Archive for 'Improbable Investigators'

Ig Nobel on Science Friday on the day after Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be broadcast on the Science Friday program this Friday, November 23rd, 2018, in a specially-edited, recorded one-hour highlights version.

This continues the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition—now in its 27th year—for Science Friday’s special coverage of the ceremony. In most parts of the USA, it will be the first hour of the Science Friday radio broadcast. You can, alternatively, listen online. (Can’t wait? Listen to some of the broadcasts from previous years that are archived online.)

We always enjoy seeing/hearing how our friends at Science Friday manage to wrangle the complex Ig Nobel ceremony down into an entertaining, all-audio single radio hour.

The photo you see here is an action shot taken at this year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. It shows part of the on-stage demonstration for the chemistry prize. Francesca Bewer is on the left, Eric Workman is on the right. The photo was taken by Howard Cannon.

UPDATE: For more info about the ceremony, including video, visit the 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony web page.  The special Ig Nobel issue of the magazine will present further details—that issue will appear in late December; if you subscribe beforehand the special issue will be sent to you automatically.

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’


Tom and Joan Steitz, and a clarinet player

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Tom Steitz has died; his obituary is in New York Times. He was half of a marriage of two great and celebrated chemists, who met while they were grad students of the great and celebrated Professor Lipscomb, whom many of you saw and met at two decades of Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies.  (We met at a memorial for Bill Lipscomb, in 2011.)

Tom and Joan are the glamorous mystery couple featured on the back cover of the special Professor Lipscomb issue (vol. 17, no. 4, 2011) of the Annals of Improbable Research., along with a clarinet player named William Lipscomb.

The Times obituary says:

Thomas A. Steitz, a towering figure of late-20th-century science who shared a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for figuring out the structure of a huge molecule central to translating the genetic code into the proteins that make up living matter, died on Tuesday at his home in Branford, Conn. He was 78….

…he went to Harvard for graduate school. Dr. Steitz decided then and there to become an X-ray crystallographer. He joined a group led by William N. Lipscomb, the only scientist at Harvard using that technique. Dr. Lipscomb was awarded the chemistry Nobel Prize in 1976….

After Cambridge Dr. Steitz began a long career at Yale, which also hired his wife, Joan Argetsinger Steitz, an eminent molecular biologist and recipient this year of a prestigious Lasker special achievement award in medical science….

Celebrating Professor Arnold’s Further and Future Adventures

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

I have to say I feel pretty tickled (and yes, honored) by the final minute of this Science Friday interview with new Nobel Chemistry Prize winner Frances Arnold.

After hearing the interview, I of course got in touch with Professor Arnold, inviting her to take part in next year’s (2019) Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. She replied: “marc, wonderful!  Can’t promise to come, since my life is a tornado and I am a leaf, but it is high on my list!”

The Nobel committee honored Professor Arnold specifically for her research on “the directed evolution of enzymes.” Many thanks to Ira Flatow and Charles Bergquist at Science Friday, for helping engineer the new bit of directed social/ceremonial evolution.

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