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Prelims Capsule

Prelims bits

Prelims Bits (2nd Week)

Environment and Ecology:

What is Carbon Neutrality? Where does India stand in the global race of carbon neutrality?

  • Context: History is divided into two periods: Before the Common Era or BCE and Common Era or CE. But given our experience this year, BCE could well stand for Before the COVID-19 Epidemic and CE for the COVID-19 Epidemic.
  • About: The COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath can be seen either as a longish pause on the button of economic growth or as an opportunity for reset, recalibration and rethink.
  • There is also now robust scientific evidence to show, for instance, how air pollution exacerbates the impacts of COVID-19.
  • Public health science and environmental science are two sides of the same coin.
  • In fact, I have been saying for over a decade now that our environmental problems — such as air pollution, water pollution, chemical contamination, deforestation, waste generation and accumulation, land degradation and excessive use of pesticides — all have profound public health consequences both in terms of morbidity and mortality and hence demand urgent actions.
  • The traditional ‘grow now, pay later’ model is not only unsustainable in the medium- to long-term but also dangerous to public health in the short term.


Glue Grant Scheme announced by FM NirmalaSitharaman

  • Context: While presenting the Budget 2021-22 in Parliament, FM Sitharaman proposed to set up a Higher Education Commission of India as an umbrella body having 4 separate vehicles for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding.
  • About: Esteemed thought leaders, scientists and industry leaders participated in a webinar session on ‘Using Glue Grant to develop Education hubs’.
  • They not only underlined the importance of education hub but also offered insights on the topic. The webinar session was a parallel breakaway session II of a day-long programme — Harnessing Education, Research and Skill Development for an Atmanirbhar Bharat and was organized by the Ministry of Education and inaugurated by Prime Minister NarendraModi.
  • Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, NirmalaSitharaman while presenting the Budget 2021-22 in Parliament on 1 February 2021, proposed to set up a Higher Education Commission of India as an umbrella body having 4 separate vehicles for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding.
  • Research and Development institutions: Hyderabad is the hub for leading research and development organisations including CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, National Geophysical Research Institute, National Institute for Rural Development, National Institute of Nutrition, and a number of defence-related establishments including Defence Research and Development Organisation.
  • Six pilot cluster frameworks have already been initiated with support from the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) in cities that have a critical mass of S&T focused organizations and institutions, apart from well-developed diverse industries. These include Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Jodhpur, and Bhubaneshwar.

Caddisflies swarm in Vijayawada – Is our ecosystem in problem?

  • Context: Caddisflies swarm the flyover near the Police Control Room (PCR), and the bridges on the canals that pass through the city every evening and night. They come in groups and are attracted to light.
  • About: As the caddisflies are in good numbers and move closely together, the visibility of motorcyclists has been affected sometimes and they have to slowly push through to cross these stretches.
  • The caddisflies blanket the pavements and roads so thoroughly that sometimes it looks like a white paint.
  • According to information, the caddisflies, which are insects with aquatic larvae, have emerged in huge numbers by the eastern canal, and other canals in the city.
  • The civic authorities, however, have not taken any steps to control their population.
  • In fact, the authorities are ‘clueless’ and could not take up any special drives to disinfect the canals, which is said to be one of the possible reasons for the caddisfly problem.
  • Caddisflies are found near water bodies or places where stagnant water is found. Certain species are also aggravated due to ecological imbalances, so that could also be a possible reason.
  • Usually the flies are not harmful to people. They tend to form swarms of large numbers and are attracted towards light.
  • Problems In Ecosystem
    • The caddisflies are important indicator species,signalling to scientists that an ecosystem has problems.
    • There are species that are more tolerant to pollution and those that are less tolerant not only to pollution but also to water level changes.
    • Some survive downstream of dams very well, others are totally excluded,


Ecuador Presidential Election – Former banker Guillermo Lasso wins 2021 election

  • Context: Former banker Guillermo Lasso has declared victory in the Ecuadorean presidential election, after his challenger, left-wing economist Andres Arauz, conceded defeat in a poll that took place against a COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated an already struggling economy.
  • About: “It was unexpected,” she said from the Chilean capital Santiago, noting that Arauz had been the frontrunner for much of the campaign. “His conservative economic policies are not that popular. But Ecuadoreans are going to give this banker and businessman a chance. He’s really going to have his work cut out for him.”
  • The oil-exporting nation’s economy was already weak when the coronavirus outbreak started last year, but the pandemic has pushed a third of the population of more than 17 million into poverty and left half a million people unemployed
  • Austerity measures, part of a $6.5bn financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund that were imposed by President Lenin Moreno – who did not seek re-election, failed to have an effect and only caused more pain.
  • The election council figures show 1.6 million null votes, which probably the result of Indigenous activist Yaku Perez were calling on supporters to spoil their ballots.
  • Perez ran in the first-round vote in February and narrowly lost out to Lasso for a place in the runoff, which he attributed to electoral fraud despite not presenting evidence.

