An interesting year this one, with the world locked in and a virus reigning our lives. Nevertheless, there was no dearth of news in science. There was a considerable quantum of studies being reported even outside the realm of the rampant COVID-19 research. At Research Matters, we have tried our best to cover the most interesting stories in the Indian scene and listed below are our most popular stories this year. Take a look.
With an increase in the number of vehicles comes an unquenchable thirst for building roads across the world. It is now predicted that by 2050, the planet could see up to 4.7 million kilometres of roads — more than ten times the distance between the Earth and the Moon! This story talks of a study that showed that tigers could be an unfortunate victim of this unprecedented surge in road construction as more roads are making inroads into their natural habitats. The study calculated the impacts of road networks across thirteen countries in South and Southeast Asia, which are home to the globally endangered tiger (Panthera tigris).
In a series of studies, Dr Aparna Lajmi and Dr Praveen Karanth from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, have investigated how the Hemidactylus geckos, or leaf-toed geckos, evolved during the two periods of climate change. The first study looks at how changes in climate could have influenced the evolution of these lizards in Peninsular India. The second study investigates how these lizards diversified morphologically.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, a highly recommended guideline to flatten the curve is to practice physical distancing. However, how do we know if we are flattening the curve? In the media, the signature for flattening is reported to be when the number of new cases does not increase with time. But, can we be more precise in the assessment for an approach to flatten the epidemic curve? In a recent effort, scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, have worked on answering this question. Instead of the prevalent notion of ‘flattening the curve’, they argue that the transition from the exponential growth of the number of cases to a power-law growth can be treated as a signature for the same.
Studies have identified that between 1990 and 2016, the total missing female births in India were about 15 million, and the annual figure is expected to remain above 3 million every year until 2050. A study by a team of researchers from Saudi Arabia, France, China, and Austria, projects that between 2017–2030, India may witness an upsetting total of 6.8 million missing female births. The study projects the sex ratio at birth, state-wise, considering India’s unique demographic diversity.
When India went into lockdown for two months due to COVID-19, small and big industries were shut, cars were locked in garages and people in their homes. This story talks about a study where researchers have shown how cleaner air during the lockdown in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, has led to a hike in solar power generation.
This is a story on a study by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), where they have explored how long it takes for respiratory droplets to evaporate from different surfaces. They found that humidity, temperature and the properties of the surface are vital in determining when the droplets dry up.
Many of the solid materials used in electronic devices develop defects in their crystal structure when the crystals are grown. Scientists have for long used these defects to their advantage, and have even wilfully introduced defects to achieve interesting material properties. A team of researchers analysed how defects in hexagonal boron nitride can help in boosting the performance of electronic devices.
Quantum computers can truly revolutionise computing as we know it. Not only can they make computation faster, but also offer solutions that modern computers are simply incapable of, such as in the field of secure encryption and decryption of information. However, there is a problem: quantum information processing needs to be carried out at temperatures as close as possible to the absolute zero, –273ºC, posing challenges in its implementation. This year, a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) reported a novel setup to carry out quantum information processing at room temperatures, using a stack of specially designed layered materials.
In a bid to reintroduce cheetahs in India, suggestions were made to bring in African cheetahs from Namibia to Indian forests. After a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court also okayed it. But such decisions cannot be based on the rule of the land alone. One needs to have sufficient information and understanding of several aspects, including the evolution and genetics of cheetahs in a region, to succeed in such efforts. For instance, the now-extinct Indian cheetah was an Asiatic subspecies. However, we do not know how closely the Asiatic and African cheetahs are related. A study published this year has probed into just this.
As an alternative to lithographic techniques, scientists are exploring self-assembly methods, where materials are engineered to self-organize into required structures on the chip. Diphenylalanine, a protein polymer, is one such self-assembling material known for its stability at high temperatures. It is also stable in the presence of chemicals and is touted as the future for bio-compatible nanodevices. Now, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata (IISER Kolkata) have devised new techniques to create micrometre-sized rods and rings with diphenylalanine. They have demonstrated that these rods and rings can transmit some specific frequencies of light with minimum energy loss.