The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast changing world.
In the Twenty Fourth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Shruti Jha, Nikunj Gulati, Kanika)


Coronavirus has created troubles for CM Uddhav Thackeray’s election
The Maharashtra State cabinet has passed a resolution to the Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to nominate Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as a member of the legislature council through his quota of seats and thus he will get only about two months tenure to upper house as the term of the two vacant seats from the quota end on June 6. Read MoreThackeray is not a member of the two houses of the state legislature. The Constitution requires a Minister or a Chief Minister who is not a member of either of the houses to be elected to either of the houses within six months of being sworn in the past, falling which the person must resign. Thackeray was sworn as Chief Minister on November 28, 2019, and finishes six months on May 28, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the election commission to defer the polls.

Bernie Sanders drops out of the 2020 Democratic race for President
Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the apparent Democratic presidential nominee and setting up a general election between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. Read MoreBernie said that path to winning the Democratic presidential nomination is “virtually impossible, ” adding that he did not want to put effort into a doomed campaign as the outbreak rips through the country. He further said that he did not make the decision lightly describing it is a”very difficult and painful decision”. The decision comes after the coronavirus pandemic upended the democratic race. Senders like every other Democratic presidential candidate had long promised to support the eventual nominee. In his remarks, he congratulated Biden, calling him a “very decent man, ” and promised to “work with him to move our progressive ideas forward”.

Saudi Arabia begins two-week ceasefire in Yemen
Saudi Arabia declared a unilateral two-week ceasefire in Yemen as Riyadh tries to extricate itself from a costly and protracted war with Iran-backed Houthi fighters. The unilateral ceasefire follows an escalation in fighting between the warring parties despite a call by the United Nations for an immediate cessation to protect civilians in the Arab world’s poorest nation from the pandemic. Read MoreThe coalition said its move is intended to facilitate talks sponsored by UN envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent truce, motivated in part to avoid a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus, though no cases have been reported in Yemen. The ceasefire comes as Saudi Arabia, reeling from plunging oil prices, seeks to extricate itself from the costly five-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Coronavirus gives chance for peace, Saudi and Yemen rebels begin ceasefire
The Saudi-led coalition began a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen’s long war on 9th April, saying it hoped the initiative to prevent the corona virus in the impoverished country would lead to a wider political solution. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have not made any comment on the coalition’s declaration of a two-week pause in the five-year conflict that took effect from 0900 GMT. Read MoreIf the ceasefire does hold, it would be the first breakthrough since the warring parties agreed to an UN-brokered ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida during talks in Sweden in late 2018. The ceasefire comes as Saudi Arabia, reeling from plunging oil prices, seeks to extricate itself from the costly conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Yemeni people and triggered what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s broken healthcare system has so far recorded no cases of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic. That will be the real litmus test of a successful ceasefire as the Huthis have currently opened multiple battlefronts they cannot afford to close.

Trump expands role of army to tackle COVID-19, says ‘we’re in a war’
US President Donald Trump has expanded the role of the US Army in the fight against deadly coronavirus, saying that no one is better prepared to fight the current situation which is like a war. As such, the administration would require thousands of new hospital beds and thousands of ventilators along with face masks and other medical supplies. Read MoreMore than 90 percent of the country’s 330 million population are under strict stay-in-home order and major disaster declaration has been announced for over three dozen States. The Javits Convention Center in New York that has been converted overnight into a 2,500 beds hospital by the army would now be manned by the armed forces as well. Over 9,000 retired army medical personnel have answered their nation’s call and are now supporting field hospitals and medical facilities all across the country says Trump in his statement. The Department of Health and Human Services is working with the Department of Justice and has taken the custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 600,000 gloves as well as many bottles and disinfectant sprays.

