel (often hydrogen) and an oxidizing agent (often oxygen) into electricity through a pair of redox reactions.
  • Fuel cells are different from most batteries in requiring a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from air) to sustain the chemical reaction.
  • Whereas in a battery the chemical energy usually comes from metals and their ions or oxides that are commonly already present in the battery, except in flow batteries.
  • Fuel cells can produce electricity continuously for as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied.

High Temperature Fuel Cell System

  • The Fuel Cells developed are based on High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) Technology.
  • The 5.0 kW fuel cell system generates power in a green manner using methanol / bio-methane, with heat and water as bi-products for further use.
  • It has greater than 70% efficiency, which otherwise may not be possible by other energy sources.

Utility of the cell

  • It is most suitable for distributed stationary power applications like; for small offices, commercial units, data centers etc.; where highly reliable power is essential with simultaneous requirement for air-conditioning.
  • This system will also meet the requirement of efficient, clean and reliable backup power generator for telecom towers, remote locations and strategic applications as well.
  • This development would replace Diesel Generating (DG) sets and help reduce India’s dependence on crude oil.

Why fuel cell?

  • In the field of clean energy, Fuel Cell distributed power generation systems are emerging as promising alternative to grid power.
  • The developed technology is world class and the development has placed India in the league of developed nations which are in possession of such a knowledgebase.
  • The Fuel Cells fit well in India’s mission of replacing diesel with green and alternate fuels.
  • The development of this technology is indigenous and carries immense national importance in terms of non-grid energy security.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Quantum Supremacy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quantum Supremacy

Mains level : Quantum Computing


  • A draft research paper claimed Google researchers have achieved a long-ought-after goal in physics called “quantum supremacy”.

Quantum supremacy

  • It refers to a quantum computer solving a problem that cannot be expected of a classical computer in a normal lifetime.
  • This relates to the speed at which a quantum computer performs.
  • The phrase “quantum supremacy” was coined in 2011 by John Preskill, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology in a speech.
  • According to reports the quantum processor took 200 seconds to perform a calculation that the world’s fastest supercomputer, Summit, would have taken 10,000 years to accomplish.
  • The draft paper is believed to be an early version of a paper that has been submitted to a scientific journal.

What is quantum computing?

  • Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.
  • Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers.

How is Quantum computer different from a traditional computer?

  • What differentiates a quantum computer from a traditional computer is the way the two store information.
  • Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.
  • Classical computers carry out logical operations using the definite position of a physical state.
  • These are usually binary, meaning its operations are based on one of two positions. A single state – such as on or off, up or down, 1 or 0 – is called a bit.
  • In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what’s known as a qubit.
  • These states are the undefined properties of an object before they’ve been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarisation of a photon.

Back2Basics

Quantum Mechanics

  • Quantum mechanics (QM) is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.
  • It is the body of scientific laws that describe the wacky behavior of photons, electrons and the other particles that make up the universe.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed snap] Ready to reveal secrets from the right side of the moon

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Chandrayaan 2

CONTEXT

On 7 September, when the Vikram Lander ejects the Pragyan Rover to roll out and analyse the lunar terrain, India is the world’s first country to land on the moon’s highly uneven south pole. 

Background

    • It is labeled as “India’s Sputnik moment”, for its big leap forward for Indian science.
    • Such missions require decades of scientific effort, government planning, and adequate allocation of resources.

Importance of the event

    • It shows the ability to orbit a solar-system object.
    • It shall demonstrate the capability to land on the surface and carry out scientifically valuable exploratory missions around landing points through robotic rovers.
    • Data from the eight scientific payloads would make precise measurements of the chemical and mineral composition of the moon, map the topography of the lunar surface to intensify a search for the presence of hydroxyl and water molecules.
    • Exploring the south pole area will significantly improve our understanding of the moon as it contains an undisturbed historical record of the inner solar system environment.

