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India’s year in Science-2020

Read time: 6 mins
India’s year in Science-2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we do things, set new normals and left its mark on this year, 2020. Through difficulties and challenges, people kept working, and scientists and researchers were no exception. Here is a small list of significant happenings in science in India, presented in no particular order.

 

India makes COVID-19 testing kits

Photo by Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) on Unsplash

Isolating infected people was the first step towards curbing the spread of COVID-19. Testing was crucial. But the initial days saw a severe shortage of testing kits world over, India included. Importing kits was challenging due to short supply and limited air traffic. Internal transport was restricted due to lockdown. The locally available kits helped meet the demand for testing. After MyLab in Pune announced a successful RT-PCR test kit in March 2020, many other organisations came out with RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing kits. The Feluda test, based on gene editing, is likely to be a game-changer. This paper-strip-based test, which works like a pregnancy test, gives the result in about an hour and costs less than ₹500. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has so far approved 145 RT-PCR test kits out of which a third are from Indian companies and 16 Rapid Test kits out of which nine are Indian.

 

Indian scientists help understand the pandemic and dispel misinformation

Image by athree23 from Pixabay

Governments, administrators, and frontline workers strive to control damage during disasters such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Their efforts are often hindered by unscientific information spread among the people. In addition to the Office of Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and the Press Information Bureau, scientists in India also made efforts to bust misinformation and help people keep themselves and others safe. They created websites such as COVID Gyan and Indian Scientists’ Response to CoViD-19. The websites have hoax busters, infographics, answers to common questions, videos and safety guidelines to carry out daily activities in the times of COVID-19. Scientists also wrote explainers about what mathematical models for epidemics are, the need to have these, and how these can help contain the disease transmission.

 

DRDO proves technology to build hypersonic vehicles

Bin im Garten, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Indian Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully tested its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle in September this year. With this test, DRDO has proven its capabilities in building advanced technologies including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic manoeuvres, scramjet propulsion for ignition, and sustained combustion at hypersonic speed (about six times the speed of sound). These technologies are crucial in building next-generation hypersonic vehicles.

 

New species of frogs, geckos, snake, lizard, and diatoms

India boasts enormous biodiversity, and researchers occasionally keep discovering species unknown to us. This year, three new species of horned frogs were discovered in Northeast India. The new Salazar pit viper, found in Arunachal Pradesh, got named after Salazar Slytherin, a character from the popular fiction series, Harry Potter. Five species of vine snakes, three species of geckos from the Mysore plateau, a fan throated lizard from northern Karnataka, three damselflies from the Western Ghats, and a new species of diatoms from near Cherrapunji are new additions to the species known to humans.

 

Old galaxies in a new light may answer questions about cosmic evolution

Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) / Public domain

Using data from AstroSat, India’s first indigenous satellite dedicated to astronomy, astronomers studied a relatively nearby galaxy. Indian Space Research Organisation, or ISRO, launched the AstroSat, a space-based observatory, in 2015, and it continues to gather data ever since. One of the telescopes inside AstroSat, the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope or UVIT, can detect light of extreme ultraviolet or EUV wavelengths, making it possible to make crucial measurements of the galaxies’ spectra. The observations helped the researchers study the Universe at a time when the Cosmic Dark Age transitioned into the present-day Universe teeming with stars and galaxies.

 

Health alarm for teens of India

Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sedentary lifestyle, changing food habits, and reduced night sleep are adversely affecting India’s children. A study carried out in India’s rural and urban schools shows an increase in hypertension and obesity among school children. The study found that the prevalence of sustained hypertension was 5.7% in rural areas and 8.4% in urban areas (compared to 2.6% and 6.7% in 2004). The prevalence of obesity was just 2.7% among rural but 11.2% among urban school children (compared to 3.6% and 2.3% in 2004). Another study noted that as students move from higher secondary to college, there is a considerable shift in the lifestyle in terms of exposure to fast food, irregular eating habits, reduced night sleep along with reduced night fasting — all leading to circadian cycle disruptions and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity in adulthood.

 

A clue from 13 million years ago for tracing the gibbon migration

Image Credits: Luci Betti-Nash

A research team of palaeontologists from the Panjab University in India and many institutes in the USA discovered a new ape fossil near Ramnagar in Jammu and Kashmir. The fossil specimen, a single molar, is thought to be of a small ape whose dental structures are closest to today’s gibbons. This discovery may help fill some gaps in understanding how gibbons evolved and migrated to other parts of the world.

 

Breakthrough in the battle against drug-resistant bacteria

Image Credits: Kritika Khulbe and Kapudeep Karmakar

A research team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has synthesised a nanomaterial that mimics an enzyme. This new material effectively kills several bacteria, such as the ones that cause typhoid, gastroenteritis, dysentery, cholera and pneumonia. In contrast to antibiotic drugs that typically work by interfering with the bacteria’s cellular activities, these nanoenzymes target the cell membranes and destroy them.

 

MOUSHIK, the indigenous processor for IoT devices

Image from PxHere

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have successfully booted up MOUSHIK, the third member of the indigenous Shakti series of microprocessors. The newly launched processor is based on the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture and is a low power microprocessor that can be used where computation is low and not too complex. MOUSHIK can be the brain inside smart cards, electronic voting machines, surveillance cameras, personalised health management systems, and consumer electronic items such as washing machines and water pump monitoring systems.

 

Digging deeper for an accurate prediction of the Indian Monsoon

Image by Pratik Gaikwad from Pixabay

As scientists are getting better at forecasting and nowcasting the monsoon rainfall, the quest continues to make the climate models as accurate as possible. Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science closely examined rainfall and climate data over a more extended period. They found that a much longer cycle could influence Indian monsoon. They have established that the Indian monsoon rainfall exhibits a 67-year oscillation and is closely linked to the sea surface temperature cycle, which also shows a 67-year swing. The near accurate predictions and forecasting provided by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) should be considered as a validation for funding such science. Hopefully, in the coming year there will be renewed focus towards investing more for research.