Daily Current Affairs : 10th & 11th January 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Quantum Technology
  2. Avian influenza
  3. Minerology of the Meteorite
  4. Black box
  5. Vanadium
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Quantum Technology


Context : In last year’s budget session, the Finance Minister of the Government of India proposed that ₹8,000 crore be set aside to develop quantum science and technology.

About Quantum Technology

  • Quantum technology is an emerging field of physics and engineering, which relies on the principles of quantum physics. Quantum computing, quantum sensors, quantum cryptography, quantum simulation, quantum metrology and quantum imaging are all examples of quantum technologies, where properties of quantum mechanics, especially quantum entanglement, quantum superposition and quantum tunnelling, are important.
  • It involves exploiting the properties of individual, or a few fundamental particles, to achieve revolutionary changes in technology.
  • One example is the property known as entanglement. When two objects, say two particles of light, also called photons, are in an entangled state, any changes made to the state of one, for example, its spin, are reflected in the other particle, however far they move from each other without breaking the entanglement. If developed, this property can be used to transmit a message at a very high level of secrecy from one point to another.
  • China recently demonstrated quantum communication technology using the satellite Micius, by conducting a secret conference between two ground stations about 1,120 km apart. They used the satellite not to transmit the entire communication, but to simultaneously send a pair of secret keys to the two ground stations. Each secret key is one of two strings of entangled photons.

Application

  • Sensing : Quantum superposition states can be very sensitive to a number of external effects, such as electric, magnetic and gravitational fields; rotation, acceleration and time, and therefore can be used to make very accurate sensors.
  • Secure communications : Quantum secure communication are methods which are expected to be ‘quantum safe’ in the advent of a quantum computing systems that could break current cryptography systems. One significant component of a quantum secure communication systems is expected to be Quantum key distribution, or ‘QKD’: a method of transmitting information using entangled light in a way that makes any interception of the transmission obvious to the user. Another technology in this field is the quantum random number generator used to protect data. This produces truly random number without following the procedure of the computing algorithms that merely imitate randomness
  • Computing : Quantum computers are the ultimate quantum network, and are devices that can store and process quantum data (as opposed to binary data) with links that can transfer quantum information between ‘quantum bits’ or ‘qubits’. If successfully developed, quantum computers are predicted to be able to perform certain algorithms significantly faster than even the largest classical computer available today.

India and quantum technology

Quest

  • Recognising the importance of quantum technology, the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India had initiated a programme called QuEST at a modest 200-crore-rupee budget to explore the possibilities and engage with the researchers.
  • Inter-ministerial mission : National Mission on Quantum Technology and Applications (NM-QTA) has been drawn out and finalised. NM-QTA is an inter-ministerial mission, and Department of Science and Technology is the nodal department. The NM-QTA is yet to be approved by the government, and it is under process.

Progress

  • There has been progress on several fronts as far as quantum technology is concerned, within India.
  • There is a good progress in quantum communication, particularly in free space as well as in fibre. Prototypes have been developed and protocols are in place
  • Once satellite-based transponders are available, free space communication could be demonstrated. Work is progressing smoothly and very soon, in less than six months, it will be demonstrated
  • On the fibre front, stretching beyond 150 km is being worked out. This includes development of repeaters so that signals could be boosted at every 150 km so that the desired communication can go for long distances.

2 . Avian Influenza


Context : Avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu, has been reported from Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks. The two virus types identified so far in the outbreaks — H5N1 and H5N8 — come under the category of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which is of major concern to those keeping birds, because it leads to disease and death of fowl and causes economic havoc. H5N1 is a known threat to humans as well.

How serious is avian flu for bird health?

  • Avian Influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease, affecting a variety of birds, including those connected with human consumption — chickens, ducks, turkeys, quails — as well as pet birds and wild birds.
  • The World Organization for Animal Health, which collaborates with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says HPAI virus strains H5N1, H5N2, H5N8, H7N8 have been identified in outbreaks, indicating active circulation. Infection histories point to H5N1 and H7N9 viruses posing a threat to human health as well.
  • The FAO says wild birds act as a natural reservoir of AI viruses. Their migratory movement could bring these pathogens to poultry, waterfowl and other domestic birds through contact.
  • The response to an outbreak is a containment strategy, which is primarily centred around removing the diseased birds through culling. Such mass destruction causes a severe impact on farmers.
  • In the latest viral spread, in just one instance, Kerala has already identified over 69,000 birds, mostly ducks, stricken with H5N8, to be culled at four infection sites in the Kuttanad area of Alappuzha.