Background of Chandrayaan

  • India had conducted an exhaustive study over 1999 to 2003 to chart out its future space missions. 
  • The study led to the decision of India’s first moon mission, Chandrayaan-1.
  • The decision was influenced by two factors: 
      • satellite-building and launch vehicle capabilities of ISRO and the interest of India’s scientific community
      • opportunity to upgrade our technological capabilities in areas such as control, guidance and navigation, deep-space communications, and other fields
  • Chandrayaan-1 satisfactorily fulfilled its mission objectives.
      • It discovered the possible existence of water in the exosphere and on the surface as well as sub-surface of the moon
      • mapped the mineralogical and chemical properties of the lunar regolith, atmosphere and ionosphere
      • studied aspects of solar radiation interaction with the moon

Indian space mission today

    • India’s launch vehicle program has matured; As of 2018, India had launched 237 satellites for 28 different countries.
    • Using these technologies, India has also built a series of sophisticated satellites for applications such as remote sensing, communication, broadcasting and navigation and for scientific missions
    • In this background, Chandrayaan 2, involving far higher level of technology, more detailed scientific measurements and increase in complexity was approved.

What it holds for the future

    • India hopes to play its rightful role in such future ventures which could be mostly international
    • The use of the moon as a take-off point to reach other locations in the solar system is also recognized as an attractive strategy
    • The preliminary experience gained from Chandrayaan 2 could be very valuable from technical and scientific points of view.
    • Near-Earth orbital missions, geosynchronous missions, near-Earth human spaceflight missions, robotic lunar and planetary exploration involving many solar system objects will be well within India’s reach in the next decade
    • The mission is a boost for India to conceive even more complex undertakings to nearby and distant planets and other bodies of the solar system like Gaganyaan.

Challenges remain

    • The allocation of resources to research and development in India is the lowest among BRICS nations. In 2014-15, India spent only about 0.69% of GDP on R&D, while Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa spent 1.24%, 1.19%, 2.05%, and 0.75%, respectively.
    • Also, the level of spending on R&D as a fraction of GDP has remained stagnant for the past two decades.

CONCLUSION

The success of the Chandrayaan 2 mission should draw the attention of our policymakers to increase the country’s level of support to science.

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

CSIR to certify air quality monitoring sensors

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CSIR, NPL

Mains level : Not Much

  • The Union Environment Ministry has tasked the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Physical Laboratory (NPL) with certifying air quality monitoring instruments.
  • CSIR-NPL will develop necessary infrastructure, management system, testing and certification facilities conforming to international standards.

Why such move?

  • This is in anticipation of a rising demand by States — against the backdrop of the National Clean Air Campaign — for low cost air quality monitoring instruments.
  • The Centre in January launched a programme to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20%-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024.
  • An edifice of this initiative is to have a vast monitoring network of sensors that can capture the rapid fluctuations of pollutants, necessary to ascertain how these gases and particles affected health.
  • Currently, the machines employed by State and Central Pollution Control Boards (SPCB and CPCB) are imported and can cost up to ₹1 crore to install and about ₹50 lakh to maintain over five years.
  • Several new sensors, which are far cheaper, are likely in the future, and it would be useful to have a creditable agency that can rate the quality of these devices.
  • Still several monitoring units were poorly calibrated, that is, over time, they were susceptible to erroneous readings.

About CSIR

  • The CSIR was established by the Government of India in September of 1942 as an autonomous body that has emerged as the largest research and development organisation in India.
  • Although it is mainly funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, it operates as an autonomous body through the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
  • The research and development activities of CSIR include aerospace engineering, structural engineering, ocean sciences, life sciences, metallurgy, chemicals, mining, food, petroleum, leather, and environmental science.

CSIR NPL

  • The CSIR-NPL , situated in New Delhi, is the measurement standards laboratory of India.
  • It maintains standards of SI units in India and calibrates the national standards of weights and measures.
  • Each modernized country, including India has a National Metrological Institute (NMI), which maintains the standards of measurements. This responsibility has been given to the NPL.
  • The NPL maintains standard units of measurement such as Metre, Kg, Seconds, Ampere, Kelvin, Candela, Mole and Radiation.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

RoboBee X-Wing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RoboBee X-Wing

Mains level : Applications of Nanotechnology


RoboBee X-Wing

  • The Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory in Cambridge has claimed to have made possible the “lightest insect-scale aerial vehicle so far to have achieved sustained, untethered flight.
  • The robot can sustain a flight for less than a second. It is essentially a flying machine, which can flap its wings 120 times a second and is half the size of a paperclip.
  • Initially, the researchers called this lightest centimetre-sized vehicle, “RoboBee”, but with the current advancement which makes it possible for RoboBee to fly untethered, its name has been upgraded to “RoboBee X-Wing”.