Society and Culture

Nationwide Lockdown extension till May 3
PM Narendra Modi has announced the extension of the complete lockdown of the country till May 3 and based on extensive scrutiny, a conditional withdrawal of the lockdown will be permitted in areas from 20 April where the spread has either been contained or permitted. States had asked for the extension of the lockdown and some had already extended it. Odisha was the first state to extend the lockdown unilaterally. Read MoreThe move was replicated by States like Telangana, Maharashtra and Punjab which had already extended till April 30. The government rolled out PM Garib Kalyan Yojana to take care of those who are most affected due to lockdown. Earlier the PM had said ‘Jaan Hai to Jahan Hai’. And now it is imperative to focus on both aspects, ‘Jaan Bhi Jahan Bhi’ (life and wellbeing), for India’s bright future. The government is keen to start economic activities in areas with a low incidence of coronavirus cases. Hence the top priority is to restart activity in the agricultural sector with timely harvesting of rabi crops.

Stop the racial harassment of the Northeastern People
The cases of racism against people from India’s northeastern region are increasing amid the coronavirus crisis. Manipur CM N.Biren Singh raised the issue of a racial slur and harassment during PM Narendra Modi’s video conference with all States Chief Minister. Read MoreHe appealed to the other Chief Minister to take care of the 30,000 Manipuri people who are stranded outside the state because of the lockdown. The CM also said that the Manipur government is taking care of safety and all other requirements for people of other states stranded in Manipur. He has requested Narendra Modi to direct the states to do the needful to stop harassment of NE people at the time of crisis. Denouncing the act of racial discrimination the PM said that strict action will be taken against the perpetrators and the issue needs to be dealt with firmly.

US surpasses Italy in total COVID-19 deaths
The United States has surpassed Italy, previously the world hardest-hit country in terms of COVID-19 deaths. The US has become one of the worst-hit countries with the fatalities crossing 20,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data, as the novel continues to wreak havoc in the globe. The US has seen its highest death tolls to date in the epidemic with roughly 2,000 deaths a day. Read MorePresident Trump has declared a National Emergency and all the 50 states have been notified with a major disaster declaration. The country’s million population are under stay at home order. Italy has the second most reported deaths at 19,468 and Spain is in third place with 16,353. The US has five times the population of Italy and nearly seven times the population of Spain. Globally, there have been more than 1.6 million confirmed cases, with the death toll surpassing 1,03,000.

Without lockdown, coronavirus cases could have raised rapidly
The Union Health Ministry said the number of coronavirus cases in India would have shot up to 8.2 lakh by April 15 if the Centre had not enforced a nationwide lockdown and other containment measures. The number of coronavirus cases and deaths are rising gradually in India but not as rapidly as in the US and Europe.” Read MoreIndia would have registered a 41% cumulative rise in the number of cases taking the total to 2.08 lakh on April 11 and 8.2 lakh by April 15 had there been no lockdown or other containment measures”, said Lav Agarwal Joint secretary in the Health Ministry citing a statistical model to capture projected cases. He further said with containment measures but no lockdown, the number of cases would have risen to 1.2 lakh till April 15. Hence India deployed a graded response to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Kerala CM slams Centre for suspending MPLADS
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan slammed the Centre’s decision to suspend the Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLADS) funds for two years and transfer to the Centre’s consolidated fund in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. ” The decision goes against India’s federal principles. MPLADS rightfully belongs to the people in the constituencies. Read MoreIt should not be used to raise resources by the Centre, ” he said. The MPLADS helps MPs to directly fund developmental work in their constituencies. He added that these funds allocated to the MPs should ideally be mobilised by the states to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. “Many MPs here in Kerala were preparing to use their funds to fight the pandemic. This has now disrupted thanks to the Centre’s decision” he said. Recently, Shashi Tharoor had used his funds to procure COVID-19  testing kits for his constituency in Kerala.

Science and Technology

Giant Leap in Magnet Research Leading to Faster Electronics
The University of Central Florida is the lead university in the multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI) project, which is funded by a $7.5 million grant from the Department of Defense. The team explores methods for creating machines that operate at trillions of cycles per second. Read MoreThe laboratory researchers have successfully overcomed that natural resistance using electrical currents passes through anti-ferromagnets on the nanoscale. The results are groundbreaking because they represent proof of concept showing that antiferromagnetic devices can operate on the terahertz level — or calculations completed in a trillionth of a second. Not only does that hold potential for everything from guidance systems to communications, but it brings devices closer to mimicking the way the brain operates. The next steps will require close collaboration between the theory, experiments, and materials groups within the MURI. Creating devices on the nanoscale (with lateral dimensions below half a micron) takes a fundamental understanding of the appropriate materials. Both theoretical and experimental studies will follow this proof of concept with the intention of finding creative ways to scale down anti-ferromagnets.

