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Technology: Quantum microscope can zoom in on tiny structures with 35 per cent more clarity

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A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom in on tiny structures with 35 per cent more clarity could be a major leap for medical research, a study has reported. 

Researchers from the University of Queensland created the device, which is capable of revealing biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see – at the scale of bonds between atoms in a cell. 

Specifically, it can image biological cells and other object on a micrometre (µm) scale — that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

It operates by making use of quantum entanglement — the effect which theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once referred to as ‘spooky interactions at a distance’.

The new microscope design is the first entanglement-based sensor capable of outperforming existing, classical physics-based technology.

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A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom in on tiny structures with 35 per cent more clarity could be a major leap for medical research, a study has reported. Pictured: an artist’s impression of the new microscope in action. The twin pulses in the light beam represent the entangled photos which the team use to decrease the resulting image’s signal-to-noise ratio

Experts from the University of Queensland created the device, which is capable of revealing biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see. Specifically, it can image biological cells and other object on a micrometre (µm) scale — that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. Pictured: polystyrene beads, left, and a live yeast cell as imaged by the quantum microscope (main) and under a traditional, bright-field microscope (inset)

This phenomenon sees particles that have been ‘entangled’ behave as if linked, even when separated, meaning that the actions of one alters the behaviour of the other.

Traditionally, the performance of light-based microscopes has been limited by how light exists as discrete energy packets called photons.

As photons are emitted from a source (like a laser, for example) at random times, the light is subject to so-called ‘shot noise’, which restricts sensitivity and resolution.

The normal way to overcome this limit is to increase the intensity of the light — resulting in more photons and an averaging out of the statistically fluctuations.

However, with biological samples, upping the intensity of light can actually damage the object being viewed down the microscope, defeating the objective.

Using entangled photons, however, allows more information to be recovered per single photon, meaning that noise can be lessened without raising light intensity.

‘The best light microscopes use bright lasers that are billions of times brighter than the sun,’ explained paper author and quantum physicist Warwick Bowen of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

‘Fragile biological systems like a human cell can only survive a short time in them and this is a major roadblock.

‘The quantum entanglement in our microscope provides 35 per cent improved clarity without destroying the cell, allowing us to see minute biological structures that would otherwise be invisible.

‘The benefits are obvious — from a better understanding of living systems, to improved diagnostic technologies.’

The microscope, pictured, operates by means of quantum entanglement — the effect which theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once referred to as ‘spooky interactions at a distance’

Using entangled photons allows more information to be recovered per single photon — meaning that noise can be lessened without raising light intensity and damaging the biological samples being studied. Pictured: a diagram of the microscope’s workings

‘Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of a quantum revolution,’ Professor Bowen said.

‘We’ve finally demonstrated that sensors that use it can supersede existing, non-quantum technology.

‘This is exciting — it’s the first proof of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing.’ 

‘This is exciting. It’s the first proof of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing,’ said Professor Bowen (pictured here centre right aligning the quantum microscope with Waleed Muhammad, right, Caxtere Casacio, centre left, and Lars Madsen, right)

According to Professor Bowen, quantum entanglement-based technology ‘is set to revolutionise computing, communication and sensing.’

‘Absolutely secure communication was demonstrated some decades ago as the first demonstration of absolute quantum advantage over conventional technologies.

‘Computing faster than any possible conventional computer was demonstrated by Google two years ago, as the first demonstration of absolute advantage in computing.

‘The last piece in the puzzle was sensing, and we’ve now closed that gap. This opens the door for some wide-ranging technological revolutions.

‘This breakthrough will spark all sorts of new technologies — from better navigation systems to better MRI machines, you name it,’ he concluded. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.

WHAT IS QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT?

In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances.

This means if you measure, ‘up’ for the spin of one photon from an entangled pair, the spin of the other, measured an instant later, will be ‘down’ – even if the two are on opposite sides of the world.

Entanglement takes place when a part of particles interact physically. 

In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances (artist’s impression) 

For instance, a laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual light particles to be split into pairs of entangled photons.

The theory that so riled Einstein is also referred to as ‘spooky action at a distance’. 

Einstein wasn’t happy with theory, because it suggested that information could travel faster than light. 

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England is on track to completely ELIMINATE the transmission of HIV by 2030, research suggests

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England is on track to have completely eliminated the transmission of HIV by 2030, a promising new study has revealed.

The annual number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in England fell from 2,770 in 2013 to 854 in 2018, according to the new research.

Experts from the University of Cambridge credit the scaling up of testing and earlier treatment strategies from 2011 for this huge reduction.

Their models predict that if the reduction of transmission continues at this rate, an elimination of the transmission of the virus is well within reach by 2030.