Art & Culture:

Buddhist Site of Thotlakonda – Campaign to Protect Visakhapatnam’s 2000 year old Buddhist site

  • Context:Heritage activists are up in arms against a recent Government Order (GO) Rt. No. 21 that notified only 120 acres of the site as “protected area”. Earlier, the Buddhist site under the State Department of Archeology housed 3,143 acres. Historians fear that the GO may lead to commercial exploitation of the heritage site
  • About: In 1976, during a helicopter survey of the hills by the Indian Navy to set up a naval facility, ruins of the Buddhist site were spotted.
  • Subsequently the entire hill of Mangamaripeta Village, BheemunipatnamTaluka of Visakhapatnam District, was declared as an area comprising a protected monument under the Andhra Pradesh Ancient and Historical Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1960.
  • A partial excavation of the site by the State Archaeology Department (1988-1992) found ancient pottery such as tan ware, black red ware, coins from the Satavahana period and Roman coins, labels with Brahmi inscriptions, inscribed Chhatra pieces, terracotta and glass beads, bangles, stuccos and stone sculptural remains at the site.
  • It gave a clear indication that the area housed remnants of a flourishing monastery, practising Hinayana Buddhism, which was most active for 400 years from 200 BCE to 200 CE
  • The word Thotlakonda in Telugu is derived from the rock-cut water cisterns found in the local bedrock. Since the discovery of the site in 1976, it has been declared a protected monument by the state government.
  • Notable excavations at the site include a maha stupa, a stone pillared congregation hall, three circular prayer halls, 10 viharas, a kitchen complex, and a refectory.
  • The maha stupa partially collapsed due to heavy rains that battered the city in October 2019. It was later reconstructed with government funds.
  • Bojjannakonda and Lingalametta are the twin Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 3rd century BC. These sites have seen three forms of Buddhism – the Theravada period when Lord Buddha was considered a teacher, the Mahayana, where Buddhism was more devotional, and Vajrayana, where Buddhist tradition was more practised as Tantra and esoteric form
  • At Bojjannakonda, a famous Buddhist site at Sankaram, 3.5-km from Anakapalle and 41-km from here.
  • The villagers, as a part of the ancient ritual, used to pelt stones at a belly-shaped object, believing it to be a part of a demon.
  • However, following the intervention of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the practice on the Kanuma day during Sankranti has almost been done away with.
  • S.Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh is keen to relocate the executive capital to Visakhapatnam as part of its agenda to create three capitals. But activists fear that the relocation and the prospect of rapid urbanisation may pose a serious threat to the steel city’s heritage sites.
  • This anxiety is visible in the spate of protests by heritage activists and Buddhists against the government’s plan to build a state guesthouse on 30 acres of land close to a Heenayana Buddhist complex.
  • The protesters said the construction of guesthouse so close to the Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex risks damaging the 2,000-year-old heritage site.
  • The state government has issued a government order (GO) directing the district administration to acquire 30 acres of land adjacent to heritage sites in the Kapuluppada village on the city suburbs for the construction of a guesthouse and quarters for government personnel.
  • Subsequently, the government ignored the protests and laid the foundation stone for the guesthouse ahead of its avowed mission to make Visakhapatnam a seat of power with a provision for the Chief Minister’s Office, secretariat and the other paraphernalia that comes with the capital.
  • Activists say that over a period of three decades, successive governments facilitated the alienation of lands in the area, either for its own utilities or for private usage. The previous TDP government headed by N. Chandrababu Naidu allotted 15 acres in area for the Film Nagar Cultural Club and 300 acres for Greyhounds, the state’s elite police force.
  • “Capital or no capital, threats continue to loom over heritage sites in Visakhapatnam for the past three decades and we are struggling to protect them


Indian army inaugurates its 1st Solar Power Plant in Sikkim, Vanadium based battery technology facts

