Panic pandemics

Few days ago I watched again the excellent film Contagion, by Soderbergh (originally released in 2011). The reason was that this happened just after the first case of SARS-CoV-2 infections became known in Brazil, and after the WHO declared pandemics for CoViD-19. I don’t think this was intended, but it was very interesting. The parallels are striking, but there are also important differences.

First of all, the film tells about the outbreak of a virus infection and its transformation into a pandemics, and the consequences of this. The fictional virus in the film, called MEV-1, causes a very nasty disease, which kills the patient by Meningoencephalitis. The death scenes are very scary and help in building the tension in the film. Now for the SARS-CoV-2 virus: it causes in most cases a weak infection, similar to common cold and influenza in symptoms, and kills some critical patients by pneumonia and/or organ failure. The film helps, however, making the protagonist immune and asymptomatic,as it happens with COViD-19.

The film is also excellent in showing the aspects related to the control of the outbreak by the health authorities, the disturbing role of the traditional authorities, the search for “patient zero”, and the role of media in spreading panic (represented by a conspiracy theorist/blogger), in real life we know that it is the traditional media which plays this role. We learn in the film what is R0, in the film MEV-1 is R0 4, in the real life, SARS-CoV-2 is R0 2.8. Of course, the film is entertainment, so there are dramatic passages which show heroic (but unlikely fool) involvement of health officials. If you disregard these plot effects, the film is very realistic. The good news is that the outbreak shown in the film is not as severe as the real one we are living now.

There is one part of the film, however, that has a strong potential to become real: the complete destruction of our social life. CoViD-19 is already affecting global economy and has potential to affect our life in a much closer look. A part of the problem comes from the media coverage. There is a tendency of established media to exaggerate the consequences of the disease, to sell newspapers. It is not all media which does this, the first news I watched came from the deutsche welle and the message there was: don’t panic. The outbreak is serious, it has to be handled seriously (as the professionals in China did), but it is not the end of world to get CoViD-19. It doesn’t help, however, when polemic measures like the Italy shutdown are divulged.

Even well intended statements are twisted out of context by the media, in the way to boost panic. When Angela Merkel states that 70% of Germany will be infected with CoViD-19, she is not spreading panic, she is a scientist and she is calling for solidarity and compassion. The media, however, twists this statement as alarmist.

I am also a scientist, and although I am not a biologist or infectologist, I know how science works. Therefore I went to the specialists for information. Yesterday I read and interview with David Uip, director of the Contingency Center for Coronavirus infection in the State of Sao Paulo. I learned that the authorities are prepared for the outbreak, that the statistics are favorable (for example, according to him, about 80% of the infected will present weak symptoms or no symptom at all), that the main instruction is for prevention, that simple measures can protect (like washing hands frequently and avoiding people agglomeration), that symptoms in kids and adolescents are expected to be weak.

Some decisions, however, are not helpful. Yesterday the Governor of State Sao Paulo decided to cancel lectures and shut down schools. This is questionable and seems to be directed to ease the fears of the population, but it puts kids in contact with grandparents, which are usually the critical patients, while kids are in most cases asymptomatic carriers.

The important message is: don’t panic. Listen to what the authorities (in this case, the scientists) have to say. Follow the instructions, repeating: wash your hands with plenty of water and soap, maintain distance from other people, avoid touching your face. Seek medical help in case the symptoms are severe (persistent fever, fevers that start and stop frequently, shortness of breath) and/or if you area a risk patient (over 60 years old). I asked a medic what to do in case of mild symptoms and her answer was clear: remain home. Overcrowding the hospitals with people who do not need medical attention can be worse than the disease itself.

Life after death?

The modus operandi of science is skepticism. It is indeed! And we scientists should take this very seriously in order to avoid possible mystification during the course our professional life. We are skeptical, although we are allowed to talk about the unknown and try to reach some subjective conclusions based on our own life experiences. Of course: scientists are also human beings!

We don’t talk about religion in this blog very often, but this does not mean that scientists should not address religion in their thoughts. This is an important part of our lives.

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“De Volta ao Nosso Lar” by Paiva and Fernandes comprises a systematic study of the book “Nosso Lar” which offers a new perspective about colony of spirits surrounding the planet earth.

A long-standing mystery of life is whether it continues after its end. Is there any definitive proof or solid physical evidence in favour of a real existence of a “new” life after the end of the physical body and consciousness? The answer is simply, no!

But, when a kid and teenager, I grew up studying a philosophical-religious-scientifical movement known as “Spiritism” and I have learnt quite a lot from it. I can say that this has shaped the way I am today in many positive ways as it has offered a real possibility of making myself better. In Spiritism, the current life you have is not the only one: you have the possibility of reincarnate on a new life in order to evolve, progress and making yourself better. It is really not a complex doctrine to understand in its fundamental aspects, however, this is not the real focus here now.

