SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Challenges ahead for Indian scientists
The unique ‘lock and key’ arrangement between Information Technology (IT) and Indian talent continues to remain the showcase of Indian science and technology. The revenue from IT-related industries jumped from $ 40 billion in 2006-07 to $ 52 billion in 2007-08 and even when there is worldwide slowdown, it is projected to be $ 60 billion in 2008-09.

Trends
Does our brain structure make us more outgoing?
London: How come some of us resally enjoy the company of people while others seem so detached and independent? Cambridge University researchers have discovered that someone’s warmth or sentimentality may depend on the structure of their brain.

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL
If the level of sea water rises due to the gravitational force of the moon, then will other particles like stones and dust be also lifted upwards? The tidal force between the earth and the moon is due to the fact that one side of the earth is closer to the moon than the other.

 


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Challenges ahead for Indian scientists
S.P. Singh

The unique ‘lock and key’ arrangement between Information Technology (IT) and Indian talent continues to remain the showcase of Indian science and technology. The revenue from IT-related industries jumped from $ 40 billion in 2006-07 to $ 52 billion in 2007-08 and even when there is worldwide slowdown, it is projected to be $ 60 billion in 2008-09.

Despite this success in a focused area, there are several issues which are posing great challenge before the scientists of the country. The first among them concerns the farm sector.

By 2020, India will need 400 million tonnes of foodgrain with reduced availability of land (from 170 million hectares to 100 million hectares) and water. This requires development of seeds that would ensure a good yield even under constraints of water. There is need for devising better methods for food processing and mechanisms for value addition. Soil upgradation, dryland agriculture and development of salinity resistant seeds will continue to remain focus areas of research.

The country is already facing a shortage of water which is down from 3,450 cubic meter per person (cmpp) in 1951 to 2,000 cmpp. In case this availability further reduces to 1000 cmpp, there will be severe water crisis. Ground water is being exploited rapidly due to excessive and indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Although oil prices have fallen below $ 50 per barrel from an earlier high of $ 147, import of oil continues to remain the biggest drainage of foreign exchange. An increase of $ 1 per barrel costs Rs 2,700 crores to the country. While global consumption is increasing annually by two per cent the corresponding figure for India is six per cent. The country is importing 70 per cent of its current requirement.

However, due to rapid depletion of domestic oil sources, our import will increase to 85 per cent of the requirement in 2012. The global scenario for greater oil availability is far from encouraging. Since the 1980s, global consumption has outpaced annual discoveries. It is estimated that oil production will peak around 2030.

As blending of gasoline with 10 per cent ethanol does not require any engine modification, scientists have to develop new techniques for increase in the production of ethanol without affecting the already precarious chain of food supply.

There was worldwide shortage of foodgrains during the period of unprecedented rise in the price of crude oil in 2007-08. Many experts believe that diversion of cereals for fermentation to produce more ethanol was partly responsible for this shortage. 

Blending of diesel with 20 per cent oil of jatropha (biodiesel) provides an eco-friendly fuel with less emission of carbon gases. As jatropha plants do not require much water and care, plenty of land available across the country around railway tracks can be profitably utilised for their cultivation.

The share of natural gas in total energy is about 20 per cent against about 50 per cent for oil. However, it is a better source of energy than oil as it is environmental friendly. Reserves are being discovered rapidly, prices are less volatile and the ratio of proven gas reserves to annual production is about 70.

In this context, the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline assumes special significance as pipeline transport of gas is one third cheaper than sending it as liquified gas. Cost effective technologies have to be developed for making suitable modifications in engines to replace oil with gas.

Another area of challenge in energy sector is the poor record of generation of electricity. While China is adding 70,000 MW of electricity to its grid every year, India added only 21,000 MW in the last five years.

In addition to the three main sources-thermal, hydel and nuclear energy, efforts are to be directed to develop non-conventional energy sources such as solar energy and wind energy. The share of electricity from nuclear plants is only three per cent of the total production in India.

To sustain the present growth, we must have a target of generating 50,000 MW of electricity from nuclear plants by 2020. With the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal, this target can be easily achieved.

Finally, it is the pharma sector which requires greater focus of scientists. So far Indian pharma companies have been using molecules developed in the West. With new patent laws and globalisation of trades, now emphasis is on developing indigenous molecules.

More, efforts are needed to develop drugs for ‘neglected diseases’ (by the West) such as malaria and tuberculosis. Equally important task before the scientists is to obtain drugs from plants. It is due to the ‘biological friendliness between the animal and plant kingdoms that out of 1,000 new drugs introduced in the last 25 years, more than half are natural products or are derived from them or are mimics.

Scientists need to save our traditional knowledge from piracy. It is estimated that till new India has lost over 15,000 patents of medicinal plants to the West.

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Trends
Does our brain structure make us more outgoing?

A 47 million year-old primate fossil known as “Ida” is seen at New York’s Museum of Natural History.
A 47 million year-old primate fossil known as “Ida” is seen at New York’s Museum of Natural History. Scientists from the University of Oslo in Norway and the Senckenberg Research Institute revealed the female specimen said to be the most complete fossil primate ever found. — Reuters

London: How come some of us resally enjoy the company of people while others seem so detached and independent? Cambridge University researchers have discovered that someone’s warmth or sentimentality may depend on the structure of their brain.

The greater the concentration of tissue in the orbitofrontal cortex (the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes), and in the ventral striatum (a deep structure in brain centre), the higher they tended to score on the social reward dependence measure.

Incidentally, the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum have previously been shown to be important for the brain’s processing of much simpler rewards like sweet tastes or sexual stimuli.

“Patients with certain psychiatric conditions often experience difficulties in feeling emotional closeness, and this can have a big impact on their life.

It could be that the cause of these difficulties is at least partly due to brain structural features of those disorders,” said Graham Murray. — IANS

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THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

If the level of sea water rises due to the gravitational force of the moon, then will other particles like stones and dust be also lifted upwards?

The tidal force between the earth and the moon is due to the fact that one side of the earth is closer to the moon than the other. The water on the side of the moon rises due to gravity. The centre of the earth is also attracted, but the other side of the earth, being the farthest from the moon, is left behind. Thus there is a bulge, both towards the moon and away from it.

The gravitational force acts on all matter. It distorts even the solid surface of the moon. This may not be as visible as tides in the sea but it can be sensed.

The earth’s temperature is rising due to global warming. The Big Bang theory says that every thing in the universe is moving apart and the temperature of the 
universe is lowering. So can this movement balance or reduce the earth’s temperature?

Your wonder is wonderful. But let us be a bit realistic and quantitative. The temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background has already reached about -270 degrees Celsius. That is pretty cold.

In another billion years it might come down another fraction of a degree. But the expansion of the universe does not affect the temperature inside the sun or on the earth.

The heat radiate away from the  earth may depend on the temperature of the empty interstellar space, but that has already become almost as cold as it could ever get. Therefore we cannot depend on cosmic expansion of the universe to save us from global warming.

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