Friday, 02 September 2016 16:28

Global warming making Siachen riskier for soldiers

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Climate change is making the life of the soldiers posted in the world's highest and arduous battlefield - Siachen Glacier - not just tough but also dangerous, as temperature rises and the snow melts faster.

Siachen, which has the dubious distinction of having seen more soldiers dying due to extreme weather (temperatures at times drop below -50 degree celcius) than the enemy bullet, is feeling the heat of global warming.

The death of 10 soldiers earlier this year in an avalanche in the critical Sonam post, located close to the Line of Control with Pakistan, was due to global warming.

"The entire incident (at Sonam) was because of climate change only. Because, we generally don't have ice avalanches. Avalanches are generally snow avalanches.

"What happened in Sonam was that a hanging glacier, which was stuck to the ice wall had fallen off. That was just because in the last 15 or 20 days (prior to the accident), the temperature had been rising," Lt Col S Sengupta, Commandant of the Siachen Battle School told PTI.

Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, who was rescued after being buried 30 feet below snow for six days at the Sonam Post, located at about 19,600 feet, could not be saved.

Sengupta said that climate change actually makes the glacier break, due to which a lot of crevasses, one of the deadliest enemies of the soldier in Siachen, keep coming up.

"It (rising temperature) is making life tough," he said. The Army has now taken some precautionary measures and even moved some of the posts a little.

Keeping ice avalanches in mind, the Army is buying special radars that can detect humans buried under ice, unlike the earlier ones which could detect only through the snow.

The Army is also equipping its men with Avalanche Buoyance Systems - air bags that can be triggered remotely - which prevent burial in an avalanche by providing extra buoyancy.

The effect of the climate change is such that the snout of the Siachen Glacier has actually receded back by about 800 metres in the last one decade or so.

Over 41 soldiers have lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier since 2013, even though not a single shot has been fired since the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in 2003.

At least 1,013 Indian soldiers have lost their lives in Siachen since 1984.
The studies carried out by ISRO, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIGH) Dehradun and other institutions have revealed that majority of the glaciers in India are retreating (melting) at varying rates from 5-20 metre per year.

The situation is such that at this time of the year, more than the pristine white snow, what you find more is black snow (often called moraine).

The river Nubra, which flows through the Base Camp, is actually black in colour rather than blue it was once.

"Global warming is definitely having its side effects on the glacier but things are different during summers. During the winters, the pristine white snow will be back and the waters will again become blue," a senior officer said.

Explaining the impact of climate change in Siachen, officers said that over a decade ago, rains were never seen here. However, the area now witnesses light drizzle in between over the past few years.

"Earlier one could not see any greenery over 12,000 feet. Now one can even see some green at even 15,000 feet which shows how temperatures have risen over the years," another officer said.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Wednesday, 24 August 2016 09:14

Tiny part of your suntan comes from beyond our galaxy!

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Not just the Sun, but the light travelling from galaxies across the universe for billions of years is also responsible for our suntans, scientists say.

We are constantly bombarded by about 10 billion photons per second from intergalactic space when we are outside, day and night, a new study has found.

When we lie on the beach, our bodies are bombarded by about sextillion photons of light per second, researchers said.

Most of these photons, or small packets of energy, originate from the Sun but a very small fraction have travelled across the universe for billions of years before ending their existence when they collide with your skin, they said.

Astronomers accurately measured the light hitting Earth from outside our galaxy over a very broad wavelength range.

The research looked at photons whose wavelengths vary from a fraction of a micron (damaging) to millimetres (harmless).

However, radiation from outside the galaxy constitutes only ten trillionths of your suntan, so there is no immediate need for alarm, researchers said.

"Most of the photons of light hitting us originate from the Sun, whether directly, scattered by the sky, or reflected off dust in the Solar System," said Simon Driver, Professor at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), who led the study.

"However, we're also bathed in radiation from beyond our galaxy, called the extra-galactic background light," Driver said.

"These photons are minted in the cores of stars in distant galaxies, and from matter as it spirals into supermassive black holes," he added.

Driver, who is based at the University of Western Australia, measured this ambient radiation from the Universe, from a wide range of wavelengths by combining deep images from a flotilla of space telescopes.

While 10 billion photons a second might sound like a lot, Professor Driver said we would have to bask in it for trillions of years before it caused any long-lasting damage.

Rogier Windhorst, from Arizona State University, said the Universe also comes with its own inbuilt protection as about half the energy coming from the ultraviolet light of galaxies is converted into a less damaging wavelength by dust grains.

"The galaxies themselves provide us with a natural suntan lotion with an SPF of about two," he said. The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Wednesday, 24 August 2016 09:12

New 4D technology may aid treatment for lung disease

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Scientists have developed a novel four-dimensional lung scanning technology that has the potential to transform treatment for millions of people with lung disease around the world.

