Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

Congratulations: The Duck Guy will become the museum director

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Congratulations to Kees Moeliker, “the duck guy”, who on December 1 will become director of the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam, where he is currently curator. Congratulations also to Jelle Reumer, the museum’s current director, who has become a full professor at Utrecht University.

Kees was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for biology, for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. Kees is also Improbable Research’s European Bureau Chief. Here, in case you have not seen it, is Kees’s TED Talk about the duck:

BONUS: An interview in de Volkskrant.

How Do Bumps Form in Carpets?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

We’ve all had this experience: we are walking on a carpet, and we suddenly trip over an annoying bump (or “ruck”) that we didn’t know was there. So how did it form?

My colleagues Alpha Lee, Clément Le Goullec, and Dominic Vella from the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford have just posted a new paper that endeavors to explain an apparent paradox in the formation of carper rucks.

As the authors write in their abstract:

Everyday experience suggests that a ‘ruck’ forms when the two ends of a heavy carpet or rug are brought closer together. Classical analysis, however, shows that the horizontal compressive force needed to create such a ruck should be infinite. We show that this apparent paradox is due to the assumption of inextensibility of the rug. By accounting for a finite extensibility, we show that rucks appear with a finite, non-zero end-shortening and confirm our theoretical results with simple experiments. Finally, we note that the appropriate measure of extensibility, the stretchability, is in this case not determined purely by geometry, but incorporates the mechanics of the sheet.

Figure 1 from the paper by Lee et al.


(Self-tested!) Intravenous garlic juice herpes treatment (new patent)

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Inventor Behnam Azizkhani describes a newly patented (US 9,089,597) medical treatment (for herpes and other conditions) involving intravenous diluted garlic juice injections – which were self-tested. The patent includes this compelling technical drawing; the inventor is represented, graphically, as the bottommost element of the drawing:Garlic-Treatment
Please note: Improbable strongly recommends that interested parties should consult qualified medical professionals before undertaking any treatments, garlic-juice based or otherwise, for herpes, antibiotic resistant bacterial infections, cutaneous Leishmaniasis, malaria, multiple sclerosis or any other diseases or medical conditions mentioned in the patent.  

Here’s further detail from the patent:

Injection Results, First Human Trials on the Inventor

After reviewing the results from the tests on the animals, the inventor decided to try an IV injection of garlic solution on himself as an initial human trial. The first trial was performed on Mar. 29, 1996, and a syringe was filled with 25 cc of garlic solution, where the garlic solution was made from 5 cc of pure garlic juice and 20 cc of normal saline. The inventor injected 0.5 cc of the garlic solution directly into his vein and noticed a very biting and sharp pain that started at the injection point and followed the path of the vein to the inventor’s heart. The inventor waited several minutes, and then mixed the remaining 24.5 cc of garlic solution into 500 cc of normal saline, and then continued injecting the diluted garlic solution over the course of 2 hours.

The inventor monitored his vital signs during the injection of garlic solution, including his blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and temperature. The inventor also tested his complete blood count (CBC), serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase (SGOT), and serum glutamic pyruvate transaminase (SGPT) tests both before the injection, and 16 hours after the injection. The inventor noted his heart beat increased to 110 to 115 beats per minute after the initial (high concentration) injection, and this condition continued for approximately 4 hours after finishing all the injections. The inventor’s SGOT test before the injection was within the normal range of 0-37, and 16 hours after the injection the SGOT test increased to 43. The inventor’s SGPT test before the injection was within the normal range of 0-41, and 16 hours after the test the SGPT was 57. The inventor repeated these tests 3 days after the injection, and all the results were within the normal ranges and were almost the same as before the injection. The inventor’s weight was approximately 70 kilograms (kg) for the entire test period described herein.

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Testing the Green-Cheese Theory of the Moon

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Edward Schreiber and Orson Anderson once tested whether the Moon really could be made of green cheese. Caltech planetary scientist David Stephenson discussed that achievement, in Box 1 of his article in Physics Today in November 2014. In their 1970 article in the journal Science, Schreiber and Anderson compared the speeds of sound waves in rocks that were returned from the Moon with measured sound speeds of various terrestrial materials, including various types of cheese. (Sound speeds correlate highly with density and are thus often used to try to infer the composition of rocks.)

Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speed of various Moon and terrestrial materials.
Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speeds of various Moon and terrestrial materials.

According to these data, the sound speed from lunar materials seems to be much closer to those of terrestrial cheeses than of terrestrial rocks. However, one should look at Stephenson’s excellent article to read about more serious hypotheses about the origin of the Moon.

Is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence?

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Well, is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence? According to a new study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, it may be.

The study, called “The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients“, was published by Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Adam Galinsky.

[CAUTION: A different, also recent, study indicates that walking increases creativity. Be careful about expressing sarcasm while walking — the combination could, perhaps, induce unpredictable levels of creativity.]

The contents of Appendix A of the article.

The contents of Appendix A of the article.


As with all other recent papers in journals by world-renowned publisher Elsevier, the study has five self-reported highlights:

(1) Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but also a catalyst for creativity.

(2) General forms of sarcasm promote creativity through abstract thinking for both expressers and recipients.

(3) Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted others increases creativity without elevating conflict.

(4) We manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and a recall task.

(5) We employed three different creativity measures and a well-established measure of abstract thinking.

I feel like this study has justified the last 39 years of my existence. (Thanks to investigator Taha Yasseri for pointing us to this study.)

Note: Absolutely no sarcasm was employed in the writing of this blog entry.