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Forum for Indian Science Diplomacy 

RIS Science Diplomacy News Alert is your fortnightly update on Indian and global developments in science research, technological advancements, science diplomacy, policy and governance. The archives of this news alert are available at http://fisd.in. Please email your valuable feedback and comments to science.diplomacy@ris.org.in

Africa SDG Index Finds Stagnating Progress, Calls for Accelerated Action
The SDG Center for Africa (SDGC/A) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) released the 2019 Africa SDG Index and Dashboards Report. The report calls for accelerated action to address poverty (SDG 1), infrastructure and innovation (SDG 9) and environmental sustainability (SDGs 12, 13, 14 and 15, among others).The report features data on 52 African countries. The Index ranks countries on a scale from 0 (the worst score) to 100 (the best score). Tunisia’s score of 66.01, the highest score in Africa, suggests that the country is 66% of the way towards achieving the SDGs. Following Tunisia, the top five countries are all in North Africa: Mauritius, Algeria, Morocco and Cabo Verde. The lowest performing countries are fragile States with high levels of poverty: South Sudan, Central African Republic and Chad. The report states that a lack of funding and resources is “the single most significant challenge” in both SDG implementation and monitoring.The report observes that a high proportion of African countries have not yet engaged with the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process.The report also features case studies to illustrate SDG best practices. These focus on: the African Business Coalition for health SDGs; agro-processing industrial parks in Ethiopia; regional integration in the East African Community; socio-economic investment and environmental impacts of mines in Zambia; and jobs and Tunisia’s digital global economy.

GEF’s Newly Adopted Work Program to Deliver Transformational Change in Food Systems, Land, Forests
The 56th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council adopted the largest-ever Work Program for the GEF Trust Fund, totaling USD 865.9 million and comprising 31 projects, seven programs, and three multi-trust fund projects. The Work Program will benefit 91 recipient countries, including 30 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 32 small island developing States (SIDS). The Work Program features four Impact Programs covering: food systems, land use, and restoration (FOLUR); Amazon forests; Congo Basin forests; and dryland landscapes. Other global programs approved include the Global Programme to Support Countries with the Shift to Electric Mobility, Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-chemical Development in SIDS (ISLANDS), and the Global Wildlife Program.Representatives of governments, international organizations, and civil society organizations (CSOs) attended the three-day meeting. The meetings were preceded by a consultation with CSOs on 10 June, which included a dialogue on plastics pollution at which the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) presented a publication titled, ‘Plastics and Circular Economy: Community Solutions.’

China reveals scientific experiments for its next space station
China has selected nine scientific experiments on its first major space station, scheduled to be completed in 2022.The China Manned Space Agency selected the projects, which involve scientists from 17 nations, from 42 hopefuls, in a process organized with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).China’s existing space laboratory, Tiangong-2, which launched in 2016, also hosts experiments, but the new space station will be bigger and is intended to last longer. Known as the China Space Station, the outpost will be less than one-quarter of the mass of the International Space Station (ISS). Scientists working on the projects hail from nations such as Russia, Japan and India, as well as low- and middle-income countries including Kenya, Mexico and Peru — the result of a special effort to encourage participation from such nations. The experiments include an Indian–Russian observatory called Spectroscopic Investigations of Nebular Gas, which will map dust clouds and star-forming regions of space using ultraviolet light. A group of European institutions, meanwhile, will study how microgravity and radiation in space affect the mutation of DNA in human ‘organoids’ — 3D biological structures that mimic organs. And a Saudi Arabian team will test how solar cells perform on the outside of the space station. The United States is planning to cut its funding for the ISS from 2024, as it concentrates its space efforts on building an outpost in the Moon’s orbit from 2022. This could mean that the Chinese space station becomes scientists’ only laboratory in low Earth orbit from 2024. India has recently indicated it would build a space station in low earth orbit.

