Frequency and Prediction: Strings and Things


In 1913 a brilliant scientist by the name of Neils Bohr created a model of the atom as a small, positively charged nucleus surrounded by electrons that travel in circular orbits. For some years after, the atom was believed to be the smallest building-block of matter. Yet in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the atom was proved to consist of even smaller components called protons, neutrons and electrons, the subatomic particles. Then in the 1960s, other subatomic particles were discovered, and by the mid 1970s, it was shown that even the protons and neutrons were themselves made up of even smaller particles called quarks. In this Standard Model, energy is intrinsic to the atom, and the release of energy comes in the form of a photon resulting from the interactions of these particles. Then, as if things weren’t weird enough, along came the 1980’s with bad music, hair bands, the height of the Cold War, Reaganomics, and something called String Theory.

In the 1980s, a new mathematical model of theoretical physics, string theory, emerged. It showed how all the particles and all of the forms of energy in the universe could be constructed by hypothetical one-dimensional “strings,” infinitesimally tiny building-blocks that have only the dimension of length, but not height or width. In string theory, one-dimensional objects called strings replace the point-like particles common in particle physics. The theory describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other.

On distance scales any larger than the string itself (10-35 meters), a string looks just like an ordinary particle, with its mass, charge, and other “particle properties” determined by the vibrational state of the string. In string theory, one of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Thus string theory is a theory of quantum gravity. Instead of energy states, you have vibrations. Although there are now a few varieties of string theories, most depend on something called Supersymmetry. In string theories, as in particle physics, Supersymmetry is a proposed type of space-time symmetry that can be found anywhere in the universe. It is considered an immutable law of the universe.

String theory then postulates that all reality is made up of tiny strings of energy that vibrate. Moreover, the frequency of the vibrations of these strings determines the outcome and behavior of the subatomic particles. To string theorists, all matter is simply the manifestation of the vibrational frequency of the string. In String theory, frequency is critical as it defines all that is.

Frequency is also critical in disease surveillance. Frequency in Epidemiology, unlike string theory, is comprised of two things: prevalence + incidence. Prevalence is a useful measure for quantifying the burden of disease in a population at a given point in time, whereas incidence is a measure of the frequency of new cases of disease in the population. By using statistical projection, it is possible to ascertain, with some degree of accuracy, how likely is an epidemic. Moreover, give that most new infectious disease is caused by Pathogens that jump from animals to humans; the frequency of these events is critical to disease forecasting.

Through frequency forecasting, scientists are better able to predict where the next new disease will emerge. To create such a frequency forecast, researchers formulate a list of predictions generated from the non-human species intrinsic traits that have brought it into contact with humans. By using statistical software, researchers can analyze information about the biological and ecological traits of animals that are likely to come into contact with humans by looking at a number of variables such as environmental encroachment, temperature, the natural habitat and behavior of the suspected animal reservoir, and how and when human contact has occurred.

Using this data, researchers can use frequency forecasting to help determine where new diseases are likeliest to emerge in the future. Through the use of information from naturalists, park rangers, and other conservation and nature organizations, and cross referenced with local health data, researchers are able to identify potential hot spots of infectious disease. This process is called biosurveilance. It was effective in isolation the Ebola filo virus in the area of the Congo; however, the repeated outbreaks are due largely to sociopolitical issues, foreign government meddling, science illiteracy, authority of the church, and the abject poverty of the population.

In the end, Maths is a critical skill to have; whether you are examining multi-dimensional strings, or the incident rate of an infectious disease (this is the proper answer to be given when 4th graders ask why they must learn maths).

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