Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kosovo and Serbia- A never ending saga of conflict

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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Kosovo and Serbia- A never ending saga of conflict

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 4, 2020

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US President George Bush with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in White House

US President George Bush with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in White House | Source: Wikimedia

Kosovo is a small landlocked country in the Western Balkans with a majority of ethnic Albanians and Muslims. The country formerly was a part of Serbia but declared independence in 2008. While Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by nearly a hundred nations including the US, countries like Russia and China along with a few European Union nations have sided with Serbia against Kosovo.

Kosovo and Serbia have been at crossroads for a long time. Kosovo used to be a Serbian province under the communist-run Yugoslavia. However, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the move by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević to bring Kosovo directly under Belgrade’s administration fuelled war between the two regions.

The situation worsened with the violence in the Bosnian War ensuing from 1992-95 which was termed as “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims. By 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a paramilitary group had been formed in response to the campaign of Milošević. The situation remained tense with Serbian Police killing nearly 50 people of a KLA member’s family in 1998.

Violence continued to escalate from both sides as international calls for putting an end to the violence grew. "We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia," US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly said. The UN banned the sale of arms and ammunition to Serbia as NATO began to plan an intervention in 1998.

However, the situation escalated to a worse in the "Račak Massacre" of 1999, wherein Serbian special police killed 45 ethnic Albanians. The NATO then initiated a 77-day air campaign which ended with the withdrawal of the Serbian army and the paramilitary force of Kosovo. Kosovo became a self-governed territory post the NATO campaign under the United Nations.

Despite several efforts from the European Union and the UN, the two countries have failed to arrive at a common ground till date. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not acknowledge it despite having no formal control in the region.

In 2016, the countries yet again saw each other at crossroads when Kosovo sought to attain 80% shares of the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex in the northern region which is dominated by Serbs. The dispute became so pressing that it became one of the agendas for the UN Security Council.

In early 2017, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, issued an international arrest warrant for former Kosover guerrillas including Ramush Haradinaj who served as a commander in the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule. He also briefly served as Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2004 and 2005.

As Kosovo asked the EU to press Serbia for dropping the charges, government and opposition leaders called for an end to the EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia’s move to give the nod for Haradinaj’s extradition from France where he was being detained was met by Kosovo’s move to cancel Serbian President’s visit to a mainly ethnic Serb town in Kosovo on the eve of Christmas Day.

The gunning down of Oliver Ivanović, an ethnic-Serb politician in northern Kosovo in 2018 was yet another setback for the worsening ties between the two countries. Then Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic termed it an “act of terrorism”.

Late in 2018, Serbia blocked Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol, a move that saw Kosovo raise customs duties on Serbian imports by 100%.

In May 2019, Kosovo carried out a large anti-corruption and anti-smuggling drill wherein it detained nearly 23 people including two UN personnel and fired tear gas as well as live ammunition as per a few reports. The entire drill was concentrated in a Serb-dominated region in the North.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic reacted by saying that he wants to "preserve peace and stability", but that Serbia "will be fully ready to protect its people at the shortest notice". The European Union, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR (the NATO-led international military presence) all called for the two countries to maintain peace. However, the situation remains critical.

With Serbia being under pressure from international peacekeepers, it’s highly unlikely that it will intervene through its military forces. However, its influence in the Northern region of Kosovo means that both the countries will have to work towards maintaining amicable ties with each other as Kosovo hopes to become a UN member and a fully functional state.

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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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