Valerie Delpech, Head of National HIV Surveillance at Public Health England, said: ‘We have made good progress towards ending HIV transmission by 2030 in England.

‘Frequent HIV testing and the use of PrEP amongst people most at risk of HIV, together with prompt treatment among those diagnosed, are key to ending HIV transmission by 2030.’

The annual number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in England fell from 2,770 in 2013 to 854 in 2018, according to the new research

The annual number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in England fell from 2,770 in 2013 to 854 in 2018, according to the new research

WHAT IS PrEP? THE HIV PREVENTION DRUG THAT STOPS 90 PERCENT OF TRANSMISSION

This drug in particular is fixed-dose combination of two anti-retroviral drugs, tenofovir and FTC, in one pill. 

They work together to interfere with an enzyme which HIV uses to infect new cells, slowing down the virus’s attack or preventing it altogether. 

The drug is designed for people that have not yet been exposed to the virus to protect themselves against it. 

Alternatively, people who have been exposed can take PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a month-long course of drugs started within 72 hours of exposure.

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HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

The virus has been passed on between humans for many decades, but was only identified in the early 80s. 

While HIV cannot currently be cured, effective treatment can stop the virus from reproducing in your body, and reduce the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels, meaning that you cannot pass on HIV. 

In the study, researchers from the University of Cambridge used a novel statistical model, using data on HIV and AIDS diagnoses routinely collected via national reporting systems in England, as well as knowledge on the progression of HIV.

The team used this data to extrapolate estimated trends in new infections to understand the likelihood of reaching the UN target – estimated at less than one newly acquired infection per 10,000 MSM by 2030.

Their analysis suggests that the peak in the number of new HIV infections in MSM in England likely occurred between 2012 and 2013.

This was followed by a steep decrease from 2,770 new infection in 2013 to 1,740 in 2015, before a further decrease from 2016, down to 854.

While the decline was seen across all age groups, it was particularly marked in MSM aged 25-34 years, and slowest in those aged 45+.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease (artist’s impression)

Importantly, this decrease began before the widespread roll-out of PrEP in 2016.

Professor Daniela De Angelis, senior author of the study, explained: ‘With the rollout of PrEP, England looks on course to meet the goal of zero transmissions by 2030.

‘Our study also shows the value of regular estimation of HIV incidence to recognise and respond appropriately to changes in the current downward trend.

‘The challenge now is to achieve these reductions in all groups at risk for HIV acquisition.’

The findings come shortly after research revealed that in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, (March – May 2020), there was a reduction in both HIV and STI testing in the UK.

Ms Delpech added: ‘HIV and STI tests are still available through sexual health clinics during the COVID pandemic. 

‘Many clinics offer online testing throughout the year – people can order tests on clinic websites, take them in the privacy of their own home, return by post and receive results via text, phone call or post.’

This research is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, UK National Institute of Health Research Health Protection Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, and Public Health England. 

WHY MODERN MEDS MEAN HIV IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE

Prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence. Then, ART (anti-retroviral therapy) was made, suppressing the virus, and meaning a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.

Drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person’s risk of contracting the virus by 99%. 

In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners.

That has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.  

Here is more about the new life-saving and preventative drugs: 

1. Drugs for HIV-positive people 

It suppresses their viral load so the virus is untransmittable

In 1996, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was discovered. 

The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition.  

It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.

After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it’s undetectable. 

And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health

Public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).

2. Drugs for HIV-negative people 

It is 99% effective at preventing HIV

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) became available in 2012. 

This pill works like ‘the pill’ – it is taken daily and is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection (more effective than the contraceptive pill is at preventing pregnancy). 

It consists of two medicines (tenofovir dosproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). Those medicines can mount an immediate attack on any trace of HIV that enters the person’s bloodstream, before it is able to spread throughout the body.

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Coronavirus: Normal breathing can send saliva droplets more than 7ft through the air in 90 seconds

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While face masks were once rare sightings, amid the Covid-19 pandemic they’ve become compulsory in a number of settings, including in supermarkets and on public transport.

Now, a new simulation has revealed just how effective face masks are at stopping the spread of the virus.

Researchers used computer simulations to demonstrate how far saliva droplets can travel through normal breathing both with and without face masks.

Their findings suggest that droplets can travel up to 7.2 feet (2.2 metres) through the air without a face mask – but just 2.4 feet (0.72 metres) when a mask is worn.

The team hopes the findings will encourage people to maintain social distancing as restrictions begin to ease around the world.