What is the economic impact of bird flu?

  • India’s poultry sector, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, is worth ₹80,000 crore, of which the organised sector represents 80%, and the rest is distributed among unorganised sectors, including backyard poultry-keeping which is crucial for income and nutritional security.
  • Exports, mainly focused on West Asia, neighbouring countries and East Asia, were valued at ₹532 crore in 2017, with an emphasis on processed products such as egg powder, yolk powder, pharma ingredients, and chicken products. Avian flu is seen as a threat to the further growth of the sector as a whole.
  • By the government’s estimates, there are 30 million farmers who keep backyard birds, while small and medium farmers who contribute to aggregators are crucial players in the larger ecosystem. India has a base of over 729 million poultry birds, of which 30% are layers and 40% are broilers, according to the National Action Plan for Egg and Poultry 2022.
  • This large base shows that a serious outbreak of HPAI, as was witnessed during 2005-06 in some States, can be catastrophic. During that year, official data put the number of culled birds at over one million.
  • In later years, bird flu surfaced in several States, such as Manipur, Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Bihar, and Kerala, leading to destruction of millions of birds.
  • Where culling of birds is undertaken to combat bird flu, the National Action Plan prescribes compensation to be given to farmers at fixed rates. This, once again, underscores the value of prevention to protect captive birds.

Does bird flu pose a threat to human beings?

  • The WHO, in its literature on avian influenza, states that humans can be infected with virus subtypes H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2.
  • Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.”
  • On the H5N8 strain, the consensus is that human infection cannot be ruled out, although the likelihood is low. However, H5N6 infection, of a related clade (a descendant type) has occurred among humans.
  • One case of the H9N2 strain, in a three-year old girl, was reported last October from Guangdong, China. It was mildly symptomatic and was detected during routine surveillance for Influenza-like illness.

Why does bird flu recur? Did the major outbreaks not help form strategies?

  • It is impossible to eradicate influenza viruses because they persist in a vast reservoir of aquatic birds.
  • The answer to why there are periodic outbreaks that spread to domestic environments may lie in local bird-keeping conditions. After the unprecedented outbreak in 2006 in Asia, in which as many as 258 cases of bird flu in humans had been reported till November 13 of that year, experts who met at an international conference in New Delhi under the aegis of WHO felt that continuous growth in poultry farming under poor sanitary conditions was sustaining the virus, with multiple susceptible species living in the same area. This underscores the importance of prevention and surveillance.
  • The spread of the disease in a variety of birds in several geographical regions, and the seasonal movement of migratory birds, have prompted the Centre to issue an alert to States to adhere to the National Action Plan for Prevention, Control and Containment of Avian Influenza 2021.
  • Internationally, the World Animal Health Information System in December 2020 passed Delhi Declaration at the summit resolved on a common framework for countries to build local strategies, but it did not lay emphasis on preserving the natural environment, which is key to helping wild birds move safely in an unspoilt habitat and stop transmission of viruses to domestic fowl, which threatens humans with infections and a potential pandemic due to mutating viruses.

What steps can be taken to minimise risk to domestic birds?

  • Governments lay down biosecurity measures to keep domestic birds safe from transmission by wild or migratory birds and prevent local spread. The protocol involves active surveillance of bird areas to identify emerging outbreaks. On the other hand, it is wrong and counterproductive, the FAO cautions, to attempt elimination of wild birds near human settlements through hunting, poisoning, and habitat destruction. Such activity disperses wild birds, and the viruses, to new areas. Moreover, hunting of wild birds and the absence of biosecurity measures bring the viruses directly to domestic fowl.
  • In the wake of an outbreak in 2020, the U.K. issued advice making it legally necessary for bird-keepers in that country to house them in such a manner that they do not come into contact with wild birds. The measures, which have general relevance to farmers everywhere, include housing or netting all captive birds, cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear and vehicles, reduction of people’s movement in the farm bird areas to reduce contamination, eliminating or reducing contact between captive and wild birds, particularly through feed and water storage, and cleansing and disinfecting production areas. The U.K. uses a checklist approach to help farmers with best practices.
  • In India, the Central government requires veterinary staff to conduct inspections periodically under the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009, to catch any signs of disease among birds and other animals early. However, aquatic wild birds are often found in close proximity to domestic ones in many locations in India, near lakes, dams and reservoirs, making it difficult to achieve segregation. The waterways of Kerala are a good example of this phenomenon.

