Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Exponential beer froth decay – disputed

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Arnd Leike of the University of Munich was awarded the 2002 Ig Noble Physics prize for demonstrating that beer froth obeys the mathematical Law of Exponential Decay. [Reference “Demonstration of the Exponential Decay Law Using Beer Froth,” Arnd Leike, European Journal of Physics, vol. 23, January 2002, pp. 21-26.]

Since then, investigations into the decay of beer froth have continued – and one experimental research project in particular has challenged the idea that it decays exponentially. A team from the Institut für Angewandte und Physikalische Chemie–Arbeitsgruppe Chemische Synergetik, Universität Bremen, Germany, “call in question the results presented by Leike”, saying that :

It is our finding that the foam volume does not shrink simple exponentially but in terms of higher order according to the equation lnV(t) = a−bt −ct2.5 (3.1). The term ct2.5 describes the reorganisation of the bubble arrangements which will lead to an Apollonian gasket of bubbles. [our emphasis]

See: The Apollonian decay of beer foam bubble size distribution and the lattices of Young diagrams and their correlated mixing functions

in Discrete Dynamics in Nature and Society, Volume 2006, pp. 1–35, by S. SAUERBREI, E. C. Haß, AND P. J. PLATH.

Why Are Bird Eggs Bird-Egg-Shaped? [New research from an Ig Nobellian]

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Mahadevan, who won an Ig Nobel Physics Prize in 2007 for studying how/why wrinkled sheets become wrinkled, has a new study out about how/why bird eggs become bird-egg shaped. The study, by Mahadevan and several collaborators, is:

Avian Egg Shape: Form, Function, and Evolution,” Mary Caswell Stoddard, Ee Hou Yong, Derya Akkaynak, Catherine Sheard, Joseph A. Tobias, and L. Mahadevan, Science, vol. 356, no. 6344, June 23, 2017, pp. 1249-1254. Here’s a bit of detail from it:

Ed Yong, writing in The Atlantic, savors the new paper:

Think about an egg and you’ll probably conjure up an ellipse that’s slightly fatter at one end—the classic chicken egg. But chickens are outliers. Hummingbirds lay eggs that look like Tic Tacs, owls lay nigh-perfect spheres, and sandpipers lay almost conical eggs that end in a rounded point. After analyzing hundreds of species, Stoddard showed that the most common shape—exemplified by an unremarkable songbird called the graceful prinia—is more pointed than a chicken’s.

“We mapped egg shapes like astronomers map stars,” Stoddard says. “And our concept of an egg is on the periphery of egg shapes.”

Beyond displacing chickens as the Platonic ideal of egg-dom, Stoddard’s data also helped her to solve a mystery that scientists have debated for centuries: Why exactly are eggs shaped the way they are?…

To solve it, Stoddard teamed up with L. Mahadevan, a biophysicist at Harvard University who has studied “how leaves ripple, how tendrils coil, and how the brain folds, among other things.” He realized that all eggs could be described according to two simple characteristics—how asymmetric they are, and how elliptical they are. Measure these traits, and you can plot every bird egg on a simple graph. They did that for the eggs of 1,400 bird species, whose measurements Stoddard extracted from almost 50,000 photos…

The Los Angeles Times report about this includes an appraisal by Charles Deeming, who himself was awarded a 2002 Ig Nobel Biology Prize for co-authoring the study “Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain.” The LA Times writes:

Charles Deeming, an ecologist who studies bird reproduction at the University of Lincoln in England and who was not involved in the study, said that pelvis shape, in particular, could be critical in determining egg shape. With further research, he said, scientists may be able to narrow down a more specific link between bird anatomy and egg shape.

The place of fish farting in fish flirting and in international relations

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

The two independent research studies about herring farts gave different insights: one that fish probably use farting to communicate, the other that farting herrings in Stockholm harbor were mistakenly identified as Soviet submarines. Brian Owens appreciates these studies — their two sets of scientists shared the 2004 Ig Nobel Biology Prize — in an article in Hakai Magazine.

Owens’ article carries the headline “Quiet Please, the Fish Are Flirting — Fish that fart together stay together.”


Le Monde celebrates the work of double-Ig-Nobellian Toshi Nakagaki

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Le Monde celebrates the work of two-time Ig Nobel Prize winner Toshi Nakagaki [here auto-translated from French to English]. The report begins:

When ‘the blob’ develops according to the Tokyo rail network

In the small community of blob enthusiasts, Toshiyuki Nakagaki is a reference. But his fame goes far beyond that. His work on the unicellular Physarum polycephalum [slime mold] has earned him two IgNobels. Certainly, this award is not worth its prestigious elder. But to win this award – a mixture of incongruity and seriousness – is worth its weight in notoriety. So, twice …

In 2008, the jury first awarded the scientist of the University of Hokkaido for demonstrating that Physarum could emerge from a labyrinth. For an organism without brain or neurons, there was already enough to impress. Two years later, the Japanese biologist made even stronger: he highlighted the incredible ability of the blob to realize effective networks. For this, he reproduced, on a plaque covered with agar gel, the map of the Tokyo area. More precisely, he deposited oatmeal on the thirty-six main localities and installed the unicellular instead of the central station. And he waited….

How Many Kids Can One Man Father in his Lifetime? [podcast]

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

The Improbable Research podcast begins life anew, with our new collaborator, Scientific American. Here’s the first new episode:

How Many Kids Can One Man Father in his Lifetime?

Every day was Father’s Day for Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the emperor of Morocco, who reportedly fathered 888 children. Ig Nobel Prize-winning biologist Lisa Oberzaucher tells why Moulay quite possibly had lots more than that. Recorded at Imperial College London.


  • Elizabeth Oberzaucher, Ig Nobel Prize winner (mathematics, 2015), biologist based at the University of Vienna, Austria and at Ulm University, Germany.
  • Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, and editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research


PREVIOUS EPISODES: Dip into the pile of previous Improbable Research podcast episodes! Beginning with today’s episode we’ll be tossing some new formats into the mix.

WE WILL HAVE INFO SOON  about HOW TO SUBSCRIBE  to the podcast. (The gears for that are being put in place, filed to perfection, and lubricated to a nicety.)