Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

(Video of) A measure of improbability at NIST

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Here’s video of the colloquium talk I did a few days ago at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in Gaithersburg Maryland.  The official description: “A Measure of Improbable Research — haphazardly selected samples of Ig Nobel Prize-winning and other research that makes people LAUGH then THINK”. The talk was  broadcast live to NIST facilities in Boulder, Colorado and Charleston, South Carolina. The event also featured Ig Nobel Prize winner Theo Gray, inventor of the 4-legged periodic table table, and Ted Doiron, the NIST scientist who co-authored (with his son, who at the time was a high school student) the only study ever performed to assess the metrology of complimentary small plastic rulers.

Observing praying mantises in 3D glasses hanging topsy-turvey

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

One approach to try “to understand 3D vision in the praying mantis, the only invertebrate known to have this ability, and compare it with vision in humans” is to equip a mantis with specially-built tiny 3-D glasses, suspend the spectacles-clad mantis upside down from a post, and then monitor that mantis’s response to artificially created images that mimic the motion of other insects. Jenny ReedVivek Nityananda, and several of their colleagues at Newcastle University took exactly this approach. They blog about it. This video shows some of what they have done and found:

A Newcastle U press release offers further bits of detail about the mantis viewing viewing. Justin Scuiletti at PBS Newshour did a report about it.

Newcastle University is ever abuzz with stimulated and stimulating research about insect vision. The 2005 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Newcastle scientists Claire Rind and Peter Simmons for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie “Star Wars.” [Their work is documented in the study "Orthopteran DCMD Neuron: A Reevaluation of Responses to Moving Objects. I. Selective Responses to Approaching Objects," F.C. Rind and P.J. Simmons, Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 68, no. 5, November 1992, pp. 1654-66.]

On the up and up: levitating particles & a frog, with sound & magnets

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Two visual demonstrations of levitation, each using known physics properties:

1. Using sound waves to levitate particles [REFERENCE: "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays," Yoichi Ochiai, Takayuki Hoshi, Jun Rekimoto, (2013) arXiv:1312.4006.. Thanks to @BetsytheDevine for bringing this to our attention.]:

2. The Ig Nobel Prize-winning levitation of a frog, using magnets [REFERENCE: "Of Flying Frogs and Levitrons," Michael V. Berry and Andre K. Geim [who has a rather colorful biography], European Journal of Physics, v. 18, 1997, p. 307-13.]:

The most honored paper airplane sweeper visits China

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

The University of Science and Technology of China reports, on April 21, 2014, that begins:

A Noble Laureate, also the Keeper of the Broom of Ig Nobel Prize

On April 17th, Roy Glauber, who was awarded one half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence”, visited USTC and gave a lecture “Two Hundred Years of Light Waves, One Hundred Years of Light Quanta” for the students on the next day. During his visit, professor Glauber accepted a face-to face micro-interview.

A kind of chicken soup for the soul story about Roy Glauber is very popular in China which was published in Reader in 2009. For many years before winning his Nobel Prize, Glauber were familiar to the audiences of Ig Noble Prize, where he took a bow each year as “Keeper of the Broom”. In the chicken soup story, his sweeping the stage was described as a kind of cleaning the dust of mind. When hearing that in the interview, professor laughed and shared the context of the story.

Here’s a photo of Professor Glauber and the broom and a paper airplane, all illuminated by two human spotlights, at the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The photo is by David Holzman:


The drop dropped in the Ig Nobel-winning pitch drop experiment

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Big little news from Queensland, as reported by Celeste Biever and Lisa Grossman for New Scientist magazine:

Longest experiment sees pitch drop after 84-year wait

The pitch has dropped – again. This time, the glimpse of a falling blob of tar, also called pitch, represents the first result for the world’s longest-running experiment…. Up-and-running since 1930, the experiment is based at the University of Queensland in Australia and seeks to capture blobs of pitch as they drip down, agonisingly slowly, from their parent bulk.

The Queensland experiment already features in the Guinness World Records and won an IgNobel prize in 2005. It was set up by physicist Thomas Parnell to illustrate that although pitch appears solid, shattering when hit with a hammer at room temperature, it is actually a very viscous liquid.

The eventual result follows several near misses, according to the University of Queensland. John Mainstone, who oversaw the experiment for more than 50 years until his death last August, missed observing the drops fall three times – by a day in 1977, by just five minutes in 1988 and, perhaps most annoying, in 2000, when the webcam that was recording it was hit by a 20-minute power outage….

The university issued an official announcement of the drop’s dropping. The experiment was begun by “the University of Queensland’s first physics professor, Thomas Parnell, in 1927.”

Three decades later, more or less, Professor John Mainstone took over from Professor Parnell. Professor Mainstone oversaw the experiment at the time the Ig Nobel Prize was awarded, and attended the ceremony at Harvard.  Alas, he did not live to see the ninth drop drop.

Professor Andrew White, youthful, now oversees the experiment.

BONUS: The live webcam view of the experiment, which now is hurtling at extremely low speed towards the day or night when the tenth drop will drop.