Soon researchers in any college or institution and research organisations can check, reserve and have easy access to even expensive research equipment and facilities anywhere in India, thanks to the efforts by the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
The centre is in the process of collating information about scientific and research equipment and facilities available at academic institutions and research organisations across the country.
The portal - Indian Science, Technology and Engineering Facilities Map (I-STEM) - will soon become operational. The government green signalled the project last month.
The institutions and organisations that have the equipment and facilities will provide access to researchers for both academic and non-academic work through an online reservation system.
"This initiative will have many benefits. It will provide access to researchers to any equipment or facility that has been procured using public funds, the equipment will be better utilised and it will avoid duplication of expensive equipment as much as possible," says Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastava of CeNSE and one of the two researchers who came up with this idea. "Sharing expensive equipment can bring down the cost of doing research in India."
Putting to rest the fear that this initiative may come in the way of premier institutions which are just coming up from procuring essential equipment, Prof. Navakanta Bhat, chairman of CeNSE and the principal investigator of the I-STEM project, says: "Each institute will need certain equipment that is absolutely necessary and essential for regular use. It is not at all the intent of this initiative to stop such institutes from procuring equipment but to ensure that each instrument is better used."
"We are trying to replicate the Indian Nanoelectronic Users Programme (INUP) model at CeNSE and IIT Bombay that has been in operation since 2008 to provide access to sophisticated device fabrication and analytical equipment to any academic researcher in the country. I-STEM is inspired by our positive experience with INUP," says Dr. S.A. Shivashankar, visiting professor at CeNSE and the other person who is the brain behind this initiative.
The idea of starting a national network was shared with Dr. R. Chidambaram, former Principal Scientific Adviser.
The proposal was formally sent to the government in November last year.
ISRO completes final orbit raising operations of IRNSS-1I navigation satellite
April 16, 2018 (Chennai)
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully carried out the fourth and final orbit raising operations of navigation satellite, IRNSS-1I, the space agency has said. The orbit raising operation took place at 9.05 pm on Sunday, the ISRO said.
The achieved perigee height (nearest point to the earth) is 35,462.9 km and apogee height (farthest point to the earth) is 35,737.8 km. The IRNSS-1I was launched on April 12. After a flight lasting about 19 minutes, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) achieved a Sub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit with a perigee of 281.5 km and an apogee of 20,730 km inclined at an angle of 19.2 degree to the equator. At that point, the IRNSS-1I got separated from the rocket.
Following that ISRO carried out four orbit raising operations on April 13 (first and second), April 14 (third operation) and April 15. However, the ISRO did not provide any information for how many minutes the satellites' onboard motors were fired for raising the orbit.
The successful launch of the IRNSS-1I means it will be able to replace IRNSS-1A. Part of India's seven navigation satellites, a constellation designated NavIC, it was rendered ineffective after the failure of its three rubidium atomic clocks. The launch was ISRO's second attempt at sending a replacement satellite. Previously, a PSLV mission carrying the IRNSS-1H last August failed, as the heat shield covering the satellite failed to separate.
Ayurvedic pill - Solution to cure dengue by next year
April 16, 2018 (N. Delhi)
Ayurveda may soon yield the cure to dengue fever, the deadly mosquito-borne disease that kills scores every year in aggressive outbreaks across India.
In the absence of a specific medicine to heal patients, the disease, caused by the bite of the female Aedis aegypti mosquito, is currently managed by rigorously treating the symptoms.
The medicine, under development for two years, is part of a joint initiative of the Ayush (ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, Unani, siddha and homoeopathy) ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It is made of a variety of ayurvedic herbs grown in India, and is likely to hit the market next year, in the form of a pill.
The drug has cleared the tests for efficacy and safety during the first two stages of the clinical trial. "It is now in the third stage (also the final stage) of the clinical trial, where it will be administered over a larger sample of patients, over 10,000, before it gets the final approval," Rajesh Kotecha, secretary, ministry of Ayush, told ThePrint. "We are hoping to launch the medicine by the second half of next year."
Details about the sale of the medicine are yet to be firmed up, including whether it will be available only on prescription or over the counter.
As of now, the ICMR and ministry team are working to standardise the dosage and fix the proportion of each herb used. Kotecha refused to divulge details about the herbs, including their names.
