Zooming In: Visualizing the Relative Size of Particles
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Lately, the world’s biggest threats have been microscopic in size.
From the global COVID-19 pandemic to wildfires ripping through the U.S. West Coast, it seems as though our lungs can’t catch a break, or more aptly, a breath.
But just how small are the particles we’re currently battling? And how does their size compare to other tiny molecules?
Specks Too Small to See
While the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is relatively small in size, it isn’t the smallest virus particle out there.
Both the Zika virus and the T4 Bacteriophage—responsible for E. coli—are just a fraction of the size, although they have not nearly claimed as many lives as COVID-19 to date.
Coronavirus particles are smaller than both red or white blood cells, however, a single blood cell is still virtually invisible to the naked eye. For scale, we’ve also added in a single human hair as a benchmark on the upper end of the size range.
|Particles||Average Size (microns, μm)|
|Light dust particle||1μm|
|Dust particle: PM2.5||≤2.5μm|
|Respiratory droplets containing COVID-19||5-10μm|
|Red blood cell||7-8μm|
|Dust particle: PM10||≤10μm|
|White blood cell||25μm|
|Visibility threshold |
(Limit of what the naked eye can see)
|Grain of salt||60μm|
|Fine beach sand||90μm|
On the other end of the spectrum, pollen, salt, and sand are significantly larger than viruses or bacteria. Because of their higher relative sizes, our body is usually able to block them out—a particle needs to be smaller than 10 microns before it can be inhaled into your respiratory tract.
Because of this, pollen or sand typically get trapped in the nose and throat before they enter our lungs. The smaller particles particles, however, are able to slip through more easily.
Smoky Skies: Air Pollution and Wildfires
While the virus causing COVID-19 is certainly the most topical particle right now, it’s not the only speck that poses a health risk. Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death worldwide—it’s actually deadlier than smoking, malaria, or AIDS.
One major source of air pollution is particulate matter, which can contain dust, dirt, soot, and smoke particles. Averaging around 2.5 microns, these particles can often enter human lungs.
At just a fraction of the size between 0.4-0.7 microns, wildfire smoke poses even more of a health hazard. Research has also linked wildfire exposures to not just respiratory issues, but also cardiovascular and neurological issues.
Here’s an animated map by Flowing Data, showing how things heated up in peak wildfire season between August-September 2020:
What’s the main takeaway from all this?
There are many different kinds of specks that are smaller than the eye can see, and it’s worth knowing how they can impact human health.
Global Stars: The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group
From Switzerland and China to Vietnam and Tanzania — here are the world’s most innovative countries, taking income per capita into account.
The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group
Innovation can be instrumental to the success of economies, at macro and micro scales. While investment provides powerful fuel for innovation—the relationship isn’t always straightforward.
The 2020 ranking from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reveals just that.
The above map breaks down the most innovative countries in each World Bank income group, based on data from WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII), which evaluates nations across 80 innovation indicators like research and development (R&D), venture capital, and high-tech production.
While wealthier nations continue to lead global innovation, the GII also shows that middle-income countries—particularly in Asia—are making impressive strides.
The economic and regulatory spheres within countries can have an enormous impact on their level of innovation—and vice versa, as innovation in turn becomes an economic driver, stimulating further investment.
The positive feedback loop between investment and innovation results in the success of some of the top countries in the table below, which shows the three most innovative countries in each income group.
|Income Group||Group Rank||Country (Overall Rank)|
|High||1||🇨🇭 Switzerland (#1)|
|High||2||🇸🇪 Sweden (#2)|
|High||3||🇺🇸 United States of America (#3)|
|Upper Middle||1||🇨🇳 China (#14)|
|Upper Middle||2||🇲🇾 Malaysia (#33)|
|Upper Middle||3||🇧🇬 Bulgaria (#37)|
|Lower Middle||1||🇻🇳 Vietnam (#42)|
|Lower Middle||2||🇺🇦 Ukraine (#45)|
|Lower Middle||3||🇮🇳 India (#48)|
|Low||1||🇹🇿 Tanzania (#88)|
|Low||2||🇷🇼 Rwanda (#91)|
|Low||3||🇲🇼 Malawi (#111)|
Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.S. are the top three in the high-income group. Considering that Switzerland has the second-highest GDP per capita globally, it is not a surprise leader on this list.
Upper middle-income countries are led by China, Malaysia, and Bulgaria. Note that China far surpasses other nations in the upper-middle-income group ranking, reaching 14th spot overall in 2020. Others in the income group only appear in the overall ranking after 30th place.
