The Daily Dose: SpaceX and NASA’s big day; Genius at work solves old math problem

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Today’s the big manned-launch day for SpaceX and NASA. Keep up to date with NASA’s live feed. We will be.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on urban populations. Density has proven to be perhaps the single most devastating characteristic driving the virus’s spread. People in lower income neighborhoods have been particularly hard hit and the towering housing complexes they inhabit have become death traps. An article in the New York Times tells the story about a particularly hard hit location in the Bronx. “Even a ride down the elevator is risky. Residents often must wait up to an hour to squeeze into small, poorly ventilated cars that break down frequently, with people crowding the hallways like commuters trying to push into the subway at rush hour… There is talk that as many as 100 residents have been sickened by the coronavirus at the two massive towers rising above the Morris Heights neighborhood along the Harlem River. But no one knows for sure, since the leader of the tenant association died from Covid-19 in April.”

The misinformation about COVID-19 circulating on the internet is legion. The various narratives make the head spin. One of the most popular sees Bill Gates taking over the global-bogey-man-New-World-Order role normally saved for George Soros. Researchers have jumped at the opportunity to analyze how and why conspiracy theories spread. Apropos, the narratives are being viewed like actual pathogens. As per Nature, “Donovan charts the path of this piece of disinformation like an epidemiologist tracking the transmission of a new virus. As with epidemics, there are ‘superspreader’ moments. After the New York Post story went live, several high-profile figures with nearly one million Facebook followers each posted their own alarming comments, as if the story about Gates devising vaccines to track people were true.”

In case you haven’t been able to keep up with the misinformation being spouted by the likes of QAnon, Laura Ingraham, and Donald Trump, the BBC consolidates the most prominent with some backstory for each. It’s useful, if not infuriating.

Groundwater wells have served as sources of drinking water for millenia and in some places in the world continue to do so. There’s a hidden danger, however. Arsenic often pollutes the water. A perspective piece in Science discusses the problem and possible solutions. According to the author, “Podgorski and Berg use statistical models to estimate that 94 million to 220 million people, with 94% in Asia, are at risk of drinking well water containing arsenic concentrations >10 µg/liter (2). In Bangladesh, a 2009 national drinking-water quality survey found that about 20 million and 45 million people were exposed to concentrations greater than 50 and 10 µg/liter, respectively, with an arsenic-related mortality rate of 1 in every 18 adult deaths (3). This global threat demands multisector solutions.” For people in resource-poor environments, the challenges never end.

The picture of COVID-19’s early days in the United States continues to evolve. According to an article in STAT, “New research has poured cold water on the theory that the Covid-19 outbreak in Washington state — the country’s first — was triggered by the very first confirmed case of the infection in the country. Instead, it suggests the person who ignited the first chain of sustained transmission in the United States probably returned to the country in mid-February, a month later.” Without a doubt, as more data pours in, the picture will undergo further tweaks.

Finally, let’s end with some genius. Quanta Magazine recounts the story of how a famous, somewhat-old mathematical puzzle that has befuddled generations of mathematicians was solved in less than a week by a then-graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin. Lisa Piccarillo solved a problem called the Conway Knot. Definitely worth the read.


Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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