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December 2020: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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China's Artificial Sun

China recently achieved a breakthrough in nuclear power technology by successfully powering up its "artificial sun" nuclear fusion reactor for the first time. The nuclear reactor is supposed to produce environmentally friendly electricity.

Key Points

  1. The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China's largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source. 
    • HL-2M Tokamak device is used it to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs naturally in the sun.
  2. It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, approximately ten times hotter than the sun's core.
  3. Located in Sichuan province, the reactor is often called
  4. an "artificial sun" on account of the enormous heat and power it produces.

➤ Other Similar Experiment:

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER):

  1. It is a collaboration of 35 nations, launched in 1985. It is located in France.
  2. Aim: To build the world's largest tokamak to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.
  3. A tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the vessel walls.
  4. Like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant uses this heat to produce steam and then electricity through turbines and generators.

Nuclear Reactions

➤ Description:

  • A nuclear reaction is the process in which two nuclei, or a nucleus and an external subatomic particle, collide to produce one or more new nuclides. Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to another.


Nuclear Fission:

  • The nucleus of an atom splits into two daughter nuclei.
  • This decay can be natural spontaneous splitting by radioactive decay, or can actually be simulated in a lab by achieving necessary conditions (bombarding with neutrons, alpha particles, etc.).
  • The resulting fragments tend to have a combined mass that is less than the original.
  • The missing mass is usually converted into nuclear energy.
  • Currently all commercial nuclear reactors are based on nuclear fission.

Nuclear Fusion:

  • Nuclear Fusion is defined as combining two lighter nuclei into a heavier one.
  • Such nuclear fusion reactions are the source of energy in the Sun and other stars.
  • It takes considerable energy to force the nuclei to fuse. The conditions needed for this process are extreme millions of degrees of temperature and millions of pascals of pressure.
  • The hydrogen bomb is based on a thermonuclear fusion reaction. However, a nuclear bomb based on the fission of uranium or plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb to provide initial energy.

Jupiter Saturn Great Conjunction

On December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will appear as one bright star due to their near proximity (conjunction).

Key Points

Conjunction: If two celestial bodies visually appear close to each other from Earth, it is called a conjunction.

Great Conjunction: Astronomers use the term great conjunction to describe the two biggest worlds in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn.

  1. It happens about every 20 years. 
  2. The conjunction is the result of the orbital paths of Jupiter and Saturn coming into line, as viewed from Earth.
  3. Jupiter orbits the sun about every 12 years and Saturn about every 29 years.
  4. The conjunction will be on 21st December 2020, also the date of the December solstice. o It will be the closest alignment of Saturn and Jupiter since 1623, in terms of distance. The next time the planets will be this close is 2080.
  5. They will appear to be close together, however, they will be more than 400 million miles apart.


  1. Fifth in line from the Sun, Jupiter is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system - more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined.
    • Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are called Jovian or Gas Giant Planets. These have thick atmosphere, mostly of helium and hydrogen.
  2. Jupiter's iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.
  3. Jupiter rotates once about every 10 hours (a Jovian day), but takes about 12 Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun (a Jovian year). 
  4. Jupiter has more than 75 moons.
    • The planet Jupiter's four largest moons are called the Galilean satellites after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who first observed them in 1610.
    • These large moons, named lo, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are each distinctive worlds.
  5. In 1979, the Voyager mission discovered Jupiter's faint ring system.
  6. Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter. Seven flew by and two have orbited the gas giant. Juno, the most recent, arrived at Jupiter in 2016.

➤ Saturn:

  1. Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest solar system planet. o Saturn takes about 10.7 hours to rotate on its axis once - a Saturn "day" - and 29 Earth years to orbit the sun.
  2. Saturn has 53 known moons with an additional 29 moons awaiting confirmation of their discovery - that is a total of 82 moons. It has the giant moon 'Titan'.
  3. Saturn has the most spectacular ring system, with seven rings and several gaps and divisions between them.
  4. Few missions have visited Saturn: Pioneer 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 flew by, But Cassini orbited Saturn 294 times from 2004 to 2017.

Influenza and Bacterial Infection

Recently, research at Sweden's Karolinska Institute has found findings on superinfections and have also highlighted that influenza makes people more susceptible to bacterial infections.

Key Points

Superinfections: These are infection occurring after or on top of an earlier infection, especially following treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics. It is an overgrowth of an opportunistic pathogen from the bacterial or yeast imbalance of systemic antibiotics. 

  • For example, influenza is caused by a virus, but the most common cause of death in influenza patients is secondary pneumonia caused by bacteria.
  • However, the reason behind influenza infections leading to an increased risk of bacterial pneumonia is not known.