UN Officials and Co-facilitators Provide Updates on September High-level Events
Five high level meetings are to be held during the 74 th session of the UNGA 74 starting on 24 September - Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit (23 September); the SDG Summit, or the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) (24-25 September); the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (26 September); and the High-level Midterm Review of the SAMOA Pathway (27 September).The five meetings are deeply interconnected and seek to generate ambitious SDG action that leaves no one behind.While some progress has been made, further and much faster progress must be made to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The UN has called on all governments and stakeholders to come to each of the high-level week meetings with strong acceleration commitments that are credible, actionable and transformative.The SDG Summit will discuss the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), which is expected to be released soon. An “SDG Acceleration Hub,” will be set up to register SDG commitments and “acceleration actions” online. The HLPF is expected to adopt a  political declaration by consensus. Extensive and high-quality summaries of the HLPF will be produced.Between 2016 and 2019, 142 countries have presented voluntary national reviews (VNRs) which are being reviewed by Group led by Mexico which seeks to stimulate peer learning and sharing best practices and lessons learned.

New manufacturing process for aluminum alloys
An advanced manufacturing process to produce nano structured rods and tubes directly from high-performance aluminum alloy powder -- in a single step -- was recently demonstrated by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Using a novel Solid Phase Processing approach, the research team eliminated several steps that are required during conventional extrusion processing of aluminum alloy powders, while also achieving a significant increase in product ductility.High-performance aluminum alloys made from powder have long been used in lightweight components for specialized aerospace applications, where cost is not a limiting factor. However, these alloys have typically been too expensive for the automotive industry.The team has been able to extrude nanostructured aluminum rods directly from powder in a single step, using PNNL's Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion technology, or ShAPE™.In the ShAPE™ process, an aluminum alloy powder is poured into an open container. A rotating extrusion die is then forced into the powder, which generates heat at the interface between the powder and die. The material softens and easily extrudes, eliminating the need for canning, degassing, hot pressing, pre-heating, and decanning.This method could dramatically reduce production time as well as lower the cost and overall embedded energy within the product, which could be beneficial for automotive manufacturers who want to make passenger vehicles more affordable, lighter, and fuel-efficient for the consumer." The team also found dramatic improvements in the ductility of the extrusion produced by ShAPE™, measuring ductility that is two to three times that found in conventional extrusion products, and with equivalent strength.

Now a smart phone can become a robot that does routine work
Purdue University researchers led by Dr Kartik Ramani, have developed a prototype smartphone app called VRa,that allows a user to easily program any robot to perform a mundane activity, such as picking up parts from one area and delivering them to another, watering plants, etc.The app wouold enable workers to do the programming themselves, dramatically bringing down the costs of building and programming mobile robots.Using augmented reality, the app allows the user to either walk out where the robot should go to perform its tasks, or draw out a workflow directly into real space. The app offers options for how those tasks can be performed, such as under a certain time limit, on repeat or after a machine has done its job.After programming, the user drops the phone into a dock attached to the robot. While the phone needs to be familiar with the type of robot it's "becoming" to perform tasks, the dock can be wirelessly connected to the robot's basic controls and motor.The phone is both the eyes and brain for the robot, controlling its navigation and tasks. To get the robot to execute a task that involves wirelessly interacting with another object or machine, the user simply scans the QR code of that object or machine while programming, effectively creating a network of so-called "Internet of Things." Once docked, the phone (as the robot) uses information from the QR code to work with the objects. The researchers demonstrated this with robots watering a plant, vacuuming and transporting objects. The user can also monitor the robot remotely through the app and make it start or stop a task, such as to go charge its battery or begin a 3D-printing job. The app provides an option to automatically record video when the phone is docked, so that the user can play it back and evaluate a workflow. The app knows how to navigate and interact with its environment according to what the user specifies through building upon so-called "simultaneous localization and mapping." These types of algorithms are also used in self-driving cars and drones. The team's goal is for everyone to be able to program robots, and for humans and robots to collaborate with each other.The app has been tested in real factory settings to evaluate user-driven applications. Ultimately, the app is a step toward creating future "smart" factories, powered by artificial intelligence and augmented reality, that complement and increase worker productivity rather than replacing them. 