The platform developed at Monash University in Australia by Professor Andreas Fouras has been commercialised by his medical technology company 4Dx.

Dr Rajeev Samarage, joint lead author from Monash's Laboratory for Dynamic Imaging said the technology would potentially help millions of people.
"With this technology, not only will clinicians have a clearer image of what is happening in the patient's lungs, but it is our aim to detect changes in lung function much earlier than in the past, which will allow clinicians to quantify the effects of treatment by simply comparing measurements from one scan to the next," said Samarage.

Fouras said the 4Dx pre-clinical scanner generates high-resolution images of lung-tissue motion and airflow throughout the lungs, which allows investigators to view and measure abnormal function in specific areas of the lung, before a disease progresses and spreads.

"Current tools are out of date and require two or three pieces of diagnostic information to piece together what is happening in someone's lungs.

"Our game-changing diagnostic tool offers images of the breathing lungs, making it possible to see what is really important - not what they look like - but how they work," Fouras said.

Professor Greg Snell, Head of Lung Transplant Service at the Alfred hospital in Melbourne said it was a significant step.

"This technology has great potential as a new tool for both early diagnosis and management of many very common lung conditions. I think this will be the start of a new way of thinking about diagnostic imaging," said Snell. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

In a bid to validate concepts for the future manned journey to Mars, NASA has approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to proceed to the next phase of design and development for the mission's robotic segment.

ARM is a two-part mission that will integrate robotic and crewed spacecraft operations in the proving ground of deep space to demonstrate key capabilities needed for NASA's journey to the red planet.

The robotic component of ARM will demonstrate the world's most advanced and most efficient solar electric propulsion system as it travels to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA).

NEAs are asteroids that are fewer than 194 million km from the Sun at the closest point in their orbit.

Although the target asteroid is not expected to be officially selected until 2020, NASA is using 2008 EV5 as the reference asteroid while the search continues for potential alternatives.

A target asteroid such as 2008 EV5 is particularly appealing to the scientific, exploration, and industrial communities because it is a primitive, C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid, believed to be rich in volatiles, water and organic compounds, NASA said.

The ability to extract core samples from the captured boulder will allow us to evaluate how its composition varies with depth and could unlock clues to the origins of our solar system.

Astronaut sampling and potential commercial activities could indicate the value of C-type asteroids for commercial mining purposes, which in turn could have significant impacts on how deep space missions are designed in the future.

After collecting a multi-tonne boulder from the asteroid, the robotic spacecraft will slowly redirect the boulder to an orbit around the Moon, using its gravity for an assist, where NASA plans to conduct a series of proving ground missions in the 2020s.

There, astronauts will be able to select, extract, collect and return samples from the multi-tonne asteroid mass, and conduct other human-robotic and spacecraft operations in the proving ground that will validate concepts for NASA's journey to Mars.

The crewed segment, targeted for launch in 2026, remains in an early mission concept phase, or pre-formulation.

ARM will demonstrate advanced, high-power, high-throughput solar electric propulsion; advanced autonomous high-speed proximity operations at a low-gravity planetary body; controlled touchdown and liftoff with a multi-tonne mass from a low-gravity planetary body.

It will also demonstrate astronaut spacewalk activities for sample selection, extraction, containment and return; and mission operations of integrated robotic and crewed vehicle stack - all key components of future in-space operations for human missions to Mars.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Wednesday, 17 August 2016 06:12

How racial inequality is produced online decoded

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Internet users tend to navigate between websites in a racially segregated way, despite pathways that provide equitable access to different sites, a new study has found.

In the study, Charlton McIlwain, associate professor at New York University in the US, specifically looked at how users navigate the web's structure and how that structure influences users' navigational patterns.

"We must consider how the internet developed as a part of a longstanding history and process of racial formation - the complex, racialised historical contexts, circumstances, interests and problems that predate, but may either be exacerbated or corrected by the web's technological environment," said McIlwain.

Creating an original dataset, McIlwain documented racial and nonracial websites. Sites were designated racial or nonracial depending on whether race-related terminology was used in the websites' title, description, or keyword meta-tags.

He also gathered data on each site's ranking based on traffic and other factors.
McIlwain then created the architecture of the actual traffic patterns among and between racial and nonracial sites using a programme that employs a spatial algorithm to compare links between sites.

The programme calculated expected number of connections within and between racial and nonracial sites based on chance, and then compared whether the actual connections significantly exceed or fall below what was expected.

McIlwain found that web producers create hyperlink networks that do not steer audience traffic to other sites based on their racial or nonracial nature.

However, the opposite pattern emerged when looking at users going to and coming from sites in the network.

