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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Current General Knowledge: October 2009




ABBREVIATIONS
EAS: East Asia Summit.
GRBA: Ganga River Basin Authority.
LCROSS: Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

AWARDS
Nobel Prizes 2009
For Peace: In a decision that caused worldwide jaw-drops, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama, citing his work in nuclear weapons elimination and international diplomacy. Critics immediately said the award appeared based more on hope than lasting achievement typical for nominees. But the Nobel committee statement read, ‘‘Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics,’’ although it evidently took into account his work in the months since he took office and perhaps even his exertions as Senator and Presidential candidate.

For Literature: Romanian-born German writer Herta Mueller for work that “with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed”. Mueller is the 12th woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Recent female winners include Austria's Elfriede Jelinek in 2004 and British writer Doris Lessing in 200

For Economics: Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson of the United States, for their work on the organisation of cooperation in economic governance.

Ostrom is the first woman to win the Economics Prize, which has been awarded since 1969. “The research of Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson shows that economic analysis can shed light on most forms of social organisation,” the jury said.

Ostrom won “for her analysis of economic governance” especially relating to the management of common property or property under common control. Her work challenging the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatised, it added.

Williamson was honoured “for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm.” He has argued that hierarchical organisations such as firms represent alternative governance structures, which differ in their approaches to resolving conflicts of interest”.

The Economics Prize is the only one of the six Nobel prizes not created in Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel’s 1896 will—it was created much later to celebrate the 1968 tri-centenary of the Swedish central bank and was first awarded in 1969.

For Chemistry: India-born structural biologist, Dr Venkatraman ‘’Venky’’ Ramakrishnan, joins the long list of peripatetic Indians who had early education in India but thrived in the western academic eco-system, to have won the Nobel. The Swedish Nobel Committee awarded the Prize to Dr Ramakrishnan, who is currently affiliated with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, for his work on protein-producing ribosomes, and its translation of DNA information into life. He shares the Prize with Dr Thomas Steitz of Yale University, Connecticut, and Dr Ada Yonath of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Ramakrishnan, Steitz and Yonath demonstrated what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at an atomic level using a visualisation method called X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome, according to the MRC.

For Physics: Three scientists, Charles K. Kao,  Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, who created the technology behind digital photography and helped link the world through fibre-optic networks.

Charles K. Kao was cited for his breakthrough involving the transmission of light in fibre optics while Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were honoured for inventing an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the CCD sensor. All three had American citizenship. Shanghai-born Kao also holds British citizenship, while Boyle is also Canadian.

For Medicine: Three American scientists, Australian-born Elizabeth Blackburn, British-born Jack Szostak and Carol Greider, share the award for the discovery of a built-in protection device in chromosomes, a finding that sheds light on ageing and may help in the fight against cancer. Their study was linked to telomerase, an ‘immortality enzyme’ that allows cells to divide continuously without dying. The institute said the three had "solved a major problem in biology", namely how chromosomes were copied completely during cell division and protected against degradation.

Booker Prize, 2009
British author Hilary Mantel has won the prize for her novel Wolf Hall, which has been hailed by the judges as an ‘extra-ordinary piece of storytelling’. She took 20 years to decide whether to write it. Her other well-known books include a memoir Giving up the Ghost (2003), and Beyond Black (2005).

Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration, 2008
Noted journalist from Jammu and Kashmir Balraj Puri has been given the prestigious award “for his yeoman work in promoting and preserving the spirit of national integration in the country”.
The award was instituted by the Congress in its centenary year to give recognition to outstanding contribution to the cause of national integration and understanding by individuals or institutions and comprises of a citation and cash award of Rs 5 lakh.

BOOKS
Wolf Hall
This novel has been written by British author Hilary Mantel, winner of the Booker Prize 2009. Set in the 1520s, the novel tells the story of English statesman Thomas Cromwell’s rise to prominence through political intrigues in Henry VIII’s court.

CONFERENCE
UN Climate change conference
Indian government, in collaboration with the UNDESA, organised the ‘High-Level Conference on Climate Change: Technology Development and Transfer’ on October 22 and 23, 2009 at New Delhi.

The conference was a step forward in the process of the international policy dialogue on technologies needed to address climate change. The emphasis was on defining a road map for technology development and transfer by bringing together the key players in the international climate change community. Technology has a central and fundamental role in addressing climate change concerns with due regard to the imperatives of national economic growth, energy security, and sustainable development.

The outcomes of the conference will support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

CYBER SPACE
Creating Wave Google style
Google Wave is the latest buzz to hit the internet shores. The Web search giant—it has already sent out 1,00,000 select invites for a limited preview—has announced what it claims to be the future of all internet conversations.