➤ Case study of Spanish Flu:

  1. It was an influenza pandemic that swept across the world in the year 1918-1920.
  2. It disproportionately hit young healthy adults and an important reason for this was superinfections caused by bacteria, particularly pneumococci.
  3. Pneumococcal infections are the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia and a leading global cause of death.
  4. A prior influenza virus infection is often followed by pneumococcal infection.

Findings of the Research:

  1. When an individual is infected by influenza different nutrients and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, leak from the blood.
  2. The absence of nutrients and antioxidants creates a favourable environment for bacteria in the lungs.
  3. The bacteria adapt to the inflammatory environment by increasing the production of an enzyme called High-temperature requirement A (HtrA).
  4. The presence of HtrA weakens the immune system and promotes bacterial growth in the influenza-infected airways.
  5. The ability of pneumococcus to grow seems to depend on the nutrient-rich environment with its higher levels of antioxidants that occurs during viral infection and the bacteria's ability to adapt to the environment protect itself from being eradicated by the immune system.


  1. The results could be used to find new therapies for double infections between the influenza virus and pneumococcal bacteria.
  2. A possible strategy can be used for protease inhibitors to prevent pneumococcal growth in the lungs.
  3. The information can contribute to the research on Covid-19.
  4. However, it is still unknown if Covid-19 patients are also sensitive to such secondary bacterial infections.

➤ Influenza

  1. It is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system i.e. nose, throat and lungs and is commonly called the flu.
  2. Symptoms: Fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue.
  3. Common Treatment: Flu is primarily treated with rest and fluid intake to allow the body to fight the infection independently.
  4. Paracetamol may help cure the symptoms but Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided. An annual vaccine can help prevent the flu and limit its complications.
  5. Young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with chronic disease or weak immune systems are at high risk.

➤ Pneumonia

  1. It is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus.
  2. Cause: Variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  3. Symptoms: Cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.
  4. Treatment: Antibiotics can treat many forms of pneumonia. Vaccines can prevent some forms of pneumonia.
  5. The infection can be life-threatening to anyone, but particularly to infants, children and people over 65.

Honey Adulteration

  • Honey marketed by many major brands in India is adulterated with sugar syrup, according to a recent report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
  • CSE is not-for-profit public interest research and advocacy organisation.

Key Points

➤ Findings:

Samples of 10 out of 13 brands, which were examined, failed to clear the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) test.

  1. Honey samples from brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya, all failed the internationally accepted NMR test.
  2. Indian companies in the business are importing synthetic sugar syrups from China for adulteration.
  3. CSE tracked down Chinese trade portals that advertised fructose syrup that can bypass tests to check adulteration.
  4. Chinese companies informed CSE that even if 50-80% of the honey is adulterated with syrup, they would pass all stipulated tests as per Indian standards.
  5. Tests employed as per Indian regulations check whether the honey is adulterated with C4 sugar (cane sugar) or C3 sugar (rice sugar). 
  6. Adulteration also destroyed bee-keepers' livelihoods who found it unprofitable to make pure honey because sugar-syrup honey was often available at half the price.


  1. Households consume more honey because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
  2. As per this investigation, most of the honey sold in the market is adulterated with sugar syrup. Therefore, instead of honey, people are eating more sugar, which will add to the risk of Covid-19 and increase the risk of obesity.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Test

  1. It is a test that can ascertain a product's composition at the molecular level.
  2. It is an analytical chemistry technique used in quality control and research to determine the content and purity of a sample and its molecular structure.
  3. The NMR test is not required by Indian law for honey that is being marketed locally but is needed for export.
  4. Recent NMR tests, while being able to detect additives, could not detect the quantity of adulteration.

Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians 2020

Dr Carolina Araujo, a Mathematician from the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been awarded the Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians 2020.

  • She received the Prize for her outstanding work in algebraic geometry. Her work area focuses on birational geometry, which aims to classify and describe algebraic varieties' structure.

