Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

Sad News: Harry Lipkin is gone

Monday, December 28th, 2015

I’m very sorry to report that Harry Lipkin has died. Harry was a founding editorial board member of the Annals of Improbable Research, and long before that — in 1955, he and Alex Kohn co-founded the Journal of Irreproducible Results, the forerunner of the Annals. Harry was also, by the way, one of the world’s great physicists. For most of his life he was a professor at the Weizmann Institute.


Harry died in September, just a few days before the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Harry and Alex had devised the basic idea of the Ig Nobel Prize many years earlier, and both of them helped me, from afar, found the ceremony back in 1991. Harry was almost-eternally going to come be part of the show — sadly he never quite made it. (Alex died in 1994.)

In 1994, when the then-publisher of the old magazine was going to consign it to oblivion (and it became clear that nothing any of us could do would stop them), I resigned as editor, and with help from Harry and Alex and the rest of the gang, started a brand new magazine — thus was born the Annals of Improbable Research.

Over a long span of years, Harry influenced (and was good friends with) a substantial part of the world’s top layer of physicists, and many, many other people. Here’s part of the appreciation that was published in both the CERN Courier and Physics Today:

Lipkin was born in New York City in 1921 and grew up in Rochester, New York. His life was very rich: he graduated in engineering; contributed to the crucial WWII anti U-boat microwave radar project at MIT; undertook an experimental-physics PhD thesis at Princeton; immigrated to Israel with his wife Malka to start a pioneering life in an agricultural kibbutz on the Lebanese border; was sent to France to study nuclear reactors; joined an early R&D unit of the Israeli army; co-founded and moved into the newly created Department of Nuclear Physics at the Weizmann Institute; became a theoretical nuclear physicist… and we have only reached 1955 in his history. For the remaining 60 years of his life, he also contributed to theoretical condensed-matter physics, particularly the Mössbauer effect; basic problems in quantum mechanics; and, especially, particle physics, with an emphasis on symmetries, quark-model analysis, applications of group theory and a wide variety of other topics. His book Lie Groups for Pedestrians introduced many generations of physicists to the subject. He received several major prizes, including the Wigner Medal, the Emet Prize and the Rothschild Prize. He spent long periods of research in the US, especially at Argonne National Lab and, for decades, was a frequently invited speaker at just about every major physics department and conference.

But his original contributions to physics research were only one aspect of his incredible career. He always felt that one should never take oneself too seriously, even as a scientist. Together with virologist Alexander Kohn, he founded the Journal of Irreproducible Results…

Harry was a thoughtful, funny, prolific writer. For a taste of his thoughts and his personality, read his essay “Why talking to physicists tells you what you can’t hear elsewhere“, which was published in the APS [American Physical Society] News, in 2009.

If you’re a bit more adventurous, take a read through his paper “Quantum Theory of Neutrino Oscillations for Pedestrians – Simple Answers to Confusing Questions“.

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.

Ig Nobel day-after-Thanksgiving broadcast on Science Friday

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Spread the word, please! Today, Friday, November 27, the Science Friday radio program will broadcast its specially edited highlights from the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. It’s SciFri’s 24th annual broadcast (SciFri began this day-after-Thanksgiving tradition in 1992, the Ig Nobel ceremony’s second year).

Listen to it on a public radio station, if you’re near one, or on the Internet. (Science Friday is broadcast as two separate, hour-long programs. The Ig Nobel broadcast comprises the entire SECOND HOUR of Science Friday. HOWEVER — Boston is going to be an exception; in Boston, WBUR (90.0 FM) broadcasts only one hour of the two-hour-long Science Friday program, and by special arrangement, today WBUR plans to broadcast the Ig Nobel ceremony special at 2:00 pm.)

This photo shows a moment at the ceremony: Justin Schmidt and Michael Smith, co-winners of the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physiology and entomology, finish their acceptance speech at the urging of eight-year-old Miss Sweetie Poo (who is assisted by many of the former Miss Sweetie Poos, who were on hand for a reunion at this, the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Alexey Eliseev took the photo:


BONUS: Download your own copies of IgBill, the printed program for the 2014 ceremony, and the 2014 ceremony poster.

BONUS: From SciFri archives, here’s last year (2014)’s Ig Nobel broadcast.

BONUS: Subscribe to the magazine — the Annals of Improbable Research, and you will receive the special Ig Nobel issue, as well as five other improbable issues!

The further adventures of…. Dr. Chance

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Dr. Chance and his research team discovered the details...” That thrilling, almost poetic passage is from a press release issued by Case Western Reserve University.

Boxer vs wrestler

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

An old theoretical question — can a professional wrestler defeat a professional boxer? — got an early test of sorts in 1976, when Antonio Inoki fought Muhammad Ali:

That same evening, wrestler Andre the Giant (who in his youth often rode with the playwright Samuel Beckett, but may never have wrestled with or boxed Beckett) fought boxer Chuck (“the Bayonne bleeder”) Wepner:

BONUS: The Guardian‘s look back at the bout.

BONUS: The other Andre the Giant — the chess player