Saturday, February 13, 2021

Black Lives Matter: Looking back at the journey of racial justice movement as a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

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Raya Tripathi

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Black Lives Matter: Looking back at the journey of racial justice movement as a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

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Global Views 360

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February 13, 2021

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Black Lives Matter Poster on a Street in Washington D.C.

Black Lives Matter Poster on a Street in Washington D.C. | Source: Clay Banks via Unsplash

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the state of Minnesota, has confronted the people of the United States in particular and the Western World in general about the existence of deep-rooted racism which has remained even after the Civil Rights movement and many decades of progress.

The years of racial discrimination led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter (often abbreviated as BLM) movement. The BLM movement has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel peace prize as well.

This article explains the BLM movement, it's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize as well as its symbolics importance in the lives of the black people. In other words, it looks back at the journey of this racial justice movement as a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

What is the Black Lives Matter movement?

The BLM movement started in 2013 after George Zimmerman—a white man—shot dead—black teen—Trayvon Martin—to death in 2012. The term “Black Lives Matter” was taken from the tweet of a woman named Alicia Garza, which turned into a trending hashtag and later into the name of the whole movement, co-founded by herself, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

The movement aims at equality and racial justice for Black people and highlights the injustices and oppression against them.

Furthermore, there is also strong resistance from the police and usage of military weapons against the black protestors as compared to the white ones, a kind of systematic racism which was clearly visible during the Storming of the Capitol Hill.

When a black person named George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota on 25 May last year, the movement gained momentum and there were solidarity protests not only in America, around the globe—including countries like the UK, France, Australia and Germany. There were even violent protests in some parts of the US, and in some places the right wing groups clashed with these protestors.

The Movement Growing Profusely

A pro-right wing ruling government, where the President himself was criticised for being racist on several occasions and the upcoming elections led to increasing dissent—furthering the growth of the movement. George Floyd became the face of the movement along with many other black people who lost their lives before due to systematic racism—some names in the unfortunately endless list were Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, . The movement also started getting the support of Hollywood celebrities, who supported the movement on their social media handles.

Amidst of all this, a similar killing of yet another black person, named Jacob Blake happened, which sparked the protests further.

“The group has called for defunding the police for at least five years”, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah told CNN. Some of the protestors believe that defunding the police could decrease such incidents.

In June, after pressure from BLMLA and massive protests, the Los Angeles City council unanimously approved a measure to develop an unarmed model of crisis response that would replace police officers with community-based responders for nonviolent calls.

Corrine Basabe, a black woman, started the George Floyd Justice Billboard Committee. Because of that, there are also billboards in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC, which are made for people to see regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd. This way, many people driving through the roads could be reminded of what happened.

Featuring an oil painting by New York City artist Donald Perlis, a white, the billboards also include a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." His painting was also displayed in New York’s Times Square.

When asked what she hopes for BLM's future, co-founder Patrisse Cullors said she knows the movement will win. "I know this because our work is full of love, healing and dignity," she said. "And we centre Black people's humanity and life over our death and decimation."

Backlash

The movement faced backlash from various right-wing groups like The American Patriot and Proud Boys. There was a slogan “All Lives Matter” from the Anti-BLM protestors, which minimises the problems faced by the black community in their daily lives. The then President Donald Trump also refused to condemn the right-wing groups and he defended the police instead of supporting the Black people’s cause.

In Arizona, Rep. Walt Blackman, a Black GOP member of the Arizona Legislature labelled BLM as a “terrorist organisation” in an interview with Fox News Radio affiliate KFYI.

There are a lot of post-truth narratives defaming the BLM movement.

Nomination for Nobel Peace Prize

As mentioned earlier, the BLM movement has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel peace prize, for the way they spread and called for a systematic change in the world, through non-violent protests. It has been nominated by a Norwegian MP.

In his nomination papers, the Norwegian MP Petter Eide said the movement had forced countries outside the US to tackle racism within their own societies.

“I find that one of the key challenges we have seen in America, but also in Europe and Asia, is the kind of increasing conflict based on inequality,” Eide said. “Black Lives Matter has become a very important worldwide movement to fight racial injustice. They have had a tremendous achievement in raising global awareness and consciousness about racial injustice.”

He said that one other thing that impressed him about the BLM movement was the way “they have been able to mobilise people from all groups of society, not just African-Americans, not just oppressed people, it has been a broad movement, in a way which has been different from their predecessors.” He has previously nominated human rights activists from Russia and China for the prize.

His written nomination concludes: “Awarding the peace prize to Black Lives Matter, as the strongest global force against racial injustice, will send a powerful message that peace is founded on equality, solidarity and human rights, and that all countries must respect those basic principles.”

Nominations for the Nobel peace prize are accepted from any politician serving at a national level, and they are allowed only 2,000 words to state their reasons. This year’s deadline was February 1, and the committee prepares a shortlist by the end of March. The winner is chosen in October and the award ceremony is scheduled for 10 December. The World Food Programme was the winner last year.

The movement deserves the nomination, and if it is declared the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, then it’s going to be a huge win for the Black people and will give a push towards an ideal where there will be no racism.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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