Friday, August 14, 2020

The New National Security Law in China: What it Means for Hong Kong

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Nikhita Gautam

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The New National Security Law in China: What it Means for Hong Kong


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 14, 2020


Hong Kong at Night

Hong Kong at Night | Source: Anatoliy Gromov via Unsplash

The city of Hong Kong, which has enjoyed relatively free trading laws from mainland China and has established itself as a major trading centre over the years, may be at risk of capital fleeing due to draconian laws that China seeks to impose on it, curbing its trade and the political freedom it enjoyed.

The problem begins with Beijing's plan to enact national security laws in May 2020 over the whole country, including Hong Kong, which has had an independent judiciary, loose business regulation, low trade barriers and guarantees of freedom of expression until now. The national security law aims to target sedition and terrorist activities. This comes after anti-Beijing protests last year which had cases of extreme violence against the public.

This raises many questions for those doing business because there is a great fear that the definition of national security is so vague and ambiguous that China may accord severe punishment for petty crimes or dissent.

However, the Hong Kong officials have responded by support for the law. The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has said that this law addresses problems which the business sector has been “worrying about over the past year.” Leung Chun-ying, a top Chinese advisor, has said that the law does not “hinder foreign investors”, nor “hinder the freedom enjoyed by local residents”.

The fear still abounds, with a significant number of people seeking to flee the city, the largest fall in the local stock market since 2008 after the announcement of the security law and the doubling of the funds deposited in Singaporean banks, which is attributed to the situation in Hong Kong by economists.

Many investment firms have expressed their concerns on tightening of the grip by mainland China on Hong Kong. William Kaye, a longtime investor in China and founder of Pacific Group, the investment firm, has said that “what is just a trickle could become a flood of capital out.”

The US government has also lodged a strong protest with China against the imposition of draconian security law on Hong Kong. It is important to note that the USA has granted special status in trading to Hong Kong which has given some competitive advantages and contributed to the business growth of Hong Kong.

The US had warned China that with the new security law, the special status granted to Hong Kong will be revoked by the USA. As China failed to do so, the USA revoked Hong Kong’s Special Status through an executive order by President Trump on July 14, 2020.

A revocation of its special status would mark “the beginning of the death of Hong Kong as we know it,” Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, said last year.

Apart from the special status revocation, the same day President Trump also signed an Hong Kong Autonomy Act to impose sanctions on foreign individuals and entities for ‘contributing to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.’ Under this law, persons responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong can be subject to sanctions like visa bans and asset freezes.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has said it’s “totally unacceptable” for foreign legislatures to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and that sanctions would only complicate the city’s problems. She also gave reassurance to the investors that Hong Kong adheres to the rule of law and has an independent judiciary.

The Chinese attempt to exert greater control over Hong Kong and the protest by the local people with moral support from the international community has once again put the spotlight on the behaviour of China, as it is trying to establish itself as a global economic and military super power.

The people of Hong Kong have unfortunately become a pawn in the great game of geopolitical power projection. It is still too early to predict whether China will blink first and roll back the draconian law or Hong Kong will end up as collateral damage in China’s quest for a place on the high table of global power players.

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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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