Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chadwick Boseman and the Legacy of Black Panther

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Mohammad Abdullah

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Chadwick Boseman and the Legacy of Black Panther


Global Views 360

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September 10, 2020


Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

On the morning of 29th August, the world woke up with shocking news, the death of Chadwick Boseman. He is globally remembered for his stellar role of T’Challa, aka ‘Black Panther’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  He died at a young age of 43 and the cause of his death was said to be colon cancer, which he had been silently battling for the past 4 years.

The tribute poured for him across the world from the common people to the renowned celebrities and sportspersons. Arsenal FC striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the signature ‘Wakanda Forever’ as a tribute to Chadwick’s MCU character after scoring his goal in the FA Community Shield, while Mercedes F1 team’s racer Lewis Hamilton dedicated his pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix to the actor.

Chadwick’s character ‘Black Panther’ was the first Black MCU character to get his own standalone movie. The movie was released in 2018 and became a blockbuster, grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide. It was the 9th-highest grossing movie of all time and 2nd-highest in 2018, only behind Avengers: Infinity War—a movie which also included Black Panther as an integral team member.

A still from film Black Panther

Black Panther was also highly critically-acclaimed, with praises for the setting, the visual effects, the soundtrack, and so on, but the best part of the film was the majorly Black cast of the movie. Barring Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, every other character of the movie was Black. It was also the first Marvel movie ever to get an Academy Award. The movie was nominated in 7 categories and won the Academy Award in 3 categories: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Production Design.

Black Panther comic character closeup | Source: Marvel

The history of ‘Black Panther’ in comics is also interesting. In 1966, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the character in ‘Fantastic Four’ #52. T’Challa in the comics was shown not only as a highly powerful but also extremely intelligent black character, something which was ground-breaking at that time, among all the stereotyping Black characters used to face in Pop Culture. Around the same time, social activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the ‘Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’.

It is often said that both events were related to each other, although that’s not true. Newton and Seale’s Party symbol and name came from the Clark College’s (now Clark Atlanta University) mascot, while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character for their black readers. This character was also inspired by many personalities of the US Civil Rights Movement.

In order to avoid the similarities with the political outfit, Marvel renamed the character to ‘Black Leopard’ in the early 70s but soon reverted to the original one before creating a standalone comic ‘Black Panther’ in 1977. In the comics, the character delves into politics, fighting against the racist forces of the Ku Klux Klan. This showed how far ahead of the time Lee and Kirby were.

The commercial success of the ‘Black Panther’ movie contributed immensely to the rise of a black cultural revolution. The release of the film also coincided with the rise in hate crimes against Black community during US President Donald Trump's rule. The idea that a Black superhero can exist among all the existing racial divides made ‘Black Panther’ an inspiration for all such people to come forward. During the screening of the film, people used to come proudly dressed in their traditional African-American outfits to see the film.

The two contributing factors for this response were the setting of the film and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the character. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has beautiful settings like Thor’s Asgard and the many-many galaxies that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ visited, Wakanda could’ve been easily inferior against those settings had it been done wrong. But it easily stood out against all of those with its own unique identity. The idea of an African country viewed by others as a ‘Third-world nation’ but in secret was a technological marvel, possessing the largest chunk of Vibranium, the strongest metal known to mankind (also the main component of the alloy in Captain America’s iconic shield) in an industry which normally portrayed Africa as backward, chaotic and savage, was truly marvelous. But Wakanda wasn’t just technologically advanced, it also paid tributes to the tribal and cultural diversity of Africa, with Wakanda having 5 tribes, the Merchant, Border, River, Mining and Jabari Tribes all respecting their traditions while also advancing technologically.

But all of that could have seriously gotten unnoticed had it not been for Chadwick’s brilliant portrayal of T’Challa. Debuting in 2016 in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as the Prince of Wakanda, T’Challa donned the iconic outfit to catch the culprit behind the bombing of the UN convention; which killed his father T’Chaka, also then King of Wakanda and former Black Panther; with Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier the prime suspect. His portrayal in the movie was immensely lauded, and it hyped his standalone movie so much that it was one of the most talked movies even before its release.

A sequel of the ‘Black Panther’ was announced in July 2019 after much anticipation. However following Chadwick’s death, many fans are now urging Marvel Studios to not recast the role in memory of the actor. This was the legacy Chadwick Boseman created with Black Panther.

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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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