McIlwain found that user navigation reflects a racially segregated traffic pattern, where visitors to nonracial sites visit other nonracial sites with greater frequency than what would be expected by chance, and visitors to racial sites visit other racial sites more than expected.

"The evidence suggests a tendency towards racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.

"This might produce truly equitable traffic patterns if users only relied on site links to direct the flow of traffic. But other things intervene, including individuals' own choices, search engines, or a combination of both," said McIlwain.

The findings demonstrate that variables that have historically contributed to racial inequality offline, such as segregated traffic patterns and destinations, are present within the web's environment.

"These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence and power that exist within the web environment," said McIlwain.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

'Wonder material' graphene may be ideal for developing plasmonic lasers, or spasers, that are capable of detecting even single molecule of explosive materials and toxic chemicals, a new study has found.

A spaser is a device similar to a laser and operating on the same basic principle.
However, to produce radiation the particles emitted are surface plasmons, as opposed to photons produced by a laser.
"The graphene spaser could be used to design compact spectral measurement devices capable of detecting even a single molecule of a substance, which is essential for many potential applications," said Alexander Dorofeenko, from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT).

"Such sensors could detect organic molecules based on their characteristic vibrational transitions ('fingerprints'), as the light emitted/absorbed falls into the medium infrared region, which is exactly where the graphene-based spaser operates," said Dorofeenko.

Scientists have long been fascinated by the potential applications of a quasiparticle called the plasmon, a quantum of plasma oscillations.

In the case of a solid body, plasmons are the oscillations of free electrons.
Of special interest are the effects arising from the surface interactions of electromagnetic waves with plasmons - usually in the context of metals or semimetals, as they have a higher free electron density.
Harnessing these effects could bring about a breakthrough in high-accuracy electronics and optics. One possibility opened up by plasmonic effects is the subwavelength light focusing, which increases the sensitivity of plasmonic devices to a point where they can distinguish a single molecule.

Such measurements are beyond what any conventional (classical) optical devices can achieve.
However, plasmons in metals tend to lose energy quickly due to resistance, and for this reason they are not self-sustained, ie they need continuous excitation.
Scientists are trying to tackle this issue by using composite materials with predefined microstructure, including graphene.
Although, plasmonic devices have seemed an exciting prospect to pursue from the start, to take advantage of them, it was first necessary to find out whether the technology behind them was feasible.

To do this, scientists had to find a numerical solution to the relevant quantum-mechanical equations.

Researcher formulated and solved the necessary equation which led them to develop a quantum model that predicts plasmonic behaviour in graphene.
As a result, the scientists described the operation of a surface-plasmon-emitting diode (SPED) and the nanoplasmonic counterpart of the laser - known as the spaser - whose construction involves a graphene layer.The research was published in the journal Physical Review B.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Want to lose weight? Stay clear of meals rich in saturated fat such as lard and butter as consuming such food affects a part of the brain which helps control hunger, a new study has found.

The fat causes inflammation that impedes the brain to control the food intake. In other words, people struggle to control how much they eat, when to stop and what type of food to eat - symptoms seen in obesity, researchers from University of Naples Federico II in Italy said.

The study found, through tests in rats, that a meal rich in saturated fat reduces a person's cognitive function that make it more difficult to control eating habits.

Consuming fatty foods affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate hunger, researchers said.

"These days, great attention is dedicated to the influence of the diet on people's wellbeing. Although the effects of high fat diet on metabolism have been widely studied, little is known about the effects on the brain," said Maria Pina Mollica and Marianna Crispino from University of Naples.

A diet rich in fat can take different forms and in fact, there are different types of fats. Saturated fats are found in lard, butter or fried food. Unsaturated fats are rich in food such as fish, avocado or olive oil, researchers said.

Consuming fish oil instead of lard makes a significant difference. The study shows that brain function remains normal and manages to restrain from eating more than necessary, they said.

"The difference was very clear and we were amazed to establish the impact of a fatty diet onto the brain. Our results suggest that being more aware about the type of fat consumed with the diet may reduce the risk of obesity and prevent several metabolic diseases," said Crispino. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers In Cellular Neuroscience.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Wednesday, 17 August 2016 06:07

Zapping the brain during sleep may strengthen memory

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In a first, scientists including one of Indian origin, have discovered that stimulating the brain during sleep may strengthen memory, a finding that may lead to a non-invasive method to help people with conditions such as autism and Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists at University of North Carolina (UNC) in the US used transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) to target a specific kind of brain activity during sleep and strengthen memory in healthy people.

For years, researchers have recorded electrical brain activity that oscillates or alternates during sleep; they present as waves on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

These waves are called sleep spindles, and scientists have suspected their involvement in cataloging and storing memories as we sleep.

