Dung beetle Ig winner hailed in his home country

September 29th, 2014

The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg issued this press report:

Two Witsies among World Class SAs

26 September 2014

Wits University Professors Lee Berger and Marcus Byrne have been included in the 2014 edition of City Press’ 100 World Class South Africans that was released online onwww.citypress.co.za on Heritage Day, 24 September 2014.

“This is a collection of South Africans who have staked a claim to greatness not only on our shores, but abroad as well,” said City Press Editor-in-Chief, Ferial Haffajee. Launched in 2013, the series is a celebration of 100 living South Africans who have achieved world-class status through global recognition of their work in arts, sciences, business, fashion and design, civil society and sports. It is a way to acknowledge the sacrifices of the past, the achievements of the present and the goals of the future and is intended to evoke a feeling of national pride, Haffajee added….

byrneFor his quirky and exception work on dung beetles, Byrnehas been included in the Newsmakers & Shapeshifterscategory. He is a professor of zoology and entomology in the Wits School of Animals, Plants and Environmental Sciences. Last year he won the Ig Nobel Prize, awarded every year at Harvard University in recognition of illustrious (and often eccentric) people whose research first makes one laugh, then makes one think. Byrne and his team won for dressing up dung beetles in designer gear and putting them under the simulated night sky at the Joburg Planetarium to show how they use the Milky Way as a compass to orientate themselves.

Haffajee said this year’s edition is an inspiring picture of those who are “building a legacy for our land, harvesting the life lessons of the good and great among us. If we are to achieve our potential as a nation then we must strive to be a world-class nation.”

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize jointly for biology and astronomy was awarded 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.]

(Thanks to investigator Gwinyai Masukume for bringing this to our attention.)

Rating tiddlywinks (statistically)

September 29th, 2014

Dr-BarrieDr. Patrick Barrie, PhD, MRSC, CEng, MIChemE, Cchem, MA, BA, of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Cambridge University, UK, presents A new sports ratings system: The tiddlywinks world ratings in the Journal of Applied Statistics Volume 30, Issue 4, 2003

“After each tournament, a ‘tournament rating’ is calculated for each player based on how many points the player achieved and the relative strength of partner(s) and opponent(s). Statistical analysis is then used to estimate the likely error in the calculated tournament rating. Both the tournament rating and its estimated error are used in the calculation of new ratings. The method has been applied to calculate tiddlywinks world ratings based on over 13 r 000 national tournament games in Britain and the USA going back to 1985.”

External links: The English Tiddlywinks Association (ETwA) website (based at Cambridge) is maintained by Dr. Barrie.

“ETwA’s objectives are to promote the game and coordinate winking activities in England and the rest of the United Kingdom. “

The association publishes a journal entitled ‘Winking World’, click pic to view:


Superpowers for baristas

September 29th, 2014

There’s reported progress in the struggle to give baristas (and their bosses, and their boss’s vendors, too) more reliable info about the identities of their coffee beans.

Details are in the study “Voltammetric Electronic Tongue and Support Vector Machines for Identification of Selected Features in Mexican Coffee,” by Rocio Berenice Domínguez, Laura Moreno-Barón, Roberto Muñoz, and Juan Manuel Gutiérrez [published in the journal Sensors, vol. 14, no. 9, 2014, 17770-17785.]….

So begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.

Concocting pulp covers: The journal Inadvisable Science

September 28th, 2014

inadvisable-scienceBehold this image — the cover of an imaginary science magazine called Inadvisable Science. It’s concocted using a web site called the Pulp-O-Mizer, that lets you concoct such things.

(Thanks to investigator Robin Abrahams for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The Department of Inadvisable Science

Dropping in on the Ig Nobel after-party

September 27th, 2014

The Ig Nobel after-party, each year, is a chance for the new Ig Nobel Prize winners and the other ceremony participants to get together and let their hair (if they have any) down. Journalist Carmen Nobel came to this year’s party, and wrote about that experience, for Science Friday. Here are snippets of her entire report:

Who’s Got the Biscotti? Mingling at the Ig Nobel Awards After-Party

At a Boston-area house party this past Saturday, the man of the hour is an 86-year-old Japanese inventor who claims more than 3,500 patents and counting….

Winners travel from all over the world to attend the annual festivities, which include an operatic ceremony at Harvard’s Sanders Theater and a lecture series at MIT. The weekend culminates at the brownstone home of Jackie Baum (an artisanal cookie maker) and Stanley Eigen (a math professor), who have hosted an informal after-party every year since the Prizes debuted. (Read about last year’s party here.)

The guest list comprises past and present Ig Nobel winners; prize ceremony staffers; and local scientists, such as renowned psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason, who tonight is wearing a medal she won 66 years ago for excelling in 12th grade Spanish. For much of the evening, she discusses Chinese grammatical particles with Kang Lee, a developmental neuroscience professor at the University of Toronto who won the 2014 Neuroscience Prize “for trying to understand what happens in the brain when people see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.” …

Back in the dining room, honored scholars nibble honey-laced biscotti as they discuss the topics that earned them a spot here.

Members of two research teams bond over their shared Public Health Prize for “investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.” One winning study looked at links between toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia. The other used data from electronic medical records to describe a relationship between cat bites and human depression….

One outstanding question: Why do some dogs walk in a circle before relieving themselves, and what makes them decide whether to go clockwise or counterclockwise?

“We’re looking for a common denominator,” says Sabine Begall, an assistant professor of zoology at the University of Duisburg-Essenand and member of Burda’s team.

Begall was thrilled to win an Ig Nobel. “It’s a lifetime experience,” she says. “Accepting the prize on that stage was the most intense 60 seconds of our lives.”

We eagerly await the day after Thanksgiving, when the Science Friday radio program extends its annual (since 1992) tradition of broadcasting a specially edited version of the year’s Ig Nobel ceremony.