Ig Nobel on Science Friday on the day after Thanksgiving

November 20th, 2018

The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be broadcast on the Science Friday program this Friday, November 23rd, 2018, in a specially-edited, recorded one-hour version.

This continues the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition—now in its 27th year—for Science Friday’s special coverage of the ceremony. In most parts of the USA, it will be the first hour of the Science Friday radio broadcast. You can, alternatively, listen online. (Can’t wait? Listen to some of the broadcasts from previous years that are archived online.)

We always enjoy seeing/hearing how our friends at Science Friday manage to wrangle the complex Ig Nobel ceremony down into an entertaining, all-audio single radio hour.

The photo you see here is an action shot taken at this year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. It shows part of the on-stage demonstration for the chemistry prize. Francesca Bewer is on the left, Eric Workman is on the right. The photo was taken by Howard Cannon.

Another cheese vibration experiment—this one with music

November 20th, 2018

Can music make cheese tastier? Swiss Emmental maker experiments” is the headline of an AFP report in the Japan Times. The main scientist doing the research is Dr. Beat Wampfler, a veterinarian [pictured here]. Here’s some detail:

[A] Swiss cheese-maker has embarked on an experiment to test the impact of music on Emmental, one of the most famous cheeses in Switzerland….

In one corner of his impeccably clean cellar, nine open wooden crates sit with wheels of Emmental inside, and small music speakers directly below. Since September, the cheeses have been blasted with sonic masterpieces from the likes of rock gods Led Zeppelin to hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest. The project hopes to show that the power of music can influence the development, characteristics and even flavor of the cheese….

“At first we were skeptical,” admitted Michael Harenberg, the university’s music director. “Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies.” …

Scientists have experimented with sonochemistry, in particular looking into how ultrasound can affect chemical reactions.

The news report does not mention whether this experiment consciously builds on the study that won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry. That prize was awarded to Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito and José Bon of the University of Valencia, Spain, and Carmen Rosselló of the University of Illes Balears, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain,  for their study “Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.”

The study appeared in the Journal of Food Science, vol. 64, no. 6, 1999, pp. 1038-41.

(Thanks to Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)

A bra that falls off when you clap your hands (new patent)

November 19th, 2018

Inventor (and IP / patent lawyer) Michael Mansour Ahmadshahi Ph.D., Esq. has just been granted a US patent for his ‘Signal-activated lingerie’ which incorporates a remotely activated (un)fastener “causing the lingerie to fall off from the wearer’s body” when it receives the appropriate signal. The patent document explains :

“Lingerie, such as bras which are worn by females, have a fastening mechanism, such as a hook-type fastener, which is difficult to open, especially for the male counterpart. A bra according to the present invention could be made using a signal-activated fastener such that the female’s boyfriend or husband could clap his hand and the bra would automatically open.”

As described, the invention may also incorporate voice-recognition technology so that only a previously-authorized operator’s voice will activate it.


[1] For those wondering whether the technology could/should also apply to male undergarments – the patent document doesn’t specifically mention them. But it does note that the invention can also be configured to remotely operate belts and trousers.

[2] According to the invention’s website, it’s soon to be launched as a product.

“We are a high-end lingerie company offering specially-designed one-piece lingerie. These lingerie DO NOT use biometrics.

We do, however, have a patented technology which uses biometric signals to unfasten the lingerie remotely. We hope to bring it to you soon! “

[3] The 2009 Ig Nobel Health Prize was awarded to Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander. See U.S. patent 7255627 for a “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks.”

[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

A better-rounded understanding of why wombat poo is cubic

November 18th, 2018

Ian Sample reports, in The Guardian, a new discovery by Ig Nobel Prize winners, about wombat poo shape:

Scientists unravel secret of cube-shaped wombat faeces
Researchers investigate why excrement emerges in awkward-shaped blocks

… “My curiosity got triggered when I realised that cubical feces exist,” said Patricia Yang pictured below], a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “I thought it was not true in the first place.”

In a new study, Yang and her colleagues have had a fresh crack at the problem. To gain new insights into the mystery, they studied the digestive tracts of common wombats that had been put to sleep after being struck by cars and trucks on roads in Tasmania.

Close inspection revealed that the wombat’s excrement solidified in the last 8% of the intestine, where the faeces built up as blocks the size of long and chunky sugar cubes. By emptying the intestines and inflating them with long modelling balloons, of the sort used to make balloon animals at children’s parties, the researchers measured how the tissue stretched in different places….

The first public presentation happened today, at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society.

Urination Duration

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Patricia Yang, David Hu, and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

The urine-duration research is documented in the study “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L. Hu, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 33, August 19, 2014, pp. 11932–11937.

David Hu, and some of the research done by him Patricia Yang and their colleagues, was profiled a few days ago in the New York Times.

Cat Tongues?

And from the same lab: Alexis Noel’s experiments with understanding cat tongues: “Got Your Cat Tongue?

The Kidney Stone of Alderman Adams

November 16th, 2018

The History of Parliament blog detects a connection between Ig Nobel Prize-winning roller-coaster/kidney stone research and, yes, the history of Britain’s parliament:

The Kidney Stone of Alderman Adams

The link between the Ig Nobel Prize for improbable research and the 1640-1660 Section of the History of Parliament Trust is not immediately obvious; but the Ig Nobel for medicine which was awarded at the ceremony at Harvard University on 13 September this year has very distinct seventeenth century resonances. The laureates, Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger, had followed up anecdotal reports that violent movement, especially associated with funfairs, could cause kidney stones to dislodge and pass through the renal system into the bladder and out of the body, by conducting proper scientific field trials, using a simulated renal system and real ‘calculi’ or kidney stones….

To modern eyes, Alderman Thomas Adams is one of the more appealing of mid-seventeenth century politicians…. Adams enjoyed his new-found success for only a few years before his sudden death in February 1668. It is the manner of his death that provides the link with the Ig Noble Prizes and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, especially their concerns that such rides should be avoided by those with ‘renal calculi of a volume likely to cause ureteral obstruction’. For when Adams’s coach was involved in an accident and overturned, the violent movement dislodged a massive kidney stone which had apparently never troubled him before, but now blocked his urethra and killed him, after several weeks of ‘miserable torture’. Samuel Pepys, who had himself undergone an unpleasant and dangerous operation to remove a kidney stone a few years earlier, was later shown ‘the stone cut lately out of Sir Thomas Adams’s body’, and was suitably impressed, recording that it was ‘very large indeed, bigger I think than my fist, and weighs above 25 ounces’ [The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. R. Lathom and W. Matthews (1983), ix. 136].

Here’s video taken (by someone else) from the roller coaster ride that produced the Ig Nobel Prize-winning kidney stone discovery:

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