Their findings suggest that droplets can travel up to 7.2 feet (2.2 metres) through the air without a face mask – but just 2.4 feet (0.72 metres) when a mask is worn

Plastic face shields do NOT protect against Covid-19 

Face shields offer no protection against coronavirus if an infected person nearby sneezes without a mask on, a study shows. 

Researchers used computer models to visualise the spread of droplets around a face shield ejected by a human sneeze from 3ft (1m) away.

It reveals ‘vortex rings’ produced by the sneeze carry infectious particles to the face shield in less than a second and stick to the edges of the plastic. 

Researchers say if the timing of this wave of coronavirus particles coincides with the face shield wearer breathing in, the person can become infected. 

Previous research has found the shields are also useless at trapping aerosols, indicating an infected person wearing one can still spread the virus. 

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While previous research has focused on the spread of airborne droplets when coughing or sneezing, researchers from Stony Brook University, Harvard, ETH Zurich and Hanyang University were interested to see how droplets spread during normal breathing.

The international team used computer simulations of normal breaths, which produce periodic jet flows of saliva droplets, at speeds of around a tenth of a cough or a sneeze.

The simulations revealed that normal breathing could carry saliva droplets 7.2 feet (2.2 metres) through the air in just 90 seconds.

However, when a face mask is worn, the simulations showed that these droplets travelled just 2.4 feet (0.7 metres) in this time.

Ali Khosronejad, an author of the study, said: ‘Our results show that normal breathing without a facial mask generates periodic trailing jets and leading circular vortex rings that propagate forward and interact with the vortical flow structures produced in prior breathing cycles.’

During unmasked breathing, a complex vorticity field can transport droplets over long distances, the team explained.

However, a face mask dissipates the kinetic energy of the jet produced by the exhaled breath, disrupting the vortices and limiting the movement of saliva droplets.

The team also looked at the effect of evaporation of the saliva droplets.

When no mask was worn, they found the saliva droplets at the front of the plume of breath had partially evaporated, reaching a size of just one-tenth of a micron.

Worryingly, in stagnant indoor air, droplets this size would remain in the air of days, according to the team.

In contrast, face masks were found to partially redirect the exhaled breath downwards, reducing the risk of suspended droplets remaining airborne.

A face mask dissipates the kinetic energy of the jet produced by the exhaled breath, disrupting the vortices and limiting the movement of saliva droplets (stock image)

‘To simplify the breathing process, we did not consider the flow of air-saliva mixture through the nose and solely accounted for the flow through the mouth,’ Ms Khosronejad added.

‘In future studies, we will explore the effect of normal breathing via both the nose and mouth.’

In England, face coverings are currently compulsory in a number of settings, unless you are medically exempt. 

This includes on public transport, in shopping centres, in places of worship and restaurants and pubs (when you are not seated at your table). 

The UK government explained: ‘You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.

‘You should also wear a face covering in indoor places not listed here where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.’

LONG COVID: WHAT IS IT AND COULD IT BE FOUR DIFFERENT SYNDROMES?

Covid-19 is described as a short-term illness caused by infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Public health officials tend to say people will recover within two weeks or so. 

However it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case for everyone, and that the two-week period is only the ‘acute illness’ phase.

The North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus, found that out of a total of 110 patients given a three-month check up, most (74 per cent) had at least one persistent symptom after twelve weeks. The most common were:

  • Excessive fatigue: 39%
  • Breathlessness: 39%
  • Insomnia: 24%  
  • Muscle pain: 23%
  • Chest pain: 13%
  • Cough: 12%
  • Loss of smell: 12%
  • Headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea: Each less than 10% 

Other long term symptoms that have been reported by Covid-19 survivors, both suspected and confirmed, anecdotally, include hearing problems, ‘brain fog’, memory loss, lack of concentration, mental health problems and hair loss.

The impact of Long Covid on people who had mild illness have not been studied in depth yet.  

Data from the King’s College London symptom tracking app shows that up to 500,000 people in the UK are currently suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.

In October, scientists claimed Long Covid could actually be split into four different syndromes.  

Academics at the National Institute for Health Research — headed up by Professor Chris Whitty — were asked to review the limited evidence on long Covid to help both patients and doctors understand the ‘phenomenon’. 

Their findings warned that even children can suffer and it can’t be assumed that people who are at lower risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 are also at low risk of lasting side effects.

Doctors cautioned some mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in ‘long-haulers’, as they are known, could be down to lockdowns, as opposed to the virus itself. 

The experts also claimed that the symptoms could be grouped into four different groups: 

  • Post intensive care syndrome (PICS)
  • Post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) 
  • Permanent organ damage (POD)  
  • Long term Covid syndrome (LTCS) 
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Conspiracy theorists tend to have ‘dark’ personality traits 

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Whether you’re a flat Earther, a climate change denier or an anti-vaxxer, you might have dark personality traits, a new study suggests. 

