Archive for 'News about research'

The bricycle, a nearly unrideable bicycle/tricycle hybrid

Friday, March 7th, 2014

This contraption, the bricycle, is in vital ways intermediate between being a bicycle and being a tricycle, it is adjustable to act as the one, or the other, or something inbetween (a better name for it might have been biandortricycle). The bricycle is said (and demonstrated here) to be almost unridable. Its the work of Owen Dong, Christopher Graham, Anoop Grewal, Caitlin Parrucci and Andy Ruina at Cornell. They have done a fair amount of research on what makes bicycles work and not work.

Kim Krieger, writing in Science Now, essays a look at the world of the bricycle.

(Thanks to investigator Steven Strogatz for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The word “bricycle” has been used for other, unrelated projects. including one in Cleveland, Ohio and  one in and about Brighton, UK.

‘Hmmm, sooo shiny, sooo nice’ – but why?

Friday, March 7th, 2014

“Human beings are attracted to glossy objects. Shimmering lipsticks, gleaming cars, dazzling diamonds and sequined gowns [...]”


Given its prevalence, it’s perhaps surprising that motives for humans to seek out glossy, shiny, smooth things have, until now, gone largely underinvestigated in the scholarly world. A(n) hypothesis is presented, however, by doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, Belgium, in a new paper awaiting publication in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, ‘Taking a shine to it: How the preference for glossy stems from an innate need for water’

A series of six experimental studies were undertaken to test the hypothesis – which was partly supported :

“[...] this paper investigated the causes for human’s preference for glossy. Drawing on an evolutionary psychology framework, we show that the general preference effect for glossy pictures is (partly) due to an association with human’s innate preference for water.”

The paper is currently behind a $35.95 paywall, but it can also be read in full, without charge, via Katrien Meert’s doctoral thesis ‘Attracted to Attractiveness? The Effect of Attraction and Luxury on Consumers’ Mind, Attitudes and Values’ (chapter 2, page 45)

Note: Doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, The Netherlands, should not be confused with doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, The Netherlands, who investigates shining rather than shiny materials, and is undertaking a PhD in the unusual field of ‘incommensurable scheelites’.

Also see, more glossiness research: Smooth bodywork in cars and women



March mini-AIR: Pitted this and that, and stuff

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

The March issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine). Topics include:

  • Human Epididymis’s Pitted Pattern
  • Cannock Chase Pitted Pebbles Limerick Competition
  • Interest of Ruin Probabilities Poet
  • Nuts, Cracking, and Pitted Stones
  • The Ig Nobel Euro-tour and the new Improbable book
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.

VR – Mysteries of the scent projector (part 2)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Scent_Proj)_01We recently profiled the work of the Yanagida Laboratory of Meijo university, Nagoya, Japan, where work is underway on a vortex ring scent projector to deliver accurately timed odours to participants in a virtual reality (VR) environment. But the projector (one of which is picture at right) had a drawback : “One of the problems is that the user feels as if sudden wind (turbulence) come when the vortex ring hits one’s face.” Now the lab has developed a solution, called SpotScents – see: ‘Pilot study for generating dynamic olfactory field using scent projectors’ which is published in Virtual Reality (VR), 2013 IEEE and describes how not just one, but two scented rings can be made to collide in mid air. Thus stopping the odour plume in its tracks for accurate stationary scent positioning :

“A technique for locally distributing scented air and controlling its direction of movement is proposed. By causing two vortex rings carrying scented air to collide with each other, a local distribution of scent can be achieved in free space. Thus far, however, the behavior of scented air after vortex collision has not been controlled. In this study, we propose a method for varying the moving direction of scented air after the collision by precisely controlling the timing and velocity when expelling vortex rings. We conducted an initial experiment to examine the feasibility of this method and found that direction control of the airflow after vortex collision can be achieved by adjusting the velocity of vortex rings.”

A video showing the machinery in action (unfortunately only in .wmv format) is available here. Much more detail about the entire project is available online here, courtesy the Yanagida Laboratory.


The new Improbable book! (Too! Too!)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Behold (and get yourself) the new Improbable book!

This Is Improbable Too, by Marc Abrahams, OneWorld Publications, 2014, ISBN 978-1780743615. (Published March 6 in the UK, August 12 in the US)

“It’s almost dementedly inconsequential”—The Daily Mail


LAUNCH EVENT, IN LONDON: Join us to celebrate the publication:  an evening of Dramatic Improbable Readings, at Conway Hall, London, on Tuesday night, March 18, 2014, as part of this year’s Ig Nobel Tour of the UK.

Don’t forget that book’s older sibling, the almost-new Improbable book:

This Is Improbable, by Marc Abrahams, OneWorld Publications, 2012, ISBN 978-1851689316.

“Rationalism taken to intoxicating extremes”—The Guardian


Buy a copy (or several!) on