Topical cream shows promise in treatment of skin pigmentation disease, vitiligo
A nationwide phase II clinical trial, coordinated out of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, has found that a topical cream was extremely effective in reversing the effects of vitiligo, a relatively common autoimmune disease that causes loss of skin pigmentation. Topical application of the medicated cream, ruxolitinib, which is currently used as an oral treatment for certain blood disorders, resulted in substantial improvement of facial vitiligo symptoms in nearly half of the trial's participants. Approximately 50 million people are affected by vitiligo, which is more evident in ethnic minorities with darker skin. No FDA-approved re-pigmenting treatments for vitiligo currently exist. The two-year study, the largest randomized controlled vitiligo study ever conducted, enrolled 157 patients at 30 sites across the United States. Participants received daily or twice daily topical application of either ruxolitinib or placebo to the area of skin affected by vitiligo. About half of the highest dose of ruxolitinib patients saw a statistically significant improvement of near 50 percent in their facial vitiligo, compared to three percent who saw this level of improvement in the placebo group. Side effects of topical application of ruxolitinib were mild and included redness and irritation at the application site and mild acne. The researchers hope that this treatment ultimately will be a game-changer for the millions of people worldwide affected by vitiligo.

Sustainable Development Report 2019 points out large gaps in performance.
The Sustainable Development Report 2019 just published details the progress by countries on their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report says that the worst performance is on SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). No country obtains a “green rating” (the report’s indicator for the achievement of an SDG) on SDG 14 (Life Below Water). The authors conclude that integrated agriculture, climate, and health policy interventions are needed. High-income countries generate effects such as deforestation as a result of palm oil and other fuel commodity demands, tax havens and banking secrecy that undermine a country’s ability to raise public revenues, and tolerance for poor labor standards in international supply chains that harm the poor and women in particular. Modern slavery and the share of waiting detainees in prison remain high, particularly in low-income countries. Trends in corruption and freedom of press are worsening in more than 50 countries covered in the report, including several middle income and high-income countries. Eradicating extreme poverty remains a global challenge with half of the world nations not on track for achieving SDG 1 (No Poverty). In middle- and high-income countries, rising income inequalities and persisting gaps in access to services and opportunities by income or territorial area remain important policy issues. In September 2019, Heads of State and Governments will meet at the United Nations in New York to review progress on their promises made after four years of working on Agenda 2030. 

Five National Academies sign Global pact to fight air pollution
Five national academies of science and medicine from Germany, Brazil and South Africa, and the United States have urged the world to adopt concrete measures to tackle air pollution and prevent the millions of deaths it causes each year. They have called for a global pact to adopt pollution-curbing policies and technologies.Air pollution causes around 7 million avoidable deaths each year, mainly women, elderly people, children and poor people. It can affect the brain development of children and lead to serious health conditions, including heart disease, asthma, diabetes and cancer.The academies will present a  declaration at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September, urging all countries to implement industrial emissions controls and air monitoring systems. Where possible, the successes of individual cities and countries should be shared to help those struggling to improve air quality.The main causes of air pollution are fossil fuel and biomass combustion, which are used for energy generation, heating, cooking, transport and agriculture, according to the joint statement.Pollution from fossil fuels is particularly harmful to humans, as it contains large amounts of particulate material — especially that with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), which tends to stay longer in the air than heavier particles. When these particles enter the body they can penetrate the lungs and may even pass into the bloodstream.These particles damage the lungs, heart, brain, skin and other organs, increasing the risk of diseases and disabilities.


Indian team develops biodegradable screws for fixing bone injuries
IIT Bombay researchers have developed India’s first biodegradable bone screw. The screw is made of a polymer-based biomaterial which contains Magnesium Oxide nanoparticles and silk fibres, and its mechanical strength can be tuned to match the target tissue. As tested in rodents, the screw decomposes reasonably fast and is completely compatible inside the body. While biodegradable polymer-based screws made of Poly Lactic Acid (PLLA) are used commonly these days, Indian companies don’t yet possess the license to manufacture them. Hence, they need to be imported, which adds to treatment costs, often making them unaffordable. The current study, which uses polycaprolactone instead of PLLA as the main component, addresses this problem.  
The researchers found that the addition of fillers like Magnesium Oxide (MgO) nanoparticles and short silk fibres significantly improved the polymer’s mechanical strength and helped it degrade faster. The researchers found that the new biomaterial could easily attach to human osteoblast-like cells (a bone-derived cell type) and enhance cell proliferation. It also degraded at a faster rate over the period of a year compared to standard PLLA screws. Success with the in vitro studies led the researchers to fabricate a screw for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction, a type of surgical tissue graft replacement in the knees. The team intends to replace some of the metallic implants used commonly in orthopaedic surgery in India with inexpensive indigenous bioresorbable implants.This work has received the HTAC-ICMR Business Development Award from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and FICCI in collaboration with IC2 Institute Business Incubator, University of Texas at Austin, USA, amongst other prestigious awards.

