Thursday, July 2, 2020

How the failure of political leadership resulted in the explosion of pandemic in Brazil

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Aditi Mohta

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How the failure of political leadership resulted in the explosion of pandemic in Brazil


Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 2, 2020


Press conference by the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro

Press conference by the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro | Source: Palácio do Planalto via Wikimedia

With over 1.2 million active cases and over 51 thousand deaths as on 30th June 2020, Brazil is one of the worst coronavirus affected countries. Latin America became the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the latter half of May, largely due to Brazil’s incompetency in dealing with the pandemic. Due to the underreporting and low testing rates, the actual number of active cases and deaths are unknown.

The Brazilian Ministry started making changes to the number of cases reported, making it even harder to control the situation the pandemic has caused. The country’s response has been widely criticized in Brazil and outside. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed the threat of the virus and the pandemic. OnMarch 26, 2020, he said that Brazilians are immune to the virus and even if they are drunk in a sewer they “don’t catch a thing.” He defied the guidelines set by his own health ministry and visited a busy commercial district in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where he told all the elderly Brazilians to get back to work. He also went on TV many times and called it little flu and accused the media of hysteria. Even as the coronavirus crisis has worsened recently, some major cities have eased their preventive measures, like Sao Paulo opening up shopping malls in Mid-June and beaches getting crowded again. With all of this happening, hospitals are close to running out of intensive care beds.

In early March, Brazil declared a public health emergency, a few days after the World Health Organization. The Ministry of Health in Brazil urged the officials to cancel all the public events and reinforce the measures of social distancing as prescribed by the World Health Organization. Some experts thought that Brazil could handle the pandemic based on its records during past public health emergencies. Brazil’s health care system is underfunded, but it does not fail to provide robust coverage across the country. The efforts of the state government went awry when the President called the virus a “cold” and provided anti-malaria tablets as a solution to the virus. President Bolsonaro’s clash with the governors and officials led to two health ministers leaving- one was fired and the other one quit. This left the military general, with no public health training, in charge of the virus. The clash amongst the government left the citizens of Brazil uncertain about the importance of following the preventive measures kept in place to prevent the spread of the virus. This led to the defying of the measures, which in turn led to the pandemic’s rate being one of the highest in the world.

The Ministry of Health has not presented a comprehensive plan to beat the virus yet. One of the main initiatives by the Ministry of Health is to boost the production of hydroxychloroquine and has encouraged the doctors in the public healthcare system to prescribe the same. The country has struggled to import lifesaving instruments, like coronavirus tests and ventilators. The lack of tests, in turn, has made it difficult to track the spread of the virus. This might result in the undercount of cases of the virus in the country.  Between Jan. 1 and June 6, 23,171 people who were not diagnosed with the coronavirus died from acute respiratory infections, according to data released by Fiocruz, one of Brazil’s state-run health research institutes. Experts believe most of them died from coronavirus.

At a time when Brazil needs to be putting all its efforts into fighting the virus, the president has been wrapped up in his own political battles. The Supreme Court is investigating allegations of disinformation and intimidation by the President’s supporters. Investigations also state that he has interfered in federal police investigations to protect his family. Due to this, the tensions between President Bolsonaro and the judiciary are high.

During the past few months, politics have become bigger than the pandemic. Even though the health crisis is extremely important, the magnitude of the political scandals has had a huge impact on how the country reacts to the pandemic. There is anger over how President Bolsonaro is handling the crisis and at the same time, there is a fear as to where the country is headed after the pandemic passes.

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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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