Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Physics Breakthough: Snapping a Spaghetti Strand Into 2 (Not 3!) Pieces

Monday, August 13th, 2018


Spaghetti—dry spaghetti—again feeds the intellectual fervor of physicists. Five physicists serve up a surprising new study about an old question about bending a strand past its breaking point:

Controlling Fracture Cascades Through Twisting and Quenching,” Ronald H. Heisser, Vishal P. Patil, Norbert Stoop, Emmanuel Villermaux, and Jörn Dunkel, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018.

The authors, at Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Université Aix Marseille, and the  eCNRS/MIT/AMU Joint Laboratory, build upon an Ig Nobel Physics Prize-winning study [“Fragmentation of Rods by Cascading Cracks: Why Spaghetti Does Not Break in Half,” Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch, Physical Review Letters, vol. 95, no. 9, August 26, 2005, pp. 95505-1 to 95505-1].

Heisser and colleagues describe how—by twisting, as well as bending—they induce a strand of dried spaghetti to break into only two (not more than two!) pieces:

A well-known problem with direct implications for the fracture behavior of elongated brittle objects, such as vaulting poles or long fibers, goes back to the famous physicist Richard Feynman who observed that dry spaghetti almost always breaks into three or more pieces when exposed to large bending stresses. While bending-induced fracture is fairly well understood nowadays, much less is known about the effects of twist. Our experimental and theoretical results demonstrate that twisting enables remarkable fracture control by using the different propagation speeds of twist and bending waves.

(Thanks to Dan Cohen for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: provides a few additional details, and a photograph of spaghetti.

BONUS: Here’s video of other people’s earlier, mostly unsuccessful attempts—before the twist breakthrough occurred:

BONUS (unrelated): A monograph, by someone else, called “Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the strange physics of spaghetti” meanders into rather different aspects of dry spaghetti. The monograph has an accompanying one-hour-and-22-minutes-long video, which you might enjoy if you enjoy one-hour-and-22-minutes-long videos that meander into rather different aspects of dry spaghetti:


One month from today: the 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

Monday, August 13th, 2018

The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony happens on Thursday evening, September 13, in Sanders Theatre, Harvard University.

Ten new winners will be awarded Ig Nobel Prizes, for achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. The ceremony will include the premiere of “The Broken Heart Opera.”

A few tickets to the ceremony are still available. The event will be webcast live.

Details are on the ceremony web page.

Sizes of cash prizes for science awards (up to $ ten trillion)

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

ABC News compared the amount of money given to various prize winners. Their report bears the headline “Chart of the day: How cash prizes for prestigious science awards stack up against reality television winners.” They include this remark:

But spare a thought for those who receive Ig Nobel Prizes. The awards — honouring achievements that make you laugh, then think — came with 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollars.

This is the chart ABC prepared:This is a picture of a ten trillion dollar bill:

“Therapeutic Touch” Expert’s New Discovery: Chair-Slumping and Mathematics

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Erik Peper, co-author of an Ig Nobel Prize-winning book about how to cure ill people by holding one’s hand near them but not touching those ill people, has a new research study of students who did mathematics whilst slumping in their chairs. The new study is:

Do Better in Math: How your Body Posture May Change Stereotype Threat Response,” Erik Peper, Richard Harvey, Lauren Mason, I-Mei Lin, NeuroRegulation, epub August 2018. The authors, at San Francisco State University, USA, and Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan, explain:

“This study investigates posture on mental math performance.  125 students (M = 23.5 years) participated as part of a class activity. Half the students sat in an erect position while the other half sat in a slouched position and were asked to mentally subtract 7 serially from 964 for 30 seconds. They then reversed the positions before repeating the math subtraction task beginning at 834. They rated the math task difficulty on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (extreme). The math test was rated significantly more difficult while sitting slouched (M = 6.2) than while sitting erect (M = 4.9) ANOVA [F(1,243) = 17.06, p < 0.001]…. Discussed are processes such as stereotypic threat associated with a ‘defense reaction’ by which posture can affect mental math and inhibit abstract thinking.”

Erik Peper and the Ig Nobel Prize, and the vanished paper

The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize for science education was awarded to Dolores Krieger, Professor Emerita, New York University, for demonstrating the merits of therapeutic touch, a method by which nurses manipulate the energy fields of ailing patients by carefully avoiding physical contact with those patients.

Dolores Kreiger documented her work in a study co-authored with Dr. Peper. That study is “The Therapeutic Touch,” Dolores Krieger, Erik Peper, and Sonia Ancoli, The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 79, no. 4, 1979, pp. 660-662.

The Krieger/Peper/Ancoli paper seems to be absent from the journal’s web site, and is not mentioned in the table of contents of that issue of the American Journal of Nursing. Here is a reproduction of the first page of the article (we do ourselves have a copy of the entire article):

NOTE: The new, chair-slumping paper cites, as one of its inspirations, the muchacclaimed study “Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance.”



Beetles mating with beer bottles, in a minute

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

A pithy (1-minute-long) telling, by TheBrainScoop, of the story of beetles that mate with beer bottles:

The discovery of this biological fact was rewarded with an Ig Nobel Prize. The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for biology was awarded to Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.