A medicine to cure dengue will be a big breakthrough for people around the world, with the WHO reporting its global incidence "growing dramatically in recent decades". According to the UN agency, about half the world's population is at risk of contracting the disease.
In 2015, French drug-maker Sanofi launched the world's first dengue prevention vaccine, Dengvaxia, but it remains controversial over the company's claim that it could make the disease worse among first-time patients.
According to the directorate of the national vector-borne disease control programme (NVBDCP), dengue killed 226 Indians in 2017, and 245 in 2016. A total of 1.54 lakh cases were reported across India last year, with 22,197 reported in Tamil Nadu alone.
Dengue fever is known to affect over 40 crore people the world over, mostly in Asia and Latin America.
According to the WHO, "dengue should be suspected when a high fever (104°F) is accompanied by two of the following symptoms: severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands or rash". Symptoms usually last for two to seven days, after an incubation period of 4-10 days after the bite from an infected mosquito, it adds.
Severe dengue is a potentially deadly complication due to plasma leaking, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding, or organ impairment, the WHO says, adding that warning signs occur 3-7 days after the first symptoms in conjunction with a decrease in temperature.
As the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is making a second attempt to launch one of the backup satellites to replace NavIC navigation satellite constellation's IRNSS-1A, whose three rubidium clocks failed, the space agency is taking efforts to install its signal receivers on the ground. Navigation satellite signal receivers which will give positioning and weather alerts to fishermen in deep sea were tested and more such devices will be fitted in boats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
On April 12, PSLV in 43rd flight will lift off with the 1.4tonne IRNSS-1I from the first launch pad in Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. Once placed in orbit, it will replace IRNSS-1A and join the constellation of seven satellites. The launch will be Isro's second attempt at sending a replacement satellite. The previous mission in August 2017 where a PSLV carried IRNSS-1H failed after the heat shield covering the satellite failed to separate.
Isro chairman Sivan said the receiver will be connected to the mobile phones of fishermen through Bluetooth. They will receive text messages on their position at sea, weather alerts and potential fishing zones. Fishermen need to download an application on their phones to decode and display the text messages. "We have demonstrated the usefulness of the receiver along with messaging services. Now, when fishermen go to sea, they are completely cut off from the shore for days. They don't get any vital information like cyclone alerts. We have planned it in such a way, that they receive messages," he said.
Isro officials said while the trials were conducted in Kerala, about 500 more fishermen in Kerala and 200 in Tamil Nadu will get the receivers.
The satellites' receiver comes with three components- a chipset, a microcontroller and a Bluetooth module. The receiver, developed by Isro's Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, is also being improved to save power in both mobile and the device.
Isro chairman said, "We are working with mobile phone manufacturers to see if they can incorporate the receiver as a component during manufacturing. Right now, these receivers are available as a separate unit and it can be used in many other applications including as a navigation device in vehicles."
CSIR scientists working on new vaccine for malaria
March 27, 2018 (New Delhi)
Despite efforts over the decades by scientists across the world, malaria continues to be a major vector borne disease particularly in Asia, Africa and South America. The World Health Organisation?s malaria report for 2016 estimated that globally there were 216 million cases with 445,000 deaths.
Malaria parasite, though a tiny single-celled organism, has highly complex life cycle. It has 15 different stages and they occur in different cellular environments. The protein make up of the parasite also substantially differs from stage to stage and several organelles in the cells keep varying. Many organelles, particularly those required for the parasite to enter host cells, are produced and disposed off as and when required. Additionally, the parasite not only breaks down host cellular contents to obtain nutrients but also enslaves many host proteins for its benefit.
Scientists have been trying to come up with strategies to defeat the parasite. Researchers at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) are working towards developing a whole parasite vaccine that can be conditionally attenuated when given to humans.
Speaking to India Science Wire, Dr Puran Singh Sijwali, principal scientist at CCMB, who heads the team working on the vaccine, said "we have been developing conditionally attenuated parasite lines and testing them in mouse models. One of the lines is showing promising results. We now have to develop a parasite line for human use."
Dr Sijwali conceded that the task ahead was not a cake walk. "The basic problem is that malaria parasite species that infect human and mouse are different. We can adopt the concept that we have validated using mouse malaria species for developing a vaccine for human malaria parasite also. Importantly, the target used for conditional attenuation is also present in human malaria parasite. But we cannot be sure how effective it would be. Culture tests can give indication for attenuation. However, one has to do clinical trials with human volunteers to test whether the attenuated parasites will function as vaccines." The whole process could take several years.
