Archive for 'Arts and science'

Smellizing Cookies and Salivating

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

This month’s Smellizing Study of the Month is:

krishnaSmellizing Cookies and Salivating: A Focus on Olfactory Imagery,” Aradhna Krishna [pictured here], Maureen Morrin, and Eda Sayin, Journal of Consumer Research, epub 2014.

The prolific Mary Ann Twist issued a press release about it:

Fashion magazines come pre-loaded with scratch-and-sniff panels for perfume and aftershave, but what about advertisements for foods like chocolate chip cookies and fresh-baked bread? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, when food advertisements combine a photo of food with an “imagined odor,” consumers both salivate more for the item and then consume it in larger quantities.

“We wondered whether both real and imagined food smells would enhance consumer desire for that product. Does the concept of smelling food make people salivate more and increase their desire to eat more than they normally would?” write authors Aradhna Krishna (University of Michigan), Maureen Morrin (Temple University), and Eda Sayin (Koç University)…

How volcanologists define “spatter”

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014


Golden syrup might not be the first material to spring to mind if you were after an experimental analogue with which to investigate the effects of ‘spatter’ around typical Hawaiian basaltic volcano eruptions. But spring it did to the mind of researchers Sumner, Blake, Matela, and Wolff, as recorded in a 2005 paper for the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (Volume 142, Issues 1–2, 1 April 2005, pp. 49–65) simply entitled ‘Spatter’.

The authors first define ‘spatter’.

“We define spatter as an accumulation of originally hot, fluid pyroclasts, which agglutinate on landing. Very fluid magma clots may also splash on landing.”

And then go on to describe experiments in which blobs of semi-diluted Golden Syrup were photographically recorded as they were dropped in small amounts from a capillary tube onto a glass surface, and in large blobs via a 7cm diameter glass tube – from heights of up to 3 meters. The idea was to replicate the behaviour of molten blobs of lava falling from a great height.

“Despite its importance throughout the Solar System, the transformation from falling fluid clasts to coherent liquid (lava) has not previously been investigated in detail.”

The full paper, with photos, may be found here:

Many thanks for the assistance of Dr. Sumner (Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK) who informs Improbable that golden syrup “… is an accepted analog for lava/magma modelling in the geological world.” Later papers include, for example ‘Relationships between volcano gravitational spreading and magma intrusion’  (Bull Volcanol (2012) 74:743–765) describing experiments in which researchers used a tank of golden syrup, pumped by gravity, to grow sugary volcano-ettes.


But, for Improbable, ‘who/when/where?’ questions are as yet unresolved regarding the first application of golden syrup as a volcanological research model. If anyone can help us, please comment below and let us know.

Skuse on British stalk-eyed crustacea & spiders

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

“Every living creature is said to have its use, its beneficial part to play in the economy of nature.” So says page 117 of the book British stalk-eyed crustacea and spiders: with an account of their structure, classification and habitats,written by F.A.A. Skuse, and published in 1887.

The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

DanGillingwaterThe Ig Nobel Tour of Europe will kick off Friday, March 14th at Imperial College London. That night’s show will include the world premiere of “The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera” by composer Daniel Gillingwater.

My now classic 2003 Ig Nobel Prize winning paper (with about the same title as the opera) has made some people laugh-and-think and changed my life quite a bit, but I could not have imagined that it would inspire the performing arts. So I asked the composer about the creation and scope of his work. He answered me:

sarah-redmond-cv“I have set it for solo high voice, in this premiere performed by Sarah Redmond (playing your role, as witness and first [and only author]). The gender difference need not be an issue as you are an elegant and willowy specimen, much like Sarah. The scoring also includes clarinet quintet, the Edge Ensemble with Shaun Thompson on clarinet. We have a vocal chorus of four – soprano, alto, tenor and bass punctuating the section beginning ‘Rather startled, I watched …’ which is the final vivace section of a pseudo Mozartian aria.”

“The two male singers will also be portraying the mallard ducks in question, through the medium of contemporary dance. A tasteful re-enactment of the duck display, mixing flowing, poetic body movements and extreme sexual violence.”

my-duck-call_250My excitement grew. The actual words of my Ig Nobel winning paper would be sung and the duck’s display re-enacted! I had to find a way to participate. So I convinced Daniel that I am a virtuoso at playing the ‘Duck Call’. He agreed immediately:

“Now this rarely used orchestral instrument will be in the heart of the whole work and serves to comment sardonically on the comparisons of this act of homosexual necrophilia and the state of western civilisation today.”

Although I do not read a note of music, I am extremely confident in my role.

Come, see and hear: Ig Nobel Tour of the UK, 14 March 2014, 18:00-20:00h: Imperial College, London (South Kensington Campus, The Great Hall, Sherfield Building): reserve tickets here.

Clowns and… crimes, insurance, botox, whatnot

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The Manchester Evening News reports on a “Bizarre spate of clown-related crimes reported across region” (thanks to investigator Adam K. Olson for bringing it to our attention.):

 Police dealt with 19 incidents involving people dressed as clowns last year, and most were no laughing matter. Disguised with colourful wigs and white facepaint, smiling crooks carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even carried out robberies, an FOI has revealed. In one of the most serious incidents, recorded in Stockport last November, a man dressed as a clown threatened someone with a knife to steal their bicycle.

The newspaper categorizes these incidents by borough:

Rochdale – 6 including four of suspicious circumstances involving clowns

Stockport – 4 including highway disruption and criminal damage

North Manchester – 3 including one hoax call

Bury – 2 both suspicious circumstances

The other four calls were from Bolton, Tameside, south Manchester and Oldham respectively.

Clowns figure in modern life in ways often unappreciated by many non-clowns. Among those we have noticed:

BONUS: A possibly inaccurate listing of clowns in Stockport