Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Marcus Byrne tells of the dung beetles and the Milky Way

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Marcus Byrne tells about the dung-beetles-and-the-Milky-Way research that led to an Ig Nobel Prize for him and his colleagues, in this University of the Witwatersrand video:

That Ig Nobel Prize was awarded, in 2013, jointly in the fields of biology and astronomy, to Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz[SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

REFERENCE: “Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.

Here’s a TEDx talk in which Byrne elucidates the relationship between dung beetles and dung:


How Iceland is a very Ig Nobel nation, and why that’s good

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Iceland, though a small, physically isolated country, can boast of great Ig Nobelity. Ig Nobel Prizes, of course, are awarded for achievements that make people laugh, then think.

IcelandFactsIceland displayed panache in its Ig Nobellian displays of economics, and then government.

BANKS. The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to the directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy. [For background, see the Report of the Special Investigation Commission, issued April 12, 2010.]

GOVERNMENT. Iceland also exhibits the spirit of the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for management. A report by Flore Vasseur, for Backchannel, tells what Iceland did:

While the tiny country defies the markets, it ventures into an incredible political experiment: crowdsourcing its new constitution.

A group of 950 randomly selected citizens define the major guidelines that experts will use to draft 700 pages of recommendations. A constitutional assembly of 25 officials, lawyers, singers, househusbands, and people from all generations are elected to create the final text.

The whole country joins in the experiment. On the internet, everyone can share their views on the separation of powers, transparency, access to the internet, protection of natural resources. Each session of the constitutional assembly ends with a song. Four months later, the new constitution is adopted

That 2010 Ig Nobel prize was awarded to  Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random. [Pluchino, Rapisarda, and Garofalo published a paper explaining their research: “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study,”published in the journal Physica A, vol. 389, no. 3, February 2010, pp. 467-72.]




New Mathematical Model Helps Explain the Strength of Interleaved Phonebooks

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Phonebooks made of paper have been going out of style, but they are still of interest to physicists. A few years ago, an episode of Mythbusters explored the strength of interleaved phone books. (Also see the sequel in Mythbusters, or maybe even try it yourself.)

First, some context, in case you are a child of the 21st century, and so perhaps have no personal experience with paper telephone books, which could be hefty. Here’s an old TV advertisement for “the yellow pages”, a telephone directory listing businesses and their telephone numbers:

Now experiments and an accompanying mathematical model have been published in Physical Review Letters by a team of physicists. Frédéric Restagno of the University of Paris-Sud and CNRS in Orsay and his colleagues measured the force needed to separate interleaved pairs of books with between 12 and 100 pages, and they developed a mathematical model based on simple geometric and mechanical ideas to explain the impressive strength of interleaved books.



Figure 1 from the article “Self-Amplification of Solid Friction in Interleaved Assemblies” by Héctor Alarcón, Thomas Salez, Christophe Poulard, Jean-Francis Bloch, Élie Raphaël, Kari Dalnoki-Veress, and Frédéric Restagno


The strength of the interleaved books arises because the book-separating force on each page is applied at a slight angle, and this increases the perpendicular force and hence the friction of each page. Restagno and colleagues also fit the data to a curve of force versus a dimensionless amplification parameter –– following the continuum-mechanics tradition of using cute names for dimensionless parameters, let’s call it the “Hercules number” –– that depends on the number of pages, the page thickness, and the size of the overlap region between the books.

Not very closely related: Another fascinating dimensionless parameter is the “Repunzel number” from research on ponytail physics, which earned the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dr. NakaMats, continued!

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Gamely defying the predictions of his doctors, Dr. NakaMats is (1) still alive, and (2) still holding press conferences. On December 25, 2015 he sent us this note, from his home in Tokyo:

Yesterday I had the press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for the following important notice:

Nakamats-Dec2015Today is 7 days before estimated death day of Sir Dr. NakaMats of which famous Medical Doctor has predicted.

Today Sir Dr. NakaMats announced that planned 10 inventions of ten therapies to beat cancer has all completed just before 7 day of his death day!

Sir Dr. NakaMats says “I didn’t know the effectiveness of these 10 invented therapies, though I believe my theory of these invented therapy are right. The effectiveness of these inventions will be proven by the fact that Sir Dr. NakaMats will die at Dec. 31, ’15 or survive.”

Sir Dr. NakaMats announced the next press conference will be held on Jan 30, ’16.

At that time, the reporter of press conference will see either the coffin or live Sir Dr. NakaMats.

Best wishes and Merry Christmas

Sir Dr. NakaMats   

BACKGROUND: The final birthday party of Dr. Nakamats

BACKGROUND: The 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition was awarded to Dr. NakaMats for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years (and counting). The streak has now, in 2015, reached 44 years. Dr. NakaMats is (as most of the world well knows) famed also for his more than 3500 patented inventions, one of which is the self-defense wig. He is still, he informs us, working on new inventions.

BONUS: Improbable Research podcast #17 included an audio recording of part of Dr. NakaMats’s now-legendary train ride from Copenhagen to Stockholm.

Enter, pursued by a bear

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Do you share the Christmas tradition of watching “Project Grizzly“, the documentary film about Ig Nobel Prize winner Troy Hurtubise? Here’s the film:

Troy was awarded the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize for safety engineering, for Troy Hurtubise, of North Bay, Ontario, for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears.

BONUS: Farewell, Treadwell. Praised Be Troy. (About, among other things, the movie “Grizzly Man“, with a cameo of sorts by Leonardo DiCaprio.)

BONUS: Troy’s book about his research into bear-proof suits