Key Points

  1. The Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians from developing countries has been awarded annually since 2005.
  2. The International Centre originally instituted it for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), the Niels Henrik Abel Memorial Fund, and the International Mathematical Union (IMU).
  3. The participation of the Abel Fund ended in 2012. 
  4. ICTP: Founded in 1964 by the late Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam, it seeks to accomplish its mandate by providing scientists from developing countries with the continuing education and skills that they need to enjoy long and productive careers. 
  5. IMU: It is an international non-governmental and non-profit scientific organization to promote international cooperation in mathematics.
  6. It is a member of the International Science Council (ISC).
    • The ISC was created in 2018 and is an international non-governmental organization bringing together the natural and social sciences and its type's largest global science organization.
    • It has its office in Paris, France.
  7. India is a member country.
  8. IMU Secretariat is located in Berlin, Germany.
  9. The Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India (DST) has agreed to fund the Prize, starting with the 2014 Prize.
  10.  It has been supported by DST in the memory of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a genius in pure mathematics who was essentially self-taught and made spectacular contributions to elliptic functions, continued fractions, infinite series, and analytical theory of numbers.
  11. In India, 22nd December is celebrated as National Mathematics Day in Srinivasa Ramanujan's memory.
  12. It is awarded to a researcher from a developing country who is less than 45 years of age on 31st December of the award and has conducted outstanding research in a developing country.
  13. Researchers working in any branch of the mathematical sciences are eligible. 
  14. The Prize carries a USD 15,000 cash award.

Havana Syndrome

Recently, a report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), USA, has found directed microwave radiation to be the plausible cause of the Havana syndrome.

Key Points 

Havana Syndrome:

  1. In late 2016, USA diplomats and other employees stationed in Havana (capital of Cuba) reported feeling ill after hearing strange sounds and experiencing odd physical sensations.
  2. The symptoms included nausea, severe headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, and hearing loss, which have since come to be known as the Havana Syndrome.
  3. The more chronic problems suffered by Havana personnel included mainly vestibular processing and cognitive problems and insomnia and headache.
  4. While the symptoms have resolved for some of the affected employees, for others, the effects have lingered and posed a significant obstacle to their work and affected the normal functioning of lives.

About the Report:

  1. The NAS report examined four possibilities to explain the symptoms viz. infection, chemicals, psychological factors and microwave energy.
  2. So far, only this report provides the clearest and detailed estimation of what may have transpired.
  3. In earlier attempts by various other government agencies, scientists talked about psychological illness due to the stressful environment of foreign missions or brain abnormalities in the diplomats who had fallen ill.

Findings of the Report:

  1. Directed pulsed microwave radiation energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining Havana syndrome cases among those that the committee considered.
    • By calling it "directed" and "pulsed" energy, the report leaves no room for confusion that the victims' exposure was targeted and not due to common sources of microwave energy.
  2. The immediate symptoms that patients reported, including sensations of pain and buzzing sound, apparently emanated from a particular direction or occurred in a specific spot in a room.
  3. It warns about the possibility of future episodes. It recommends establishing a response mechanism for similar incidents, adding that future incidents might be more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognise quickly.
  4. However, the committee cannot rule out other possible mechanisms and considers it likely that a multiplicity of factors explains some cases and the differences between others.
  5. It also does not mention the source and if the energy was delivered intentionally, even though it conducted significant research on microwave weapons.

USA's Reaction:

  1. The USA has praised the NAS for undertaking the effort but also highlighted that each possible cause remains speculative. It also flagged the committee's lack of access to some information because of potential security concerns that limit the report's scope.
  2. The government also included a provision in the new defence authorisation bill to provide long­term emergency care benefits to the government employees affected by the syndrome. 
  3. The USA had accused Cuba of carrying out "attacks", but Cuba denied any knowledge of the illnesses.

Microwave Weapons

  1. These are supposed to be a type of direct energy weapons, which aim at highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.
  2. The high-frequency electromagnetic radiations
  3. heat the water in the human body and cause discomfort and pain. It works the same way as the kitchen appliance.
    • In a microwave oven, an electron tube called a magnetron produces electromagnetic waves (microwaves) that bounce around the appliance's metal interior and are absorbed by the food.
    • The microwaves agitate the water molecules in the food, and their vibration produces heat that cooks the food. Foods with a high water content cook faster in a microwave often than drier foods.

Countries with Microwave Weapons:

  1. A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems.  
  2. China had first put on display its microwave weapon, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014. 
  3. The USA has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the "Active Denial System", which is the first non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system with an extended range greater than currently fielded non-lethal weapons.

➤ Concerns:

  1. o American diplomats and members of their families in Cuba and China were suspected to have been targeted using 'microwave weapons'
  2. (Havana Syndrome).
  3. People exposed to high-intensity microwave pulses have reported a clicking or buzzing sound as if seeming to be coming from within the head.
  4. Concerns have been raised on whether they can damage the eyes, or have a carcinogenic impact in the long term.
  5. It is not clear yet whether these can kill or cause lasting damage in human targets. 
  6. The USA holds that studies have shown that natural blink reflex, aversion response and head turn all protect the weapon's eyes.

Digital Ocean

The Ministry of Earth Sciences has recently inaugurated the web-based application Digital Ocean developed by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) in a Virtual Meeting held in New Delhi.

