Showing posts with label MONTHLY GK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MONTHLY GK. Show all posts

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Current General Knowledge - July 2010

Solar plane takes off
On July 7, 2010, giant glider-like aircraft completed the first night flight propelled only by solar energy.

Solar Impulse, whose wingspan is the same as an Airbus A340, flew 26 hours and 9 minutes, powered only by solar energy stored during the day. It was also the longest and highest flight in the history of solar aviation. The plane, which has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-metre wings, is a prototype for an aircraft that its creators hope will carry out its first circum-navigation of the globe from 2012.

Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss president of the project, best known for completing the first round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon in 1999, said the success of the flight showed the potential of renewable energies and clean technology.

The carbon-fibre aircraft reached a maximum speed of 68 knots (ground speed), an average speed of 23 knots and a maximum altitude of 8,564 metres above sea level.

Arjuna Awards, 2009
Indian women’s cricket team captain, Jhulan Goswami, who won the ICC Women's Player of The Year Award in 2007, is among those named for the Arjuna Award for the year 2009 by the committee headed by former track queen P.T. Usha. Other winners are: Joseph Abraham (Athletics), Krishna Poonia (Athletics), Dinesh Kumar(Boxing), Parimrajan Negi (Chess), Deepak Kumar Mandal (Football), Sandeep Singh (Hockey (Men)), Jasjeet Kaur Handa (Hockey (Women)), Dinesh Kumar (Kabaddi), Sanjeev Rajput (Shooting), Rehan Jehangir Poncha (Swimming), Kapil Dev K.J. (Volleyball), Rajeev Tomar (Wrestling), Rajesh Chaudhary (Yachting), Jagseer Singh (Paralympic (Athletics)).

Awardees will receive statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs.5 lakh each.

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, 2009
India's ace shuttler Saina Nehwal has been selected for the prestigious award, for her outstanding achievements on the badminton court. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna is India’s highest honour given for achievement in sports. The award carries a medal, a scroll of honour and a cash component of Rs. 500,000. The award was instituted in the year 1991-92 to supply the lack of a supreme national accolade in the field of sports.

Dronacharya Awards, 2009
This award is given by the government of India for excellence in sports coaching. The award comprises a bronze statuette of Dronacharya, a scroll of honour and a cash component of Rs.500,000 each. The award was instituted in 1985. As the best sports-person award is named Arjuna Award, it is appropriate that the coaching award is named after Dronacharya, as he was the Guru ofArjuna.

Among the winners of 2009 award were: Subhash B. Aggarwal (Billiards & Snooker), L. Ibomcha Singh (Boxing) and Ajay Kumar Bansal (Hockey). Captain Roop Chand (Wrestling) and A.K. Kutty (Athletics) were awarded for lifetime achievement.

Dhyan Chand Award, 2009
Anita Chanu (Weightlifting), Satish Pal (Athletics) and Kuldeep Singh (Wrestling) have been chosen for the award which is India's highest award for lifetime achievement in sports and games. The award is named after the legendary Indian hockey player Dhyan Chand.

India’s first sports law conference
The Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) organised the first ever ‘Sports Law Conference’ in New Delhi, on July 24-25, 2010, to deliberate on various issues related to sports and law in India. Among other things, the conference discussed the ‘Right to Information’ (RTI) and accountability of sports federations, and legalities involved in staging major sports events like the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games. It also discussed gender discrimination in sports, intellectual property rights, importance of transparency in corporate structure of professional sports leagues, future of IPL, besides public relation opportunities and challenges which are concomitant with it, issues relating to infrastructure in developing and maintaining stadiums, training facilities etc.

India’s first scientific expedition to South Pole
To commemorate the centenary of Norwegian explorer Ronald Amundsen’s December 14, 1911 feat, India will launch its first scientific expedition to the South Pole in November 2010.

An eight-member team of scientists would undertake the 3,000-km long treacherous terrain from India’s research station Maitri in the Antarctic region to the South Pole. The route to be taken is a fairly new one and had been charted with the aim to understand climate change over the past years. These studies are expected to add to the knowledge of how the ancient landmass, once fused with other continents in a super-continent before being separated 200 million years ago, has evolved.

The challenging effort will be simplified to some extend with the help of navigational equipment and four modern ice-traversing vehicles that the Union government is planning to acquire for the trip.

Quraishi, Dr S.Y.
He has been appointed as the 17th Chief Election Commissioner of India. He is the first Muslim to hold the post. Dr. Quraishi earlier held the position of Election Commissioner.

In the management of elections, Dr. Quraishi has brought a special focus on people’s participation, voters’ education and youth involvement in the electoral process through scientific research and interventions. He has been an ardent proponent for lending strength to the grassroots level election functionaries.

Born on 11 June 1947, Dr Quraishi completed his Masters degrees from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi before joining the Indian Administrative Service in 1971. He received a Ph.D for his thesis on “Role of Communication and Social Marketing in Development of Women and Children”.

Dr Quraishi is known for his special contributions in social sector reforms covering health, education, population, drug abuse, and civil society action. He also has a number of books, articles and talks to his credit on issues related to democracy, elections, HIV AIDS and Family Planning, social marketing, women and child development and Youth. His book ‘Social Marketing for Social Change’ has broken new ground in the field of Development Communication.

Three Indian projects among World’s top 100
Global consultancy firm KPMG, in its Infrastructure 100 Project Report, has included three Indian projects in the list of 100 most interesting infrastructure projects. The report showcases examples of great infrastructure projects at different stages of development across the world.

The three Indian projects are: KG-D6, 4,000-MW Mundra Plant and the newly opened Indira Gandhi International Airport project in New Delhi.

India’s KG-D6 project not only sets new standards in integrated gas infrastructure projects but it also launches an innovated approach to the sale and transportation of energy, helping to accelerate India’s economic growth. The 4,000 MW Mundra Plant, one of the nine Ultra Mega Power Projects, uses unfashionable coal, making it the most energy-efficient plant. The IGI Airport at New Delhi was upgraded and modernised while still functioning, delivering a world-class facility, which has also been turned around in record time.

First robot with emotions
A robot that is capable of developing and showing emotions has finally been unveiled. When Nao—developed by a European research team—is sad, he hunches his shoulders forward and looks down. When he's happy, he raises his arms, angling for a hug. When frightened, Nao cowers, and he stays like that until he is soothed with some gentle strokes on his head.

Nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps, except that Nao is a robot—the world's first that can develop and display emotions. He can form bonds with the people he meets, depending on how he is treated. The more he interacts with someone, the more Nao learns a person's moods and the stronger the bonds become.

He can use video cameras to work out how close a person comes and sensors to detect how tactile they are.

Nao can also work out where his human companions are looking, follow their gaze and memorise different people's faces. Using a neural network brain, he can remember interactions with different people.

This understanding, plus some basic rules of what is good and bad for him, learned from exploring his environment, allows Nao to indicate whether he is happy, sad or frightened with what is going on around him. The display actions for each emotion are pre-programmed but Nao decides by himself when to display each emotion or combination of emotions.

Nao's programming was developed as part of a project called Feelix Growing, funded by the European commission. It was a collaboration of eight universities and robotics companies across the UK, France, Switzerland, Greece and Denmark.

Brain chip may give mobility to paralysed patients
Scientists have developed a brain chip that will help paralysed patients operate their bionic limbs. The technology employs tiny microchips to sense nerve messages, decode the signals, and turn thought into movement.

The scientists hope that, within five years, they will be able to offer robotic devices to patients with damaged spinal cords that will enable them to move their arms or legs at will. A more ambitious idea is not to use robotic devices but to replace the broken connection to the limb with an artificial link. The brain chip would then send signals to an implanted stimulator in the spinal cord. This would generate electrical impulses to make muscles contract and move paralysed limbs.

PSLV launches five satellites
On July 12, 2010, five satellites—CARTOSAT, STUDSAT and three foreign satellites—were launched by the ISRO-built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The three foreign satellites—Algerian, Canadian and Swiss—were launched as part of a commercial operation.

Studsat weighs one kg and has been built by 35 students of seven engineering colleges of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It has a camera that produces high-resolution data.

Built at Rs 175 crore and weighing 694 kg, CARTOSAT-2B is an earth observation satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit. Its application will be towards cartography in India. It will generate pictures and data relevant for agriculture and rural development.

