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Scientists discover new species of insects in Vietnam

Vietnamese and international scientists have announced the discoveries of a new species of beetle and two new species of cicadas in Vietnam.

Pham Hong Thai, a scientist from the Vietnam National Museum of Nature under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST), informed the official Vietnam News Agency of the findings on Wednesday.

They were the fruit of joint efforts by entomologists from the Hanoi-based museum and their colleagues from Japan and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Thai said.

A new species of beetle named Rhyparus vietnamicus Ochi, Kusui, Pham, 2018 was discovered by Japanese and Vietnamese scientists in the northern province of Lao Cai.

According to its scientific description, the beetle belongs to the genus Rhyparus, tribe Rhyparini, subfamily Aphodiinae, family Scarabaeidae, and order Coleoptera.

Specimens of the new beetle species were collected by the scientists in Lao Cai, measuring 7.7 to 7.9 millimeters in body length.

With the discovery, there are now two species of the genus Rhyparus confirmed to be distributed in Vietnam.

Around the same time, scientists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and their peers from the Vietnam National Museum of Nature also announced two new species of cicadas.

They are from the genus Sogana, family Tropiduchidae, sub-order Auchenorrhyncha, order Hemiptera.

The scientists named one species Sogana bachmana Constant & Pham, 2019 and the other Sogana baviana Constant & Pham, 2019.

The male specimens of the two species of cicadas measure 29.0 millimeters and 23.5 millimeters in length, respectively.

The family Tropiduchidae consists of about 660 species distributed across the world, of which 20 have been found in Vietnam to date, following Wednesday’s announcement.

Of the genus Sogana’s 13 species, five have been discovered in Vietnam, accounting for around 40 percent of the total number of species under the genus.

Such statistics may not fully reflect the diversity of the family Tropiduchidae in Vietnam, according to the entomologists, as there are many discoveries of new species and genera in the Southeast Asian country still waiting to be announced.

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Vietnam launches elite competition to find top digital transformation solutions

The Viet Solutions 2020 competition, a hunt for Vietnam’s top technological solutions hosted by the Vietnam Ministry of Information and Communications, kicked off on Wednesday in Hanoi.

The event, organized in partnership with military-run telecoms group Viettel, aims to find top-tier digital solutions for individuals, enterprises, and businesses all over the world.

The competition is open to any and all entrants, regardless of nationality, capable of innovative products or applications that can be applied to an array of sectors, such as game content, music, video, news, multimedia, and utilities.

Contestants are also able to submit solutions to existing problems in ealthcare, education, finance and banking, agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, environmental resources, and industrial manufacturing.

Organizers said the competition is intended to facilitate connections between national regulators, large-scale enterprises, and creators with ideas to solve complex social problems.

Viet Solutions 2020 is currently the largest innovation competition in Vietnam, awarding cash prizes as well as non-cash prizes in the form of opportunities for cooperation following the contest.

“Vietnam has a considerable advantage in digital transformation thanks to a large number of telecom companies and a powerful information technology sector,” said Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung at the launch event.

“It’s time for us to take the chance to make our nation take off and to elevate the nation’s rank in the field.

“The solutions facilitating digital transformation will focus on developing platforms, especially Vietnamese platforms.

“One digital transition platform would address a common problem for millions of people and thousands of companies.”

The minister also stressed that data is now considered valuable material, so “it must be stored in Vietnam and by Vietnamese platforms.”

Accordingly, Hung’s expectation is that Viet Solutions 2020 will not only help to find innovative solutions to Vietnamese problems but serve as an answer to similar global questions.

Cash prizes of VND200 million (US$8,670), VND100 million ($4,330), and VND50 million ($2,170) will be awarded respectively to the first-place, second-place, and third-place finishers.

Apart from the cash prizes, the winning teams would have opportunities to sign contracts with Viettel to commercialize their products and get up to 75 percent of the generated revenue.

Viettel said it is committed to fully sponsoring the three winning teams to take part in C1 Start-up Cup competition in the U.S. – a contest with awards worth a total of $50,000, or to partake in the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

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Vietnamese teens create novel respirator against coronavirus

With the goal of making a comfortable device that can prevent the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while allowing the wearer to maintain social interactions, two Vietnamese students have successfully created the initial prototype for a new-age respirator.

The device was introduced by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at a workshop jointly held with the Central Institute of Economic Management (CIEM) in Hanoi on Friday last week.

Listed among the UNDP’s category of grassroots and social innovations, the portable device impressed audiences at the workshop, which focused on Vietnam’s inclusive innovation policy, particularly strategies for science, technology, and innovation.

The powered air-purifying respirator ‘Vihelm’ — an abbreviation for ‘Vietnamese helmet’ — was created by Do Trong Minh Duc, 16, a student at the Florida-based private K-12 school Montverde Academy, and Tran Nguyen Khanh An, 14, a student at the Hanoi Academy Bilingual International School in the Vietnamese capital city.

Vihelm is a medical respirator built as a portable device that can help the wearer self-quarantine while going about their daily life.

The idea behind Vihelm is that wearers can enjoy the freedom of not being put in mandatory 14-day quarantine required for anyone entering Vietnam from abroad.

Duc and An came up with the idea based off requests from their mentors who asked students to create a respirator that not only prevents the spread of COVID-19 but also helps people remain productive while undergoing quarantine in case the pandemic continues to linger.

