2015 Nobel laureates receive awards, pay rich tributes to early mentors

Dec 11, 2015 0

By Gokul Bhagabati

STOCKHOLM– From being a “failure in chemistry class” to a believer in “slow understanding”, the Nobel laureates of 2015 might not have been the brightest of kids in their school days but when it came to discoveries that led to “greatest benefits for the mankind”, they were honoured by the King of Sweden at a glittering ceremony here on Thursday.

The 2015 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economic sciences received their awards from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, in the presence of over 1,000 guests, including royals, international star academics and foreign dignitaries.

Nobel-sizedThe event that was organising after Sweden raised its terror threat alert to what the local media here described as “historically high levels” passed off without any disruption even as placards asking for a Nobel prize in ecology or environment to combat climate change in 2016 welcomed the dignitaries outside the Concert Hall.

Addressing the guests at the Nobel Banquet at the Stockholm City Hall that followed the award ceremony, Swedish chemistry laureate Tomas Lindahl said he once failed in chemistry in school.

Even as the dignitaries present on the occasion broke into laughter, he said scoring low in school was not fun for him then as he wanted to secure a medical seat.

“Today, I realise how important our teachers can be,” he said.

“Without outstanding teachers, it would have been impossible for me to be standing in front of you tonight,” he added.

“Some of the scientific discoveries we celebrate today have already proved to be extraordinarily useful for mankind in the treatment of certain disease. These examples illustrate that research can solve many problems and contribute to a better world,” added professor Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation.

Angust Deaton, who was awarded the prize in economic sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, said he became economist by accident as he drifted from one topic to another, adding he was helped in his career by distinguished mentors.

Chinese scientist Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine at the glittering ceremony.

Tu, William Campbell from the US and Satoshi Omura from Japan received the medicine prize for unlocking revolutionary treatments for malaria and roundworm, helping to roll back two parasitic diseases that blight millions of lives.

“The discovery of Artemisinin has led to development of a new drug that has saved the lives of millions of people, halving the mortality rate of malaria during the past 15 years,” said Professor Hans Forssberg, member of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, when presenting Tu’s scientific contributions.

The concert hall awards ceremony was followed by a lavish evening banquet at the Stockholm City Hall.

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Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar Visits US

Dec 11, 2015 0

WASHINGTON–Minister of Defense of India Manohar Parrikar made an official visit to the United States at the invitation of US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter from December 7-10, 2015 that included visits to multiple U.S. facilities including U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), the Pentagon, and a visit with Secretary Carter to observe flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).

Manohar Parrikar

Manohar Parrikar

First, Defense Minister Parrikar participated as a guest of honor in a Pearl Harbor commemorative ceremony at PACOM. He also met with Admiral Harry Harris, the PACOM Commander and visited various facilities in Honolulu, Hawaii.

At the Pentagon, Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter held their third meeting. They discussed the India-US defense relationship and broader India-US strategic partnership, and focused on ways to maintain the strong momentum of security and defense engagement, including means to further move the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) forward. Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar expressed satisfaction with DTTI progress to date. They committed to identifying additional projects for possible co-development and co-production of high technology items that meet the transformational intent of DTTI.

Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter commended positive discussions at the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC), especially in the area of Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE), and look forward to continued progress to be achieved at the second meeting of the JWGACTC in February 2016 in India. They further expressed satisfaction that the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG), which met this week in Bengaluru, had concluded its Terms of Reference and had productive discussion on cooperation in this area.

Secretary Carter informed Minister Parrikar that in light of the strengthening relationship between the United States and India, the DoD has updated its policy on gas turbine engine technology transfer to India. As a result of this policy update, the Secretary is confident that the United States will be able to expand cooperation in production and design of jet engine components. Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar look forward to U.S. companies working with their Indian counterparts to submit transfer requests that will benefit from this updated policy.

Minister Parrikar informed Secretary Carter about the Make-in-India initiative, under which several reforms have been taken in the Indian defense sector. Secretary Carter welcomed Indian initiatives in this regard and hoped that this would pave the way for even greater participation of US companies in the defense sector.

Secretary Carter welcomed India’s participation in the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) multilateral naval exercise in 2016 as well as participation by the Indian Air Force in the multilateral Red Flag exercise in April-May 2016, and expressed support for greater Air-to-Air interaction in the future. Minister Parrikar welcomed announcement of US participation in the International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.

Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar expressed satisfaction at the level of maritime cooperation between the two navies and resolved to further expand the same in coming years. They announced their intention to soon complete a memorandum of understanding between their navies on “white shipping” information sharing. They also welcomed the renewal of the Fuel Exchange Agreement.

Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter commended the progress achieved last month at the Defense Policy Group (DPG), including the re-establishment of a working group on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) cooperation under the Military Cooperation Group and focused discussions on defense capability development.

They also discussed a wide range of regional security issues, including the threat posed by ISIL and entities such as Al-Qa’ida and its affiliates, Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company, the Haqqani Network, and other regional terror groups. They discussed ways to implement the defense-related aspects of Prime Minister Modi and President Obama’s Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.

The official visit underlined the strategic importance of the defense relationship and the personal priority that the Minister and Secretary place on the bilateral partnership. During his visit, Minister Parrikar also met with senior National Security Council officials and members of Congress.