Working

  • The robot weighs 259 mg and uses 110-120 milliwatts of power using solar energy, matching the “thrust efficiency” of similarly sized insects such as bees.
  • Much like aircraft, the robot is heavier than the air it displaces — a concept referred to as “heavier-than-air flight”.
  • However, when objects become smaller, achieving a heavier-than-air flight becomes more complicated.

Why make insect like robot?

  • Studying the mechanisms that insects use to flap their wings and navigate in the air is a matter of interest to biologists.
  • Flapping-wing robots can help in addressing questions related to the evolution of flight, the mechanical basis of natural selection and environmental monitoring.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Deep Ocean Mission

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deep Ocean Mission

Mains level : India's quest for ocean bed resources

  • The Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) to explore the deepest recesses of the ocean has finally got the green signal from the government.

Deep Ocean Mission (DOM)

  • Nodal Agency: Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)
  • The mission proposes to explore the deep ocean similar to the space exploration started by ISRO.
  • Underwater robotics and ‘manned’ submersibles are key components of the Mission which will help India harness various living and non-living (water, mineral and energy) resources from the seabed and deep water.
  • The tasks that will be undertaken over this period include deep-sea mining, survey, energy exploration and the offshore-based desalination.
  • These technological developments are funded under an umbrella scheme of the government – called Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science (O-SMART).

Objective of the mission

  • A major thrust of the mission will be looking for metals and minerals.
  • It has been estimated that 380 million metric tonnes of Polymetallic nodules are available at the bottom of the seas in the Central Indian Ocean.
  • These are rocks scattered on the seabed containing iron, manganese, nickel and cobalt.

Exploring our EEZs

  • Exclusive Economic Zones (EZs) are boundaries prescribed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which give rights to a state regarding the exploration and use of marine resources.
  • India’s EEZs spreads over 2.2 million sq. km. and in the deep sea lies unexplored and unutilized.
  • India has been allotted a site of 75,000 sq. km. in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) by the UN International Sea Bed Authority for exploitation of polymetallic nodules (PMN).

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Ramanujan Machine

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ramanujan Machine

Mains level : Utility of the machine/algorithm

  • Scientists from Israel have developed a concept they have named the Ramanujan Machine, after the Indian mathematician.

Ramanujan Machine

  • It is not really a machine but an algorithm, and performs a very unconventional function.
  • With most computer programs, humans input a problem and expect the algorithm to work out a solution.
  • With the Ramanujan Machine, it works the other way round.
  • Feed in a constant, say the well-know pi, and the algorithm will come up with a equation involving an infinite series whose value, it will propose, is exactly pi.

Why named after Ramanujan?

  • The algorithm reflects the way Srinivasa Ramanujan worked during his brief life (1887-1920).
  • With very little formal training, he engaged with the most celebrated mathematicians of the time, particularly during his stay in England (1914-19), where he eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Society and earned a research degree from Cambridge.
  • Throughout his life, Ramanujan came up with novel equations and identities —including equations leading to the value of pi— and it was usually left to formally trained mathematicians to prove these.

What’s the point?

  • Conjectures (assumptions) are a major step in the process of making new discoveries in any branch of science, particularly mathematics.
  • Equations defining the fundamental mathematical constants, including pi, are invariably elegant.
  • New assumptions in mathematics, however have been scarce and sporadic, the researchers note in their paper, which is currently on a pre-print server.
  • The idea is to enhance and accelerate the process of discovery.

How good is it?

  • The paper gives examples for previously unknown equations produced by the algorithm, including for values of the constants pi (=3.142) and e (=2.7182).
  • The Ramanujan Machine proposed these conjecture formulas by matching numerical values, without providing proofs.
  • It has to be remembered that these are infinite series, and a human can only enter a finite number of terms to test the value of the series.
  • The question is, therefore, whether the series will fail after a point. The researchers feel this is unlikely, because they tested hundreds of digits.
  • Until proven, it remains a conjecture. By the same token, until proven wrong, a conjecture remains one.