Key Points

About Digital Ocean:

  1. It is a new state of the art data platform for Ocean Data Management.
  2. It is the first such platform to provide ocean data related services at one place.
  3. It includes a set of applications developed to organize and present heterogeneous oceanographic data by adopting rapid geospatial technology advancements.
  4. It facilitates an online interactive web-based environment for data integration, 3D and 4D (3D in space with time animation) data visualization, data analysis to assess the evolution of oceanographic features, etc.

➤ Significance:

  1. Digital Ocean is a big step towards Digital India and Atmanirbhar Bharat's vision.
  2. It will serve as a one-stop-solution for all the data related needs of a wide range of users including research institutions, operational agencies, strategic users, the academic community, maritime industry, policymakers and the public.
  3. It will play a central role in the sustainable management of the oceans and expand the government's Blue Economic initiatives.
  4. It will be promoted as a platform for capacity building on Ocean Data Management for all Indian Ocean Rim countries.

Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services

  1. It is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
  2. It is located in Hyderabad and was established in 1999.
  3. It is a unit of the Earth System Science Organization
  4. (ESSO), New Delhi.
    • The ESSO operates as an executive arm of the MoES for its policies and programmes. 
    • ESSO aims to develop and improve the capability to forecast weather, climate and hazard related phenomena for social, economic and environmental benefits including addressing aspects relating to climate change science, and climate services.
  5. It is mandated to provide the best possible ocean information and advisory services to society, industry, government agencies and the scientific community through sustained ocean observations and constant improvement through systematic and focused research.
  6. It has adopted and developed various state-of-the-art technologies and tools that includes Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) advisories, Ocean State Forecast (OSF), High Wave Alerts, Tsunami early warnings, Storm Surge and Oil-Spill advisories, etc.
  7. It has served as the National Argo Data Centre and Regional Argo Data Centre of the International Argo Programme.

Other Related Initiative: 

Deep Ocean Mission:

  1. Launched in 2018, it proposes to explore the deep ocean.
  2. Focus: Deep-sea mining, ocean climate change advisory services, underwater vehicles and underwater robotics-related technologies.
  3. Two key projects planned in the Mission are:
  4. A desalination plant powered by tidal energy.
  5. A submersible vehicle that can explore depths of at least 6,000 metres.
  6. Significance: It will enable India to develop capabilities to exploit resources in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB).

Data from Chandrayaan-2 Released: ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has recently released the first set of data from the country's second mission to the Moon, the Chandrayaan-2, for the general public.

  • India launched Chandrayaan-2, its second lunar exploration mission after Chandrayaan-1, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota on 22nd July 2019.
  • ISRO is planning mission Chandrayaan-3 in late 2021 or early 2022.

Key Points

Standard Requirement for Public Release of Data:

  1. The Chandrayaan-2 data is required to be in the Planetary Data System-4 (PDS4) standard and must be peer-reviewed scientifically and technically before acceptance as PDS archives and declared ready for sharing with the global scientific community and the general public. 
  2. This activity has been completed and hence the first set of data from the Chandrayaan-2 mission is now being released for the wider public use through the PRADAN portal hosted by the Indian Space Science Data Centre (ISSDC).
  3. ISSDC is the nodal centre of the planetary data archive for the planetary missions of ISRO.

Current Data:

  1. The ISRO Science Data Archive (ISDA) currently holds data sets acquired by Chandrayaan-2 payloads from September-2019 to February-2020 from seven instruments.
  2. ISDA is the long-term archive for ISRO planetary missions.

➤ Data Implies:

All experiments have been performing well and the data received suggests the excellent capability to deliver on the pre-launch promises.


  • It is an integrated 3-in-1 spacecraft of around 3,877 kg consisting of an Orbiter of the Moon, Vikram (after Vikram Sarabhai) - the lander and Pragyan (wisdom) - the rover, all equipped with scientific instruments to study the Moon.
  • The Chandrayaan-2 was India's first attempt to land on the lunar surface. 
  • ISRO had planned the landing on the South Pole of the lunar surface. However, the lander Vikram hard-landed in September last year. Its orbiter, which is still in the lunar orbit, has seven years of the mission.

➤ Objective:

  • Try and build on the evidence of water molecules shown by Chandrayaan-1 and study the extent and distribution of water on the Moon. 
  • Study topography, seismography, the composition of the lunar surface and the lunar atmosphere.
  • The study of ancient rocks and craters can offer indications of the origin and evolution of the Moon.
  • The South Pole region of the Moon also contains clues to the fossil records of early solar systems. Thus, it can improve our understanding of the early solar system.
  • Map the lunar surface and prepare 3D maps of it.
The document December 2020: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Science & Technology for UPSC CSE.
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