If successful, it would be a great advance. Despite number of efforts, a malaria vaccine is still awaited. A candidate malaria vaccine developed by GSK in collaboration with Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is set to be tested in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The pilot project, which will begin later this year, is expected to provide initial insights on programmatic feasibility of delivering a candidate vaccine. A large scale Phase 3 efficacy and safety trial of the candidate vaccine, which concluded in January 2014, had showed that it could help in reducing burden of malaria when used alongside currently available interventions like bed nets and insecticides.
Dr Sijwali and his team are also investigating two important pathways in malaria parasite - ubiquitin proteasome and lysosomal pathways, which likely regulate parasite development and disease pathogenesis, and could be a treasure of potential targets for vaccine and drug development. He said, "we combine gene knock-out/gene knock-in/gene knock-down approaches with biochemical and cell biology methods in our studies on both P. falciparum and in the vivo models of malaria".
The team is also working to understand the virulence of P. falciparum that causes cerebral malaria and pregnancy related malaria. Five species of plasmodium cause malaria in humans: P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae, P. ovale, and P. knowlesi. Most infections are caused by P. falciparum and P. vivax, but P. falciparum is the most dangerous: it accounts for almost 90% of total malaria toll. P. falciparum malaria is particularly fatal in children under five and pregnant women.
Dr Sijwali made a presentation on his work at a recent international conference on cell biology. It was the first of its kind meeting, where three organisations came together: International Federation for Cell Biology (IFCB), Asian Pacific Organization for Cell Biology (APOCB) and Indian Society of Cell Biology (ISCB). During the five day programme, organised by CCMB at Hyderabad, cell biologists from across the world presented and discussed their work. The meeting also commemorated the 30th anniversary of the APOCB.
Only Punjab can enact law on agriculture income tax: Centre
April 17, 2018 (Chandigarh)
Responding to a petition seeking directions to exclude affluent farmers from the benefit of income tax exemption, the Union government has clarified that tax on agricultural income falls under purview of the state governments and only they were competent to enact any law imposing tax on the agriculture income.
In its detailed reply, filed by the Centre through Vivek Vardhan, deputy commissioner of income tax, it has been stated that item "Taxes on agricultural income" falls under entry 46 in the "State List" under the Constitution, and hence only the state governments were competent to enact legislations imposing a tax on agricultural income. Therefore, taxation of agricultural income, if any, has to be considered by the state governments only.
The affidavit further stated that as regards the recommendations of Tax Administration Reforms Commission, in its third report, the tax on agricultural income can be imposed by the central government only if the states pass a resolution under Article 252 of the Constitution, authorizing the Centre to impose such tax on the agricultural income. It is further stated that as per scheme of direct taxes at present, income of agriculture is utilized for rate of tax purpose only in cases where the income from other sources exceeds the income not chargeable to tax, and net agricultural income exceeds five thousand rupees.
These submissions by the Centre were submitted before a division bench headed by Justice A K Mittal during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate H C Arora.
According to the petitioner, the provision contained in Section 10 (1) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, providing total exemption of agricultural income from income tax is highly arbitrary, as even the rich and affluent farmers have been given benefit of this provision. He alleged that big industrialists, transporters, liquor barons are taking benefit of this provision and causing huge loss of revenue by diverting income from other business to show it as agricultural income for avoiding tax liability. He further contended that exemption under Section 10(1) is against basic principles of our Constitution which envisages India to be "a socialist republic," when very rich and affluent farmers are being given benefit of this provision by exempting their agricultural income also from tax.
The petitioner referred to affidavits filed by various political leaders of Punjab before the returning officers early this year, while submitting nomination papers for assembly elections, to show that rich political leaders, running other business empires are also availing benefit of such exemption from paying tax on their agricultural income. He specifically referred to instances of senior leaders of the region, including Prakash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Manpreet Singh Badal, Rana Gurjit Singh, Kuljit Singh Nagra, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda and others to substantiate his contentions.
The second March for Science was organised here on Saturday at the Elliot's Beach, with over 200 persons participating. According to the global organisers' marchforscience.com website, Chennai was among 230-odd cities that saw marches on April 14.
