HAMNET Report 31st May 2020

Alister ZS1OK has mailed me an interesting insert about a club in Canton, Ohio, where the Quarter Century Wireless Association have reported on a high altitude balloon with APRS tracking which was launched off the Portage Lakes in Ohio, 279 days ago. This is apparently the second balloon they have launched from there, with the intention that it would ascend to about 40000 feet (12200 metres), and then be carried by the jetstream wind currents for as long as possible.

Well, 279 days later, it is still being tracked, and can be watched on www.aprs.fi by looking for the call sign W8MV-11. The payload consists only of an APRS Skytracker, and two solar panels to drive it. This has the small disadvantage that, if the balloon veers too far North or South of the equator, the incident light on the panels is not enough to permit the tracker to generate a signal, so the transmissions are intermittent, and of course, never when the balloon is in the earth’s shadow.

Anyway, the speed of travel of the balloon up there and the tracks it has followed since launch indicate that W8MV-11 has circled the earth 16 times since launch and there is no indication that it is going to stop anytime soon. Currently it holds the record for the longest flight of a balloon carrying amateur radio. You can read more details at the home page of the QC Wireless Association at www.qcwa21.org/

Thanks, Alister.

Southgate Amateur Radio News has again reported on the workshops via Zoom or YouTube channels coming from IARU Region 2 since the end of April. Those held so far have been huge successes, with more than 200 participants tuning in live, and up to 1100 viewings of the YouTube videos subsequently.

Emergency Communications (in Spanish) was aired on 29th April, again in English on 6th May, and repeated on 13th May. Satellite Communications for beginners was presented in Spanish on 20th May and in English last Wednesday the 27th. June the 3rd sees a presentation on “Field Day in Social Distancing” in English, and FT8/FT4 Digital Modes in English on 10th June, followed by the same topic in Spanish on 17th June. The workshops take place at 02h00 our time early Thursday mornings.

EmComm enthusiasts in Region 1 of the IARU are encouraged to listen out for advertisements of the virtual emcomm meetings to be held at the time that the Friedrichshafen Hamfest should have taken place at the end of June, which will be carried live, probably on YouTube. I will attempt to give you enough time and information to register for the meeting when it is held.

Southgate news has also reported on a good news story out of India after Cyclone Amphan struck last week.

The New Indian Express reports that as communications failed post-Amphan, a ham radio club tuned in to save the day.

For two days after Cyclone Amphan tore through the state, Ramkrishna Kar, a resident of Barasat town in North 24 Parganas district, had no news of his family in Bagbazar area of Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas district.

Kar, who lives in Barasat for work-related reasons, had no idea how his parents, wife and son were doing since Sagar Island, which bore the brunt of the storm, got completely cut off from the rest of the state.

With electricity, internet and mobile networks down, Kar got in touch with the ham radio operators at the West Bengal Radio Club. The club dispatched one of its members, Dibas Mondol, to contact Kar’s family. Mondol cycled through the desolate landscape to reach Kar’s home. There, he shot their video message, and transmitted it using slow scan television (SSTV), which is a way of sending video images over a voice bandwidth.

Deborah Kotz, from the University of Maryland, writes that scientists from their School of Medicine (UMSOM) developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes. It uses a simple assay containing plasmonic gold nanoparticles to detect a colour change when the virus is present. The test does not require the use of any advanced laboratory techniques, such as those commonly used to amplify DNA, for analysis. The authors published their work last week in the American Chemical Society’s nanotechnology journal ACS Nano.

“Based on our preliminary results, we believe this promising new test may detect RNA material from the virus as early as the first day of infection. Additional studies are needed, however, to confirm whether this is indeed the case,” said study leader Dipanjan Pan, Ph.D., Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and Pediatrics at the UMSOM.

Once a nasal swab or saliva sample is obtained from a patient, the RNA is extracted from the sample via a simple process that takes about 10 minutes. The test uses a highly specific molecule attached to the gold nanoparticles to detect a particular protein. This protein is part of the genetic sequence that is unique to the novel coronavirus. When the biosensor binds to the virus’s gene sequence, the gold nanoparticles respond by turning the liquid reagent from purple to blue.

“The accuracy of any COVID-19 test is based on being able to reliably detect any virus. This means it does not give a false negative result if the virus actually is present, nor a false positive result if the virus is not present,” said Dr. Pan. “Many of the diagnostic tests currently on the market cannot detect the virus until several days after infection. For this reason, they have a significant rate of false negative results.”

“This RNA-based test appears to be very promising in terms of detecting the virus. The innovative approach provides results without the need for a sophisticated laboratory facility,” said study co-author Matthew Frieman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UMSOM.

Although more clinical studies are warranted, this test could be far less expensive to produce and process than a standard COVID-19 lab test; it does not require laboratory equipment or trained personnel to run the test and analyse the results. If this new test meets FDA expectations, it could potentially be used in daycare centres, nursing homes, college campuses, and work places as a surveillance technique to monitor any resurgence of infections.

This all sounds very promising, and time will soon tell if the test is a golden bullet that can make diagnosis and epidemiology much easier.

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