Below are several income group leaders, and some of their key areas of output:
- Switzerland: First in Knowledge Creation, second in Global Brand Value
- U.S.: First in Entertainment and Media, Computer Software Spending, Intellectual Property Receipts
- China: First in Patents Registered
- Vietnam: Second in High-Technology Net Exports
- India: First in Information and Communication Technology Services Exports
- Tanzania: 23rd in Printing and Other Media
Shining a Light on Global Innovators
Since 2011, Switzerland has led the world in innovation according to this index, and the top five countries have seen few changes in recent years.
Sweden regained second place in 2019 and the U.S. moved into third—positions they maintain in 2020. The Netherlands entered the top two in 2018 and now sits at fifth.
Here’s how the overall ranking shakes out:
|3||United States of America||60.6||High|
|11||Hong Kong, China||54.2||High|
|34||United Arab Emiratesx||42.4||High|
|42||Viet Nam||37.1||Lower Middle|
|47||Russian Federation||35.6||Upper Middle|
|56||Costa Rica||33.5||Upper Middle|
|57||North Macedonia||33.4||Upper Middle|
|59||Republic of Moldova||33.0||Lower Middle|
|60||South Africa||32.7||Upper Middle|
|67||Iran (Islamic Republic of)||30.9||High|
|74||Bosnia and Herzegovina||29.0||Upper Middle|
|88||United Republic of Tanzania||25.6||Lower I|
|90||Dominican Republic||25.1||Upper Middle|
|92||El Salvador||24.9||Lower Middle|
|98||Trinidad and Tobago||24.1||High|
|100||Cabo Verde||23.9||Lower Middle|
|101||Sri Lanka||23.8||Upper Middle|
|105||Bolivia (Plurinational State of)||22.4||Lower Middle|
|112||Côte d’Ivoire||21.2||Lower Middle|
|113||Lao People’s Democratic Republic||20.7||Lower Middle|
|118||Burkina Faso||20.0||Lower I|
Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland continue their strong showing across innovation factors—like Knowledge Creation, Global Brand Value, Environmental Performance, and Intellectual Property Receipts—leading to their continued presence atop global innovators.
But the nations making the biggest moves in GII ranking are found in Asia.
China, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines have risen the most of all countries, with all four now in the top 50. China broke into the top 15 in 2019 and remains the only middle-income economy in the top 30.
In 2020, South Korea became the second Asian economy to enter the top 10, after Singapore. As the first Asian country to move into the global top five, Singapore joined the leaders in 2018, and now sits at 8th place.
In another first for 2020, India has now broken into the top 50.
Innovation Input & Output: The Overachievers
While annual rankings like these confirm the importance of a robust economy and innovation investment, variations in the relationship between input and output are not uncommon.
The correlation between wealth and innovation isn’t always straightforward, and neither is the connection between innovation input and output.
Below is an overview of the GII inputs and outputs, as well as several of the world’s overall leaders in each pillar.
Input variables can be characterized as factors that foster innovation—everything from the quality of a country’s university institutions to its levels of ecological sustainability.
|Input Pillars||Input Examples||Input Leaders|
Human Capital & Research
Venture Capital Deals
7. Hong Kong, China
10. South Korea
Output factors include innovation indicators like the creation of new businesses, and even the number of Wikipedia edits made per million people.
|Output Pillars||Output Types||Output Leaders|
|Knowledge & Technology|
Creative goods and services
National feature films
Entertainment and media
3. United Kingdom
10. South Korea
Countries with impressive innovation outputs compared to input levels include:
- China: 26th in inputs, but sixth in overall innovation outputs
- Netherlands: 11th in innovation input, but fourth across outputs
- Thailand: 48th in overall input, first in business R&D
- Malaysia: 34th in overall input, first in high-tech net exports
Innovation Fuel Reductions Up Ahead?
Although financial markets have ignited, the economy as a whole has not fared well since lockdowns began. This begs the question of whether a steep decline in innovation capital will follow.
In response to the 2020 pandemic, will spending on R&D echo the 2009 recession and aftermath of 9/11? Will venture capital flows continue to decline more than they have since 2018?
Because innovation is so entwined with the economic growth strategies of companies and nations alike, the WIPO notes that the potential decline may not be as severe as historical trends might suggest.
No Stopping Human Innovation
Thankfully, innovation opportunities are not solely contingent on the level of capital infused during any given year. Instead, the cumulative results of continuous innovation stimuli may be enough to maintain growth, while strategic cash reserves are put to use.
What the GII ranking shows is that inputs don’t always equal outputs—and that innovative strides can be made with even modest levels of capital flow.
Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond
Which risks are top of mind in 2021? We visualize the World Economic Forum’s risk assessment for top global risks by impact and livelihood.
Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond
Risk is all around us. After the events of 2020, it’s not surprising that the level and variety of risks we face have become more pronounced than ever.
Every year, the World Economic Forum analyzes the top risks in the world in its Global Risks Report. Risks were identified based on 800+ responses of surveyed leaders across various levels of expertise, organizations, and regional distribution.