On holidays, I have met a really good friend of mine, Aylton Paiva, who has published a new book in partnership with Sidney Fernandes. The book is “De Volta ao Nosso Lar” or “Coming Back to our Home” in a free English translation. In this current incarnation, they have fully dedicated their attention to the study of Spiritism and all its practices which are simply those taught by Jesus Christ: charity and support to your next/similar are the keys for the progress and also the solution to our faults! This is one of the reasons why I admire Spiritism: because you always have the opportunity of meeting wonderful persons like Aylton and Sidney.

If you are interested in reading about the Spiritual world and having an initiation to the Spiritism doctrine, I suggest starting with their new book. It offers a rich adventure of lessons about the spiritual colony of “Nosso Lar” and the experiences lived by André Luiz: a physician that has lived on this planet and after death had described how his awaken to the spiritual life had occurred. It is always good to have an opportunity of observe and learn new things!

Post-Scriptum: it is really interesting that if you buy Paiva and Fernandes’s new book, the money will be given to the “Centro Espírita Amor e Caridade” located in the Brazilian city of Bauru, in the state of São Paulo. This is because both authors gave their copyrights to the place which has a huge, serious and effective practice of supporting the needs of the poorest in their local community. 

 

 

 

History, scientists and metallurgy (1)

We are starting today in this blog, a series of nostalgic posts on the history of modern metallurgy and its scientists! Please, if you have a photo that you would like to share with us, please don’t hesitate to contact me — matheus.tunes[at]unileoben.ac.at  — and I will be delighted to share with the whole world the good and funny histories from the past. This initiative is of paramount importance to preserve the memory of our current friends and those who already left us to live in another dimensions…

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70 years of computational thermodynamics

This photo of Prof. Dr. Gerhard Inden’ s group, taken at some moment in summer 1997 at the side entrance of the main building of the Max-Planck-Institut fur Eisenforschung pictures many names which were and are important in the field.

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70 years of computational thermodynamics: Professor Inden’s research group and collaborators.

First, in the first plane, Prof. Dr. Ryoichi Kikuchi, one of the brightest minds in materials science of the second half of XXth century, then Prof. Dr. Gerhard Inden himself, standing in front of the door. He influenced most of what we do today in thermodynamics of materials. Below him, at his left, Dr. Martin Palm, one of the key names in the development of intermetallic materials to the present, then in the upper part, at the right of the smiling lady, the then young Dr. Andre Schneider, one of the most prominent names in the use of computational thermodynamics in the industry, until recent times the head of the research centre maintained by Vallourec-Mannesmann, finally, in the lower right part opposite to Dr. Martin Palm, someone who one day had hairs and 30 kg less mass!

An Ode to Metallurgy

In a paper for Physics Today in August 1969 (one month after Apollo 11 landed on the moon), the Austrian physicist Victor F. Weisskopf described the class of physicists as a bunch of “happy breed of men in a world of uncertainty and bewilderment” [1]. Despite of being an article to increase the ego of scientists, his manuscript is actually a critical view on the role of physicists in our society. It is common sense that physics often deals with so complex problems that sometimes we are detached from human reality and the world around us. I always had such concerns and when I finished my physics degree at the University of São Paulo, I felt a bit lost on the dark without knowing what to do exactly.

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This poor physicist that speak to you when he was a poor undergraduate student in the Institute of Physics at the University of São Paulo doing research with High Power Lasers Development (circa 2009-2012)

I emigrated from the Institute of Physics to the Metallurgical and Materials Sciences Department at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo to carry out a postgraduate research. At that time, I never heard anything about metallurgy and its processes. I was simply not aware: 5 years of physics school is a check-in to your own mind and the laws of physics.  The closest knowledge I had was in theoretical condensed matter physics. Of course, one of the biggest concerns of physics is what is matter, how it is organised and behaves down at the atomic level. I was happy to initiate my studies in metallurgy as engineering, a point of contact with reality I never had before.

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Adolph Menzel: Das Eisenwalzwerk (1872-1875)

From a philosophical point of view, I noted that metallurgy has its own aesthetics. In my readings, I came to see a beautiful post-modern realistic painting by the German artist Adolph Menzel: Das Eisenwalzwerk (1872-1875). Menzel pictured metallurgists working in an iron rolling mill. It is difficult sometimes to get full picture and the impressions of an artist from the realism period. For me, Menzel tried to describe the rolling process as several workers and engineers in an apparent synchronized dance. All of them fully concentrated and immersed in the activity. The objective is to achieve a goal of producing a material with a tight range of very specific properties, controlled by precise microstructural modifications. I don’t know whether or not Menzel knew it what was going on there from the science point of view, but the mastery of the moment was captured and translated into art. And it is now perceptualized.