Rupee goes designer
On July 14, 2010, the Union Cabinet approved a new symbol for the Indian Rupee—an amalgam of the Devnagiri ‘Ra’ and the Roman capital ‘R’, minus its stem. With the gaining of the symbol, the Indian rupee joins the elite club of US dollar, British pound, European euro and Japanese yen that currently have their own symbols.

31-year-old IIT-B postgraduate in industrial design, D. Udaya Kumar has designed the new symbol.

All individuals and entities within and outside India would use the symbol after its incorporation in Unicode Standard, ISO/IEC 10646 and IS 13194. Encoding of the symbol in the Indian Standards is estimated to take about six months while encoding in the Unicode and ISO/IEC 10646 will take about 18-24 months. It will be incorporated in software packages and keyboards in use in India.

The symbol will standardise the expression for Indian Rupee in different languages, both within and outside the country. It would better distinguish the Indian currency from countries whose currencies are also designated as Rupee or Rupiah, such as Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Car to break 1000 mph barrier
One of the 2010 Farnborough International Air Show’s wildest propositions was the Bloodhound SuperSonic car, unveiled for the first time during the show. The 42ft, full-size, fibre-glass prototype revealed the super-slick shape that the design team believes will enable the car to hit 1,000 miles per hour, boosted by Eurofighter Typoon jet engines.

The construction of the rear portion of the car by aerospace group Hampson Industries is to go ahead in 2011. And a separate contract to build the nose is imminent.

If speed tests on a British runway in 2011 go according to plan, the Bloodhound will go to the Hakskeen Pan dried-up lake bed in South Africa to try to break the world land-speed record, which stands at 763 mph.

The design of the back of the vehicle is crucial to avoid dangerous “lift” at high speeds and to manage the sonic boom shock-wave. The Bloodhound SuperSonic is also being used to help to inspire children to study science, maths and engineering.

Current General Knowledge - June 2010

IIFA Awards, 2010
Best Film: 3 Idiots.
Best Actor: Amitabh Bachchan, for his role as a progeria-afflicted child in “Paa”.
Best Actress: Shared jointly by Vidya Balan for “Paa” and Kareena Kapoor for “3 Idiots”.
Best Director: Rajkumar Hirani for “3 Idiots
Best Screenplay: 3 Idiots.
Best Cinematography: 3 Idoits
Best Supporting Actor (Male): Sharman Joshi for his role in “3 Idiots”.
Best Supporting Actor (Female): Divya Dutta for her performance in “Delhi 6”.
Best Actor in Negative Role: Boman Irani for his role in “3 Idiots”.
Best performance in Comic Role: Sanjay Dutt for performance in “All the Best”.
Best Music Director: Pritam for “Love Aaj Kal”.
Best Singer (Male): Shaan, for “Behti hawa sa tha woh” (3 Idiots).
Best Singer (Female): Kavita Seth for “Iktara’ in “Wake Up, Sid!”.
Best Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire for “3 Idiots”.
Best Debut (Female): Jacqueline Fernandez and Mahie Gill share the award for their role in “Aladin” and “Dev D”, respectively.
Best Debut (Male): Omi Vaidya for his role of Chatur in “3 Idiots” and ackky Bhagnani for “Kal Kissne Dekha”.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Veteran filmmaker J. Om Prakash and yesteryear actress Zeenat Aman.
Outstanding achievement by an Indian in International Cinema: Anil Kapoor.

The awards ceremony was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

World Environment Day
The World Environment Day is the biggest global celebration for positive environmental action, coordinated by United Nations Environment Programme every year on June 5. It is a day that reminds everyone on the planet to get involved in environment-friendly activities. From school children to community groups, companies and governments, all come together to pledge towards building a greener planet. The day urges every citizen to mitigate environmental problems, which are a result of human activities.

This year’s theme—Many Species. One Planet. One Future—focuses on the importance of wealth of species and ecosystems to humanity.

This year's global host, Rwanda, has made huge strides on environmental protection. Rwanda is already internationally-renowned for introducing a ban on plastic bags, nationwide environmental clean-up campaigns and the restoration of previously degraded natural rain forests as part of a chimpanzee conservation programme.

Every year the World Environment Day is hosted in a different city with a different theme with the message to protect and save our environment. In 2008, the event was hosted at Wellington, New Zealand with the theme “Kick The Habit—Towards A Low Carbon Economy”.

In 2009, the event was held at Mexico City and the theme was: “Your Planet Needs You—UNite to Combat Climate Change”.

First flight of Tejas supersonic fighter plane
The dream of having a supersonic fighter jet of indigenous built came one step closer to realisation on June 2, 2010, when the Limited Series Production Tejas aircraft (LSP-4) took off from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited airport, Bangaluru, for its first flight.

Test pilot, Group Captain Suneet Krishna, flew the aircraft to an altitude of 11 kms and went supersonic, touching 1.1 Mach speed. A fighter plane flies in supersonic speed when it has already accomplished its mission and is being chased by enemy aircraft. For testing, there was a plane chasing the Tejas LSP-4 during its first test flight.

The Tejas flew in the configuration that would be finally delivered to the Indian Air Force.

Navy gets two Warships
Giving a boost to the Navy’s defence capabilities, two state-of-the-art high-speed warships, INS Cankarso and INS Kondul, were commissioned into the naval fleet on June 29, 2010.

The indigenously-built ships use water jet propulsion technology and can achieve speeds in excess of 35 knots. Water jet technology has rapidly gained acceptance as the leading means of propulsion for all types of high-speed marine craft, including ferries, work boats, patrol crafts and pleasure boats.

The ships will be based in Goa and tasked with the role of detecting, locating and destroying small, fast-moving enemy surface craft engaged in covert operations.

INS Cankarso and INS Kondul are fitted with 30-mm CRN-91 gun built by Ordnance Factory, Medak, and Igla missiles and set of machine guns ranging from light to heavy.

These two ships are the first lot of the ten similar ships that the Navy proposes to induct in its fleet. They belong to the Car Nicobar class V and VI in the FAC series.

INS Cankarso is named after an island near Goa while INS Kondul derives its name from an island near Nicobar. Kolkata-based Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers built these ships in two years.

India’s first PG course in Golf Management
Golf, as a sport, is one of the fastest emerging sectors in India, with an estimated growth of 30 per cent in the next five years. However, there is a huge gap for good quality management professionals to join the golfing industry in India. To bridge this gap, International School of Corporate Management (ISCOM) has partnered with the prestigious Elmwood College, St. Andrews, Scotland, to introduce the first ever Postgraduate Programme in Golf Management.

The course is India’s first ever PG course in Golf Management and includes six months’ intensive apprenticeship at a golf facility in Scotland, UK. Minimum degree required to be eligible for the course is graduation. Admission is through entrance test. Candidates who qualify in GMAT, CAT, MAT or equivalent with at least 60% marks will be exempt from the entrance test. You have to be a golf player with minimum 24 handicap.

Solar-powered LED lanterns to earn carbon credits
The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)—aimed at slowing the warming of the planet—has notified governments and companies on how to calculate carbon-emission saved by installing solar-powered Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) instead of ubiquitous, ancient lanterns. This could give India an incentive to replace the lamps that are used in 30 per cent of households, meaning a saving of 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

A tonne of emission saved fetches up to Rs 19,000 in the international carbon market.

A poor Indian household can save up to Rs 1,000 per annum on kerosene costs, half the cost of a solar-powered LED lighting system. Once charged, LED bulb works for up to 42 hours, compared with eight to 10 hours that conventional solar lanterns do.

LED lamps are about 90 per cent more energy efficient than traditional incandescent lamps and about 20 per cent more than Compact Fluorescent Lamps.

The UN estimates its new initiative can change the lives of a quarter of humanity, which still gets light by directly burning fuels, emitting nearly 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of 60 million cars.

India’s first integrated Waste Management Plant
Infra firm a2z Infrastructure will set up India’s first integrated municipal solid waste management plant in Kanpur. The project, touted to be Asia’s largest, would comprise management of the city’s solid waste in an environment friendly manner and subsequent power generation for captive and merchant use.

Majority of the fuel used in the plant will be RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) derived from solid waste, which is considered a better replacement for coal with lesser emissions. The power plant will have the capacity to produce 15 MW power.