Which risks are top of mind in 2021?
The World’s Top Risks by Likelihood and Impact
According to WEF’s risk assessment methodology, all the global risks in 2021 fall into the following broad categories:
- 🔵 Economic
- 🟢 Environmental
- 🟠 Geopolitical
- 🔴 Societal
- 🟣 Technological
It goes without saying that infectious diseases have now become one of the top societal risks on both metrics of likelihood and impact.
That said, environmental risks continue to dominate the leaderboard, accounting for five of the top 10 risks by impact, especially when it comes to climate action failure.
Several countries are off-track in meeting emissions goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, while the pandemic has also delayed progress in the shift towards a carbon-neutral economy. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss is occurring at unprecedented rates.
|Rank||Top Risks by Likelihood||Top Risks by Impact|
|#1||🟢Extreme weather||🔴Infectious diseases|
|#2||🟢Climate action failure||🟢Climate action failure|
|#3||🟢Human environmental damage||🟠Weapons of mass destruction|
|#4||🔴Infectious diseases||🟢Biodiversity loss|
|#5||🟢Biodiversity loss||🟢Natural resource crises|
|#6||🟣Digital power concentration||🟢Human environmental damage|
|#7||🟣Digital inequality||🔴Livelihood crises|
|#8||🟠Interstate relations fracture||🟢Extreme weather|
|#9||🟣Cybersecurity failure||🔵Debt crises|
|#10||🔴Livelihood crises||🟣IT Infrastructure breakdown|
As for other risks, the prospect of weapons of mass destruction ranks in third place for potential impact. In the global arms race, a single misstep would trigger severe consequences on civil and political stability.
New Risks in 2021
While many of the risks included in the Global Risks Report 2021 are familiar to those who have read the editions of years past, there are a flurry of new entries to the list this year.
Here are some of the most interesting ones in the risk assessment, sorted by category:
COVID-19 has resulted in a myriad of knock-on societal risks, from youth disillusionment and mental health deterioration to livelihood crises. The first two risks in particular go hand-in-hand, as “pandemials” (youth aged 15-24) are staring down a turbulent future. This generation is more likely to report high distress from disrupted educational and economic prospects.
At the same time, as countries prepare for widespread immunization against COVID-19, another related societal risk is the backlash against science. The WEF identifies vaccines and immunization as subjects susceptible to disinformation and denial of scientific evidence.
As monetary stimulus was kicked into high gear to prop up markets and support many closed businesses and quarantined families, the economic outlook seems more fragile than ever. Debt-to-GDP ratios continue to rise across advanced economies—if GDP growth stagnates for too long, a potential debt crisis could see many businesses and major nations default on their debt.
With greater stress accumulating on a range of major industries such as travel and hospitality, the economy risks a build-up of “zombie” firms that drag down overall productivity. Despite this, market valuations and asset prices continue to rise, with equity markets rewarding investors betting on a swift recovery so far.
Last but not least, COVID-19 has raised the alert on various technological risks. Despite the accelerated shift towards remote work and digitalization of entire industries, the reality is that digital inequality leaves those with lower digital literacy behind—worsening existing inequalities.
Big Tech is also bloating even further, growing its digital power concentration. The market share some companies hold in their respective sectors, such as Amazon in online retail, threatens to erode the agency of other players.
Assessing the Top 10 Risks On the Horizon
Back in mid-2020, the WEF attempted to quantify the biggest risks over an 18-month period, with a prolonged economic recession emerging on top.
In this report’s risk assessment, global risks are further classified by how soon their resulting threats are expected to occur. Weapons of mass destruction remain the top risk, though on a much longer scale of up to 10 years in the future.
|#1||🟠Weapons of mass destruction||62.7||Long-term (5-10 years)|
|#2||🔴Infectious diseases||58||Short-term risks (0-2 years)|
|#3||🔴Livelihood crises||55.1||Short-term risks (0-2 years)|
|#4||🔵Asset bubble burst||53.3||Medium-term risks (3-5 years)|
|#5||🟣 IT infrastructure breakdown||53.3||Medium-term risks (3-5 years)|
|#6||🔵Price instability||52.9||Medium-term risks (3-5 years)|
|#7||🟢Extreme weather events||52.7||Short-term risks (0-2 years)|
|#8||🔵Commodity shocks||52.7||Medium-term risks (3-5 years)|
|#9||🔵Debt crises||52.3||Medium-term risks (3-5 years)|
|#10||🟠State collapse||51.8||Long-term (5-10 years)|
Through this perspective, COVID-19 (and its variants) remains high in the next two years as the world scrambles to return to normal.
It’s also clear that more economic risks are taking center stage, from an asset bubble burst to price instability that could have a profound effect over the next five years.
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