latest news

Distractions and amusements, with a sandwich and coffee.

I'm not real and I deny I won't heal unless I cry.
•
• let it go
• more quotes

They serve as the form for The Outbreak Poems.

On March 14th celebrate `\pi` Day. Hug `\pi`—find a way to do it.

For those who favour `\tau=2\pi` will have to postpone celebrations until July 26th. That's what you get for thinking that `\pi` is wrong. I sympathize with this position and have `\tau` day art too!

If you're not into details, you may opt to party on July 22nd, which is `\pi` approximation day (`\pi` ≈ 22/7). It's 20% more accurate that the official `\pi` day!

Finally, if you believe that `\pi = 3`, you should read why `\pi` is not equal to 3.

This year's `\pi` day art collection celebrates not only the digit but also one of the fundamental forces in nature: gravity.

In February of 2016, for the first time, gravitational waves were detected at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

The signal in the detector was sonified—a process by which any data can be encoded into sound to provide hints at patterns and structure that we might otherwise miss—and we finally heard what two black holes sound like. A buzz and chirp.

The art is featured in the Gravity of Pi article on the Scientific American SA Visual blog.

All the art was processed while listening to Roses by Coeur de Pirate, a brilliant female French-Canadian songwriter, who sounds like a mix of Patricia Kaas and Lhasa. The lyrics Oublie-moi (Forget me) are fitting with this year's theme of gravity.

Mais laisse-moi tomber, laisse-nous tomber

Laisse la nuit trembler en moi

Laisse-moi tomber, laisse nous tomber

Cette fois

But let me fall, let us fall

Let the night tremble in me

Let me fall, let us fall

This time

The art is generated by running a simulation of gravity in which digits of `\pi` are each assigned a mass and allowed to collide eand orbit each other.

The mathematical details of the simulation can be found in the code section.

A simulation starts with taking `n` digits of `\pi` and arranging them uniformly around a circle. The mass of each digit, `d_i` (e.g. 3), is given by `(1+d)^k` where `k` is a mass power parameter between 0.01 and 1. For example, if `k=0.42` then the mass of 3 is `(1+3)^{0.42} = 1.79`.

The figure below shows the evolution of a simulation with `n=3` digits and `k=1`. The digits 3 and 4 collide to form the digit `3+4 = 7` and immediately collides with 1 to form `7+1=8`. With only one mass left in the system, the simulation stops.

When masses have initial velocities, the patterns quickly start to get interesting. In the figure above, the masses are initalized with zero velocity. As soon as the simulation, each mass immediately starts to move directly towards the center of mass of the other two masses.

When the initial velocity is non-zero, such as in the figure below, the masses don't immediately collapse towards one another. The masses first travel with their initial velocity but immediately the gravitational force imparts acceleration that alters this velocity. In the examples below, only those simulations in which the masses collapsed within a time cutoff are shown.

Depending on the initial velocities, some systems collapse very quickly, which doesn't make for interesting patterns.

For example, the simulations above evolved over 100,000 steps and in some cases the masses collapsed within 10,000 steps. In the figure below, I require that the system evolves for at least 15,000 steps before collapsing. Lovely doddles, don't you think?

When a simulation is repeated with different initial conditions, the set of outcomes is called an ensemble.

Below, I repeat the simulation 100 times with `n=3` and `k=0.2`, each time with slightly different initial velocity. The velocities have their `x`- and `y`-components normally distributed with zero mean and a fixed variance. Each of the four ensembles has its simulations evolve over progressively more time steps: 5,000, 7,500, 10,000, and 20,000.

You can see that with 5,000 steps the masses don't yet have a chance to collide. After 7,500, there have been collisions in a small number of systems. The blue mass corresponds to the 3 colliding with 4 and the green mass to 1 colliding with 4. After 10,000, even more collisions are seen and in 3 cases we see total collapse (all three digits collided). After 20,000,

The value of `k` greatly impacts the outcome of the simulation. When `k` is very small, all the digits have essentially the same mass. For example, when `k=0.01` the 0 has a mass of 1 and 9 has a mass of 1.02.

When `k` is large, the difference in masses is much greater. For example, for `k=2` the lightest mass is `(1+0)^2=1` and the heaviest `(1+9)^2=10`. Because the acceleration of a mass is proportional to the mass that is attracting it, in a pair of masses the light mass will accelerate faster.

As the number of digits is increased, the pattern of collapse doesn't qualitatively change.

I ran a large number of simulations. For various values of `n` and `k`, I repeated the simulation several times to sample different intial velocities.

Below is a great example of how a stable orbital pattern of a pair of masses can be disrupted by the presence of another mass. You can see on the left that once the light red mass moves away from the orange/green pair, they settle into a stable pattern.

The figure below shows one of my favourite patterns. As the digits collide, three masses remain, which leave the system. They remain under each other's gravitational influence, but are moving too quickly to return to the canvas within the time of the simulation.

Use this fun inteactive gravity simulator if you want to drop your own masses and watch them orbit.

*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.

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.

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.

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

*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.

*Genetic sequences of the coronavirus tell story of when the virus arrived in each country and where it came from.*

Our graphic in Scientific American's Graphic Science section in the June 2020 issue shows a phylogenetic tree based on a snapshot of the data model from Nextstrain as of 31 March 2020.

Our design on the cover of Nature Cancer's April 2020 issue shows mutation spectra of patients from the POG570 cohort of 570 individuals with advanced metastatic cancer.

The cover design accompanies our report in the issue Pleasance, E., Titmuss, E., Williamson, L. et al. (2020) Pan-cancer analysis of advanced patient tumors reveals interactions between therapy and genomic landscapes. *Nat Cancer* **1**:452–468.

*Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7496; and of them, 6102 of the plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000 ....*

—Samuel Pepys, 1665

This month, we begin a series of columns on epidemiological models. We start with the basic SIR model, which models the spread of an infection between three groups in a population: susceptible, infected and recovered.

We discuss conditions under which an outbreak occurs, estimates of spread characteristics and the effects that mitigation can play on disease trajectories. We show the trends that arise when "flattenting the curve" by decreasing `R_0`.

This column has an interactive supplemental component (download code) that allows you to explore how the model curves change with parameters such as infectious period, basic reproduction number and vaccination level.

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

I'm writing poetry daily to put my feelings into words more often during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tears decline the plural of sad.

Souls look out from dark eye windows.