Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Late Sultan Qaboos’s Legacy And What’s Next For Oman

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Vanshita Banuana

Article Title

Late Sultan Qaboos’s Legacy And What’s Next For Oman

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 22, 2020

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Late Sultan Qaboos of Oman

Late Sultan Qaboos of Oman | Source: U.S. Department of State via Flickr

On the morning of January 11, 2020, the citizens of Oman awoke to the news that Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the monarch of the small Gulf nation, had passed away the previous day after a 49-year rule.

The late Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, after he overthrew his conservative father in a palace coup with the help of the British. He then set about modernising his impoverished country, using Oman’s newfound oil wealth to fund its infrastructure. When he took over the throne, Oman had only three schools and harsh laws banning electricity, radios, eyeglasses and even umbrellas. By the time he left, Oman developed a good education system, a robust economy, and has become a tourist destination.

Apart from bringing about this ‘renaissance,’ Qaboos also gained worldwide fame for championing neutrality and constructive diplomacy. Despite being located in the Strait of Hormuz in the turbulent Middle East, he maintained relations with countries ranging from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Israel, and Palestine, and also with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Perhaps the greatest result of this long-standing policy was enabling backchannel talks between the US and Iran which led to an international nuclear deal.

Sultan Qaboos also introduced democratic institutions in Oman, issuing the country’s first constitution, granting universal suffrage to all citizens above 21, and allowing the country’s first municipal elections in December 2012. However, he also suppressed dissent to the extent of shutting down news outlets and arresting protestors, journalists and activists, sometimes for opinions expressed on social media.

Oman experienced ripple effects of the Arab Spring in the form of months of protests against corruption and unemployment; and eventually Sultan Qaboos relented by giving more legislative powers to the Council of Oman and promising to increase wages and create jobs. While this satisfied the protestors, it did not mean life under ‘Baba Qaboos’ was all roses and no thorns for everyone. As detailed in this 2020 Periodic Review by Human Rights Watch, Sultan Qaboos revised Oman’s penal code in January 2018, which included “increasing punishments for offenses that relate to the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.

The last few years of Qaboos’ rule saw economic stagnation and a crash in global oil prices which resulted in high youth unemployment rates  in a country where a significant portion of the population is under the age of 25. The large budget deficits and high debt have prompted the rating agencies such as Moody’s to downgrade Oman’s credit rating to ‘junk’ status. In an attempt to reduce the dependence on oil, Sultan Qaboos launched ‘Vision 2020’ to encourage innovation in other areas. This initiative failed to meet the objective and got renamed as ‘Vision 2040.’

This was the scene laid out for the new Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik, who was designated the new ruler of Oman as per a secret envelope containing late Sultan Qaboos’ choices for his successor.

Haitham bin Tarik was the Minister of Heritage and Culture before his accession to the throne, and also happens to have been the Chairman of the ‘Vision 2040’ committee, among other posts. In his first royal speech, he vowed to continue in the footsteps of his predecessor, especially in regards to the state’s foreign policy. In another royal speech in February, he charted a ‘future roadmap’ for Oman and claimed that he will prioritize education and youth employment. He has been active in these past six months, having issued 70 Royal Decrees concerning appointments, amendments, and new laws, among others.

Sultan Haitham is already being put to the test as Oman battles the COVID-19 along with the rest of the world. Omanis are looking at a new vision with renewed hope, one of the new sultan who brings with him great promises and perhaps a renaissance of its own kind. Will Oman be able to maintain its tradition of neutrality? Will the fight for a progressive and inclusive Oman find its voice? Will Oman be able to save itself from the consequences of a glut in crude oil economy? The citizens of Oman hope and wish that their new sultan will get the right answer and steer the country towards a more secure and prosperous future.

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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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