Where to find it

  • The researchers have set up a website, ramanujanmachine.com.
  • Users can suggest proofs for algorithms or propose new algorithms, which will be named after them.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Black Gold

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Black Gold

Mains level : Special features of the new material

  • Using gold nanoparticles Indian scientists have developed a new material called “black gold”, which can potentially be used for applications ranging from solar energy harvesting to desalinating seawater, according to a study.

Black Gold

  • To develop the material, the team from Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) rearranged size and gaps between gold nanoparticles.
  • It has unique properties such as capacity to absorb light and carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Gold does not have these properties therefore ‘black gold’ is being called a new material.
  • In appearance it is black, hence the name ‘black gold’, according to the findings published in Chemical Science
  • The researchers varied inter-particle distance between gold nanoparticles using a cycle-by-cycle growth approach by optimizing the nucleation-growth step.
  • They used dendritic fibrous nanosilica, whose fibers were used as the deposition site for gold nanoparticles.

Features of Black Gold

  • One of the most fascinating properties of the new material is its ability to absorb the entire visible and near-infrared region of solar light.
  • It does so because of inter-particle plasmonic coupling as well as heterogeneity in nanoparticles size.
  • Black gold could also act as a catalyst and could convert CO2 into methane at atmospheric pressure and temperature using solar energy.
  • If we develop an artificial tree with leaves made out of back gold, it can perform artificial photosynthesis, capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into fuel and other useful chemicals.
  • The efficiency of conversion of CO2 into fuel, at present, is low but researchers believe it could be improved in future.
  • The material can be used as a nano-heater to covert seawater into potable water with good efficiency, the researchers said.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: Superconductivity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Superconductors and their future uses

  • About a year ago, two scientists from IISc Bangalore had observed superconductivity at room temperature, in a new composite material made of gold and silver.
  • If the claimed discovery is confirmed, it could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in physics in this century so far.

Silver embedded gold matrix

  • The material that exhibited superconductivity is in the form of nanosized films and pellets made of silver nanoparticles embedded in a gold matrix.
  • Interestingly, silver and gold independently do not exhibit superconductivity.

What is Superconductivity?

  • Electricity is essentially the movement of free electrons in a conducting material like copper.
  • While the movement of electrons is in one particular direction, it is random and haphazard.
  • They frequently collide with one another, and with other particles in the material, thus offering resistance to the flow of current.
  • The picture is similar to one of messy traffic in a congested urban area. In the process, a lot of electrical energy is lost as heat. Resistance is a measurable quantity, which varies with the material.
  • Superconductivity is a state in which a material shows absolutely zero electrical resistance.
  • While resistance is a property that restricts the flow of electricity, superconductivity allows unhindered flow.
  • It is a phenomenon that, so far, has been possible only at extremely low temperatures, in the range of 100°C below zero.

A phenomenon of zero resistance

  • The search for a material that exhibits superconductivity at room temperature, or at least manageable low temperatures, has been going on for decades, without success.
  • In a superconducting state, however, the material offers no resistance at all.
  • All the electrons align themselves in a particular direction, and move without any obstruction in a “coherent” manner.
  • It is akin to vehicles moving in an orderly fashion on a superhighway.
  • Because of zero resistance, superconducting materials can save huge amounts of energy, and be used to make highly efficient electrical appliances.

Why is superconductivity difficult to achieve?

  • The problem is that superconductivity, ever since it was first discovered in 1911, has only been observed at very low temperatures, somewhere close to what is called absolute zero (0°K or -273.15°C).
  • In recent years, scientists have been able to find superconductive materials at temperatures that are higher than absolute zero.
  • But in most cases, these temperatures are still below -100°C and the pressures required are extreme.
  • Creating such extreme conditions of temperature and pressure is a difficult task.
  • Therefore, the applications of superconducting materials have remained limited as of now.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Mendeleev and his periodic table of elements

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Modern Periodic Table

Mains level : Not Much


  • This newscard is supplementary to an must-read article published in the The Hindu

The Modern Periodic Table

  • The periodic table is an arrangement of all the elements known to man in accordance with their increasing atomic number and recurring chemical properties.
  • They are assorted in a tabular arrangement wherein a row is a period and a column is a group.
  • Until 1863, the world was aware of only 56 known elements.
  • The rate of scientific progress was such that every year, a new element was being discovered.
  • It was during this time that Mendeleev came up with the idea of the Periodic Table.
  • He published the Periodic Table in his book– The Relation between the Properties and Atomic Weights of the Elements.
  • Mendeleev said that he arrived at the idea in his dream, where he saw all chemical elements falling into place on a table according to their chemical properties.
  • Mendeleev had found a definitive pattern following which, each element could be placed according to their atomic weight.
  • He had also predicted the qualities of the ‘missing’ (yet to be discovered) elements and gave them Sanskrit names.