3 . Minerology of the Meteorite


Context : In 2017 residents of Mukundpura village near Jaipur saw a bright trail in the sky followed by a thunderous sound. They spotted a burning object with a sulphur smell on the soft agricultural land. The meteorite broke into several fragments, but a pit of about 15 cm in diameter and 10 cm in depth was formed at the impact site. Now, a new study has shed light on the mineralogy of the meteorite.

Details of the study

  • The meteorite named Mukundpura CM2 was classified to be a carbonaceous chondrite.
  • This type of stony meteorite is considered the most primitive meteorite and a remnant of the first solid bodies to accrete in the solar system.
  • The composition of carbonaceous chondrites are also similar to the Sun
  • Mukundpura chondrite is the fifth carbonaceous meteorite known to fall in India.
  • The study revealed that Mukundpura CM2 had experienced varying degrees of alteration during the impact. Some minerals like forsterite and FeO olivine, calcium aluminium rich inclusion (CAI) minerals escaped alteration. Few magnetites, sulphides and calcites were also found.
  • Detailed spectroscopic studies revealed that the meteorite had very high (about 90%) phyllosilicate minerals comprising both magnesium and iron. Further X-ray studies showed it also had aluminium complexes.

Types of Meteorites

  • Meteorites are broadly classified into three groups – stony (silicate-rich), iron (Fe–Ni alloy), and stony-iron (mixed silicate–iron alloy).
  • Chondrites are silicate-droplet-bearing meteorites

Importance

  • Meteorites are representative of asteroids. Asteroids are the remnant debris of the inner solar system formation process and thus offer the formation history or the building blocks of the planets. Therefore, by studying meteorites in the laboratory and asteroids by exploration and sample return mission it is possible to reconstruct the activity of early solar system events. Also, asteroids are often rich in volatiles and other minerals and can be exploited for future planetary exploration
  • Results of the Mukundpura CM2 study are relevant to the surface composition of near-Earth asteroids Ryugu and Bennu. In October 2020, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission collected samples from Bennu and is expected to return in September 2023. Last month, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 mission landed on Earth with samples from Ryugu. Infrared spectroscopy results suggest that spectral properties of the surface of these asteroids are consistent with CM carbonaceous meteorites. Therefore, a better understanding of the nature and evolution of such meteorites that have been aqueously altered will help considerably in the interpretation of results of these missions


4 . Black box


Context : Indonesia locates black boxes of plane

About Black box

  • A black box flight recorder is heavily protected recording device, similar to a hard disk or a memory card.
  • The “black box” is made up of two separate pieces of equipment: the flight data recorder (FDR) and a cockpit voice recorder (CVR).
  • They are compulsory on any commercial flight or corporate jet, and are usually kept in the tail of an aircraft, where they are more likely to survive a crash.
  • FDRs record things like airspeed, altitude, vertical acceleration and fuel flow. Early versions used wire string to encode the data; these days they use solid-state memory boards. Solid-state recorders in large aircraft can track more than 700 parameters.
  • Black boxes are fitted with an underwater locator beacon that starts emitting a pulse if its sensor touches water. They work to a depth of just over four kilometres, and can “ping” once a second for 30 days before the battery runs out

5 . Vanadium


Context : Arunachal Pradesh, considered a sleeping hydropower giant, is likely to become India’s prime producer of vanadium, a high-value metal used in strengthening steel and titanium.

