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Archive for 'Research News'

Penguin Pooing Pressure, Calculated Anew

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

The penguin pooing pressure calculation that won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics has been calculated anew by a different group of scientists.

The new study is: “Projectile Trajectory of Penguin’s Faeces and Rectal Pressure Revisited,” Hiroyuki Tajima [@HiroyukiTajima3] and Fumiya Fujisawa, arXiv 2007.00926v1, 2020. The authors, at Kochi University and at the Katsurahama Aquarium, Japan, report:

We discuss a trajectory of penguins’ faeces after the powerful shooting due to their strong rectal pressure…. We estimate the upper bound for the maximum flight distance by solving the Newton’s equation of motion…. In the presence of the viscous resistance, the grounding time and the flying distance of faeces can be expressed in terms of Lambert W function. Furthermore, we address the penguin’s rectal pressure within the hydrodynamical approximation combining Bernoulli’s theorem and Hagen-Poiseuille equation for viscosity corrections. We found that the calculated rectal pressure is larger than the estimation in the previous work….

In the pioneering work of Reference [2], it is reported that this actual pressure could range from 10 kPa for relevant values of the faeces viscosity and the radius of the the bottom hole.

A Look Back at the Pioneering Early Work, and at the Pioneer

That 2005 Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu, Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report “Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh — Calculations on Avian Defaecation” (published in the journal Polar Biology, vol. 27, 2003, pp. 56-8). Here is a technical drawing from that original penguin poo pressure paper:

Meyer-Rochow has discussed why he undertook the question.

And by happy coincidence, this week the ICES Journal of Marine Science published his invited biographical essay “Ingredients to become a scientist: curiosity, enthusiasm, perseverance, opportunity, and a good pinch of luck.” The essay is filled with adventures, of which here is a tiny sample:

a personal highlight was the first (and only) Jamaican Antarctic Expedition with my assistant Walton Reid in 1993 (which led me to be introduced to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica). When asked by “The Queen” if it hadn’t been very cold in Antarctica and she inquired about how our work had benefitted society, I replied that, of course, it had been a little cold at times and regarding our results, they had made the “book of human knowledge” just a tiny bit thicker (I am not a believer that all research must immediately be seen to be applied).

You have really got to keep your eyes open and retain a childish curiosity (curiosity may kill the cat, but for a scientist it is an essential ingredient: another piece of advice) and, when I saw (and photographed) pooping penguins, I immediately wondered about the pressure that these not exactly tall birds generate to propel their faeces up to 50 cm away from their nest’s edge. The research on this immensely important aspect of penguin biology, conducted with my research assistant Dr Joseph Gal, led to an Ig- Nobel prize from Harvard University, which quite honestly was very helpful to me in Japan and many other countries (as I, erroneously, was often announced to the audience as a “Nobel prize winner”—well, of sorts).

Ice Cream Sticks’ Aroma Influence

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

What may be an advance in the understanding of ice cream sticks’ aroma influence emerges from a reading of a now-almost-two-decades-old study. First, for anyone not familiar with ice cream sticks, here is an image of some generic ice cream sticks:

The Impact of Wood Ice Cream Sticks’ Origin on the Aroma of Exposed Ice Cream Mixes,” S. Jiamyangyuen, J.F. Delwiche, and W. J. Harper, Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 85, no. 2, 2002, pp. 355-359. (Thanks to James Harkin for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, at Ohio State University, report:

Batches of ice cream mix were exposed to the sticks and aged for 6 days at 4 degrees C and then assessed by the panelists by pairwise comparison. Findings suggest that differences in aroma of mixes that have been exposed to white birch sticks from four different geographical origins can be distinguished perceptually….

The samples of wooden sticks, obtained from the Norse Dairy Company (Columbus, OH), were made from white birch and were from four different geographical origins, including the states of Wisconsin and Maine (US), China, and British Columbia (Canada).…

Table 2 [NOTE: the image reproduced here from the study omits the Canadian ice cream stick data] shows the more frequently used terms for describing sample differences. There, it can be seen, for example, that the mix exposed to sticks from Maine was labeled as more woody and rancid than the control mix. These labels, however, should not be given undue weight since each judge independently created his/her own terms and no standards were used. The labels used by panelists were quite varied; for example, the difference between mix aromas for a mix-pair was described by different panelists as both “cucumber” and as “dry paper.” In addition, even the control mix [which contained no sticks] was described as having “woody flavor.” This simply reflects the idiosyncratic use of terms by individuals, and illustrates the caution one must use when asking unaligned panelists to describe a difference.

How Well Do Horror Fans Survive Real Pandemics?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

As if prepared for it all their lives, fans of horror fiction plunge now into a real pandemic. A new study looks at their psychological prospects.

Pandemic Practice: Horror Fans and Morbidly Curious Individuals Are More Psychologically Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Coltan Scrivner [pictured here, stylistically], John Johnson, Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, and Mathias Clasen, PsyArXiv, 2020. (Thanks to Minna Lyons for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, at the The University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University, and  Aarhus University, explain:

“Conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study (n = 310) tested whether past and current engagement with thematically relevant media fictions, including horror and pandemic films, was associated with greater preparedness for and psychological resilience toward the pandemic…. We found that fans of horror films exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic and that fans of “prepper” genres (alien-invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. We also found that trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic films during the pandemic. Taken together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.”

Ants on stilts, and ants hunkered in a bunker

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Ants on stilts, and Wolf on ants on stilts, and ants trapped and hunkered in an old bunker have the spotlight in three ant research studies featured in the “Ants Research” column in the special Small Animals issue (vol. 26, no 3) of the Annals of Improbable Research.


Small Animals special issue of Improbable Research

Monday, June 29th, 2020

The special Small Animals issue (volume 26, number 3) of the magazine is chock full of improbable research about small animals.

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