 Japan’s Govt & Firms to Infuse $140 Mn in 100 Indian Startups
India and Japan are jointly launching a $187 million (Rs 1,298 crore) startup fund-of-funds (FoF) to invest in over 100 technology startups in India with focus on ventures working in the fields of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence. The fund is an outcome of a deal between Japan and India sealed in October last year, in which the countries agreed to cooperate on a broad range of projects related to business, technology and human resources. $150 million will be raised from Japanese investors for the upcoming FoF called “Indo-Japan Emerging Technology & Innovation AIF”   while the remaining will be raised from Indian investors.The Fund aims to invest in more than 200 Indian companies focssed on emerging areas such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), fintech, healthcare, consumer, education, robotics, automation and business-to-business (B2B) software. Four Japanese firms – Mizuho Bank, Development Bank of Japan, Nippon Life and Suzuki Motor — have already signed letters of intent for the FoF. Reliance Nippon Life Asset Management Ltd (RNAM), the Indian asset management arm of Nippon Life, will manage the Fund.

GSK to fund doctoral programs at Regional Centre for Biotechnology
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will fund doctoral programs in bioinformatics and biostatistics for the next 5 years at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB).The program is called ‘Trust in Science’ and intake for it has begun this year – with a total of 5 candidates selected this year, and 2 each in discipline expected to be taken in
every year thereafter. GSK will put in an “initial amount” of £600,000 to fund the PhD courses. The intellectual property arising from the research will belong jointly to RCB and GSK.Students with a master’s degree in biostatistics, maths, statistics and bioinformatics can apply GSK said the program’s aim was to build indigenous research. 

Indian engineer's breathing device to prevent deaths of newborn babies wins Innovation Award in UK
An Indian engineer whose low-cost neonatal breathing device has won the 2019 Commonwealth Secretary-General's Innovation for Sustainable Development Award in London. Nitesh Kumar Jangir developed  "Saans" as a breathing support device to tackle avoidable deaths of premature babies from respiratory distress syndrome due to a lack of immediate access to complex medical equipment. In countries like India, with erratic electricity supply and limited resources at public hospitals, this neonatal breathing support equipment can be used without any complex training. So, anyone, anywhere can use this device and deliver crucial support to premature babies. Efofrts are on to  upscale this device across the Commonwealth countries, for use in similar conditions in regions like Africa," he said

Tunisia and India Sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Space Cooperation
Tunisia and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space. The MoU will provide a policy framework for both nations to work together closely on joint research, technology and knowledge exchanges, and capacity development. This new promising area of cooperation and partnership between Tunisia and India is part of the ‘Road Map for Tunisian India future partnership’ signed in October 2017 in Delhi, will include significant activities related to remote sensing of the earth, satellite meteorology; satellite-based navigation, space science and planetary exploration; use of spacecraft and space systems as well as practical application of space technology. It will also open the path for our countries to explore other areas of cooperation in terms of common interest.  India will also gain from collaborating with Tunisia on implementing joint space projects, knowledge and technology exchanges as well as in the transfer of expertise. Tunisia adds to a growing list of India’s allies on space exploration in Africa. In September 2018, India entered into similar bilateral agreements with Algeria, Morocco and the island of Sao Tome and Principe.

IISc is now the world's second best research institute: QS University Rankings
Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore was ranked second in the University Rankings, globally for its research facilities. This makes IISc the first Indian institution to get nearly 100,000 citations in research papers in a span of five years. Last year, the institute was ranked sixth among the top performing Indian universities. Four of the 23 prominent Indian institutions ranked, improved on the performance in the higher education sector. India’s premier institution Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay moved up by ten spots to the 152th rank, according to QS University Rankings 2020. The Indian institutions that featured in the top 500 universities included IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IISc Bangalore, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee, University of Delhi and IIT Guwahati. The rankings are based on six parameters — international student and faculty ratio, academic and employer reputation, and citations. 


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