IIT-Kanpur to set up experimental power plant
The Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K) has planned to set up a 550 kilowatt (KW) Solar Energy Research Experimental Station (SERES) in its campus. The station would serve the purpose of solar energy development research, apart from being a pilot project for improving the commercial viability of solar energy generation.

It would provide uninterrupted free power supply to six neighbouring villages, Nankari, Bara Sirohi, Singhpur, Bakunthpur, Naramau and Kachchar. The villages are electrified, but the present power supply is highly erratic.

The Rs 18-crore project has been taken up as a part of the ongoing golden jubilee celebrations at the institute.

Currently, the solar power produced in India costs around Rs15 per KW hour, whereas conventional energy costs as little as Rs 3.5 per KW hour. The institute will bring in team from the biotechnology and electrical departments to work on reducing the production cost of solar power to make it more economical and commercially viable.

The project will be modelled on the German mode of solar power generation after conducting the requisite studies on production and transmission.

“Printer” to create human organs
It may sound a bit too much, but doctors could one day be able to “print” new organs for transplant, say scientists who claim to have designed a “bio-printer” to create made-to-measure human organs. A prototype machine developed by the California-based regenerative medicine company Organovo is already capable of growing new arteries.

It is based on 3-D laser printing technology used to create new machine parts for industry. But, instead of combining layers of plastic and metal, the “bio-printer” puts living tissue together.

Two laser-based printing heads are used to place living cells onto thin sheets of gel with microscopic precision. Multiple layers are then laid on top of each other in a specially designed mould, or ‘scaffold’ and the cells begin to fuse together. 

Thirty Meter Telescope Project
On June 25, 2010, India joined as an observer in the ambitious astronomical observatory, Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT), in Hawaii, which will help in unravelling mysteries of black hole, origin of galaxies and formation of planets among others.

The status of an observer is first step by India in becoming a full partner in TMT, which will be fully operational in 2018 and will be world’s most advanced astronomical observatory.

The telescope will have a 30-metre segmented mirror which uses diffraction of light and focuses in much sharper way than smaller telescopes. Such a large size of aperture will help it collecting more light, thus generating much clearer and sharper images of fainter objects, which may not be possible by present day scopes. The images generated by the telescope will be 12 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

A look at these images will help the scientists to understand several key aspects of universe, including the black hole formation, formation of galaxies, starting of the Universe and formation of first heavy elements in it.

National Business Register
The sixth economic census, set to take off in 2011, will provide India with a National Business Register (NBR) for the first time, containing the details of every business establishment in the country.

The creation and maintenance of a business register and directory are expected to be an economic data framework for various needed statistical surveys, including the Annual Survey of Industries and others of the National Sample Survey Organisation.

Currently, a fairly reasonable database exists for the agricultural sector, while much is lacking for the non-agricultural ones, particularly services. The move to create a directory will particularly benefit the latter. The services sector, contributing 62.5 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product, does not have a comprehensive data bank. The national accounts significantly under-states the sector, even as it is the major contributor.

The business register is to keep an account of all business establishments with a workforce of 10 or more people—addresses, sectors, turnovers, number employed etc.

Now, fly tricolour at night
India’s National flag will now fly even during night, which was not earlier allowed under the flag code rules. This has been possible due to efforts of industrialist-turned-politician and chairman of the Flag Foundation of India and MP Naveen Jindal.

The Union Home Ministry has allowed keeping the National Flag fly even during night with a rider that the flag does not remain in dark.

Current General Knowledge - May 2010

National Technology Award, 2010
A pioneer in processing rice bran oil, A.R. Sharma, who comes from dusty town of Dhuri in Sangrur district, has been honoured with the national award by the Technology Development Board of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presented the award—Rs 10 lakh and a trophy—to him.

Sharma is the chairman-cum-managing director of the A.P. Organics (P) Ltd, a part of Rs 500-crore A.P. Solvex Group of Companies. The group is the largest producer of refined rice bran oil, a health-friendly cooking oil produced from the outer brown layer of rice.

For the past over 50 years, the rice bran oil is being used as a premium cooking oil in countries like Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. In Japan, it is popularly known as “Heart Oil” because of its scientifically proven cholesterol-lowering properties.

India is the second largest producer of paddy in the world, having potential to produce over 12 lakh tonnes per annum of this healthy cooking oil. Unfortunately, it is used in India more in producing soaps and detergents than as a nutritious and healthy cooking oil.

“Our group enjoys the distinction of being pioneer in development of an eco-friendly and health-friendly cooking oil,” says Sharma, holding that the process used by the group for production of refined rice bran oil is economical and scientifically proven process. The patent for the process is registered with the Government of India in my name,” adds Sharma.

 “Lost” Booker Prize
Late author J.G. Farrell has been honoured for his novel Troubles, 40 years after it was first published, in an unusual take on Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize.

He scooped The Lost Booker Prize, an award for books from 1970 which missed out the first time around because of a rule change in 1971. Previously the prize, which began in 1969, was retrospective, meaning the 1970 award went to novels published the previous year—but the 1971 prize went to those published in 1971.

Light Combat Helicopter takes to skies
The maiden flight of the indigenously manufactured Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) on May 22, 2010, heralded India's entry into the select group of countries capable of developing their own combat helicopters.

The LCH, manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is a dedicated attack helicopter featuring a narrow fuselage and a tandem seating for the pilot and co-pilot. The machine is designed for low detection (reduced visual, aural, radar and infra-red signatures) and has crash-worthy landing gear for better survivability. The hinge-less rotors and the powerful Shakti engines enable the easy manoeuvring of LCH even with weapons.

The other interesting feature of the LCH is the chin-mounted canon along with the helmet mounted sighting system, which gives the pilot the capability to look and fire at targets around the aircraft. An advanced sensor suite consisting of CCD camera, forward looking infra-red imaging technology and laser range finder facilitates target acquisition in all weather conditions.

The helicopter would be fitted with a data link for network-centric operations facilitating the transfer of mission data to the other airborne platforms and ground stations operating in the network, thus facilitating the force multiplication.

With these features, the LCH is expected to play a major role in air defence against slow moving aerial targets, destruction of enemy air defence operations, escort to special heli-borne operations, support of combat search and rescue operations, anti-tank role and scout duties.

First Indian to sail solo around the world
On May 22, 2010, Commander Dilip Donde of the Indian Navy became the first Indian ever to circumnavigate the globe solo on a sail-boat when he steered into the Mumbai harbour after his arduous effort spanning a little over nine months.

Commander Dilip Donde, who started the voyage on August 19 2009 on INSV Mhadei, touched base back in India at the Sunk Rock Light House in Mumbai. His boat was ceremonially escorted by a fast attack craft of the Indian Navy, along with speedboats and two tugs operating their water cannons. Vice-President Hamid Ansari, along with Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma and Donde’s family members, who were on board INS Delhi, anchored at the finish line, witnessed the historic moment and gave him a rousing reception.

The 56-foot-long Mhadei, with 23-tonne displacement, is the first fibreglass yacht constructed entirely in India and boasts of state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment. The 276-day voyage was part of the Navy's daunting Sagar Parikrama project, which aims to revive the old tradition of sea faring.

The 42-year-old officer covered 21,600 nautical miles sailing in the seas to achieve the milestone. He sailed through the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Sea. He also sailed along the Equator. He made only four halts during the voyage, at Fremantle-Australia, Christchurch-New Zealand, Port Stanley-Falkland Islands and Cape Town-South Africa. Donde had trained for the expedition with legendary Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo and non-stop round the world in 1968-69.

The world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation was set in January 2008 by Frenchman Francis Joyon, at 67 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds.

Kapadia, Justice Sarosh Homi
He has been appointed as the 38th Chief Justice of India. Hailing from a poor family, Justice Kapadia replaced Justice Balakrishnan.

Born on September 29, 1947, he is the first CJI born in post independence era. An erudite man with a keen interest in Economics, Public Finance, Theoretical Physics and Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, he would remain at the helm of the judiciary till September 29, 2012.  He started his career as a class IV employee and possesses integrity as “the only asset”.

Justice Kapadia was part of the Constitution bench that in January 2007 declared that laws placed under the protective umbrella of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution were open to judicial review.

First life-form made by man
Scientists have created the world’s first synthetic life form in a landmark experiment that paves the way for designer organisms that are built rather than evolved.

The controversial feat, which has occupied 20 scientists for more than 10 years at an estimated cost of $40 million, was described by one researcher as “a defining moment in biology”.

Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” He said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out bio-fuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.

The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory. The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.

The team now plans to use the synthetic organism to work out the minimum number of genes needed for life to exist. From this, new micro-organisms could be made by bolting on additional genes to produce useful chemicals, break down pollutants, or produce proteins for use in vaccines.

Most scientists agree Venter has achieved a technical feat in synthesizing the largest piece of DNA so far—a million units in length—and in making it accurate enough to substitute for the cell’s own DNA.

The US President Barack Obama has asked the White House bio-ethics commission to complete a study of the issues raised by synthetic biology within six months and report back to him on its findings. He said the new development raised “genuine concerns,” though he did not specify them further.

Indian discovers new, more environmental friendly technique to extract rare earth minerals
Fears that China may end up ruling a green world have been partly rested by a technological breakthrough by an NRI scientist in the field of rare earth metals—key components of technologies that are set to shape our future.

Bhagalpur-born Animesh Jha, a material sciences professor at Leeds University and an alumnus of Roorkee University and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has isolated significant quantities of rare earth metals while refining low-grade titanium dioxide—a common mineral.

In the process, he may have soothed the jangly nerves of governments and manufacturers of leading-edge technologies around the world—in a state of uncertainty after China, which produces 95 per cent of the world’s rare earth declared in 2009 that it was sharply reducing its exports of the metals.
Rare earths—versatile metals that are really not so rare—have come to dominate growing areas of people’s day-to-day lives around the world. From laptop hard disks, iPod headphones and mobile phone speakers to aerospace, defence, medicine, laser, super-conductivity and atomic energy, rare earth metals sparkle with endless promise.

Accelerated global attempts to forge a green future too are tied to supplies of rare earth metals—they make the strongest magnets on the planet, which are then used in motors that drive wind turbines as well as hybrid cars.

There are only 17 rare earth metals, and it is China where they are mostly found.

It’s not as if there are no substantial rare earth deposits elsewhere around the world: far from it. But existing US mines shut down in the mid-1980s, unable to compete with cheap Chinese exports, with the supply chain eventually moving to China. And opening new mines is a long and cumbersome process.

There are also massive environmental concerns over the way these metals have been extracted (by acid leaching) in many of the mines. Inner Mongolia, home to 75 per cent of China’s reserves, is said to resemble a desolate moonscape.

This is where Jha’s breakthrough becomes important: not only is it a potential alternative to Chinese supplies, but by removing the need to scar the earth for high grade titanium dioxide, it also offers a clean solution that chimes in with attempts to combat climate change.

Working with half a million pounds in the laboratories of the Institute for Materials Research in Leeds, Jha and his small team of researchers found that they could extract rare earth metals at the very start of the titanium dioxide refining process.

Leeds University says the new process could “eventually shift the balance of power in global supply, breaking China’s near monopoly.”

If Jha succeeds in scaling up his process, it could become a small but important step toward creating a sustainable world.

Space shuttle Atlantis lands for final time
On May 26, 2010, Atlantis and its six-man crew landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center marking the end of Atlantis’ 25 years of service. Only two shuttle missions remain, by NASA’s two other spaceships.

The space agency would like Atlantis to return to the International Space Station in June 2011. But that’s not in the cards unless the White House grants a reprieve.

The space station construction mission boosted Atlantis’ mileage to just over 193 million km, accumulated over 32 flights. The shuttle and its astronauts left the outpost bigger and more powerful, adding a new compartment and fresh batteries.

BRO turns 50
Exactly 50 years ago, on May 5, 1960, with war clouds gathering on the Sino-Indian border, Jawaharlal Nehru created the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an inter-ministerial task force that has become an Indian exemplar of grit and fortitude. Thanks to over 48,000 kilometres of BRO roads, soldiers now drive to far-flung border pickets that earlier involved days of marching.

Since the time the BRO’s first chief, the dashing Major General Kartar Nath Dubey, pushed through the first roads to Tawang and Chushul in the early 1960s, the BRO has become a reassuring presence on India’s borders. Every spring, it cuts through walls of snow in high-altitude passes to clear 95 roads, like the Srinagar-Kargil highway. The BRO is over-seeing the 8.8-km long Rohtang tunnel, which will allow traffic to Lahaul-Spiti to flow around the year. It has constructed 19 border airfields and 400 major bridges. It is currently working on 699 roads, having a total length of 28,000 km.

However, even on the BRO’s Golden Jubilee, an ambitious expansion of India’s border road network remains stymied by archaic laws and a crippling lack of urgency. The challenge before the BRO—triggered by China’s dramatic expansion of road and rail links in Tibet—is the Strategic Accelerated Road Development Programme (SARDP) planned by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Under this, the BRO will build double-lane roads from each State capital in the north-east to each of that State’s district headquarters. That involves building 38 roads, approximately 2,812 km long, within the next five years. In addition, the government has recently handed the BRO responsibility for the Arunachal Package, which involves building another 812 km of roads in the State that China calls “Southern Tibet”.

Current General Knowledge - April 2010

Dan David Prize
Noted Indian author Amitav Ghosh has won the prestigious Dan David Prize for his remarkable reworking of the great tradition of the western novel in transnational terms.

The $1 million award is a joint international enterprise endowed by the Dan David Foundation and head-quartered at Tel Aviv University. It is annually awarded in three different fields—archaeology, performing arts and material science—in the three-dimension time framework of past, present and future.

Ghosh, 53, is the third Indian to win the award, joining an elite league comprising of chemist C.N.R. Rao and musician Zubin Mehta. The Indian author will be sharing the prize in the present dimension with Dr Gordon E. Moore, whose Moore's Law has become the guiding principle for the semi-conductor industry.

PM’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration
Gulshan Bamra has been given the award for his initiative to involve community in the Naxal-affected areas of Madhya Pradesh.

Commonwealth Prize, 2010
British-Indian author Rana Dasgupta (38) has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for ‘Best Book’ on for his second book Solo. Rana won a prize of  £10,000 (Rs 8.5 lakh).

Solo is a story told by a 100-year-old Bulgarian, and includes a cast of riveting characters, among them talking parrots.

Though Dasgupta was born in Britain and holds a British passport, he has been based in Delhi for over eight years now. His first novel “Tokyo Cancelled” had also drawn enormous praise.

Australian author Glenda Guest’s “Siddon Rock” won in the Best First Book category.

Browse at the speed of light
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new infra-red laser made from germanium that operates at room temperature, which has made light-speed computing come one step closer to reality.

The research removes the cryogenic cooling systems previously needed for infra-red lasers and could lead to powerful computer chips that operate at the speed of light.

Until now, infra-red germanium lasers required expensive cryogenic cooling systems to operate. The new germanium laser operates at room temperature.

To create the germanium laser, the scientists take a six-inch, silvery-gray disk of silicon and spray it with a thin film of germanium. These same disks are actually used to produce chips in today's computers.

Domain names in Indian languages
If everything goes well as planned, India will be ready to have Internationalised Domain Names (IDN) on the internet in seven Indian languages—Hindi, Bangla, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati—by 2011. The Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India has submitted its proposal the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organisation responsible for managing the internet’s domain name system, including IP address space assignments, based in California, USA.

Domain names are entered in the address bar of the browser to access a web-site. The domain name provides a unique identity and on clicking on a given domain name, the web page of the particular site opens up. Initially, the domain name will be available to seven Indian languages and later on to the all the country’s 22 official languages.

Once it comes into effect, the user will be able to not only type out the address of a website in the scripts of any of the country’s 22 official languages, but also access sites under the domain name “bharat”. It is worth noting that in the past, IDNs were available only in Latin Characters (the script in which English and most other European languages are written).

INS Chennai Missile Destroyer launched
Indian Navy launched INS Chennai, a missile destroyer in the Project-15 alpha class, at the Mazgaon Dock in Mumbai on April 1, 2010. Elizabeth Antony, wife of Defence Minister AK Antony, launched the warship.

Project 15 Alpha is code name for Kolkata-class destroyers that are being made in the Mazgaon dock in Mumbai. These are the largest warships ever constructed at Mazgaon, the oldest and the most prolific of all Indian naval dockyards.

Aimed at adding a new dimension to the country's naval warfare, India has launched the indigenous warship with enhanced stealth features and land-attack capabilities.

