Lebanon Blast And History

Lebanon Blast And History

A massive explosion occurred recently in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, raising doubts over the causes of the incident as well as the adherence to the safety protocols, which have to be followed when a compound causing several explosions in past is concerned. Let us also explore the history of this nation.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Explosion
On 4th August 2020, a massive explosion occurred at the Beirut port in Lebanon. 150 casualties have been reported (as of 6th August), with more than 5,000 people injured and several people reported missing. The explosion was felt in the Cyprus islands, which lies 240 km away from Beirut, and the explosion also generated seismic waves equivalent to a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.

The Government has claimed that the blast occurred due to the storage of 2,700 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate, which was stored in the warehouse of the port for over six years. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) gas, harmful to the respiratory system, was released due to the explosion, with the red-colored gas being observed in the city.

The explosion also aggravated the economic crisis of the state, which has been witnessing protests since the start of the year against increased poverty and unemployment.

Ammonium Nitrate (AN) is used for the production of fertilisers, but is also the main component of ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil), which is an explosive compound. AN can explode in 2 major ways:

  • Triggering by primary explosion using RDX or TNT,
  • Heat generation due to oxidation on a large scale, which results in a fire and causes a blast.

History Of Lebanon

  • Lebanon is located in the Middle East between Israel and Syria.
  • It gained independence from France on 22 November, 1943, with complete freedom being acquired on 1 Jan, 1944.
  • After Israel was declared as a state in 1948, Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon and used the country as an attacking base to attack Israel.
  • 1975: Civil war erupts in Lebanon between “Christians, Muslims and Palestinians”.
  • 1976: Syria enters to stop the civil war.
  • 1978: Israel invades Lebanon to attack the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) operating in Lebanon.
  • 1990: The civil war ended, and a Government was established with the aid of Syria.
  • 2004: The United Nations (UN) asks Syria to withdraw troops placed in Lebanon for over 28 years. Syria declines the order and extends the term of its selected President Lahoud.
  • 2005: Syria withdraws all troops from Lebanon after protest over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who had a strong anti-Syria.
  • July 2006: Israel invades Lebanon after Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim group kidnaps 2 Israeli soldiers.
  • August 2006: Ceasefire is implemented between Israel and Lebanon.
  • 2011: The Unity Government of Lebanon is dissolved.
  • 2012: Security Chief Wissam al-Hassan is killed in a car bombing, with several leaders blaming his death on Syria.
  • 2012: Civil war starts in Syria.
  • 2013: Refugee crisis in Lebanon as more than 700,000 refugees from Syria enter the country. Restrictions were imposed in 2015 on the entry of the Syrians as the refugee count crossed 1 million.
  • 2020: Mass protests against Govt occur over the economic crisis, further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Lebanon’s financial power and stability through the 1950s and 1960s earned it the moniker of “Switzerland of the East”. While its capital, Beirut, attracted so many tourists that it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East”.
  • The 1947 Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred on April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City, Texas, at Galveston Bay. A mid-morning fire started on board the SS Grandcamp (docked in the port) and detonated about 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate. This started a chain reaction of fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities, ultimately killing at least 581 people.
  • The flag of Lebanon is formed of two horizontal red stripes enveloping a horizontal white stripe. The green cedar (Lebanon Cedar) in the middle touches each of the red stripes and its width is one third of the width of the flag.

Murder Hornets On A Bee-Killing Spree?

Murder Hornets On A Bee-Killing Spree?

U.S researchers at the Washington State Department of Agriculture have trapped one of the murder hornets for the first time last week. Also called the Asian giant hornet, why do they prey on bees? How are complex honeycomb structures made by bees anyway?

Crux of the Matter

Who Are These Murder Hornets ?

They are the world’s biggest predatory wasps who prey on honey bees, swooping down and grabbing them out of the air. Several dozen Asian giant hornets can together kill a whole hive and use them as protein nourishment for their young versions. So far, more than 1,300 traps have been set in Washington and their nests are being searched using infrared cameras.

Such mass attacks can kill thousands of bees in a few hours. Thus Entomologists (scientists studying insects) have nicknamed these orange and black insects after seeing their aggressive nature towards bees and protecting their kind in general to build colonies.

