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The Outbreak Poems — artistic emissions in a pandemic


fun + amusement

Eggnauts — Engineers Launch Model Rockets at UBC

Jul 27 2005 | text and photos by Martin Krzywinski | After reading the UBC media release announcing that model rockets would be fired at UBC, I could not resist.

The contest was to launch a rocket at least 150m into the air with a payload of an egg and bottle of maple syrup. You guess it - the egg had to be returned back to earth in relative safety. I was first in line to see the egg carnage, which promised to be the best part of the show. Who wants to see whole eggs landing in relative safety anyway?

The first launch - missed

Not knowing exactly where the launch would be held (the media release said Thundebird Park - which is huge), I was hanging around at the center of the park hoping that smoke and cheers would guide me. Sure enough, at about 5:30 I heard a bang and a puff of smoke.

I found the launch platform - but unfortunately missed the first lift-off.

The second launch - just smokin'

I was well positioned with my camera for the second launch. After a few times being told to step even further back - so that I would not get egg on my face, I'm sure - I settled into a position that was both safe and a good lookout.

Unfortunately, from my vantage point I was shooting right into the sun, so the photos are a little bleached out. I also had the 24-70mm f/2.8L on my 20D so I couldn't get good reach. The photos here are 100% crops.

Shooting at 5 fps, I caught the first sign of the plume developing around the rocket as its engines ignited.

UBC rocket launch

After the second frame, the acceleration was rapid and the rocket lifted off to 2-3 m before my next frame.

UBC rocket launch

And it was on its way!

UBC rocket launch

And then it just kept going, and going and going. It finally disappeared travelling west. Nobody heard from the egg again.

UBC rocket launch UBC rocket launch UBC rocket launch

The third launch - it's ok, the car's just a rental

After the second launch I repositioned myself to face south, with the sun at my back. After the excitement of the egg launched into orbit, I could hardly anticipate what came next. I was in for a show so exciting that all remaining launches were promptly canceled. Read on.

Before the launch, I caught the engineers looking over their rocket. Handling it lovingly, they were making sure that the eggnaut and maple syrup were snuggly nestled into the payload canister.

UBC rocket launch

The tension was palpable. Would it launch? Would it reach 150m? Would the eggnaut return to tell the tale without cracking?

UBC rocket launch

Once again, the shutter flapped at 5 fps as the rocket took off. This time, I caught the start of the plume at just the right time and captured the rocket take off in the first few frames.

UBC rocket launch

The trip started solidly for our eggnaut. The launch was timely, and more importantly, the rocket was travelling vertically - upwards. Would the egg make a career out of it? Just as our hopes were rising, we realized that something was terribly wrong. Shortly after take off, it became clear that the eggnaut was doomed. We didn't want to believe it at first, but it was obvious that the flight plan was taking a turn for the worse.

UBC rocket launch

The rocket began to spin wildly. To add, it began to turn to traveling the directly of the shocked onlookers and the parking lot. It was not longer just about the egg anymore. Fear gripped me, but I kept shooting. The next four frames reveal the horrible events that sealed the eggnaut's doom. In the second of the frames, an unplanned explosion is clearly seen. The rocket is undeterred by this, and continues to fly in the direction of the spectators.

UBC rocket launch

UBC rocket launch

UBC rocket launch

UBC rocket launch

The travel path became more erratic, and only a few seconds later the last booster cut-off. The eggnaut, perhaps still viable, was in free fall. Falling, accelerating - right into the parking lot.

UBC rocket launch

I started running towards the extrapolated crash site, as I heard a thud. When I got there, a small crowd already formed around the impact site. Someone called for an eggdoctor. In my first shot of the macabre, only the parachute, never deployed, is seen. The true extent of the disaster is covered by the figure of solemn child.

UBC rocket launch

Rapidly, the team of engineers arrived on site. Although the rocket spent about 10 fateful seconds in the air, it only traveled about 30 meters, as the crow flies (which it does much longer).

UBC rocket launch

Of course, all eyes were on the contents. Was the eggnaut safe? Perhaps by some earthly miracle, the impact was not severe enough. Of course, even before the rocket payload canister was opened, we all knew that the sickly thud that placed the rocket less than a meter from a car was a mortal hit to our airborne friend.