A psychologist at the University of Oregon has linked the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories with what’s known in psychology as Dark Tetrad.

Dark Tetrad comprises four ‘dark’ personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism.  

Dark Tetrad traits may be linked to believing in conspiracy theories, not because of features that are unique to each of the traits, but because of features that are shared among the traits, according to the study. 

Believing in a flat Earth is suggestive of having the Dark Tetrad traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism

The study has been conducted by Cameron S Kay, a researcher at the University of Oregon’s department of psychology, who used five ‘mediators’ to explain the link between believing in conspiracy theories and having a dark personality. 

‘Conspiracy theories may, at first glance, appear relatively benign, but they have been linked to serious real-world consequences,’ he said.

‘Exposure to and belief in conspiracy theories has been associated with holding antisemitic beliefs, being apprehensive of vaccines, being less motivated to vote and being less inclined to stop climate change. 

‘To develop interventions to combat these beliefs, it will be crucial to understand, not only the types of people that are drawn to these theories, but also why they are drawn to these theories.’

Anti-vax conspiracy theorists take part in a rally in New York City on March 20, 2021 holding signs that say ‘arrest Bill Gates’ and ‘They are lying to you’. Conspiracy theories may have been linked to serious real-world consequences – such as by prolonging the current pandemic

It is already known that scoring high on certain aspects of the Dark Tetrad are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories. 

Each of the four Dark Tetrad traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism – are made up of particular undesirable attributes. 

Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.  

Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy, while psychopathy is characterised by enduring antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness. 

Sadism, meanwhile, is characterised by the tendency to be cruel toward others for pleasure or dominance.  

WHAT IS THE ‘DARK TETRAD’? 

Dark Tetrad is an extension of the original dark triad

The Dark Tetrad comprises the personality traits narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism. 

It’s an extension of the ‘dark triad’ a name given to three of the traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. 

When all four traits are found in a single person, it implies a malevolent personality.

All four dark triad traits are conceptually distinct, but have been shown to have an overlap.

Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.

Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others. It is also often linked to a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.

Psychopathy is characterised by continuing antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.

While sadism is the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.

It can range from physical sadism (e.g., ‘I enjoy physically hurting people’, verbal sadism (e.g., ‘I enjoy making jokes at the expense of others’ and vicarious sadism (e.g., ‘In video games, I like the realistic blood spurts’) 

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For his study, Kay recruited 474 students with an average age of 19.5 – 66 per cent of whom were women. 

All participants completed scales and questionnaires to assess their ‘conspiracy ideation’ – the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories – as well as prevalence of the Dark Tetrad traits. 

But Kay also recorded levels of five ‘mediators’ – the tendency to entertain odd beliefs, be fatalistic, desire control, distrust others and feel a need to be unique.  

Essentially, these mediators can account for the links between the Dark Tetrad traits and conspiracy ideation. 

For example, being fatalistic (i.e., feeling little control over one’s life), desiring control and distrusting others should mediate the link between Machiavellian views and conspiracist ideation. 

Previous studies have often focused on a single mediator, making it impossible to compare the ability of different mediators to account for the relationship between the Dark Tetrad traits and conspiracist ideation, according to Kay. 

Overall, the results showed aspects of all four of the Dark Tetrad traits are associated with conspiracist ideation. 

Moreover, nearly all of the associations were attributable to the tendency for those with aversive personalities to hold odd or unusual beliefs, be fatalistic and distrust others (three out of the five mediators). 

‘In contrast to what the previous literature would suggest, it appears that those with aversive personality traits believe in conspiracy theories for mostly the same reasons,’ Kay said.

‘Conspiracist ideation may, therefore, arise from some shared feature of these traits rather than a feature that is unique to each trait.’      

The study has been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences

BELIEVE IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES? YOU’RE PROBABLY A NARCISSIST, RESEARCHERS SAY

People who doubt the moon landings are more likely to be selfish and attention-seeking, according to a 2015 study.

Over the course of three online-based studies, researchers at the University of Kent showed strong links between the belief in conspiracy theories and negative psychological traits.

Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the team explained: ‘Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem.’

In the first study, a total of 202 participants completed questionnaires on conspiracy beliefs, asking how strongly they agreed with specific statements, such as whether governments carried out acts of terrorism on their own soil.

Alongside this, they were asked to complete a narcissist scale and a self-esteem assessment.

The results showed that those people who rated highly on the narcissism scale and who had low self-esteem were more likely to be conspiracy believers.

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