Difference Between Bees And Hornets
Hornets feed on insects like flies and bees while honeybees collect plant pollen as their protein. The former can sting again & again, yet survive. The bee dies after its one-time-use stinger rips out its abdomen.

Maths Behind Complex Honeycombs Solved?
As per a new study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the algorithm behind the complicated architecture of beeswax cells has been discovered.

The genus Tetragonula (stingless bees) specialize in building hives in several shapes, from stacks of circles in a bulls-eye, a single/double spiral to a group of terraces. Each individual cell is the landing spot for an egg and a building block for structures 20 levels high.

Digital Model Replicates Real-Life Process
Bees building such complicated shapes without any blueprints actually follow an algorithm. When each bee follows the very same rule in a different part of the waxy hive, an overall pattern is formed.

Hexagonal building blocks are used because they have the shortest perimeter of shapes that fit together tightly, making the most efficient use of wax.

So How Do They Do It?
The digital beehive started with one cell, with the worker bees working on it. Random variables were selected for the new additions to a growing edge which then produces various output patterns.

In nature, crystals grow similarly, with different impurities causing their different shapes. Entomologist Tim Heard suggests that this structure improves airflow through the hive and helps the queen bee navigate her home more easily.

  • Coyote Peterson is a YouTube personality, wildlife educator, and host on Animal Planet. He is best known for his YouTube content, which includes animals stinging and biting him.
  • Vessel is a structure and visitor attraction built in Manhattan, New York City. Built by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the elaborate honeycomb-like structure rises 16 stories and consists of 154 flights of stairs.
  • Honeycomb structures are natural or man-made structures that have the geometry of a honeycomb to allow the minimization of the amount of used material to reach minimal weight and minimal material cost. They are widely used in the aerospace industry for this reason, and honeycomb materials in aluminum, fibreglass and advanced composite materials have been featured in aircraft and rockets since the 1950s.

On SII & Its Big Gamble On Covid Vaccine

On SII & Its Big Gamble On Covid Vaccine

The Serum Institute of India (SII) announced mass production of Covid-19 vaccine even before its clearance, taking a chance to ensure speedy delivery of vaccines if they clear the tests. Let us take a look at the history of the firm, with several achievements already in its collection.

Crux of the Matter

Serum Against Covid
The Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) recently cleared the Serum Institute of India (SII) to conduct Phase II and III trials of Covid-19 vaccine in India, after successfully clearing the Phase-I. The vaccine is named ‘AZD1222’, and is being developed by the Oxford University in tie up with the British-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had announced to start production as soon as the Phase-I was cleared, and the institute has initiated the production after the recent clearing of Phase-I. The aim to make the vaccine available on a large-scale in a short time is cited as the reason for starting the production before the clearance, and the vaccines would be available to public only after the clearance of all requisite tests.

Poonawalla recently declared that he would be spending $450 million on the mass production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Serum Testing
Mylabs Discovery Solution and the SII recently launched Covid-19 testing kits that can conduct 32 tests/hr.

History Of The Serum Institute Of India

  • The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the largest vaccine producer in the world, producing over 1.5 billion vaccine doses per year against diseases like Polio, Tetanus, Hepatitis-B, etc.
  • The company was founded in 1966 by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, who started with a fund of $12,000 to “diversify” his income from ‘horse-breeding’. The Poonawalla family owns the largest stud farm in India.
  • Currently, Dr. Cyrus is the 165th richest man in the world with a worth of $11.8 billion, and was ranked 19th in the list of the richest Indians (2019).
  • The company started with the production of ‘Tetanus Antitoxin’ in 1967.
  • The SII recorded a revenue of $840 million as of November 2019.
  • The Poonawallahs invested $4.1 billion to open the Poonawalla Biotech Park in Majari, Pune, which is the largest vaccine facility in the world.