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Indo-US experts developing solar-powered oral cancer detector for remote areas

Dec 10, 2015 0

By Sahana Ghosh

KOLKATA– Researchers in India and the US are testing a handy solar-powered device for early detection of oral cancer which could be integrated with mobile technology, enabling faster and accurate diagnostics in rural areas.

Petra Wilder-Smith

Petra Wilder-Smith

Designed by the Beckman Laser Institute (BLI), University of California-Irvine (UCI) and the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre (MSCC) in Bengaluru, the compact screening and diagnosing system – slightly larger than a shoe box – has been specially adapted for India, which has one of the highest rates of head and neck cancers in the world and accounts for the highest rate among women.

Its light-weight and user-friendly features mean even minimally educated healthcare workers in the field can apply it. The solar energy-driven device will capture images of the patient’s oral cavity and transmit them via a mobile phone to experts at the centre.

“India is the first country in which we are using the device – it was specifically designed to meet conditions and needs there. The final device will have a solar option,” Petra Wilder-Smith of BLI told IANS in an email interaction.

Recognised as a pioneer in the application of optics and lasers in oral diagnosis, Wilder-Smith said the device is based on optical coherence tomography (OCT) – an imaging technology that is similar to ultrasound, except that it uses light (a laser). Screening will be in real-time and the patient will not be subjected to harmful radiation.

“The inexpensive, very small, robust portable diagnostic system for oral cancer based on OCT will be used to screen for oral cancer in the field by basic level healthcare workers in India, and a simple diagnostic algorithm will indicate further diagnostic and treatment needs for each individual,” said Wilder-Smith, director of dentistry at BLI.

Oral cancer is the most common cancer in India, accounting for 40 percent of all cancers overall and for over 50 percent of all cancers in some areas of the country.

It is also disturbing to note the spike in oral cancer in young adults.

“In the US, the oral cancer rate is also high, especially in African-Americans, older persons, and tobacco and alcohol users. It is particularly troubling that recently a trend has been observed worldwide towards an increased incidence of oral cancer among young adults,” informed Wilder-Smith, stressing on early detection.

Why the emphasis on the light-based technology?

Wilder-Smith said oral cancer and pre-cancer are currently diagnosed using a visual exam, which has a poor accuracy rate, and by surgical biopsy, which cannot be performed in the field by basic-level healthcare workers.

And since existing and emerging imaging-based diagnostic tools are too expensive, too fragile and difficult to operate in remote locations, head and neck oncologist M.A Kuriakose from MSCC, who is leading the venture in India, said the probe will be of immense value in low-resource settings in rural India, where visits to dentists are rare.

“It is being tested in MSCC Bengaluru. The validation phase is 12 months. We are also planning to incorporate the transmission of the laser image from remote location via a mobile phone. Once developed, one needs to get regulatory approvals before it can be made available for wider clinical use,” Kuriakose said.

With the fabrication cost goal estimated at lower than $5,000 (Rs.335,000), researchers say the subsequent models of the probe will be wireless and 3D scan-enabled.

“The experimental model costs about Rs.1.5 lakh (lower than that of existing commercial devices). However, the commercial product cost will be significantly lower,” Kuriakose told IANS.

The project is funded by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, under the Indo-US collaborative programme. The Department of Biotechnology is also a funding partner, said Kuriakose.

The collaborators are also working in close consultation to thrash out a simple diagnostic algorithm which will indicate further diagnostic and treatment needs for each individual.

“Screening will identify whether a person needs to travel to a centre with higher levels of expertise in oral cancer for further tests and potential cancer therapy,” Wilder-Smith added.

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India raises concern with US over cyber spying

Dec 10, 2015 0

NEW DELHI– India has raised its concerns with the US over reports on authorisation of American entities to spy on Indian government and its citizens in the cyber space, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said on Thursday.

V.K. Singh

V.K. Singh

The Indian government has taken steps to enhance the cyber security of the country and improve its ability to resist cyber attacks, Singh said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha.

“The government has raised its concerns with the US government regarding reported authorisation given to its entities to intrude upon the privacy of communications of the Indian government, its citizens and Indian entities,” he said in his reply.

“The devices on the Internet are prone to regular scanning from different parts of the world for a variety of purposes, including to penetrate cyber networks operating in the government. It has been observed that the attackers use masquerading techniques and hidden servers to hide the identity of actual system from which the attacks are being launched,” he said.

The Indian government had formulated a ‘Crisis Management Plan’ for countering cyber attacks and cyber terrorism for implementation by all ministries/departments of the central and state governments and other organisations and critical sectors.

“The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) issues alerts and advisories regarding latest cyber threats and countermeasures on regular basis. CERT-In has formulated guidelines for securing IT infrastructure. It also conducts regular training programmes for the system administrators,” Singh said.

The National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) has been operationalised and it “provides regularly to chief information security officers of critical information infrastructure organisations, tailored advisories on software/hardware vulnerabilities and alerts on cyber attacks”.

In addition, policy, audit and compliance reports from critical information infrastructure organisations were analysed.

“All ministries/departments have been advised to conduct security audit of entire information technology infrastructure,” Singh said.

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