As the Delta variant continues to spread, many vaccinated Americans are worried about contracting a breakthrough case of the COVID-19 virus. While these breakthrough infections can occur, IUPUI professor Nir Menachemi, who led a study that included random sample testing for COVID-19 viral infections and antibodies in the state of Indiana, says the vast majority of breakthrough cases end up being no more serious than the flu. In fact, what many experience is typically much less than a cold, he says. Menachemi said if we were not in such a heightened awareness of the pandemic right now, people might not be as concerned about breakthrough cases as they are currently, particularly with the number of unvaccinated people showing up in hospitals on ventilators and in morgues. Menachemi says alleviating barriers in addressing hesitancy to widespread vaccinations is more important than tracking breakthrough cases. The pandemic will not end, he says, until we get vaccination rates up, so people need to continue to be vaccinated. And once they are, Menachemi says we need to get out of the cycle of focusing on breakthrough infections, which can increase anxiety for vaccinated people. However, he says anyone who has been vaccinated should remain vigilant, as they can still be infectious.
In other news, massive stars that burn out and collapse under their gravity become either a black hole or a neutron star, the densest object in the universe. When neutron stars collide, the collision creates gravitational waves, oscillations of space and time which signal the neutron star mergers. Now, as part of the Nuclear Physics from Multi-Messenger Mergers Focus Research Hub, IU researchers are collaborating to study neutron stars to better understand the nature of matter at its most extreme. The research will also look at how chemical elements are made, says Charles Horowitz , a physics professor at Indiana University Bloomington. Half of the heavy elements, including gold and uranium, are believed to be produced during neutron star mergers, he says. The research hub will perform a new kind of astronomy, observing both light and gravitational waves. IU researchers will make calculations of the properties of dense matter, which will be used in neutron star merger computer simulations. Horowitz says the research team hopes to predict and then observe the fireworks that happen when matter is compressed to its densest, most extreme form, just before collapse into a black hole, which may reveal the properties of a new kind of matter made of quarks, the elementary particles that are key constituents of matter.