Vaccine Empire

  • 65% of children worldwide are estimated to receive at least one vaccine dose produced by the SII.
  • 2010: The SII launched the Nasovac nasal vaccine for H1N1 (Swine flu) virus, which is a single dose vaccine to be sniffed once in each nostril.
  • 2012: The SII acquired Bilthoven Biologicals of Netherlands, and obtained technology to make the IPV (Injectable Polio Vaccine, Salk) which was possessed by only 3 other vaccine producers earlier.
  • November 2014: Serum signed a deal with Cipla to market its paediatric vaccines across the world.
  • May 2015: Cipla agreed to market the influenza drug made by Serum across India.
  • 2017: The SII launched Rabishield (Rapid action drugs against Rabies) in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • July 2020: The SII developed the first Indian vaccine against pneumonia, named the “Pneumosil” or ‘Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine (PPSV23)’.
    The firm is expected to produce 100 million doses per year, with 40-50 million doses being reserved for Indians.
  • SII has received approbation for its low cost of vaccines, with doses of several of Serum’s vaccines costing as low as ₹5 per dose.

  • Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla is an Indian Parsi businessman, also known as the “vaccine king of India”. Hurun Global Rich List – 2019 listed Dr. Poonawalla as the 4th richest person in India and 100th in the world with a net worth of $13 billion.
  • Adar Poonawalla is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Serum Institute of India. He initiated and launched in 2014 Serum Institute’s oral polio vaccine, which became a bestseller for the company. In 2017, Modi nominated Adar Poonawalla as brand ambassador for Swachh Bharat.
  • Serum is the fluid and solute component of blood which does not play a role in clotting. The study of serum is serology. Serum is used in numerous diagnostic tests as well as blood typing.

History of Electric Vehicles

History of Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles have been in existence longer than the General Motors EV1 of the late 1990s and today’s Tesla Inc. Let’s understand how things came to be as they are now.

Crux of the Matter

1830s – 1840s
1832-1839 – Batteries (galvanic cell or voltaic cell) were not yet rechargeable. Scotland’s Robert Anderson built the first motorized carriage between this period.

Then Robert Davidson of Aberdeen, built a prototype electric locomotive (rail transport vehicle) in 1837. William H. Taylor in the US made similar motors from 1838.Both these men worked independently, unknown to each others’ works.

Davidson’s advanced version called Galvani was launched. It could go 1.5 miles at 4 mph towing 6 tons of heavy goods. The railway workers saw this as a threat to their jobs tending steam engines and so they destroyed it.

Rechargeable batteries came into existence, with the invention of the lead–acid battery by French physicist Gaston Planté.

Thomas Parker helped in the deployment of electric-powered trams (a rail vehicle that runs on tracks in public streets) and subsequently built prototype electric cars in England.

Scottish chemist, William Morrison, applied for a patent on the electric carriage he’d built and then it appeared in a city parade in 1888. It had 24 battery cells that needed recharging every 50 miles, with front-wheel drive, 4 horsepower & a top speed of 20 mph. Later on, it gathered interest in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Electric battery cars became popular for taxi services during this period, after Walter Bersey had introduced them in London. There was General Motors’ EV1 launched in 1996 and in 1997, the first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid vehicle Toyota Prius was launched in Japan.This was followed by the Honda Insight in 1999 US, Japan and thereafter Europe, North America and worldwide in 2000.

However, in the early 1900s, battery-powered vehicles had an edge over their gas counterparts. They did produce a high level of noise, vibration, and emanate smell associated with gasoline. Plus these battery cars were preferred as they did not require a manual effort to start or gear changes.

Things changed with the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1912, making gas cars to travel faster and longer than their electric versions. Plus added discoveries of large petroleum reserves worldwide, led to the wide availability of cheaper gas. Again gas prices soared between 1960s-1990s, creating interest in electric vehicles once more.

Gas Giants Overpowering Electric Aspirants
Throughout the EV emergence, there has been a constant pressure exerted by the oil industry, who was always afraid of losing its monopoly on transportation fuel over the coming decades.

There were reported figures of low consumer demand and hyped advertisements about the success of gas driven cars in the US. Then due to lack of infrastructure and finances, EV models were later destroyed or donated to museums and educational institutions.

In fact even now, for an undisclosed sum, oil giant Shell bought German home energy-storage startup Sonnen in 2019, in order to utilise their assets to Compete against Tesla and it’s batteries.

2000s – Present
The emergence of MOS (metal-oxide-semiconductor) technology and lithium ion battery led to the development of modern age electric road vehicles with less power losses.

The likes of Japanese Nissan Leaf, American Tesla Model X, German BMW i3 and South Korean Hyundai Ioniq Electric became popular electric cars, with more attempts at installing their respective charging stations. Additionally, Chinese and Taiwanese firms became manufacturing in e-bikes like the Gogoro series and Okinawa iPraise.