Duc is one of several under-18 overseas students who was repatriated from the U.S. to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to support from the Vietnamese government.

The second-generation Vihelm respirator, with a weight of 0.72 kilograms, is seen in a supplied photo.

The second-generation Vihelm respirator, weighing 0.72 kilograms, is seen in a supplied photo.

The battery-powered respirator was designed based on the structure of existing powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR), which meet globally recognized standards and provide wearers with protection 100 times safer than N99 face masks.

One downside of the PAPR, however, is that it is very difficult to wear for extended periods as the wearer cannot scratch their head or face if they feel itchy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which cites such reasons for the limited implementation of the PAPR in real-life disease prevention.

To address those drawbacks, An and Duc added many components including an air tube, helmet straps, elastic sealing rings, IR glass, a fan, and a glove inside.

The glove is similar to the Gloves Box designs seen in laboratories to support handling the face and head such as scratching, combined with integrated food compartments, according to a promotional video for the product.

Apart from those components, Vihelm also has head-scratch pockets on top of the helmet, which the wearers can use to scratch their heads when they are wearing it for prolonged amounts of time.

Thanks to the innovation, Vihelm users can work continuously for up to four hours without worrying about overheating or itching.

They can even feed themselves with the food to be placed in advance inside the helmet’s food compartment.

Do Trong Minh Duc (second right) and Tran Nguyen Khanh An (second left) with two experts of innovation from UNDP Vietnam at agency’s headquarters in Hanoi, July 3, 2020 in a supplied photo.

Do Trong Minh Duc (second right) and Tran Nguyen Khanh An (second left) pose with two experts on innovation from UNDP Vietnam at the agency’s headquarters in Hanoi, July 3, 2020 in a supplied photo.

The respirator can protect the wearer from pathogens with a maximum efficiency of 99.9 percent, according to the results of tests conducted by product developers.

The two teenage inventors are improving the device in order to achieve a final model suitable for commercial use.

The Vihelm has been patented and financially invested in by their families from the stage of concept development and design to the launch of the first prototype. The duo is also seeing to attract additional investors.

The two students behind the helmet have registered to compete at the 5th International Invention Innovation Competition in Canada (iCAN 2020), which is organized by the Toronto International Society of Innovation & Advanced Skills (TISIAS).

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Sticker shock: Saigon school boards caught off guard by whopping tree upkeep bills

School management boards across Ho Chi Minh City are scrambling to readjust their budgets to account for the massive cost of reinforcing the trees on their grounds – a necessary expense to ensure student safety after a tree in a schoolyard fell and killed a student earlier this year. 

“I was shocked when Ho Chi Minh City Greenery Parks Co. Ltd. quoted us VND237,494,400 [US$10,284] to trim, prune, and chop the trees in our schoolyard,” said one member of the management board from Marie Curie High School.

“The high price caught both us and the students’ parents off guard.”

Skyrocketing costs

“There are dozens of trees on our grounds. Many of them are quite old and some have even passed the centennial mark,” said Nguyen Thi Que Van, vice-principal of Marie Curie High School.

According to Van, maintaining the trees is no simple task.

“Marie Curie High School is designed with an arched doorway, which means we can’t just drive a crane-truck onto the grounds. With some of our trees measuring more than 40 meters tall, getting workers that high without heavy machinery is extremely complicated,” she explained.

Ho Chi Minh City Greenery Parks initially offered a VND258 million ($12,000) price to maintain the school’s trees, but eventually agreed to slightly cut it to VND237 million.

Nguyen Thi Hong Chuong, principal of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai High School in District 3, said her school is facing the same issue as Marie Curie, with chopping down dead trees, planting new ones, trimming, and pruning eating up large chunks of the budget.  

An urgent need for public funds

The principal of a high school in downtown Ho Chi Minh City had more on her mind than just the cost of maintaining trees.

“Greenery maintenance should be regulated by the city, not just assigned to the principal,” she pointed out, adding that educators simply do not have the expertise to efficiently manage landscaping projects.

Instead, the principal suggested that the municipal Department of Construction charge specialized officers with coordination with schools to achieve better outcomes in maintaining their greenery.

Another high school principal in the city said the school contracted a private firm to periodically check and prune its trees.  

“After the incident [where a falling tree] killed a student at Bach Dang High School in District 3,  we invited a state agency which oversees greenery to give consultation and document the condition of our trees, but the agency charges much more than private firms to trim and prune them,” the principal said.

To soften the blow of greenery upkeep on school budgets, the principal suggested that the state provide full or partial funding to schools so that larger portions of their own funds can be channeled into education-focused initiatives.

Improper upkeep

In late May, Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Construction began working with relevant agencies to examine greenery management and care at 21 schools, concluding that the schools are not pruning trees correctly and many trees on the grounds have truncated branches which endanger the vitality of the trees.

According to the department’s report, tree branches can split when cut improperly and are at risk of falling and hurting students.  

Another issue the report identified is the way trees are planted at city schools. 

Most trees are grown in a ring with brick-walled edges built up from the ground to provide seats for students. This method creates a confinement, making it hard for their root system to branch out.

Others are planted in areas with little light, which can predispose them to become slanted and inhibit their growth.

In response to the schools’ funding request for tree maintenance, Le Hoai Nam, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, noted that the agency was collecting opinions on tree maintenance and protection duties from schools.

“Afterward, it will cooperate with the Department of Construction and the Department of Finance to rectify the situation.”

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