Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

The incident of the Suspected-Soviet-Sub, the Swedish Navy, and the Farting Herring

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Fishes caused Sweden to be afraid of being attacked by Soviet submarines in 1982” is a report by VN Express (in Vietnamese) about the secret incident that years later produced the 2004 Ig Nobel Biology Prize.

The central figures in the story: farting herring. It is an open question, biologically speaking, whether the herring do or do not use their farts (produced by expelling air from the swim bladder) to communicate.

Ig Nobel Prize winner Magnus Wahlberg tells the story, now that the official veil of secrecy is lifted, in this TEDx talk video:

This week [late December, 2017] brings news reports about the equivalent sound, produced by a different species of fish—a fish called croaker. The scientific study about this identifies it with these words: “The Gulf corvina (Cynoscion othonopterus) is a species of croaker (family: Sciaenidae) endemic to the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico.”

The Washington Post headline about this new study: “Biologists record the machine-gun sound of the loudest known fish.” The study itself is called “A sound worth saving: acoustic characteristics of a massive fish spawning aggregation,” published in the journal Biology Letters. The scientists (at the The University of Texas at Austin and the University of California San Diego) doing this new research apparently choose not to use the plain-language description “farting fish.”

Magnus Wahlberg, the Ig-Nobel-winning co-author of the herring-fart-sound study that co-won that 2004 Ig Nobel biology prize, says (today) of these developments:

“It is very interesting to see how stories about fish sounds can keep rolling and rolling and rolling! There are more than 30,000 species of fish – and so far we have only listened to a handful of them. There is a lot more to find out. And some true enigmas: the goldfish has one of the most sensitive ears among all fish – but we never heard a goldfish ever say anything. So, what on earth are they listening for?”

“Swearing helps us battle pain – no matter what language we curse in”

Friday, December 15th, 2017

A replication (with Japanese-language speakers and English-language speakers) of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize-winning experiment (with only English-language speakers) about swearing and pain, described by one of the researchers, in The Conversation:

Swearing helps us battle pain – no matter what language we curse in

The new study is “Swearing as a response to pain: A cross-cultural comparison of British and Japanese participants,” Olivia Robertson [pictured here], Sarita Jane Robinson, and Richard Stephens, Scandinavian Journal of Pain, epub 2017.

Sound Pressures Generated by Exploding Eggs

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

The claims made in lawsuits – and the need to verify or disprove them – sometimes spark interesting research. The Acoustical Society of America’s Fall 2017 meeting included a report titled, “Sound pressures generated by exploding eggs”.

photo by D. Kessler

  Some eggs and some safety gear
  (photo by D. Kessler)

Investigators Anthony Nash and Lauren von Blohn began this research thanks to a lawsuit: A restaurant had hard-boiled an egg and then re-heated it in a microwave before serving it. When the customer bit into the egg, it exploded with enough force and heat to cause burns and, importantly for this research, possible hearing loss.

The court could not find data on whether an exploding egg might cause hearing loss, so it contacted acoustical consulting firm, Charles M. Salter Associates, where Nash and von Blohn began their research:

“An acoustical investigation was conducted using nearly 100 eggs that were re-heated under controlled conditions in a calibrated microwave oven. About a third of the re-heated, boiled eggs exploded outside the oven. For those eggs that did explode, their peak sound pressure levels ranged from 86 up to 133 decibels at a distance of 300 millimeters. The paper will describe the test protocols and discuss the results.”

Decibel Chart courtesy of

dB chart from (does not mention eggs)

Most claims of hearing damage come from noise experienced over a sustained period of time – longer than the milliseconds of an egg explosion – but in this case, the offending egg was considerably closer than 300 millimeters away when it exploded. Nash and von Blohn began a second round of research to study the possible effects of an “in-mouth explosion”.

The lawsuit was settled out of court, but the research it sparked remains for any future court cases.

(Thanks to D. Grodzins for bringing this article to our attention.)

HEARING BONUS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have articles on the sonic dangers of Vuvuzelas and also of being a NASCAR driver or pit crew member. The CDC has declared October to be National Protect Your Hearing Month.

EGG BONUS: Cooked egg-white is white because the heat has changed how its proteins are folded. The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.

COURTROOM BONUS: Another example of a lawsuit whose premise required original research received the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for investigating whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

A demonstration of the phenomenon

“Egg unboiling machine enables graphene battery development”

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Egg unboiling machine enables graphene battery development,” is the headline in Mining Weekly. The article itself says:

The Australian researchers who successfully unboiled an egg are turning their attention to capturing the energy of graphene oxide to make a more efficient alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

The Flinders University team in South Australia has partnered with Swinburne University of Technology in Victoria, ASX-listed First Graphene and manufacturer Kremford….

In 2015, Flinders University scientists were awarded an Ig Nobel Award for creating the Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD) and using it to unboil an egg. The device has also been used to accurately slice carbon nanotubes to an average length of 170 nanometres using only water, a solvent and a laser. It has also been used to process graphene to a high quality for commercial use.

The basic egg-unboiling technology is being used for many, seemingly unrelated things. Among those is the quick inexpensive production of drugs that were otherwise slow and expensive to produce.

Graphene is much in the news thanks to Andre Geim, who shared a Nobel Prize in 2010 for being the first to obtain and experiment with usable amounts of graphene, and who a decade earlier, in 2000, shared an Ig Nobel Prize for using magnets to levitate a frog.

Monday afternoon in Heidelberg

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Join us Monday afternoon at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, for a talk about improbable research and the Ig Nobel Prizes.

It begins at 3:00 pm. Hecklers are, as always, welcome. Here are details.