Physics Phriday: 2012 Ig-Nobel Prizes

The 2012 Ig-Nobel Prizes were announced back in September.  These awards are given by the Annals of Improbable Research “for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think.”

 

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan [THE NETHERLANDS] and Tulio Guadalupe[PERU, RUSSIA, and THE NETHERLANDS] for their study “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller”

REFERENCE: “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Estimation,” Anita Eerland, Tulio M. Guadalupe and Rolf A. Zwaan, Psychological Science, vol. 22 no. 12, December 2011, pp. 1511-14.

 

PEACE PRIZE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

 

ACOUSTICS PRIZE: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada [JAPAN] for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person’s speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.

REFERENCE: “SpeechJammer: A System Utilizing Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback“, Kazutaka Kurihara, Koji Tsukada, arxiv.org/abs/1202.6106. February 28, 2012.

 

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

REFERENCE: “Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, poster, 15th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, San Francisco, CA, June 2009.

 

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people’s hair turned green.

 

LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

REFERENCE: “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies,” US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.

 

PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

REFERENCE: “Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles.” Raymond E. Goldstein, Patrick B. Warren, and Robin C. Ball, Physical Review Letters, vol. 198, no. 7, 2012.
REFERENCE: “Ponytail Motion,” Joseph B. Keller, SIAM [Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics] Journal of Applied Mathematics, vol. 70, no. 7, 2010, pp. 2667–72.

 

FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

REFERENCE: “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” Hans C. Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov, Physical Review E, vol. 85, 2012.

 

ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

REFERENCE: “Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception” Frans B.M. de Waal and Jennifer J. Pokorny, Advanced Science Letters, vol. 1, 99–103, 2008.

 

MEDICINE PRIZE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

REFERENCE: “Colonic Gas Explosion During Therapeutic Colonoscopy with Electrocautery,” Spiros D Ladas, George Karamanolis, Emmanuel Ben-Soussan, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 13, no. 40, October 2007, pp. 5295–8.

Ultimate Helicopter Parenting

A father decided to build a drone helicopter to follow his child to the bus stop rather than walking him there in person.

“Last winter, I fantasized about sitting at my computer while a camera-equipped drone followed him overhead.” That is the revelation of a
 father who provides a detailed account of building an Arduino-based gyrocopter that could follow his son, in grade school, who he normally walks 400 meters down a hill to the bus stop each morning. He chose a quadcopter design for its maneuverability and ability to hover. He did not buy a kit but instead got his parts separate. His project involved a central frame to hold the electronics, aluminum to support motors and propellers, and legs to cushion landings, a main control board and sensors, batteries, power distribution board, power controllers for the motors, radio receiver for standard remote-control flying, and an RF modem for computerized control.

A father attempts DIY drone buddy to watch his kid

Physics Phriday: Ice on Mercury?

Scientists think that the MESSENGER probe that is orbiting Mercury has found water ice at the poles.  This is surprising because Mercury is only 0.38 AU from the Sun. (Recall that 1 AU is how far the Earth is from the Sun)  However, there are some parts of the planet that are always in the shade (like the bottoms of some craters).  The surface temperature can range from 100 Kelvin at night to 700 Kelvin during the day.

MESSENGER Probe

The MESSENGER probe orbiting Mercury.

Saturn’s North Pole

These pictures of Saturn’s north pole were taken yesterday by the Cassini spacecraft. (Side note: my dad worked on the cameras for this spacecraft.)

Notice the hexagon of clouds around the north pole and the rings in the background.  Clouds don’t usually form hexagons, and this hexagon is stable.  We first saw it in 1980 when the Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by (another project my dad worked on).  Here’s a good explanation of how the hexagon is formed and maintained.

Saturn's north polar hexagon and rings (raw image)

The next picture is a close up of the center vortex of the previous picture.

Raw image of Saturn's north polar vortex