Archive for 'Arts and science'

Bungee jumping : the math(s)

Friday, May 29th, 2015

bungee-mathsIf the physics and mathematics of bungee jumping are amongst your interests, you are, as they say, spoilt for choice. There are quite a number of readily accessible academic studies at your disposal. Might we suggest (in no particular order)…

• Understanding the physics of bungee jumping by A. Heck, P. Uylings, E. Kędzierska

• Bungee jump model with increased stretch-prediction accuracy
by J. W. Kockelman, M. Hubbard

• The Greater-Than-g Acceleration of a Bungee Jumper
by David Kagan and Alan Kott

The Mechanics of Bungee Jumping
by D. R. H. Jones
Safety notes: Before embarking on any practical bungee-based experiments involving humans, it might be an idea to read this advice provided by the University of Maryland, US.

DANGER – IMPORTANT NOTE: Bungee cords are made of shock cords (elastomers) or from rubber. They DO NOT behave as linear springs. It would be dangerous to assume linearity of a real bungee jumping cord and make calculations on this basis.

Also see: Give ‘Em Enough Rope: Perception of Health and Safety Risks in Bungee Jumpers



Shepherd physics: Capturing a skittish lamb, using statistical physics

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

A trio of theoretical physicists have recently used ideas from statistical mechanics and probability theory to try to develop an optimal strategy for capturing a skittish lamb near a precipice.

The situation that they model is an idealization of “the capture of a diffusing, but skittish lamb, with an approaching shepherd on the left and a precipice on the right.” They approached this problem by examining first-passage probabilities, which describe the first time of some event (e.g., a lamb falling off of a cliff) occurring. The physicists summarized their strategy as follows:

In particular, the probability to capture the lamb is maximized when the shepherd moves at a non-zero optimal speed if the initial lamb position and the ratio between the two boundary speeds satisfy certain conditions.

Here’s further detail from the study:


One of the physicists, Sid Redner, works at the Santa Fe Institute, so perhaps the next problem he’ll attempt is to design a strategy to help Wile E. Coyote catch the Roadrunner.

BONUS: Redner on the question: In a pro basketball game, when is a lead safe?

Podcast #13: Telephones for animals

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The California inventor (and Taser Corporation advisor) of a telephone for animals and a cell phone that reaches out and shocks bad guys, borborygmi (the sounds made by your intestines), the phrase “I don’t know”, and other things turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on or iTunes, to get a new episode every week, free.
[NEWS: Soon, the podcast will also be available on Spotify.]

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:



The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes (and soon, also on Spotify).

Improbable Swedish TV: Ignobelseminarium in Stockholm

Monday, May 25th, 2015

The Swedish public television network SVT filmed the Ig Nobel show at Boulevardteatern in Stockholm on March 25, 2015. Two months later, SVT broadcasted their video of that night. It is (at least for a while) available on SVT’s UR Play web site. (Many thanks to publishers Fri tanke förlag, to Boulevardteatern, and to dapper neuroscientist Gustav Nilsonne for helping arrange the event!)

Here are links to highlights from that show (click on each image to see the video).

Sabine Begall and Pascal Malkemper tell how their team, in the Czech Republic and Germany, gathered evidence that dogs, while excreting, often align their body axis with earth’s north-south magnetic field lines:


Jaroslav Flegr, of the Czech Republic, tells how he and others learned more about the question of whether it is mentally hazardous to own a cat.


Andrea Rapisarda tells how he and his colleagues in Italy discovered that, for most organizations, promotions produce the best results if people are promoted at random.


Dr. Nakamats, with perhaps the most unusual wrapup musical performance ever given anywhere, tells about his more than 3500 patents, and his upcoming final birthday party in Japan:





‘Why It’s So Hard to Understand Opera’

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Gluck_OrpheeIf you’ve ever asked yourself why it’s so hard to understand opera, then you could turn to the work of Bertram M. Schwarzschild for explanation(s). He wrote an article on the subject which featured in the journal New Zealand Acoustics, 17(3), pp.15- 20 . (2004), entitled: ‘Why It’s So Hard to Understand Opera

 “A frustrated listener might well define grand opera as musical theatre where you have a hard time making out the words even when they’re being sung in your own language.
Conceding the point, many opera houses nowadays always flash surtitles above the proscenium. Comprehension is particularly difficult in the higher reaches of the soprano register.”

Note: The article was originally published in Physics Today, March 2004, under the title “Acoustics Experiment Shows Why It’s So Hard to Make Out the Heroine’s Words at the Opera”.

BONUS: An opera that some may enjoy finding difficult to understand.