Laser Treatment Turns Metal Surfaces Into Instant Bacteria Killers
Purdue University engineers have created a laser treatment method that could potentially turn any metal surface into a rapid bacteria killer – just by giving the metal surface a different texture. In their journal, researchers have demonstrated that this technique allows the surface of copper to immediately kill off superbugs such as MRSA. Read MoreThe technique is not yet tailored to killing viruses such as the one responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, which is much smaller than bacteria. The team has begun testing this technology on the surfaces of other metals and polymers that are used to reduce risks of bacterial growth and biofilm formation on devices such as orthopedic implants or wearable patches for chronic wounds thus there would be no need for antibiotics anymore. The technique developed uses a laser to create nanoscale patterns on the metal’s surface. The patterns produce a rugged texture that increases surface area, allowing more opportunity for bacteria to hit the surface and rupture on the spot. Due to the simplicity and scalability of the technique, the researchers believe that it could easily be translated into existing medical device manufacturing processes.

Scientists discover supernova that outshines all others
The team, which included experts from Harvard, Northwestern University and Ohio University, believe the supernova, dubbed SN2016aps, could be an example of an extremely rare ‘pulsational pair-instability’ supernova. We can measure supernovae using two scales — the total energy of the explosion, and the amount of that energy that is emitted as observable light, or radiation. In a typical supernova, the radiation is less than 1 percent of the total energy. Read MoreBut in SN2016aps, we found the radiation was five times the explosive energy of a normal-sized supernova. This is the most light we have ever seen emitted by a supernova. In order to become this bright, the explosion must have been much more energetic than usual. By examining the light spectrum, the team was able to show that the explosion was powered by a collision between the supernova and a massive shell of gas, shed by the star in the years before it exploded. The team observed the explosion for two years until it faded to 1 percent of its peak brightness. Using these measurements, they calculated the mass of the supernova was between 50 to 100 times greater than our sun (solar masses). Typically supernovae have masses of between 8 and 15 solar masses.

Shape-Changing, Free-Roaming Soft Robot Created
A significant limitation of most soft robots is that they have to be attached to a bulky air compressor or plugged into a wall, which prevents them from moving, so the only solution to make this mobile was to store this air quantity inside the body itself. The simplest version of this squishy robot is an inflated tube that runs through three small machines that pinch it into a triangle shape. Read MoreOne machine holds the two ends of the tube together; the other two drive along the tube, changing the overall shape of the robot by moving its corners. The researchers call it an “isoperimetric robot” because, although the shape changes dramatically, the total length of the edges — and the amount of air inside — remains the same. The isoperimetric robot is a descendent of three types of robots: soft robots, truss robots, and collective robots. It makes for a really interesting class of robots that combines many of the benefits of soft robots with all of the knowledge we have about more classic robots. A key understanding developed was that to create motion with a large, soft pneumatic robot. You don’t actually need to pump air in and out, you can simply use the air you already have and just move it around with these simple motors as it lets our robot move much more quickly. This robot could be really useful for space exploration especially because it can be transported in a small package and then operates untethered after it inflates.

Repairing Stroke-Damaged Rat Brains
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have succeeded in restoring mobility and sensation of touch in stroke-afflicted rats by reprogramming human skin cells to become nerve cells, which were then transplanted into the rats’ brains. Six months after the transplantation, we could see how the new cells had repaired the damage that a stroke had caused in the rats’ brains. Read MoreResearchers had used tracking techniques, electron microscopy and other methods, such as light to switch off activity in the transplanted cells, as a way to show that they really have connected correctly in the damaged nerve circuits. They had been able to see that the fibers from the transplanted cells have grown to the other side of the brain, the side where we did not transplant any cells and created connections. Now the researchers will undertake further studies. “We want to know more about how the transplanted cells affect the opposite hemisphere of the brain. We also want to take a closer look at how a transplant affects intellectual functions such as memory. In addition, we will study possible side effects. Safety is, of course, extremely important for cell transplantation if it is going to be used clinically in the future,” says the lead researcher for this project.

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