What Wave does is to integrate e-mail, instant messaging (IM), collaboration, Google maps as well as search. It actually empowers your browser to handle all your communication needs. The Wave, however, requires a Chrome Frame plug-in to function on the ubiquitous Internet Explorer as of now. The preferred browsers seem to be Chrome, open source Firefox and Apple’s Safari.

As Google Wave’s engineering manager Lars Rasmussen puts it: “Wave is an attempt at redefining communication over the internet.” It’s a contemporary take at the four-decade-old e-mail. Google makes an innovation leap with the Wave. Wave is both a product and an open source platform for developers for building new apps.

Wave’s most striking feature is its speed. It lets users transfer data, pictures and files real-time and also facilitates collaborative editing. Every letter typed in is transmitted immediately into the other user’s Wave. Even images can be transmitted with almost no time loss.

Once a new wave is created, akin to composing a mail in your e-mail account, you can add contacts and the wave is sent to them. All the people included in the wave can immediately reply or start editing the wave.

Once a wave is initiated, anybody involved in the wave can reply to or edit any part of the original wave. For one, if the initiator of the wave sends out five questions and the other user can click on each question and answer it right below.

PERSONS
Mueleer, Herta
Romanian-born German writer Herta Mueller has won the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature. The 56-year-old author, who emigrated to Germany from then-communist Romania in 1987, made her debut in 1982 with a collection of short stories titled Niederungen, or Lowlands in English, which was promptly censored by her government.

In 1984 an uncensored version was smuggled to Germany where it was published and her work depicting life in a small, German-speaking village in Romania was devoured by readers there. That work was followed by Oppressive Tango in Romania.

Mueller's parents were members of the German-speaking minority in Romania and father served in the Waffen SS during World War II.  After the war ended, many German Romanians were deported to the Soviet Union in 1945, including her mother, who spent five years in a work camp in what is now Ukraine.

Most of her works in German, but some works have been translated into English, French and Spanish, including The Passport, The Land of Green Plums, Travelling on One Leg and The Appointment.

Ramakrishnan, Dr Venkatraman "Venky"
An India-born structural biologist whose quest for scientific excellence took him from undergraduate schools in India to graduate and post-doc studies in US and research in UK, he has been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on proteins that control life.

He is the fourth scientist of Indian origin to win a Nobel Prize after Sir C.V. Raman (Physics, 1983) Hargobind Khorana, (Medicine, 1968) and Subramaniam Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983).

Born in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, to scientist parents C.B. Ramakrishnan and Rajalakshmi, 'Venki' moved to the United States in the early 1970s to earn a PhD in physics. Since then the scientist, who is a United States citizen, has in a career studded with high honours pushed the frontiers of knowledge back with an almost messianic zeal.

PLACES
Bangkok
The 7th Session of the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action on Climate change was held here in last week of September 2009.

Bengaluru
The meeting of Foreign Ministers of RIC (Russia-India-China) was held here in October 2009.

Kumharia
The Central government has approved this site in Fatehabad district of Haryana to set-up a nuclear power project by Nuclear Power Corporation of India.

Rio de Janerio
Capital of Brazil, this city will host the 2016 Olympics. With this the Olympic Games head for South America for the first time.

RESEARCH
CERN Grid
With domain names in Hindi, Arabic and Chinese set to become a reality on the Web, the pundits in this science hub, where the internet was arguably invented, claim the next giant leap towards internationalisation will be the grid. The grid, which is made of thousands of desktops, laptops, supercomputers, data vaults, mobile phones, meteorological sensors and telescopes will start work when protons beams collide with each other in the world’s biggest experiment ever, deep in a tunnel on the French-Swiss border.

It is a revolution, say scientists of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) because it uses the internet but is not the internet. Using cloud computing, the grid will combine the resources of more than 100,000 processors from more than 170 sites in 34 countries and will be accessible to thousands of physicists globally. Many believe the grid will be a boon for countries like India, which rank low on the social development index. The scientists claim it will change the way the information superhighway works.

The Web merely shares information on computers, the Grid shares computing power and data storage capacity also. Scientists can log on anywhere in the world, processing data across the planet. CERN needs the Grid to store 15 petabytes—equivalent to a 20-km high stack of CDs.

SPACE RESEARCH
NASA bombs moon in search of water
The United States blasted the surface of the moon on October 9, 2009 with two rockets on a mission to look for water below the lunar surface that could be used by astronauts on future space missions. At 1130 GMT the LCROSS satellite crashed into the Cabeus crater floor near the moon’s south pole, at around 9,000 kilometers per hour, followed four minutes later by a shepherding spacecraft equipped with cameras to record the impact.

