Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Are Scientists People?

Friday, June 30th, 2017

“Will a click on the Ig Nobel Awards make the average person laugh? Absolutely. And I believe that if they laugh and see us laugh, if we are able to connect with them not as scientists and laypeople but as fellow curious, excited humans—real people who are trying to make a real difference—they will begin to care.”

— from the essay “Let’s Get Real: (Re)making Scientists Into People,” by Jessica Sagers, which won honorable mention in the Lasker Foundation Essay Contest.

Stinky-feet-and-cheese researcher’s research gets new attention

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Ig Nobel Prize winner Bart Knols‘s sure-footed malaria-mosquito research is featured in a new Discovery Channel documentary called “Mosquito.” The New York Times celebrates “Mosquito,” contrasting it with the “frivolous” Shark Week films that the TV network is famed for: “Deadlier Than Sharks: A Documentary Spotlights the Mosquito.”

Here’s a promotional chunk of the film:

Knols and Ruurd de Jong were awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Biology Prize, for showing that the female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet. Here are some of their prize-winning studies:

“Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture” research celebrated in Greece

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture” — the study that earned the 2002 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize — is given a keen appreciation, lavishly illustrated, in Athens magazine, in Greek. The study itself was published in the journal Nature, which featured it on the cover of their February 5, 1976 issue.

The study’s author, Chris McManus, is a professor of psychology and medical education, at University College London. McManus also is founding editor of the research journal Laterality.


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.