  • Context: Indian Army in its quest for harnessing renewable energy for its troops inaugurated the First Green Solar Energy harnessing plant of 56 KVA using Vanadium based battery technology in North Sikkim, at an altitude of 16000 ft.
  • About: A team of eminent faculty from the Institute led by Prof Prakash Ghosh and troops of the Indian Army completed the project braving extreme climatic conditions. The project will immensely benefit troops in the forward areas and will be environment friendly
  • Vanadium in its pure form is a soft, grey and ductile element primarily derived from mined iron ore, carbonaceous shale or phyllites and steel slag.
  • It rarely exists as a free element in nature but can be found in about 65 different minerals, including magnetite, vanadinite, carnotite and patronite.
  • Many scientists describe a “transition metal” as any element in the d-block of the periodic table, which includes groups 3 to 12 on the periodic table.
  • Chemically they show variable valency and a strong tendency to form coordination compounds, and many of their compounds are coloured.
  • Vanadium alloys are durable in extreme temperature and environments, and are corrosion-resistant.
  • The high-value metal is used in strengthening steel and titanium as its addition improves the tensile strength of steel and of reinforcing bars used for buildings, tunnels and bridges.
  • Apart from increasing fuel-efficiency in the automotive and aviation industries due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, the metal forms an integral part of vanadium redox batteries that have the least ecological impact in energy storage.
  • For several reasons, including their relative bulkiness, most vanadium batteries are currently used for grid energy storage, i.e., attached to power plants or electrical grids.

China’s Long March 5B Rocket to crash on Earth warns US Space Command

  • Context: China the risk of damage from a rocket falling back to Earth was “extremely low” after the United States warned it could crash down on to an inhabited area.
  • About: Military experts in the US expect the body of the Long March 5B rocket, which separated from Beijing’s space station
  • The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or on the ground is extremely low
  • Most of the rocket components would likely be destroyed upon re-entry into the atmosphere, he added, saying authorities “will inform the public of the situation in a timely manner”.
  • China has poured billions of dollars into space exploration in efforts to reflect its rising global stature and growing technological might, following in the extra-terrestrial footsteps of the United States, Russia, and Europe.

Science and Technology:

What is Proning? How Proning helps in improving COVID 19 patients’ oxygen levels?

  • Context: Oxygen deprivation often leaves COVID positive patients gasping for breath and suffering from difficulties
  • About:With resources running scarce and patients facing problems searching for oxygen support machines, many are being recommended home remedies and therapies to manage the condition at home
  • Proning position is now being actively recommended to COVID+ patients under home isolation and fluctuating SPo2 levels to boost their oxygen levels.
  • It has also helped many successfully battle respiratory issues and breathe better.
  • Lying face down is known as proning, it is a medically accepted position to improve oxygenation.
  • If a patient’s oxygen levels drop below 94 (when measured at home on an oximeter), the patient can lie on their tummy;
  • This position improves ventilation and enables comfortable breathing.
  • Physical position affects the distribution and volume of air in the lungs, and
  • Can have direct effects on the expansion of the lungs to permit the exchange of oxygen & carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Prone positioning improves ventilation, keeps alveolar units open and breathing easy.
  • In the last few years, prone positioning has been used increasingly in the treatment of patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and this is now considered a simple & safe method to improve oxygenation.It is a medically accepted process.
  • Avoid proning for an hour after meals.
  • Maintain proning for only as many times as easily tolerable
  • One may prone for up to 16 hours a day, in multiple cycles, as felt comfortable.
  • Pillows may be adjusted slightly to alter pressure areas and for comfort.

Ransomware attack on Apple – Future of cybercrime explained:

  • Context:Russia-based hackers have hit Apple in a $50 million ransomware attack via a Taiwan-based company that manufactures MacBooks and other products for the Cupertino-based iPhone maker
  • About: The operators of the REvilransomware are demanding that Apple pay a ransom demand to avoid having confidential information leaked on the Dark Web
  • REvil is a Russian hacking group that’s also known by the name Sodinokibi.
  • The hackers claimed that they have Apple product data after breaching Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese company that is the biggest laptop manufacturer in the world
  • Apple is a prominent victim of the booming business of “ransomware”.
  • In its original incarnation, at the start of the 2010s, this involved spreading malicious software to ordinary people’s computers.
  • The software would encrypt pictures, documents and so forth, transforming them into unreadable gibberish.
  • If the victims paid a ransom, the hackers would provide the decryption key necessary to restore the scrambled files—at least, in theory
  • Hackers increasingly focus on big organisations rather than individuals, since firms are more likely to pay larger ransoms.
  • Hospitals, universities and even police forces have been attacked.
  • Besides Apple, REvil claims to have stolen data from Kajima Corporation, a big Japanese construction firm, the government of Fiji, Pierre Fabre, a French pharmaceutical company, and dozens of smaller businesses
  • Coalition, a firm which provides insurance against cyber-attacks, says ransomware assaults made up 41%of claims in the first half of 2020.
  • According to Palo Alto Networks, a cyber-security company, the average ransom demand rose from $115,000in 2019 to $312,000 in 2020.Ransoms are often paid with cryptocurrencies
  • Cyber-insurance—for which premiums amounted to $5bn in 2020—can take the sting out of attacks for individual firms,at the cost of making things worse for everyone else.
  • The willingness of insurers to pay ransoms, says a Western former cyber-security official, is one reason why ransomware is booming.

