Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

The Man Who—With a Blinding, Flapping Visor—Drove on a Highway

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

John’s Story – The Science of Error” is a new documentary film about John Senders, the Ig Nobel Prize winning, pioneering student of human attention and distraction. Back Lane Studios produced the film:

The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for Public Safety was awarded to John Senders of the University of Toronto, CANADA, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

He wrote about that research: “The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving,” John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33.

This video [which is excerpted in the new documentary] shows Senders pioneering his work:

Third-generation Ig Nobel Prize winner David Hu, profiled in the New York Times

Monday, November 5th, 2018

David Hu’s Ig Nobel Prize-winning research, and David Hu, and David Hu’s Ig Nobel  Prize-winning former advisor, and that advisor’s double-Ig Nobel Prize-winning former adviser, and lots more, are profiled in the New York Times:

…As male infants will do, his son urinated all over the front of Dr. Hu’s shirt, for a full 21 seconds. Yes, he counted off the time, because for him curiosity trumps irritation.

That was a long time for a small baby, he thought. How long did it take an adult to empty his bladder? He timed himself. Twenty-three seconds. “Wow, I thought, my son urinates like a real man already.”

He recounts all of this without a trace of embarrassment, in person and in “How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movements and the Robotics of the Future,” just published, in which he describes both the silliness and profundity of his brand of research….

Dr. Hu is a mathematician in the Georgia Tech engineering department who studies animals. His seemingly oddball work has drawn both the ire of grandstanding senators and the full-throated support of at least one person in charge of awarding grants from that bastion of frivolity, the United States Army….  [He] is completely serious when he describes Dr. Hu as a scientist of “profound courage and integrity” who “goes where his curiosity leads him.”

Dr. Hu has “an uncanny ability to identify and follow through on scientific questions that are hidden in plain sight,” Dr. Stanton said.

When it comes to physics, the Army and Dr. Hu have a deep affinity. They both operate at human scale in the world outside the lab, where conditions are often wet, muddy or otherwise difficult.

In understanding how physics operates in such conditions, Dr. Stanton explained, “the vagaries of the real world really come to play in an interesting way.” …

UPDATE [November 8, 2018]: The New York Times produced an educational guide follow-up to the profile: “ARTICLE OF THE DAY—Learning With: ‘The Mysteries of Animal Movement’


“Curiosos y absurdos descubrimientos son celebrados” [VIDEO]

Monday, November 5th, 2018

“Curiosos y absurdos descubrimientos son celebrados en los premios Ignobel” —Efecto Naim explains the Ig Nobel Prizes:

Ciencia Colada takes an Ig Nobel ramble

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

Ciencia Colada takes a two-part ramble, in Spanish, through some history of the Ig Nobel Prizes and glances, a bit, at some of the other activities of Improbable Research (including a few of the Improbable Research Collection videos):


Cleaning with spit, and now with pillars and pancakes

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Last month human saliva got its due, with the awarding of the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry, as an effective agent to clean surfaces. This month, pillars and pancakes are served up as an effective way to pattern surfaces so that those surfaces will be self-cleaning.

Pillar/pancake details are in the new study “Pillars or Pancakes? Self-cleaning surfaces without coating,” Naureen Akhtar, Peter J. Thomas, Benny Svardal, Stian Almenningen, Edwin de Jong, Stian Magnussen, Patrick R. Onck, Martin Anders Fernø, and Bodil Holst [pictured here]. Nano Letters, epub 2018.

The authors, at the University of Bergen, Norway and the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, report:

“Surfaces that stay clean when immersed in water are important for an enormous range of applications from ships and buildings to marine, medical and other equipment. Up till now the main strategy for designing self-cleaning surfaces has been to combine hydrophilic/hydrophobic coatings with high aspect ratio structuring (typically micron scale pillars) to trap a (semi-)static water/air layer for drag and adhesion reduction. However, such coating and structuring can [bring unwanted side-effects]. Here we present a radically different strategy for self-cleaning surface design: We show that a surface can be made self-cleaning by structuring with a pattern of very low aspect ratio pillars (“pancakes”). Now the water is not trapped. It can flow freely around the “pancakes” thus creating a dynamic water layer. We have applied the new pancake design to sapphire windows and made the first surfaces that are self-cleaning through structuring alone without the application of any coating. An offshore installation has now been running continuously with structured windows for more than one year. The previous uptime for unstructured windows was 7 days.”

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