The LCROSS cost 79 million dollars and was launched in June 2009, along with another probe—the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is tasked with producing a detailed map of the moon.

NASA scientists looked into the 350 tonnes of debris ejected from the cold, dark Cabeus crater, and after thorough analysis confirmed presence of water. The crater is 100 km across and between 2.5 to four km deep.

The mission came just two weeks after India hailed the discovery of water on the moon with its Chandrayaan-1 satellite mission in partnership with NASA.

Finding water on Earth's natural satellite is a major breakthrough in space exploration and will pave the way toward future lunar bases for drinking water or fuel, or even man living on another planet.

The ‘Moon bombing’ Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is a product of two years of planning. Soon after taking off LCROSS used Gravity to slingshot itself into a wide orbit around the Earth that put it on its collision course. As it closed in on the moment of impact, the craft divided in two. An empty rocket plunged into the Moon’s south pole at 1.6 miles per second. The smaller probe that followed had five cameras and four other scientific instruments. The explosion, with the strength of 1.5 tons of TNT, threw up 772,000 pounds of lunar dirt out of Cabeus crater.

Robots to clear dead satellites from orbit
Scientists are mulling to use German-built robots for clearing rogue satellites from Earth's orbit or pushing them into the outer space. Robots that rescue failing satellites and push "dead" ones into outer space should be ready in four years, British newspaper 'The Observer' reported.

Experts have described the development by German scientists as a crucial step in preventing a disaster in the Earth's crowded orbit. In 2008 it was reported that critical levels of debris circling the Earth were threatening astronauts' lives and future of the multi-billion-dollar satellite communications industry.

The robots will dock with failing satellites to carry out repairs or push them into "graveyard orbits", thus freeing vital space in geostationary orbit.

More than 200 dead satellites litter this orbit. Within 10 years that number could increase fivefold, the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety has warned.

MISCELLANEOUS
Endangered dolphins made national aquatic animal
Alarmed over the sharp drop in the number of freshwater dolphins surviving in river systems across the country, the Union  government, acting on a proposal made by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has declared dolphin as a national aquatic animal. The animal has been declared as a ‘highly endangered’ under the ICUN and Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act (1972), Government of India.

The Ganga River Dolphin is a flag-ship specie, meaning that their strength in river system would indicate its health. The freshwater dolphin, a blind species, is mainly found in the Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems in India.

Construction of dams and barrages, increase in pollution-levels, indiscriminate fishing, the dreadful prospect of the mammal getting entangled in nets—all these factors have contributed to a reduction in their numbers in two river systems.

In the Ganga, the dolphin is found primarily in the Bijnore-Narora section in Uttar Pradesh and the Vikramshila sanctuary in Bihar. Thanks to greater involvement of the community and stakeholders and application of modern technology, WWF-India has been able to save these mammals from getting depleted.

Biggest Olympic challenge to engage youth
The International Olympic Committee is trying to keep young people around the world from uttering a dismissive “I.O.C.UL8R” with an online campaign that encourages them to interact with champion athletes.

Youth today have far more interests, and distractions, than in the days when the Summer and Winter Games every four years was eagerly anticipated. That threatens to damp their desire to participate in future Olympics—not to mention their ardour to watch the Games on television or buy the products sold by Olympic sponsors. To help address all that before the 2010 Olympics, the committee has been sponsoring a global campaign carrying the theme “The Best of Us.”

Young people ages 12 to 19 will be invited to create video clips in an effort known as consumer-generated or user-generated content. The clips are to show them responding to challenges from athletes like the beach volleyball player Natalie Cook, the pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, the gymnast Shawn Johnson, the tennis player Rafael Nadal, the swimmer Michael Phelps and the skier Lindsey Vonn.The challenges are not in Olympic sports. And they are not intended to encourage participants to take risks or act dangerously.

Rather, the dares are meant to be playful and lighthearted: How many clapping push-ups can you do in 30 seconds? How long can you balance a stick? In 30 seconds, in how many languages can you say “Hello?” How many tennis balls can you pick up in 30 seconds?

Rules will be posted on a section of the committee’s Web site (www.olympic.org/thebestofuschallenge). Prizes will include trips to the 2010 Winter Games, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the first Youth Olympic Games, to be held in Singapore in August 2010.

In keeping with the affinity for technology among the target audience, the campaign will have a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter. YouTube will host the videos for the Olympic Web site, and will have a channel for the challenge.

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