Friday, July 31, 2020

Stonewall Riots: A Pillar In The Movement For American LGBTQIA+ Rights

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Vanshita Banuana

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Stonewall Riots: A Pillar In The Movement For American LGBTQIA+ Rights


Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 31, 2020


The Stonewall Inn in 1969

The Stonewall Inn in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

The Stonewall Riots are globally remembered as the cornerstone of Pride Month, and rightfully so. Fifty-one years ago, a routine police raid on Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York turned into an upheaval against homophobic society, laws, and policing.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a police raid— often conducted on secret or private bars that exclusively served LGBTQIA+ patrons— turned its head on the New York Police Department.

The Stonewall riot in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

Some accounts say that the pivotal moment came when few of the lesbians who were brutally shoved into a police wagon showed resistance. In response, the crowd lit up in anger and resistance. Instead of running away to save themselves, the patrons fought back, even leading to the police barricading themselves within the bar itself as they waited for backup.

The Stonewall riot in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

News of the clash spread and more people gathered, throwing anything they could find: nickels, garbage cans, broken bottles, and yes, bricks too, though ‘the first brick’ may have been more myth than real. Eventually, it took the fire department and a riot squad to quell the riots on the first night.

Defiant, Stonewall reopened the next evening, and the confrontation between police and community members continued for the rest of the week, drawing hundreds and upto thousands of community members. A total of twenty one protestors were arrested over the week, with the majority being arrested on the first night itself.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly led to the Stonewall riots, or the status that it earned in present-day Pride and LGTBQ+ liberation movements. The movement for LGTBQ+ rights existed before Stonewall (if relatively subdued relative to what came after), and so did the concept of ‘Pride,’ in the form of ‘Personal Rights in Defense and Education’ (PRIDE) that went on to become the Advocate magazine.

Stonewall wasn’t even the first time the community clashed with the police. It has been postulated that the act of naming, “the first to be called the first,” and the decision of organizers to commemorate its anniversary in the form of ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’ contributed largely to Stonewall becoming a permanent and popular fixture in LGBTQIA+ history and collective memory.  

Regardless of the contributing factors, the cultural impact of Stonewall on American and Western LGBTQIA+ communities was immediate and intense. It became the epicentre of a louder, more radical movement. The community had tried it the ‘respectable’ way through organisations such as Mattachine, but it didn’t get them anywhere.

The number of LGTBQ+ focused organisations and magazines soared after Stonewall, going from around two dozen to four hundred. These included radical organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Radicalesbians.

The year after Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who were present at the riots and are considered transgender icons, created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which focused on struggles of drag queens and trans and gender-non-conforming youth who often lived on the streets.

Stonewall Inn as it existed no longer stands, but the new Stonewall Inn in the same street and the park across it have been recently declared as a historic national monument.

The old Stonewall was not a luxurious bar in terms of drinks or furnishings. It was not a place frequented by upper or middle class, white, cisgender gay men. Being a dance bar whose patrons included working class or homeless LGBTQIA+ people and drag queens, it was often looked down upon. All of that changed in one week, and the spirit that shone in Stonewall that night continues to resonate and be celebrated in the hearts of all LGBTQIA+ people.

In light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the rioting that happened alongside, many LGBTQIA+ people on social media have responded to criticism by reminding people of Stonewall, and how the “first Pride” was a riot led by Black and Latin transgender women, gender non-conforming youth, and other LGBTQIA+ people of colour, the very people whose history and resistance has often been white-washed, diminished, or erased altogether.

As said by Martin Luther King Jr., “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

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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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