UBC rocket launch

The next photo captures the human moment of tragedy. The team lead finally realizes that nothing survived. The man behind him and to the right bites his lip in disappointment and shock.

UBC rocket launch

The next photo reveals the payload - now turned into an ogrish paste of eggnaut and maple syrup.

UBC rocket launch

The fourth launch - canceled

The fourth team stood by - their launch canceled. Their hearts were heavy with the tragedy of the previous team's horrible flame-out. One of the team members is seen here so distraught that he kneals and leans on his rocket for support.

UBC rocket launch

Yet they could not help but imagine - how far would their eggnaut have traveled?

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news + thoughts

Points of Significance celebrates 50th column

Mon 24-08-2020

We are celebrating the publication of our 50th column!

To all our coauthors — thank you and see you in the next column!

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance: Celebrating 50 columns of clear explanations of statistics. (read)

Uncertainty and the management of epidemics

Mon 24-08-2020

When modelling epidemics, some uncertainties matter more than others.

Public health policy is always hampered by uncertainty. During a novel outbreak, nearly everything will be uncertain: the mode of transmission, the duration and population variability of latency, infection and protective immunity and, critically, whether the outbreak will fade out or turn into a major epidemic.

The uncertainty may be structural (which model?), parametric (what is `R_0`?), and/or operational (how well do masks work?).

This month, we continue our exploration of epidemiological models and look at how uncertainty affects forecasts of disease dynamics and optimization of intervention strategies.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. (read)

We show how the impact of the uncertainty on any choice in strategy can be expressed using the Expected Value of Perfect Information (EVPI), which is the potential improvement in outcomes that could be obtained if the uncertainty is resolved before making a decision on the intervention strategy. In other words, by how much could we potentially increase effectiveness of our choice (e.g. lowering total disease burden) if we knew which model best reflects reality?

This column has an interactive supplemental component (download code) that allows you to explore the impact of uncertainty in `R_0` and immunity duration on timing and size of epidemic waves and the total burden of the outbreak and calculate EVPI for various outbreak models and scenarios.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. (Interactive supplemental materials)

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: Uncertainty and the management of epidemics. Nature Methods 17.

Background reading

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: Modeling infectious epidemics. Nature Methods 17:455–456.

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics. Nature Methods 17:557–558.

Cover of Nature Genetics August 2020

Mon 03-08-2020

Our design on the cover of Nature Genetics's August 2020 issue is “Dichotomy of Chromatin in Color” . Thanks to Dr. Andy Mungall for suggesting this terrific title.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Dichotomy of Chromatin in Color. Nature Genetics, August 2020 issue. (read more)

The cover design accompanies our report in the issue Gagliardi, A., Porter, V.L., Zong, Z. et al. (2020) Analysis of Ugandan cervical carcinomas identifies human papillomavirus clade–specific epigenome and transcriptome landscapes. Nature Genetics 52:800–810.

Poster Design Guidelines

Wed 15-07-2020

Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

The PDF template is a poster about making posters. It provides design, typography and data visualiation tips with minimum fuss. Follow its advice until you have developed enough design sobriety and experience to know when to go your own way.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Poster Design Guidelines — Clear, concise, legible and compelling..

The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics

Thu 18-06-2020

Realistic models of epidemics account for latency, loss of immunity, births and deaths.

We continue with our discussion about epidemic models and show how births, deaths and loss of immunity can create epidemic waves—a periodic fluctuation in the fraction of population that is infected.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics. (read)

This column has an interactive supplemental component (download code) that allows you to explore epidemic waves and introduces the idea of the phase plane, a compact way to understand the evolution of an epidemic over its entire course.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics. (Interactive supplemental materials)

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: The SEIRS model for infectious disease dynamics. Nature Methods 17:557–558.

Background reading

Bjørnstad, O.N., Shea, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2020) Points of significance: Modeling infectious epidemics. Nature Methods 17:455–456.

Gene Machines

Fri 05-06-2020

Shifting soundscapes, textures and rhythmic loops produced by laboratory machines.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, Segue was commissioned to create an original composition based on audio recordings from the GSC's laboratory equipment, robots and computers—to make “music” from the noise they produce.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Gene Machines by Segue. Now available on vinyl.


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