Deadly Black Fungal Infection detected in Covid patients – What is Mucormycosis?

  • Context: Deadly Black Fungus in COVID Patients
  • About: Even as India reels under the second wave of Covid-19, doctors at Delhi-based Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) have again reported multiple cases of deadly fungal infection mucormycosis in the recovering coronavirus patients.
  • The black fungal infection, triggered by Covid-19, last year caused many of the patients to lose their eyesight. The hospital has admitted six patients with mucormycosis infection in the last two days.
  • Gujarat is also battling an exponential rise in deadly attack of mucormycosis (MM), also known as black fungus, which is typically pushing Covid-recovered back into ICUsand surgical wards.
  • Those with uncontrolled diabetes and heavy use of steroid to survive Covid-19 complications are worst affected.
  • An infection occurs when a microorganism enters a person’s body and causes harm.
  • The microorganism uses that person’s body to sustain itself, reproduce, and colonize. These infectious microscopic organisms are known as pathogens like: Bacteria, Viruses&Fungi
  • Fungal diseases are often very common in the environment.
  • Most fungi are not dangerous, but some types can be harmful to health.
  • Mild fungal skin diseases can look like a rash and are very common.
  • Previously called zygomycosis, mucormycosis is a serious and rare fungal infection caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes.
  • These molds live throughout the environment.
  • While a quick diagnosis and treatment can cure the patient, left untreated, it can prove fatal.
  • This alarming affliction, although rare, is not new.
  • Black Fungus or mucormycosis has been a cause of disease and death of patients in transplants, and ICU since long.
  • However, it is the rapid increase in the numbers seen in unsuspected recovering COVID-19 patients that is causing the grave concern.

World’s Lightest Uranium Isotope uranium-214 discovered

  • Context: This isotope of Uranium has a greater number of neutrons than protons. The neutrons have mass. However, Uranium-214 found recently is much lighter than the other common Uranium isotopes.
  • About: This includes Uranium-235 as well. Uranium-235 is the most commonly used isotope. It has 51 extra neutrons.
  • Uranium-214 was created at the Heavy Ion Research Facility in Lanzhou, China.
  • It had a half-life of just half a milli-second. The half-life of a radioactive sample is the time taken for half of the radioactive sample to decay. The half-life of Uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. This is the almost equal to the age of the earth.
  • How was Uranium-214 created?
  • A beam of Argon was projected on Tungsten inside Gas-filled recoil separator. The researchers then added protons and neutrons to the material through a LASER beam to create Uranium-214.
  • Nuclear force in Uranium-214:The scientists found that protons and neutrons of Uranium-214 interacted much more strongly than in isotopes with similar number of neutrons and protons. In other words, nuclear force in Uranium-214 was greater than the nuclear force in other isotopes.

China’s Chang’e-5 Mission brings Moon samples:

  • Context: China’s Chang’e-5 probe, which successfully returned to earth, has retrieved about 1,731 grams of samples from the moon
  • About: The samples were transferred to the Chinese research teams
  • The return capsule of Chang’e-5 probe landed in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, bringing the samples collected from the moon.
  • The Chang’e-5 mission marks a successful conclusion of China’s current three-step lunar exploration programme of orbiting and landing, and bringing back samples which began in 2004.
  • It was the country’s first attempt to bring the moon samples in over 40 years after the U.S. sent astronauts to the moon to collect samples.
  • In the Soviet Union’s unmanned lunar sampling missions, the spacecraft took off from the moon and returned to Earth directly
  • The Chang’e-5 probe, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, was launched on November 24, and its lander ascender combination touched down on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on December 1.