In Chennai, the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. march was organised by the Tamil Nadu chapter of the Breakthrough Science Society. Organisations like the Tamil Nadu Science Forum and Newton Science Club were also part of the organising committee.
At the end of the march, the participants signed a four-point petition, to be submitted to the Prime Minister through the Governor. The demands of the march remained the same as its predecessor, organised in the city on August 9 last year: allocation of at least 3% of the GDP to scientific and technological research (currently, 0.85%) and 10% towards education; develop scientific tempter; ensure the education system does not contradict scientific evidence; and enact policies based on scientific evidence.
At a public meeting after the march, organisers read out messages from geneticist M.S. Swaminathan and former Anna University Vice-Chancellor M. Anandakrishnan.
In his message, Mr. Anandakrishnan said that he was disappointed by recent trends in education and science in India. "The last budget of the Central government doles out lavish increases for space, biotechnology and renewable energy but very little for research in other scientific areas," he said.
Orkut founder launches social network app ''Hello'' in India
April 12, 2018 (N. Delhi)
A new social networking platform 'hello', set up by the founder of the once-popular Orkut, has announced its entry into the Indian market amid the controversy surrounding user data breach at Facebook.
Hello has been set up by Orkut Buyukkokten, who was the founder of Orkut that once was a leading social networking site in India and Brazil. Interestingly, Orkut shut down its services in 2014, having lost its sheen to rivals like Facebook.
"If you look at social media today, it has isolated people instead of bringing them closer. It has become more about broadcasting than sharing. We need a fresh start. Hello is built around interest-based communities where users with same interests can connect, leading to true connections," Buyukkokten said.
He added that with hello, the aim is to create positive, meaningful, authentic connections and sustained social engagement.
"We started in Brazil in July 2016... About 35,000 users were a part of our beta testing in the Indian market. Orkut was huge in India and I'm delighted to say hello to India once again," he said.
The hello app is available for download on App Store and Google Play.
Asked about the monetisation model, Buyukkokten said the company "does not have to sell user data to get revenues".
"When a user signs up, they are asked about five things that they are passionate about and then get recommendations that are non-intrusive. We also ensure that every advertiser has a profile on hello (for greater accountability)," he said adding that no user information is shared with third-party apps.
After India, the company would look at rolling out its service in its home market the US as well as in countries like France and Germany.
Social networking giant Facebook, which has over 20 crore users in India, had admitted that nearly 5.62 lakh people in the country were "potentially affected" by its global data breach involving Cambridge Analytica.
The data mining firm has been accused of harvesting personal information of over millions of Facebook users illegally to influence polls in several countries.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his organisation was committed to ensuring integrity of elections across the world, including India, as he testified before the US Congress yesterday.
Facebook's data breach scandal had also sparked a furore in India, with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last month warning the firm of "stringent" action for any attempt to influence polls through data theft. He also threatened to summon Zuckerberg, if needed.
AIIMS professor Balram Bhargava to be new ICMR chief
April 11, 2018(N. Delhi)
Balram Bhargava has been appointed the new Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research and Secretary of the Department of Health Research, according to a notification by the appointments committee of the cabinet.
Bhargava, currently a senior consultant cardiologist at the All India Institute of Medical Science, will carry out this role until 2021, according to the order.
He will succeed former ICMR DG Soumya Swaminathan, appointed the deputy director general for the World Health Organisation in October 2017.
World's largest solar park to come up in Gujarat: CM Vijay Rupani
April 10, 2018 (Chandigarh)
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani today approved setting up a 5,000 MW capacity solar park at the Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), which would be the largest such entity in the world after its completion.
The proposed solar power generation project would be set up in 11,000 hectares of land with an investment of Rs 25,000 crore, said an official release.
The project will contribute significantly in achieving Prime Minister Narendra Modi's target of producing 175 gigawatt of electricity through renewable energy sources by 2022, said Rupani.
The chief minister exuded confidence that the solar park would not only provide employment to over 20,000 people, but also open new manufacturing avenues for the entire supply chain in and around the Dholera International City.
India, Sweden in talks to create partnership on innovation
April 04, 2018 (Hyderabad)
India and Sweden are working on a partnership targeted at infusing seed money to finance start-ups in certain sectors, Sweden's Ambassador to India, Klas Molin said today.