Its Evolution

  • The noble gases including helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and radon (Rn) were added to the table between 1895 and 1901.
  • Likewise, additions have been made to the periodic table as new elements have been discovered in the last hundred years
  • In 1914, English physicist Henry Gwyn-Jeffries Moseley found out that each atomic nucleus can be assigned a number, according to the number of protons in that atom.
  • This changed the way the periodic table worked. The table was redesigned according to the atomic number of elements rather than their atomic weight
  • Rare-earth elements, including the elements in the Lanthanide series, were included in the atomic table in the late 19th century.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed snap] Full circle: on the change in kilogram’s definition

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Planck's Constant

Mains level : How changes have taken place over the time in defining standard metrics

CONTEXT

As of May 20, the kilogram joined a bunch of other units — second, metre, ampere, kelvin, mole and candela — that will no longer be compared with physical objects as standards of reference.

Background

  • The change comes after nearly 130 years: in 1889 a platinum-iridium cylinder was used to define how much mass one kilogram represented.
  • Now, a more abstract definition of the kilogram has been adopted in terms of fundamental constants, namely, the Planck’s constant h, and the metre and second which already have been defined in terms of universal constants such as the speed of light.
  • With this redefinition, the range of universality of the measurement has been extended in an unprecedented way.

New Method

  • Earlier, if a mass had to be verified to match with a standard kilogram, it would be placed on one of the pans of a common balance, while the prototype would have to be placed in the other pan — and mass would be measured against mass.
  • Now, by using a Kibble balance, which balances mass against electromagnetic force, to measure the mass of an unknown piece, the very methodology of verification has been altered.
  • The constants involved are known precisely and are universal numbers. Hence, whether the mass is measured on earth or, say, on the moon, it can be determined with precision.

 

History of standards

  • This is the culmination of a series of historical changes, which are also described by Richard S. Davis et al in their 2016 article in the journal Metrologia.
  • Originally the definition of mass was in terms of what was then thought of as a universal physical constant.
  • In 1791, 1 kg was defined as the mass of one litre of distilled water at its melting point. Thus, the density of water was the physical constant on which this definition hinged.
  • In 1799, the kilogram came to be defined using a cylinder of platinum – the first time an artefact was used for this purpose.
  • But it was also defined as equivalent to the mass of one litre of distilled water at atmospheric pressure and at about 4 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which water has the maximum density.
  • This was done away with in 1889 when the community adopted the International Prototype of the Kilogram — a cylinder made of an alloy that’s 90% platinum and 10% iridium.
  • The reference to the ‘physical constant’, i.e. mass of one litre of water, was abandoned.

Planck’s Constant

  • Now, as a culmination of this historical process, we come back full circle and find that the kilogram is defined again in terms of a fundamental physical constant — the Planck’s constant.
  • Planck’s constant is a robust number to match. Not until the art of travelling at relativistic speeds, close to the speed of light, is mastered, will we have to redefine these abstract definitions. Until then, it looks like metrologists are on a stable berth.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG)

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Indigenization of technology & developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Working of the AWG

Mains level: Utility of the AWG in light of depleting water resources


News

  • A Navratna PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) has unveiled the Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG).
  • It can be used to provide drinking water in community centres and public places.

Atmospheric Water Generator

  1. The AWG is being manufactured by BEL in collaboration with CSIR-IICT and MAITHRI, a start-up company based in Hyderabad.
  2. It employs a novel technology to extract water from the humidity present in the atmosphere and purify it.
  3. It uses heat exchange for condensing the atmospheric moisture to produce pure, safe and clean potable water.
  4. It comes with a Mineralization Unit, which is used to add minerals which are required to make the water potable.
  5. The AWG is configurable in static and mobile (vehicular) versions and is available in 30 litres/day, 100 litres/day, 500 litres/day and 1,000 litres/day capacities.
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