The 6800 tonnes Kolkata class (Project 15-A) destroyers incorporate Indian systems including the HUMSA-NG (Hull Mounted Sonar Array New Generation), 16 Brahmos missiles, torpedos and the Nagin active towed array sonar, jointly developed by the DRDO's Naval Science and Technology Laboratory in Visakhapatnam and Bharat Electronics Limited in Bangalore.

Russia is assisting Project 15-A with shafts and propellers. The propulsion package consists of four reversible gas turbines in combined gas-and-gas configuration.

INS Shivalik—India’s first indigenous stealth warship
On April 29, 2010, India affected a generational shift in its warship-building capability by commissioning INS Shivalik—the first indigenously built stealth frigate that is the biggest in its class in the world. The ship, which is 143 metres long, can tactically fire weapons even before the enemy detects it.

The hard-to-detect warship will form a crucial component of the Indian Navy. It is equipped with a mix of Indian, Russian, Israeli and western weapons and sensors.

Two other such ships—INS Satpura and the INS Sahayadari—would follow soon. Each ship would carry on board long-range surface-to-surface Klub missiles, area defence missiles Shtil and Barak, anti-submarine torpedoes, 100 mm mounted gun and six-barrelled 30 mm gun. Ships like these would form the core of the India’s battle fleet in the first half of this century.

A 250-member crew, including 35 officers, will man INS Shivalik. The new design features give the ship enhanced operational capabilities in terms of survivability, stealth, sea keeping, ship handling and weapons.

The sea king Choppers on board will carry torpedoes to target submarines which are out of the ship’s ranges. It will have an array of sensors and an anti-missile defence for its own protection and also coordinate the firing of on-board weapons.

In future the Navy is looking to have a data exchange system with the IAF’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). A system is being integrated with the AWACS to provide data that may be out of the range of the ship. This will provide an edge in firing of weapons.

The naval satellite to be launched in the near future will also help this ship to coordinate with other ships in the fleet for firing of weapons and will form the network centric operations. The combat management system developed by the Bharat Electronic Systems will give the ship’s captain a view of all weapons and data in one screen.

INS Shivalik can hoodwink enemy radars, sensors by concealing its size. It has three-dimensional warfare capability—surface, air, underwater. Its weapons suites have anti-ship, anti-submarine and air defence missiles.

The ship is powered by a unique combination of gas, diesel engines and can stay in sea for more than 3 weeks or cover 10,800 km without refuelling. Its filters can protect crew during a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

Light Combat Helicopter makes successful first flight
On March 29, 2010, India entered the big boys’ league with the successful first flight of the prototype of its very own attack helicopter—Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

The maiden test flight of the 5.5-tonne attack chopper, a derivative version of Banagalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) flagship product Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH)—Dhruv—was termed by pilots who flew it as “very good”.

The Shakti engine being used in the LCH has been jointly developed by the HAL and Turbomeca of France with primary focus on high-altitude operations. The rotor system has also been developed indigenously.

The helicopter is expected to meet operational requirements like air support, anti-infantry and anti-armour roles. The twin-engine LCH is a pure attack helicopter made by the design experience gained from the Dhruv.

Currently around 100 Dhruv helicopters are being used by the Indian armed forces and paramilitary forces like the Coast Guard and the BSF, civil operators like Pawan Hans and the ONGC. Dhruv is also being used by foreign countries like Ecuador, Nepal, Mauritius and Male.

Though LCH is derived from Dhruv, there are differences in design. While in Dhruv pilots sit side-by-side, in the LCH they sit one behind the other. All flight controls, hydraulics and fuel system have been redesigned for the sleeker, heavily armoured LCH.

Fourth discovery by RIL in Cambay Basin
Reliance Industries has announced its fourth oil discovery in exploratory block CB-ONN-2003/1, located on-land in the Cambay basin and named ‘Dhirubhai-47’. The block was awarded under NELP V round of exploration bidding.

This block is located at a distance of 130 kms from Ahmedabad and covers an area of 635 sq kms. RIL is the operator and has 100 per cent participating interest in the block. The block has 14 exploratory wells and the company is continuing further exploratory drilling efforts in the block.  The company says that, based on the acquired 3D seismic data, there are several more prospects with upside potential have been identified in the contract area.

Cairn starts second plant
Cairn India has started the second crude oil processing plant at its giant Mangala oilfield in Thar deserts of Rajasthan, which will help the company ramp up output for the nation's most prolific oilfield.

Mangala currently produces about 30,000 barrels of oil per day (1.5 million tonnes a year) which is processed at Train-1 near Barmer before being sold to refiners. The Train-2 (second oil processing plant) has a capacity of 50,000 bpd (2.5 million tonnes a year).

Cairn output will help offset the decline in crude oil production at the ONGC that could not meet its targeted output in 2009-10 fiscal. The company can produce up to 2,40,000 barrels per day from Rajasthan fields, equivalent to output from the nation’s largest oilfield of Bombay High.

Kapadia, Justice S.H.
Justice S.H. Kapadia has been appointed the Chief Justice of India. He is the 38th CJI and will have a tenure of two years and five months. Justice Kapadia has vast experience in tax, finance and business matters, besides other civil cases and issues relating to crime.

Prahalad, C.K.
Dr C.K. Prahalad, a globally known influential management thinker, died on April 19, 2010. He shook the corporate world in the US and elsewhere during the past two decades with his offbeat but radical strategies for managing corporations. The most notable among them was his “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” through which he urged MNCs to evolve a business model that would cater to the huge market of world’s four billion poor. He firmly believed that such an approach would help eradicate the scourge of poverty.

He stole the limelight with his best seller book “The Future of Competition”. He stressed that it would not be worthwhile for the companies to foray into unrelated diversifications. The book is widely acknowledged as one of the world's most significant forces in corporate thinking.

He was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission of the United Nations on private sector and development. He was also the first recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for contributions to management and public administration, presented by the President of India in 2000.

Singh, Gen V.K.
Gen V.K. Singh is the Chief of Indian army. A third generation officer from the Rajput regiment, Gen Singh is a graduate of the Wellington-based Defence Services Staff College as well as the Rangers Course at Fort Benning, USA and the US Army War College, Carlisle.

He was commissioned into 2 Rajput Regiment in June 1970 and commanded the same unit when it was positioned along the Line of Control with Pakistan.

Experienced in counter insurgency operations, Line of Control and high altitude operations, Gen Singh was awarded the Yudh Sena Medal for his distinguished service during 'Operation Pawan' against the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

RIL commissions India’s first one-megawatt solar plant
On April 7, 2010, solar energy initiative of Reliance Industries, RIL Solar Group, commissioned India's first one-megawatt solar plant to power a stadium to be used in the Commonwealth Games 2010.

Thyagaraj Stadium, where the plant has been commissioned, is planned to be a model green stadium. RIL Solar Group has also implemented power plants in the R.K. Khanna Tennis Complex.

The solar initiative is one of the major ones to compensate for carbon-dioxide emissions to be released through the game. The solar power generated at the Thyagaraj Stadium is expected to result in emission reduction of more than 1,200 tons of CO2 per year.

The power plant is expected to generate around 1.4 million units of electricity per year. It would cater to the power requirements of the stadium and the surplus would be fed to the grid.

Desertec Industrial Initiative
The Desertec Industrial Initiative has plans under-way to transform swathes of the Sahara desert into a glimmering sea of mirrors, with the goal of transmitting clean and efficient solar energy to Europe.

Desertec will create fields of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants—arrays of mirrors which focus the sun’s energy to turn water into steam, and so drive the electrical turbines. From there the power will flow through a network of low loss transmission cables to pipe electricity into the existing European grid, via Spain.

The $316 billion venture is designed to meet as much as 15% of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050.

20 years ago, the maximum efficiency you could get from the sun was 15-20%, compared to over 50% for fossil fuels. Today, CSP is closer to 40%. Large CSP plants can produce power at quarter of the cost of that generated by standard solar photovoltaic cells.

India can consider CSPs in the Thar Desert. Its conditions would allow 37.5 MW of power to be generated for each one square km of desert—and the Thar Desert has 228,000 square km area.

A single patch of Sahara Desert, just 114,090sq km in area, receives enough sunlight to meet the entire world’s electricity demand through CSP.