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Metallurgists D.Ing. Stemper and D.Ing. Schmid and their work on casting advanced Al alloys.

Dear fellow readers: I am telling you this brief and disorganized history to share with you a moment of great happiness I lived today. I am not a painter like Menzel or whatsoever, but I had the wonderful opportunity to see in loco some metallurgists casting an alloy at the Montanuniversität Leoben: a world-class leading university in the field of metallurgy and material sciences in which I am very proud of being part of. I can describe the moment as electrifying, exciting. I have only confirmed the aesthetic impressions that Menzel wanted to give us: metallurgists are very concentrated scientists; they work pretty much synchronized. There is a symbiotic association between the casting material and themselves.

If we physicists are — like Weisskopf described — a bunch of happy man in a world of chaos and sometimes a bit disconnected with our surroundings, the metallurgists are the artists of this world.

[1] Weisskopf, Victor F. “The privilege of being a physicist.” Physics Today 56.2 (2003): 48-53.

A giant leap on the fundamental phenomenon of age-hardening in aluminium alloys!

SIZE DEPENDENT AGE-HARDENING DISCOVERED! 

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The Montanuniversitaet Leoben has a small breakthrough to report. The age-hardening of metals was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. 110 years later, Phillip Dumitraschkewitz was able to show in his doctoral thesis under supervision of Professor Pogatscher from the Chair of Nonferrous Metallurgy, that the effect depends on the material dimensions. Together with colleagues from ETH Zurich, the researchers published their findings in the renowned journal “Nature Communications”.

After rapid quenching of special alloys, dissolved atoms arrange themselves into nanometer-sized clusters via minute movements. These clusters significantly change the material properties, especially for aluminum or magnesium. Today, the effect is the basis for a variety of strong metal alloys in automobiles, aerospace or electronic devices.

The researchers from the Montanuniversitaet Leoben were able to study the hardening of an aluminium alloy at the atomic level by means of a new measurement method, cryo-atom probe tomography, and show that cluster formation is size-dependent. Fundamentally important is the finding, that the diffusional process stops when the sample size changes from the micrometer to the nanometer range, independent of the used metal. In addition to the directly recognizable significance for ever-smaller components or within the structure of modern alloys, the newly discovered effect is also significant in today’s frequently used high-resolution microscopy. In this area, small sample dimensions are generally small, but such size effect has not been taken into account so far. The researchers now hopes to significantly reduce the inconsistencies in the field of early clustering in alloys that has been encountered over the past two decades.

Detailed information on the publication: P. Dumitraschkewitz, P.J. Uggowitzer, S.S.A. Gerstl, J.F. Löffler, S. Pogatscher. (2019). Size-dependent diffusion control of natural aging in aluminum alloys. Nature Communications, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12762-w

AISI-348: An unstable austenitic stainless steel in particle irradiation environments

In two recent papers, we evaluate the application of the austenitic stainless steel AISI-348 in nuclear reactors. By using advanced electron microscopy techniques, it was found that the austenite phase can be quite unstable in energetic particle environments. Two very good works, don’t miss reading them! =]

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Tunes, Matheus A., Cláudio G. Schön, and Graeme Greaves. “Radiation-induced precipitation with concurrent bubbles formation in an austenitic stainless steel (AISI-348).” Materialia 7 (2019): 100408. https://t.co/hIWgTWE4Ry?amp=1ption 

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Tunes, Matheus A., Graeme Greaves, Thomas M. Kremmer, Vladimir M. Vishnyakov, Philip D. Edmondson, Stephen E. Donnelly, Stefan Pogatscher, and Cláudio G. Schön. “Thermodynamics of an austentic stainless steel (AISI-348) under in situ TEM heavy ion irradiation.” Acta Materialia 179, 360-371 (2019). https://t.co/O5c8r3s8sz?amp=1

Five common writing mistakes new scientists make

The Contemplative Mammoth

As a professor, journal editor, reviewer, and mentor, I review a lot of writing. I come from a long tradition of mentors who focused on writing — during my PhD, I often heard stories of my grand advisor returning his students’ work covered in red line edits, and then I experienced the same when I turned in my first drafts. My own students now know that this is something they can expect from me: close reading and detailed feedback. It’s how I grew as a writer, myself! I still remember comments from individual reviewers about bad habits in my manuscripts (thanks, Reviewer #3!), and I hear myself passing on my advisor’s comments (in his voice, even!) as I edit my students’ work.

As I’ve found myself doing more and more editing lately, I’ve started noticing patterns — common issues that tend to disproportionately show up in student and early career…

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