HAMNET Report 10 March 2019

The World Health Organisation issued a statement on Friday, referring specifically to women in Health Sciences, but able to be projected to all aspects of life.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate all the women who have had a pioneering role in advancing science and health: Florence Nightingale, Fe del Mundo, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and many others.

In 2019, however women still struggle to rise up the ranks of both health and science. Gender discrimination, implicit bias, sexual harassment, and assault have been found to be systemic barriers to women’s advancement in global health careers.

Female health workers comprise 70% of the health workforce worldwide yet women occupy only 25% of leadership positions in health and just 12% of the membership of national science academies worldwide.

There are positive signs that things are changing, even if slowly, and evidence shows that implementing flexible working arrangements, providing mentorship programmes, and instituting formal polices on gender discrimination and harassment, and gender-specific leadership training can break down the barriers for women to lead in global health.

On 8 March 2019, it’s a moment to recall that principles of human rights and social equity require that women play just as significant roles in science and health as men.

For those of you wanting to listen to signals in extraordinarily small quanta, researchers at Delft University of Technology have created a quantum circuit to listen to the weakest radio signal allowed by quantum mechanics. This new quantum circuit opens the door to possible future applications in areas such as radio astronomy and medicine. It also enables experiments to shed light on the interplay between quantum mechanics and gravity. The results have been published in Science.

The usual solution to a weak radio signal is to find a bigger signal, for instance, by picking a different radio station or by moving to the other side of the room. However, what if we could just listen more carefully?

Weak radio signals are not just a challenge for people trying to find their favourite radio station, but also for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners at hospitals, as well as for the telescopes scientists use to peer into space. In a quantum leap in radio frequency detection, researchers in the group of Prof. Gary Steele in Delft demonstrated the detection of photons or quanta of energy, the weakest signals allowed by the theory of quantum mechanics.

One of the strange predictions of quantum mechanics is that energy comes in tiny little chunks called quanta. What does this mean? “Say I am pushing a kid on a swing,” says lead researcher Mario Gely. “In the classical theory of physics, if I want the kid to go a little bit faster I can give them a small push, giving them more speed and more energy. Quantum mechanics says something different: I can only increase the kid’s energy one ‘quantum step’ at a time. Pushing by half of that amount is not possible.”

For a kid on a swing, these quantum steps are so tiny that they are too small to notice. Until recently, the same was true for radio waves. However, the research team in Delft developed a circuit that can actually detect these chunks of energy in radio frequency signals, opening up the potential for sensing radio waves at the quantum level.

Beyond applications in quantum sensing, the group in Delft is interested in taking quantum mechanics to the next level, which is mass. While the theory of quantum electromagnetism was developed nearly 100 years ago, physicists are still puzzled today on how to fit gravity into quantum mechanics.

“Using our quantum radio, we want to try to listen to and control the quantum vibrations of heavy objects, and explore experimentally what happens when you mix quantum mechanics and gravity,” Gely said. “Such experiments are hard, but if successful we would be able to test if we can make a quantum superposition of space-time itself, a new concept that would test our understanding of both quantum mechanics and general relativity.”

Thank you to Phys.org for that news.

And from Medical X-press comes a discussion on how music has the ability to captivate us. When listeners engage with music, they follow its sounds closely, connecting to what they hear in an affective and invested way. But what is it about music that keeps the audience engaged? A study by researchers from The City College of New York and the University of Arkansas charts new ground in understanding the neural responses to music.

Despite the importance, it has been difficult to study engagement with music given the limits of self-report. This led Jens Madsen and Lucas Parra, from CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, to measure the synchronization of brainwaves in an audience. When a listener is engaged with music, his neural responses are in sync with that of other listeners. Thus inter-subject correlation of brainwaves is a measure of engagement.

According to their findings, published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, a listener’s engagement decreases with repetition of music, but only for familiar music pieces. However, unfamiliar musical styles can sustain an audience’s interest, in particular for individuals with some musical training.

“Across repeated exposures to instrumental music, inter-subject correlation decreased for music written in a familiar style,” Parra and his collaborators write in Scientific Reports.

In addition, participants with formal musical training showed more inter-subject correlation, and sustained it across exposures to music in an unfamiliar style. This distinguishes music from other domains, where interest drops with repetition.

“What is so cool about this, is that by measuring people’s brainwaves we can study how people feel about music and what makes it so special.” says Madsen.

Your writer has noted that music can “capture” his thought processes, and prevent him from being able to form a coherent sentence, or concentrate on another subject. Perhaps those minute quanta of detected sound mentioned in the previous article can cause a resonance in sound interpretation in my temporal lobes, where sound is appreciated, thereby causing synchronised neural responses which overwhelm my ability to concentrate on anything else. It might also be the reason why fellow musicians can enjoy a “jam-session”, creating music and resonance together in a way which satisfies those feel-good brain hormones.

This is Dave Reece  ZS1DFR  reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.