About the News

  • Exploration being carried out by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has placed the eastern Himalayan State on the vanadium map of the country
  • GSI found promising concentrations of vanadium in the palaeo-proterozoic carbonaceous phyllite rocks in the Depo and Tamang areas of Papum Pare district in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • This was the first report of a primary deposit of vanadium in India, with an average grade of 0.76% V2O5 [vanadium pentoxide]
  • Vanadium mineralisation in Arunachal Pradesh is geologically similar to the “stone coal” vanadium deposits of China hosted in carbonaceous shale. This high vanadium content is associated with graphite, with a fixed carbon content of up to 16%.
  • “Good prospects” of vanadium for a cumulative length of 15.5 km and an average thickness of 7 m were found in the Deed, Saiya and Phop areas of Lower Subansiri district. Vanadium content was also found in the Pakro area of Pakke-Kesang district, Palin-Sangram in Kra Daadi, Kalamati in West Siang, Kalaktang in West Kameng and Kaying in Siang district.
  • “The expected grade of vanadium mineralisation in Arunachal Pradesh is comparable to the important vanadium deposits of the world. The largest deposits are in China, followed by Russia and South Africa,” the specialist said.

Importance

  • India is a significant consumer of vanadium, but is not a primary producer of the strategic metal. It is recovered as a by-product from the slag collected from the processing of vanadiferous magnetite ores (iron ore)
  • India consumed 4% of about 84,000 tonnes of vanadium produced across the globe in 2017. China, which produces 57% of the world’s vanadium, consumed 44% of the metal.

About Vanadium

  • Vanadium is a medium-hard, steel-blue metal. Although a lesser-known metal, it is quite valuable in the manufacturing industry due to its malleable, ductile and corrosion-resistant qualities. 
  • Vanadium rarely exists as a free element in nature but can be found in about 65 different minerals, including magnetite, vanadinite, carnotite and patronite. It also can be found in phosphate rock and some crude oils.
  • Vanadium is usually obtained by heating crushed ore in the presence of carbon and chlorine to produce vanadium trichloride, which is then heated with magnesium in an argon atmosphere,
  • Around 98 percent of mined vanadium ore comes from South Africa, Russia, and China. 

Uses

  • Around 80 percent of the vanadium produced is alloyed with iron to make a shock- and corrosion-resistant steel additive called ferrovanadium
  • Vanadium-steel alloys are used to make extremely tough tools such as axles, armor plates, car gears, springs, cutting tools, piston rods and crankshafts.
  • Vanadium alloys are also used to make nuclear reactors because of their low-neutron-absorbing properties
  • The compound vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) is used as a mordant (a substance that permanently fixes dyes to fabrics), as a catalyst in some chemical reactions and in the manufacturing of ceramics.
  • It can also be combined with gallium to form superconductive magnets
  • When mixed with aluminum and titanium, vanadium can create a very strong alloy that is used for special applications such as dental implants and jet engines. 

6 . Facts for Prelims


Double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

  • Double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial is a medical study involving human participants in which neither side knows who’s getting what treatment and placebo are given to a control group.

Kalaripayattu

  • Kalaripayattu, also known simply as Kalari, is an Indian martial art that originated in modern-day Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast of India. 
  • Kalaripayattu is known for its long-standing history within Indian martial arts. It is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India.
  • Recently Kerala govt has decided to establish an academy in the Kerala capital.

CO-WIN

  • CO-WIN is a remodelled version of electronic vaccine intelligence network used during routine immunisation programmes
  • Co-WIN aspires to be a comprehensive digital database of every COVID-19 vaccine that will be administered in India — tracking beneficiaries, intimating them about vaccine sites and dates, pre- and post-vaccination procedures, issuance of vaccination certificates, and follow up through the booster dose.
  • It has been promised that ‘at a later stage of implementation’, Co-WIN will also be available as an application or as a website in multiple Indian languages so that beneficiaries can access it to keep track of their own progress and be connected organically to the system, if questions were to arise.
  • It will also be a tool for others to “register” for a vaccine once the first line of targeted beneficiaries is cleared.
  • Aadhar or any accepted photo ID card may be used to verify the identity of the applicant to prevent misuse. Additionally, documents authorised by specialists to indicate co-morbidities or any other health conditions may be demanded.
  • After the second dose, Co-WIN will generate a digital certificate of completion for individuals who have been vaccinated. Messaging, chatbots and helpline assistance are available on the app, and any adverse event after the vaccination may be communicated back to the authorities through one of these access points.
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