IKAROS—First solar powered spacecraft
Japanese scientists have developed a kite-shaped ‘space yacht’ that uses only solar power for propulsion. The spacecraft—IKAROS—would be launched into the space for a six-month mission to Venus. It is the first spacecraft to use such technology.

Its name is an acronym for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun. It also alludes to the Greek mythic hero Icarus who flew too close to the Sun and fell into the sea.

In space, the spacecraft’s short cylindrical pod will be separated from the rocket spinning up to 20 times a minute. This will help it unfold its flexible 46-feet sail, which is thinner than a human hair.

The square-shaped sail, equipped with thin-film solar cells, uses resistance created by the Sun’s energy in the same way as wind propels a yacht through water, thus providing the spacecraft with enough thrust to hover and rotate.

“Solar sails are the technology that realises space travel without fuel as long as we have sunlight. It is a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure. The availability of electricity would enable us to navigate farther and more effectively in the solar system,” Japanese Space Agency expert Yuichi Tsuda said.

NASA’s Solar Mission releases stunning pictures of Sun
US space agency NASA has released stunning solar images some of which highlight never-before-seen material streaming out of the Sun while others show extreme close-ups of activity on the Sun’s surface.

“These initial images show a dynamic Sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The images were taken by Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO that was recently launched by NASA. It is the first mission of the organisation’s Living with a Star Program or LWS—one of the NASA’s many missions to study the Sun and space environment.

The goal of LWS is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the connected Sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

Census 2010
The 15th national census exercise, the biggest census ever to be attempted in human history to cover India's 1.2 billion population, began on April 1, 2010 with President Pratibha Patil being the first to be enumerated in the decennial exercise.

The census is the most credible source of information on demography (population characteristics), economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, language, religion, migration, disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data since 1872.

Census is the only source of primary data at village, town and ward level. It provides valuable information for planning and formulation of polices for Central and State governments and is widely used by national and international agencies, scholars, business people, industrialists, and many more.

The delimitation / reservation of constituencies—Parliamentary / Assembly / Panchayats and other local bodies is also done on the basis of the demographic data thrown up by the census. The census is the basis for reviewing the country's progress in the past decade, monitoring the on-going schemes of the government and most importantly, plan for the future.

The slogan of Census 2011 is 'Our Census, Our Future'.

National Population Register
The NPR would be a register of usual residents of the country. The NPR will be a comprehensive identity database that would help in better targeting of the benefits and services under the government schemes/programmes, improve planning and help strengthen security of the country. This is being done for the first time in the country.

While the census is a statutory exercise conducted under the provisions of the Census Act 1945, the NPR is being created under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and Rules.

All information collected under the census is confidential and will not be shared with any agency—government or private. Certain information collected under the NPR will be published in the local areas for public scrutiny and invitation of objections. This is in the nature of the electoral roll or the telephone directory. After the NPR has been finalised, the database will be used only within the government.

Unique Identification (UID) number christened Aadhaar
Aadhaar, or the 12-digit unique identification (UID) number that will identify the 1.2 billion residents of India on the basis of their biometrics, will have an additional four digits that will be hidden from the common man.

As far as people are concerned, there would only be a 12-digit number that would be relevant for their identification and use. However, a provision of extra four digits would be a post-fix for this 12-digit number for pin-based identification. So, UID will become a 16-digit number for use and the database that will maintain be maintained by UIDAI.

These four digits, which the authority terms a ‘virtual number’, will change as and when the resident changes his pin number or residence. The user, however, will only use the 12-digit number allotted to him.

The first set of Aadhaars will be issued between August 2010 and February 2011. The authority plans to issue 600 million UIDs over the next five years.

UIDAI, which is being headed by Nandan Nilekani, has been allocated Rs 1,900 crore for the financial year 2010-11. Of this, Rs 1,300 crore will be used to enable the registrars to enrol people in the system and the remaining Rs 600 crore will be spent for setting up the information technology infrastructure.

UIDAI estimates total annual revenue of Rs 288 crore from authentication services in the initial stages.

World’s smallest 3-D map
Scientists claim to have created the world’s smallest three dimensional map—a map of the Earth so small that 1,000 of them could fit on one grain of salt.

A team at computer giant IBM accomplished this through a new, breakthrough technique which uses a tiny, silicon tip with a sharp apex—1,00,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil—to create patterns and structures as small as 15 nanometre at greatly reduced cost and complexity.

According to the scientists, this patterning technique opens new prospects for developing nano-sized objects in fields such as electronics, future chip technology, medicine, life sciences, and opto-electronics.

The complete 3D map of the world measuring only 22 by 11 micrometre was “written” on a polymer. It is composed of 5,00,000 pixels, each measuring 20 NM2, and was created in only 2 minutes and 23 seconds.

Why volcanic ash is bad for planes
Aircraft avoid any airspace that has volcanic ash in it for a simple reason: The ash can wreck the function of propeller or jet aircraft.

The gas particles are actually silica so fine they will invade the spaces between rotating machinery and jam it—the silica melts at about 1,100 degree Celsius and fuses on to the turbine blades and nozzle guide vanes that feed fuel, which in modern aircraft operate at 1,400 degree Celsius.

This was discovered by the crew of two aircraft, a Singapore Airlines airplane and a British Airways Boeing 747, in 1982 which flew through an ash cloud from the Galunggung volcano in Indonesia. On both planes, all four engines stopped; they dived over 20,000 feet before they could restart them and make emergency landings.

Ash particles are razor sharp and can pit the windscreens of the pilot’s cabin, damage the fuselage and light cover, and even coat the plane so much that it becomes tail-heavy. At runways, ash creates an extra problem because takeoffs and landings will throw it into the air again—where the engines can suck it in and it will create horrific damage to moving parts that suddenly find themselves in contact.

Once ash has got into an engine, it is impossible to remove as it is so fine. It pollutes filtration systems, electrical and avionic units—and the accompanying sulphuric acid aerosol can eat into rubber parts.

Current General Knowledge - March 2010

SAARC Environment Award, 2010
Environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal has been selected for the award for setting new milestones in the field of environment, especially his initiative on cleaning the Kali Bein rivulet passing through Kapurthala, Punjab.

Saraswati Samman, 2009
“Lafzan Di Dargah”, a poetry collection in Punjabi by Surjit Patar, has been awarded the 19th Saraswati Samman for 2009.

The award, instituted by the K.K. Birla Foundation in 1991, carries an award of Rs 5 lakh, a citation and a plaque. It is recognised as the most prestigious and the highest literary honour in India and is given every year to an outstanding literary work written in an Indian language and published during the last 10 years.

The first recipient of the award was Harivansh Rai Bachchan in 1991 for his autobiography. Other awardees include Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar, Oriya writer Manoj Das, Malayalam poetess Balamaniamma, Tamil writer Indira Parthasarathy, Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay and Urdu literary critic Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.

Oscar Awards, 2010
Best Movie: The Hurt Locker.
Best Director: Kathyrn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). She has become the first woman director to win the honour.
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart).
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side).
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique.
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz.
Best Animated Movie: Up
Best Foreign Film: The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina).

Chameli Devi Jain Award, 2009
The award for an outstanding woman media-person has been shared by Shoma Chaudhary, executive editor of Tehelka, Delhi and Monalisa Changkija, Editor of Nagaland Page, Dimapur.

Mother Teresa Award, 2010
UGC chairman Sukhadeo Thorat has been given the prestigious Mother Teresa Lifetime Achievement Award for 2010. Thorat, who has authored 21 publications, has been instrumental in introducing several academic and administrative reforms in higher education during ongoing XIth plan.

Browse at the speed of light
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new infra-red laser made from germanium that operates at room temperature, which has made light-speed computing come one step closer to reality.

The research removes the cryogenic cooling systems previously needed for infrared lasers and could lead to powerful computer chips that operate at the speed of light.

"Using a germanium laser as a light source, you could communicate at very high data rates at very low power," said Jurgen Michel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the new germanium laser. "Eventually, you could have the computing power of today's supercomputers inside a laptop," he said.

The creation of a new laser, even one based on germanium, is not newsworthy; more than 15,000 different lasers, some of which use germanium, have been created since the 1950s.

What makes this particular germanium laser unique is that it creates an infra-red beam at room temperature.

Until now, infra-red germanium lasers required expensive cryogenic cooling systems to operate. The new germanium laser operates at room temperature.