"We are working on creating Sweden-India partnership on innovation. We hope to refine and come (out) with a couple of concrete flagship programmes. They are not quite finalised," he told reporters here.
"Ideally, we would like to have some seed money from both government and private sector (which can be) put into funds that can help finance startups in certain sectors, he said.
"Ideally, we would like to have some seed money from both government and private sector (which can be) put into funds that can help finance startups in certain sectors, he said.
Molin said negotiations were in progress, and hoped that the partnership would get a concrete shape in the coming weeks.
"We are exploring different opportunities. We are looking at seed money for a couple of good and appropriate projects which after a while could continue to attract more funding from the private sector and other sources," he said.
"We also hope to have some high-level visits in coming weeks that might put the focus on this (innovation partnership)," he said.
India, Canada to promote innovation through talent mobility
April 04, 2018 (New Delhi)
The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was apprised of an agreement between India and Canada to promote collaboration in research and innovation through talent mobility.
"The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aims at fostering cross-border partnerships focused on research excellence and industry-academic collaboration between India and Canada that brings robust innovation gains to both countries," said an official statement.
The core of the MoU, signed on February 21, is to ignite collaboration through talent mobility. It would enable Indian and Canadian researchers to undertake graduate level academic research mobility and cross-border industry-academic cooperation.
"Under the graduate level academic research mobility programme, both sides intend to support up to 110 Master's and PhD student researchers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields," it said.
The students from eligible universities in India would participate in 12 to 24 weeks' research with Canadian university research laboratories in a three-year period. The same number of researchers from Canadian universities will also participate for the same period in India.
"Under the cross-border Industry-Academic Cooperation, up to 40 Master's and PhD student researchers in three years from each side would participate in 16 to 24 weeks' research with industry partners located in the counterpart country," the Cabinet said.
The collaboration is expected to lead to new knowledge creation, joint scientific publications, industrial exposure, IP generation and others.
"This MoU will further strengthen the long-standing relationship in Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation with Canada," it said.
IISc best institution, IIT-M best engg college: HRD Ministry ranking
April 03, 2018 (New Delhi)
The Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in Bengaluru was adjudged the overall best institution in the country by the HRD Ministry's national ranking framework.
Announcing the rankings at an event at the Vigyan Bhavan here today, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) has been adjudged the best engineering college and the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) the best management institution.
In the university category, IISc stood first, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
The Indian Institute of Science was established in 1909 by a visionary partnership of industrialist Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, the Maharaja of Mysore and the government of India, according to its official website.
Since its inception, the institute has laid a balanced emphasis on the pursuit of basic knowledge in science and engineering, as well as on the application of its research findings for industrial and social benefit.
In the words of its founder, J N Tata, the objectives of the institute are "to provide for advanced instruction and to conduct original investigations in all branches of knowledge as are likely to promote the material and industrial welfare of India."
Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru has for the third consecutive year, bagged the top rank in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) which was announced by the Minister of Human Resource Development, Shri. Prakash Javadekar on 03 March 2018.
The institutions are ranked by NIRF based on five broad parameters, namely; Teaching, Learning and Resources (TLR), Research and Professional Practices (RPC), Graduation Outcomes (GO), Outreach and Inclusivity (OI) and Perception (PR). The five parameters with a ranking weightage given to each are then used to arrive at an overall ranking for the institutions.
Of the 100 institutions that were ranked, IISc secured an overall top score of 82.16 to bag first rank, while Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai with a score of 81.39 bagged second rank and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai ranked third with an overall score of 79.20. Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Kharagpur, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kanpur, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Roorkee, and Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi were the other universities to make it to the top 10.
While the ranks of many top universities remained unchanged, Anna University, Chennai which was ranked 13 last year climbed three spots to rank 10 this year, while IIT Guwahati which held the 8th rank last year slipped to rank 12 in 2018.
While IISc topped the scoring in three of the five parameters, namely; TLR, RPC and PR, Jawahralal Nehru University scored the highest in the GO and OI parameters. Goa University, Goa, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Cochin and Delhi Technological University, New Delhi scored the lowest to rank 98, 99 and 100 respectively.
Four Institutions, namely: ICAR - National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai were also given special mention by NIRF for the year 2018.
NIRF was approved and launched by the Minister of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in 2015 and outlines a methodology to rank institutions across the country. A core committee set up by the MHRD identifies broad parameters for ranking the various universities and institutions in the country.