  • Bertha Benz was a German automotive pioneer. She was the business partner and wife of automobile inventor Karl Benz. She was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance in 1888.
  • Hummer is a brand of trucks and SUVs, first marketed in 1992. After closing the brand, it was revived earlier this year by General Motors. It was announced that a new electric pickup Hummer will soon be released.
  • Rivian is an American automaker and automotive technology company. Founded in 2009, the company develops vehicles, products and services related to sustainable transportation. In 2017, Rivian announced it was building an electric SUV.
  • In 1907, the tram car commenced in Mumbai, formerly Bombay and was run by the Electric Supply and Tramway Company till 1964. They later introduced double-decker trains to streamline traffic and increased routes.
  • The second oldest electric tramway in India after the Chennai tram service, was started by WBTC and CTC in 1902. To date it’s the only tram network operating in the nation.

Nuclear Plant In Arab World & Contentions

The first nuclear power plant in the Arab region was initiated recently in the UAE, with mixed reactions coming amidst the recent tension in the Middle East.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Nuclear Initiation
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently announced the operation of the first nuclear power plant in the Arabian nations by initiating the first 4 reactors of the Barakah nuclear power station. Located in the Al Dhafrah region of Abu Dhabi, the plant was first announced in 2009 and was expected to open in 2017. The delay occurred by several natural as well as ‘human’ reasons.

UAE Going Green
The Barakah plant is expected to provide “up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs once it is fully operational”. The UAE has also increased dependency on solar and wind energy in recent years, with the recent nuclear development aiming to further reduce the country’s dependency on oil for energy.

The recent nuclear development came 2 weeks after the UAE launched its first Mars mission named “Hope Probe”.

Conflict In The Region
Israel and Iran in the Middle East region are already in the possession of nuclear power. Israel, which operates a nuclear reactor, has an undisclosed nuclear arsenal, while Iran claims that it has only a “uranium enrichment program” for civil development. Several attempts have been made to thwart the nuclear progress of the UAE, with the most recent coming in 2017 when the Houthi rebel group of Yemen fired missiles at the Barakah plant.

Israel-UAE Relations
The UAE does not recognize Israel as a state and has banned the entry of Israeli citizens in the country. The relations between the two have been improving since the 2019 AFC Asian Cup hosted in Dubai, which was telecasted officially in Israel for the first time. Israel was also invited to the Dubai Expo 2020 fair.

Iran-UAE Relations
The UAE does not recognize Israel as a state and supports Palestine in the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, both sides are reportedly on the same side against Iran, with the UAE claiming that Iran supports Shi’ites rebels in the region.

  • Iran’s control over the Lesser Tunb and the Greater Tunb islands in the Persian Gulf has been disputed by the UAE, with the conflict arising due to British control in the region and the transfer of power after independence.
  • The 2 sides have also been engaged in conflict over Abu Musa island in the Persian Gulf, with the island being under the control of Iran till 1908 before annexation by Britain. In the 1960s, Britain transferred the control of Abu Musa to the Sharjah sheikhdom, one of the 7 sheikhdoms to coalesce into the UAE. In 1971, Iran and the UAE signed an MoU for the joint administration of the island. However, the pact has been reportedly violated by Iran in its attempts to take over the islands since the 1990s, with the Oil-richness of the islands being a major source of conflict.
  • The UAE allowed France to open its first permanent base in the Persian Gulf region in 2009, which drew strong criticism from Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in conflict over Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam.
  • After the execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia in 2016, the Saudi embassy in Iran was attacked by civilians. Consequently, both the countries withdrew embassies and have no formal relations since. The UAE reportedly backs Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Iran, marking a decisive step in its relation with Iran.
  • Emirates is the state-owned airline and flag carrier of the UAE. It was conceived in March 1985 with backing from Dubai’s royal family.
  • Expo 2020 is a World Expo to be hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The whole event is postponed by a year and will be held in October of 2021 now. This is the first time that the World Exposition has been postponed.
  • The 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran was a mob action on 2 January 2016 by protesters against the execution of a prominent Saudi Arabian Shi’a cleric. Mobs stormed the embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad and ransacked them. The embassy building was set on fire with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs. The attacks were later condemned by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.