"Our study shows that the spindles are crucial for the process of creating memories we need for every-day life. And we can target them to enhance memory," said senior author Flavio Frohlich, assistant professor at UNC.

This marks the first time a research group has reported selectively targeting sleep spindles without also increasing other natural electrical brain activity during sleep.

This has never been accomplished with tDCS - transcranial direct current stimulation - in which a constant stream of weak electrical current is applied to the scalp.

For the study, 16 male participants underwent a screening night of sleep before completing two nights of sleep.

Before going to sleep each night, all participants performed two common memory exercises - associative word-pairing tests and motor sequence tapping tasks, which involved repeatedly finger-tapping a specific sequence.

On both nights, each participant had electrodes placed at specific spots on their scalps. One of the nights, each person received tACS - an alternating current of weak electricity synchronised with the brain's natural sleep spindles. During the other night, each person received sham stimulation as placebo.

Each morning participants performed standard memory tests. Researchers, including Sankaraleengam Alagapan, found no improvement in test scores for associative word-pairing but a significant improvement in the motor tasks when comparing the results between the stimulation and placebo night.

"This demonstrated a direct causal link between the electric activity pattern of sleep spindles and the process of motor memory consolidation," Frohlich said.

"We know sleep spindles, along with memory formation, are impaired in a number of disorders, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's," said Caroline Lustenberger, postdoctoral fellow at Frohlich lab.

"We hope that targeting these sleep spindles could be a new type of treatment for memory impairment and cognitive deficits," she said. The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


British scientists say they have developed a pioneering new treatment to prevent bacterial skin infections, which could also be used in the battle against 'superbugs' such as MRSA.

The new treatment, developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield and funded by Age UK is a new way to prevent skin wounds, such as bed-sores and ulcers, becoming infected.

This treatment has been proven to work on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is currently one of the biggest threats to global healthcare and medicine.

Bacterial skin infections are a major problem for older people and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes.

Infected wounds heal more slowly, causing pain and distress for the patient, and are a significant cost to the NHS in the UK.

To launch an infection, bacteria attach tightly to skin cells and have learned to hijack 'sticky patches' on human cells to achieve this.

Using proteins called tetraspanins, from human cells, the Sheffield scientists have made these patches much less sticky, allowing bacteria to be harmlessly washed away.

The research has shown that these proteins prevent bacterial infections in a model of human skin, which the scientists say give a clear indication that this treatment is both safe and effective.

This treatment was trialled on a model of 3D tissue engineered skin (TEskin) developed by engineers at the University.

The engineered skin, pioneered by Professor Sheila MacNeil from the University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, can model infected wounds in human skin and mimics the tissue structure of normal adult skin.

It can be used to analyse the penetration of peptides and bacteria.

Pete Monk from the University's Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Science, who led the study, said: "This development is a huge breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistance. Skin infections, such as bed-sores and ulcers, can be incredibly troubling for patients who may already be dealing with other debilitating conditions. They are also a significant problem for modern healthcare".

"We hope that this new therapy can be used to help relieve the burden of skin infections on both patients and health services while also providing a new insight into how we might defeat the threat of antimicrobial drug resistance".

"The therapy could be administered to patients using a gel or cream and could work well as a dressing. We're hoping it can reach clinical trials stage in the next three to five years," Monk said.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Both high and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - commonly called 'good cholesterol' for helping reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack - may increase a person's risk of premature death, a new study has claimed.

Conversely, intermediate HDL cholesterol levels may increase longevity, researchers said.
"The findings surprised us. Previously it was thought that raised levels of the good cholesterol were beneficial," said Ziyad Al-Aly, professor at Washington University in the US.

"The relationship between increased levels of HDL cholesterol and early death is unexpected and not fully clear yet. This will require further study," said Al-aly.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in blood that can narrow and block heart vessels, causing cardiovascular disease and stroke. For years, HDL cholesterol has been credited with helping to remove plaque-building "bad cholesterol" from arteries, researchers said.
They studied kidney function and HDL cholesterol levels in more than 1.7 million male veterans from October 2003 to September 2004. Researchers then followed participants till September 2013.

Patients with kidney disease frequently have lower levels of HDL cholesterol, which might explain their increased risk of early death; however, the association between elevated HDL cholesterol levels and premature death in these patients has been unclear, researchers said.

In this study, researchers showed that both high and low HDL cholesterol levels were associated with an increased risk of dying among study participants with all levels of kidney function.

"The findings may explain why clinical trials aimed at increasing HDL cholesterol levels failed to show improved outcomes," said Al-Aly.

Research data showed a relationship between HDL cholesterol levels and mortality as a U-shaped curve with the risk of death increased at both ends of the spectrum.

"Too low and too high are both associated with higher risk of death," said Al-Aly.
The findings were published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


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