Levitating a frog, and where that led

Amy Ryles writes, in the EatBigFish blog:

How a levitating frog led to the Nobel Prize

I was watching a program on the BBC the other day, about a physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of graphene. What really piqued my interest was his slightly bonkers approach to science – which was undoubtedly what led to the discovery…

As well as winning the Nobel prize, Geim was also bestowed with the tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobel prize for his work on magnetism. Geim had listened to rumours that if you attach a magnet to your shower, or inside a kettle, limescale didn’t accumulate. To test this, Geim threw caution to the wind and poured water in some very expensive magnetic equipment.

Remarkably, he found that the water levitated. People did not believe that objects could levitate under magnetism, so Geim tried it again with a tiny frog. “Even in science, you need a ‘wow’ factor,” Geim said, with knowing. As he predicted, the tiny frog levitated and the scientific community were awed.

An American parody, the Ig Nobel prize is awarded for trivial or unusual achievements in scientific research. Many of Geim’s colleagues would have found such a tribute mortifying, but Geim was thrilled: “Annoying your colleagues is a pleasure I could never give up,” he chuckled.

Geim’s provocative style of research allows him to take risks and deliberately stray from the mainstream. His playful methods and instincts are supported by clear thinking and a broad understanding. It means that he clearly can see those ideas with promise and potential from those that would not be so fruitful. This is why we emphasise the need for intelligent naivety – and not just naivety….

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