To create the germanium laser, the scientists take a six-inch, silvery-gray disk of silicon and spray it with a thin film of germanium. These same disks are actually used to produce chips in today's computers.

An electrically powered, room-temperature, infrared laser for laptop computers is still years away, however, cautioned Michel. If and when those laptops do arrive, they will be powerful—more powerful in fact than even today's super-computers.

Super Cruiser BrahMos test-fired successfully
On March 21, 2010, India joined the league of select nations to have a ‘manoeuvrable’ supersonic cruise missile when it successfully test-fired the vertical-launch version of 290-km range BrahMos from a warship in the Bay of Bengal off the Orissa coast.

After the latest test, India has become the first and only country in the world to have a “manoeuvrable supersonic cruise missile in its inventory”.

The test-firing was part of the pre-induction tests by the Navy as moves are afoot to deploy the vertical-launch version of the missile in ships. The weapon system has been designed and developed by the Indo-Russian joint venture company.

All the three Indian Navy’s Talwar class ships, under construction in Russia, have been fitted with vertical launchers and many other ships will also be equipped with them. The Navy had earlier carried out several tests of the BrahMos but most of them had been done from inclined launchers abroad INS Rajput. The missile is already in service with the Navy and its Shivalik class frigates have been equipped with it. BrahMos has also been inducted into the Army.

Koirala, Girija Prasad
Veteran democratic leader of Nepal politics and former Prime Minister of Nepal, he died on March 20, 2010. He was 87. He had the distinction of becoming the Prime Minister of Nepal five times. He had led the peaceful April Uprising in 2006 and abolished the 239-year-old authoritarian royal regime of Nepal.

World's smallest superconductor developed
Scientists have developed the world's smallest superconductor—less than one nanometre wide—which could be used for making miniature electronic devices. The superconductor, a sheet of four pairs of molecules, provides the first evidence that nano-scale molecular superconducting wires can be fabricated.

Superconducting materials have an electrical resistance of zero, and so can carry large electrical currents without power dissipation or heat generation.

Superconductivity was first discovered in 1911, and until recently, was considered a macroscopic phenomenon. The current finding suggests, however, that it exists at the molecular scale, which opens up a novel route for studying this phenomenon.

CERN scientists recreate how universe began
On March 30, 2010, scientists came a little closer to understanding the Big Bang—the event that created the universe—when they slammed together two streams of sub-atomic particles, moving at very high speed, at an energy level never before achieved in the laboratory.

The collision was orchestrated at around in the world’s largest particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva.

The collision sought to recreate—on a vastly reduced scale—the conditions that scientists believe came into being right after the Big Bang. Once analysed, the results could change the way physicists understand the origin and structure of the universe.

When sub-atomic particles slam together at very high speeds, they shatter, leaving behind new elements. Scientists are hoping one of the new elements created by the collision and shattering will be the fabled Higgs boson—popularly called ‘God Particle’—the particle that some theories claim is responsible for the mass of everything in the universe.

The LHC is a 26.6 km circular tube buried nearly 100 meter below the earth’s surface.

Indian scientists have contributed to the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the ultra-sensitive detectors that scientists at CERN used to monitor and photograph the collision. The TIFR, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Punjab University and Delhi University have all been involved in the project.

Breakthrough in Malaria study
Scientists from India and the US have found what they call an internal “switch” that controls mosquitoes’ immunity to malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites. If scientists can find a way to flip this switch, they could block the spread of malaria from mosquitoes to humans, according to Sanjeev Kumar, lead author of the study and a researcher in the biological sciences group at the Birla Institute of Technology (BITS) in Pilani. 

A natural reaction inside the mosquito’s body after it sucks human blood might be responsible for protecting Plasmodium parasites from the natural germ-fighting agents in its stomach, found the scientists. Because of this reaction, the parasites can multiply and spread to humans.

As soon as a mosquito ingests a meal, the blood heads for the gut. Normally, a mosquito has strong anti-germ agents that hunt down and kill any invasive bacteria and parasites. But, the scientists found that, this germ-fighting ability was blocked by a reaction in the mosquito’s body. Once blood reaches the gut, it triggers two proteins, an Immuno-Modulatory Peroxidase (IMPer) and dual oxidase (Duox). These proteins form a protective net-like bag around the blood meal.

The blood—and any parasites it contains—passes through the digestive system unscathed. The parasites multiply and move into the mosquito’s salivary glands, from where they pass into their next human victim.

When the scientists switched off the functioning of the two proteins, the bag didn’t form and all the Plasmodium parasites were killed.

The findings have implications for the study of human immunity. It has been long suspected that a similar reaction is what allows the good bacteria to survive in the stomach.

Chandrayaan-I finds deepest crater on moon
Scientists have discovered moon's biggest and deepest crater, some 2,400 km-long and 9 km deep, using data from a NASA instrument that flew aboard India's maiden unmanned lunar mission Chandrayaan-I.

The US space agency's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) detected the enormous crater, the South Pole-Aitken basin, that was created when an asteroid smacked into moon's southern hemisphere shortly after the formation of earth's only natural satellite.

Chandrayaan-I finds ice on moon
The success story of Chandrayaan-I, the maiden Indian moon mission, turned a new chapter with the discovery of ice deposits on the moon by an American payload aboard the spacecraft.

Analysis of data obtained by the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) aboard Chandrayaan-I spacecraft has provided evidence for the presence of ice deposits near the moon’s North Pole. The Mini-SAR instrument found more than 40 small craters (two to 15 km in diameter) with sub-surface water ice located at their base.

The interior of these craters are permanently shadowed and thus, oblivious to the extreme solar heat found on the moon.

Earlier, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, another NASA instrument aboard the Indian mission, discovered water molecules in the moon’s polar region. The two pioneering discoveries made by payloads aboard the Chandrayaan-I have arguably made the Indian mission the most successful lunar expedition after the Apollo-11 manned mission to the moon in 1969.

Census 2010
The 15th national census exercise, the biggest census ever to be attempted in human history to cover India's 1.2 billion population, began on April 1, 2010 with President Pratibha Patil being the first to be enumerated in the decennial exercise.

The census is the most credible source of information on demography (population characteristics), economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, language, religion, migration, disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data since 1872.

Census is the only source of primary data at village, town and ward level. It provides valuable information for planning and formulation of polices for Central and State governments and is widely used by national and international agencies, scholars, business people, industrialists, and many more.

The delimitation/reservation of constituencies -- parliamentary/assembly/panchayats and other local bodies is also done on the basis of the demographic data thrown up by the census. The census is the basis for reviewing the country's progress in the past decade, monitoring the on-going schemes of the government and most importantly, plan for the future.

The slogan of Census 2011 is 'Our Census, Our Future'.

National Population Register
The Union government has given a go-ahead to the creation of National Population Register (NPR), a unique mechanism to record biometric particulars of the entire populace of India. The work on the project will start in April 2010 and is expected to complete by September 2010.

The project would cover an estimated population of 1.2 billion and the total cost of the scheme is Rs 3,539.24 crore. The creation of a digital database with identity details of all individuals, along with their photographs and finger biometrics, will result in the creation of a biometrics based identity system in the country. Once finalised, the NPR database will be sent to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for biometric de-duplication and assigning of a unique identification number. This UID number will be added to the NPR database.

Such a database will enhance the efficacy of providing services to the residents under government schemes and programmes, improve the security scenario and check identity frauds in the country.

Cloud Computing
Most of us who use web-based email services, watch a video online, share snaps using photo-hosting services, read news online or watch TV shows on the internet may not realise that we use ‘cloud computing’ services.

A metaphor for the internet, cloud computing stores data and applications on the internet. Users do not have to invest in hardware (reducing costs considerably) and maintenance experts. They can simply pull up applications when needed and use them like we use utilities, for example electricity. Most players provide these services for free for individual users. For enterprise users, it’s generally a paid subscription-based model.

Major Indian players like Wipro, HCL Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and Patni offer cloud computing solutions as “software as a service” or SaaS or on-demand computing.

Cloud computing, however, still faces questions within IT about security and the guarantee of uptime for companies which rely on the cloud.

Civil Services (Prelims) Exam to change
The first big reform in the way India selects its civil servants is around the corner. The Union government has decided to replace the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination with the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT), which will test candidates on their aptitude and analytical abilities rather than their ability to memorise. The CSAT is expected to come into effect from 2011.
The UPSC is further expected to push for changes in the Civil Service (Mains) Examination also.

