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Archive for 'Research News'

Pocket-Sized #1003: “Dogs’ Favorite Garbage”

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Dogs’ Favorite Garbage

In this Pocket-Sized episode #1003, Marc Abrahams shows an unfamiliar research study to Melissa Franklin. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

The research mentioned in this episode is featured in the special Blushing issue (vol. 19, #2) of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

1. Melissa Franklin encounters:

Determination of Favorite Components of Garbage by Dogs,” Bonnie V. Beaver, Margaret Fischer, and Charles E. Atkinson, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 34, no. 1, 1992, pp. 129–36. 

Seth GliksmanProduction Assistant

Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Podcasts, AntennaPod, BeyondPod and elsewhere!

AAAS Twitter discussion about Surprising Things, Monday!

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Join us and some surprising people in a twitter discussion about surprising things in science.

This is part of the AAAS’s new Virtual Media initiative. The AAAS is of course the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science magazine, organizes the AAAS Annual Meeting (at which we have done an Improbable Research show every year for the past quarter century), and does lots more.

WHENMonday, April 20, from 1pm to 3pm, US Eastern time.

WHERE: See the discussion on Twitter, at:

HOW— To be part of the discussion, tweet your thoughts, on Twitter. Be sure to include the hashtag #AAASmtg in each of your tweets.

WHO— These are some of the people who will be in the discussion. You can join them:

Marc Abrahams, editor, Annals of Improbable Research, and founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. @MarcAbrahams, @ImprobResearch

Rebecca Helm, discoverer of a method to grow jellyfish in captivity. Rebecca is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. @RebeccaRHelm

David Hu, double Ig Nobel Prize winner, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds), and also for studying how, and why, wombats make cube-shaped poo. David is Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biology at Georgia Tech. @drdavidhu

Patricia Yang, double Ig Nobel Prize winner, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds), and also for studying how, and why, wombats make cube-shaped poo. Patricia is a postdoc at Stanford University. @pyang_tweet

Olga Shishkov studies the collective dynamics of maggots. Olga is a doctoral student at Georgia Tech. @o_shishk

Nicole Sharp, fluid dynamicist, founder of FYFD, the world’s most popular fluid dynamics web site. Nicole is also an organizer of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. @aerognome, @fyfluiddynamics

Mark Dingemanse, Ig Nobel Prize winner for discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being completely sure why. Mark is Associate Professor in Language and Communication at Radboud University, The Netherlands. @DingemanseMark

Dany Adams studies bioelectricity and lots of other biology. She is chief scientist at Ion Dynamics. Dany is also an organizer of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. @datoms61

Marc-Antoine Fardin, Ig Nobel Prize winner for using fluid dynamics to probe the question “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?” Marc is a physicist at Université Paris Diderot, France. @FardinMarc

We will talk about all sorts of thing, including maybe these videos:

Masked and Un-Masked Spittle Produced When One Says “Stay Healthy”

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

The biomedical race to understand and tame the COVID-19 virus proceeds rapidly, drop by drop. This new spittle study is the very latest addition to the literature:

Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering,” Philip Anfinrud, Valentyn Stadnytskyi, Christina E. Bax, and Adriaan Bax, New England Journal of Medicine, April 15, 2020. (Thanks to Andrea DeMeter for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania, report:

Aerosols and droplets generated during speech have been implicated in the person-to-person transmission of viruses, and there is current interest in understanding the mechanisms responsible for the spread of Covid-19 by these means. The act of speaking generates oral fluid droplets that vary widely in size, and these droplets can harbor infectious virus particles….

We report the results of a laser light-scattering experiment in which speech-generated droplets and their trajectories were visualized. We found that when the person said “stay healthy,” numerous droplets ranging from 20 to 500 μm were generated….

We found that when the person said “stay healthy,” numerous droplets ranging from 20 to 500 μm were generated…. When the same phrase was uttered three times through a slightly damp washcloth over the speaker’s mouth, the flash count remained close to the background level (mean, 0.1 flashes); this showed a decrease in the number of forward-moving droplets.

BONUS: The COVID-19 pandemic is producing bizarre adventures for biomedical professionals. The New England Journal of Medicine has a letter from one of them:

Our supply-chain group has worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, and N95 respirators… Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.

This experience might have made for an entertaining tale at a cocktail party, had the success of our mission not been so critical.

Stingless Bees’ Zippy Landing Benefits Traffic Congestion

Friday, April 17th, 2020

Ig Nobel Prize-winning scientists who discovered that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate have now learned (together with some colleagues) how certain bees probably manage to tamp down traffic congestion. Their study is:

Accelerated Landing in a Stingless Bee and Its Unexpected Benefits for Traffic Congestion,” Pierre Tichit, Isabel Alves-dos-Santos, Marie Dacke and Emily Baird [pictured here], Proceedings of the Royal Academy B: Biological Sciences, epub 2020. (Thanks to Tony Tweedale for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

“we recorded the stingless bees Scaptotrigona depilis landing on their natural hive entrance—a narrow wax tube built by the bees themselves. Rather than decelerating before touchdown as most animals do, S. depilis accelerates in preparation for its high precision landings on the narrow tube of wax. A simulation of traffic at the hive suggests that this counterintuitive landing strategy could confer a collective advantage to the colony by minimizing the risk of mid-air collisions and thus of traffic congestion. If the simulated size of the hive entrance increases and if traffic intensity decreases relative to the measured real-world values, ‘accelerated landing’ ceases to provide a clear benefit, suggesting that it is only a useful strategy when target cross-section is small and landing traffic is high.”

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize for biology & astronomy was awarded to Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke Scholtz, and Eric J. Warrant, for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

The describe that work in the study “Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.

Shows in Stockholm

Emily Baird was scheduled to appear in two Ig Nobel shows in Stockholm, on Monday and Tuesday, April 20 and 21. You might have been able to enjoy coming to either of those shows, and asking about the bee landing discovery, as well as the dung beetles, had those shows not been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Stroop Effect’ as Applied to Trombonists [new study]

Monday, April 13th, 2020

A new variant of the psychologists’ stock-in-trade ‘Stroop test’ has been discovered – applicable only to trombonists.


The ‘Stroop Effect’ (a cognitive interference where a delay in the reaction time of a task occurs due to a mismatch in stimuli) is named after John Ridley Stroop who wrote the first academic paper (in English*) about it in 1935. Since then, a plethora of experiments have confirmed the effect in various ways. Now, in 2020, a new variant has been discovered and described.: Named as ‘The Trombone Congruency Effect.’. It was revealed in a set of experiments performed at the University of Connecticut, US, which compared musically related response times of trombonists and non-trombonists (along with non-musicians as a control).

See: ‘Movement is part of the meaning of music notation: A musical Stroop effect for trombonists’, Topher Logan, Roger Chaffin, Psychology of Music, Feb. 2020

*Note : It had already been described (in German) some years earlier : Jaensch, E.R (1929). Grundformen menschlichen Seins. Berlin: Otto Elsner und Mitarbeiter.

Researchreseach Martin Gardiner

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