Donate to the Igs

Marie Curie, radium, and cows lying down and standing up

Wim De Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, says:

And in all aspects we have to maximise our social impact…. research must be relevant and meaningful. This refers to its applicability and usefulness.

Let me provide examples. In 1903, Marie Curie was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics together with her husband, Pierre, and fellow researcher, Henri Becquerel.

But Marie had written up the bulk of the research in her doctoral thesis earlier that same year – the same output that earned her a second Nobel Prize – this time for Chemistry, in 1911 – for discovering two new elements, radium and polonium.

deVilliersNow, there is another award which sounds quite similar – the Ig Nobel Prize, designed to make people laugh but also think. Take the Ig Nobel Probability Prize that went to Tolkamp, Haskell, Langford, Roberts and Morgan in 2013 for making two related discoveries.

First, “that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up”. And second, “that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again”.

Their research sounds silly, but it was published in 2010 by Elsevier in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, a reputable international journal reporting on the study animals managed by humans. We might consider it trivial, but dairy and cattle farmers would probably find it useful – not to mention animal rights campaigners who might want to take them on!

This is part of an article in the Cape Times, on August 17, 2015, with this attribution: “Professor De Villiers is Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU). This article is based on his talk at the annual academic day of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on August 13.”

Improbable Research