Current General Knowledge - February 2010

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, 2009
Entrepreneur of the year: Anand G. Mahindra, Vice Chairman and MD of Mahindra Group.
Lifetime Achievement award: N. Vaghul, Ex-Chairman of ICICI Bank Ltd.
Entrepreneur of the year (Start-up): Amit Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director of A2Z Maintenance & Engineering Services Pvt. Ltd.
Entrepreneur of the year (Business transformation): Dr Vikram Akula, Chairperson & founder SKS Microfinance Ltd.
Entrepreneur of the year (Manager): O.P. Bhatt, Chairman, State Bank of India.
Entrepreneur of the year (Manufacturing): Harsh C. Mariwala, Chairman and Managing Director, Marico Ltd.
Entrepreneur of the year (Healthcare and Life Sciences): Pankaj R. Patal, Chairman and Managing Director, Zydus Cadila Healthcare Ltd.
Entrepreneur of the year (Services): Shashi Kiran Shetty, Chairman and Managing Director, Allcargo Global Logistics Ltd.

Sasawaka Prize of UNEP, 2010
A portable light that can be recharged by pedalling for 20 minutes and was developed for use in areas not wired for electricity, has won a Canadian of Indian origin, Sameer Hajee, the prestigious Sasakawa Prize of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The device has been developed by Nuru Design (Nuru means light in Swahili). A pilot project is already in place in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The device, called the Nuru light, is essentially a lighting system that can be recharged by a pedal generator—the Nuru POWERCycle.

Nuru Light’s objective is to replace the use of expensive, polluting, unhealthy, and dangerous kerosene as a source of lighting for the two billion people without access to electricity. Of those, nearly 580 million are in India.

Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards
Punjab has for the first time bagged the highest number of awards in the performing arts category for 2009, since the inception of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1952.
The winners of the coveted honour include Ustad Lachhman Singh Seen (classical music tabla), Ustad Vilayat Khan, Goslan Khanna (ragi/dhadi) and Neeta Mahindra (theatre). Besides Kamal Arora (theatre make-up) from Chandigarh is another recipient.

The award carries a citation, a shawl, a memento and a cash prize of Rs 1,00,000.

Grammy Awards, 2010
Life Time award: Michael Jackson, posthumously.
Album of the Year: Taylor Swift, Fearless.
Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: Jai Ho, written by Gulzar, A. R. Rahman and Tanvi Shah, from “Slumdog Millionaire”.
Record of the Year: Use Somebody, Kings of Leon.
New Artist: Zac Brown Band.
Song of the Year: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), written by Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart (Beyoncé).
Female Pop Vocal Performance: Halo, Beyoncé.
Male Pop Vocal Performance: Make it mine, Jason Mraz.
Pop Performance, Duo Or Group: I Gotta Feeling, the Black Eyed Peas.
Pop Collaboration: Lucky, Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat.
Pop Instrumental Performance: Throw Down Your Heart, Béla Fleck.
Pop Instrumental Album: Potato Hole, Booker T. Jones.
Pop Vocal Album: The E.N.D., the Black Eyed Peas.
Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen.
Hard Rock Performance: War Machine, AC/DC.
Metal Performance: Dissident Aggressor, Judas Priest.
Rock Song: Use Somebody, written by Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill and Nathan Followill.
Rock Album: 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day.
Alternative Music Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix.
Female R&B Vocal Performance: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), Beyoncé.
Male R&B Vocal Performance: Pretty Wings, Maxwell.
Female Country Vocal Performance: White Horse, Taylor Swift.
Male Country Vocal Performance: Sweet Thing, Keith Urban.
Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: Up.

Google plunges into social networking with Buzz
On February 9, 2010, Google introduced a new service called Google Buzz, a way for users of its Gmail service to share updates, photos and videos. Buzz is Google’s boldest attempt to build a social network that can compete with Facebook and Twitter. The service is built into Gmail. And Buzz comes with a built-in circle of friends, a group that is automatically selected by Google based on the people that a user communicates with most frequently in Gmail and on Google’s chat service.

Like other social services, Buzz allows users to post status updates that include text; photos from services like Google’s Picasa and Yahoo!’s Flicker; videos from YouTube; and messages from Twitter. Analysts say many of its features mimic those of Facebook.

Google executives say that Buzz would help tackle the problem of information overload, as Google would apply its algorithms to help people find the information most relevant to them.

SEBI takes investor education to schools
Class 8 and 9 students at 26 schools all over the country are taking lessons in investor education these days, courtesy the capital market regulator SEBI. The optional three-month course teaches these students the importance of money, how to manage it and concepts of budgeting and saving.

The initiative follows the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s (SEBI) decision to facilitate financial literacy to children before they complete their secondary education. The regulator feels catching them young is the only way of increasing the number of households investing in the equity market. The number is paltry, even after decades of a free capital market. Consumer Pyramid, a survey of 120,000 households done by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), showed only 6.5 per cent of Indian households invest in shares and only 1.12 per cent of the total savings flow into listed shares and mutual funds.

SEBI is implementing the financial literacy programme through the National Institute of Securities Markets (NISM), set up by the regulator to improve the quality of the market through educational initiatives. A pilot project, called the School Financial Literacy Programme, is being supervised by the National Progressive Schools Conference. Of the 26 schools, 13 are from north India, 11 from the south and two from the east.

India’s 18th nuclear plant
India’s 18th nuclear power plant at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan (RAPS-5) began production on February 6, 2010. The plant has been set-up by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. The indigenously built 220 MW unit uses fuel imported from Russia which has been acquired after India got waiver from Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines in September 2008. The operationalisation of RAPS-5 has increased the capacity of Rawatbhata plant to 96 MW. The project, set-up in September 2002, took six years to complete. It had remained idle for some months because of lack of fuel.

With the commissioning of RAPS-5 the total installed nuclear power capacity of India has risen to 4,340 MW.

Path-breaking energy source unveiled
Indian American Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former NASA scientist, K.R. Sridhar, has unveiled his "Bloom Box," which can generate energy by combining air and a range of fuels without going through the dirty process of combustion—all in its owner's back yard. He describes it as "the plug-and-play future of electricity."

The Bloom Energy Server, a patented solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology, provides a cleaner and more reliable alternative to both today’s electric grid as well as traditional renewable energy sources. Sridhar says each Bloom Box can power up to six homes in India.

Bloom's fuel cell works in this way: Oxygen is pumped in on one side and natural gas on the other. The two combine inside the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity, without any combustion or power lines. A Bloom Energy Server consists of thousands of Bloom's fuel cells—flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like “powder”. Each server provides 100 kilowatts of power in roughly the area of a parking space. Unlike traditional renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, which are intermittent, Bloom’s technology can provide renewable power 24/7.

World’s most precise clock
Scientists claim to have created the world's most precise clock based on the oscillation of a trapped aluminium-27 atom. According to the New Scientist, the new record-holder for the most precise timekeeper, built at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, USA, could tick off the 13.7-billion-year age of universe to within 4 seconds. The optical clock monitors the oscillation of a trapped atom of aluminium-27 and is more than twice as precise as the earlier version, reported in 2008.

Panel to study merits of another time zone for India
India may be looking at another time zone in the near future, a move that could fulfill a long-standing demand. A committee, chaired by the director-general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), is trying to examine the implications of another time zone in India.

The committee will report on the energy savings that would result because of a number of interventions, of which another time zone for the country is a possibility.

While another time zone is desirable, a lot of problems can crop up that have to be carefully examined. The magnitude of the task of setting up another time zone is enormous.

A separate time zone for the north-eastern and eastern parts has been a longstanding demand. The east-west spread of India extends for about 28 longitudinal degrees, accounting for about 2 hours as a result of which the sun rises two hours earlier in the eastern part of the country.

MPs can now wear tricolour to Lok Sabha
On February 18, 2010, Lok Sabha decided to allow Members of Parliament to wear the Tricolour to the House. Amending the long-standing rules of procedure of the Lower House that prohibited the members from wearing badges of any kind to the House, the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha made a vital exception to the norm to honour the National Flag.

The altered rule number 349 reads, “MPs shall not wear any badges to the Lok Sabha, except in the form of the Tricolour as a lapel pin”. The change comes courtesy Kurukshetra MP Naveen Jindal, who made a proposal to this effect to the committee.