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The 2005 Ig Noble prizes

 
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Sir Hamster of Elderberry
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:24 am    Post subject: The 2005 Ig Noble prizes Reply with quote

At last! The waiting is over! Very Happy

Ig Nobels hail world's longest-running experiment


About the 2005 Ig™ Nobel Prize Ceremony, and related event

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Err...I can't view that nature.com link.
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Sir Hamster of Elderberry
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

jonnyv wrote:
Err...I can't view that nature.com link.


??? Hmmm ... works for me ...
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7061/full/437938b.html

Here is a link to a PDF version (the second article down):
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7061/pdf/437938b.pdf
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Linky no worky.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

grrr ...

Quote:
News

Nature 437, 938-939 (13 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/437938b
Ig Nobels hail world's longest-running experiment

Steve Nadis, Boston
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Abstract

Distinguished scientists gather in Boston for silliness awards.

Unlike other days at Harvard University, the first Thursday in October is a time when levity overtakes gravity, irreverence prevails over reason, and the flight of paper aeroplanes is actively encouraged. It is time, in other words, for the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

At the fifteenth Ig Nobel ceremony, held on 6 October before a boisterous crowd in Harvard's Sanders Theatre, ten prizes were awarded to winners from a dozen countries. Winners travelled from as far as Australia and Japan to take home the 'Ig', a prize devoted to "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think".

The biology prize, for example, went to an international team for smelling and cataloguing the odorous secretions of 131 species of stressed-out frog. In work that earned them the chemistry prize, two researchers from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis showed that people can swim as fast in syrup as in water (see Nature doi:10.1038/news040920-2; 2004).

John Mainstone of the University of Queensland in Australia accepted the physics prize for the 'pitch-drop' experiment started back in 1927 by the prize's co-winner, the late Thomas Parnell. It shows that an ostensibly solid tar derivative can behave like a liquid, forming drops at the rate of about one every nine years.

Shortly after arriving at Queensland in 1961, Mainstone found a curious piece of equipment tucked away in a cupboard. He had unwittingly stumbled across Parnell's experiment, by then three decades old.

Parnell, Queensland's first physics professor, had taken a sample of pitch, heated it, and placed it in a funnel. He hoped to show that this apparently solid substance — brittle enough to shatter on impact — has fluid-like properties. Sure enough, the material did form drops, albeit at an exceedingly slow rate. Its viscosity, Mainstone and his colleagues calculate, is 100 billion times that of water.

It is hard to know what motivated Parnell, but Mainstone suspects it had to do with the quantum revolution — the idea that "things are not what they seem" — that had overtaken physics. "This was his way of showing there are strange things in classical physics too," Mainstone surmises.

The experiment has attracted a cult following, he says, yet it also raises some serious scientific questions. No one knows, for example, how each drop actually detaches. Mainstone believes that fibres supporting the drop in its final stages become unstable and fail catastrophically, but this hypothesis is unconfirmed.

Part of the problem is that in the experiment's 78-year history, no one has seen a single drop fall. That's not surprising, says Mainstone. "We're talking about a descent of a few centimetres, lasting a tenth of a second, that occurs just once a decade." The last drop, which fell in November 2000, should have been recorded on a webcam, but technical problems intervened. "We'll have to wait until next time, which could be 2010 or later," Mainstone notes.

There is enough pitch left to sustain the experiment for another century, he estimates, and he hopes it will continue, despite the constant battles he has waged with the "philistines" who believe the experiment wastes precious time and space. Mainstone's labour of love, along with Parnell's pioneering work, were recognized in 2003 when the Guinness World Records named the pitch-drop demonstration the world's longest-running laboratory experiment. The Ig Nobel prize, which Mainstone shares with the late Parnell, provides further recognition.

Looking to the future, Mainstone has already picked a successor, his former student Andrew White, to oversee the project when he finally steps down.

Mainstone never imagined that he would look after this experiment for four-and-a-half decades, but says he has become "enthralled by the historical continuity of it all". A shiny drop of pitch, which gradually changes in shape from a sphere to a pear, is "a thing of beauty", he says. While acknowledging the importance of quantum mechanics, he can't help but wonder: "Is the pitch drop any less fascinating than wave–particle duality?"

Mainstone is a great believer in the Ig Nobels, and not just because of his award. Science has become a "rat race", largely as a result of the pressure to compete for grant money, he claims, adding that it's important to get a break from that sometimes. "When we cease to see the amusing side of science, it's all over," he says.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 9:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've lost much faith in science. A Nobel Prize for sniffing frogs, studying penguin sh*t and watching tar drip. What an incredible waste of time, money and energy. Wasn't there anything worthwhile and beneficial these morons could have accomplished? #Mad #Mad #Mad
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 6:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's actually veryusefull to watch stuff happen in slow motion. The slower the better. A still picture is the best though, because the motion is the slowest.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

imcrazynow wrote:
I've lost much faith in science. A Nobel Prize for sniffing frogs, studying penguin sh*t and watching tar drip. What an incredible waste of time, money and energy. Wasn't there anything worthwhile and beneficial these morons could have accomplished? #Mad #Mad #Mad


Umm ... are you being sarcastic, or did you not notice the IG? <-- clicky

The Ig Nobles are given out by the same folks who publish the Annals of Improbable Research, which is the successor to the Journal of Irreproducible Results (formerly defunct, but it appears to be back now). In other words, scientific humor. Smile

The JIR generally features spoofs and satires, while the AIR focuses on real research that makes you laugh ... and then think (ie: the dripping tar is a manifestation of quantum mechanics at a macroscopic level).

This forum was originally created for scientific discussion AND scientific humor, thus my occasional ranting about the "Serious Discussion" clause in the forum description; Science and Humor are not mutually exclusive. I have, and will continue, to make a conscientious (or is that contentious) effort to post some of both.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 4:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My intentions were not to offend Sir Hamster. However, if time,grant money,and any energy whatsoever went into this research for absolutely no benefit to mankind then it was a total waste. Even for the sake of humor. I love a good joke as much as anyone else, however, couldn't their efforts have been been more beneficial to some other project?

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Last edited by KWSN imcrazynow on Mon Oct 17, 2005 4:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 4:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jbyram2 wrote:
It's actually veryusefull to watch stuff happen in slow motion. The slower the better. A still picture is the best though, because the motion is the slowest.


Quote:
Part of the problem is that in the experiment's 78-year history, no one has seen a single drop fall.


Waste of time and alot of it.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 16, 2005 4:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the pitch tar experiment is a very fine illustration of things not being what they appear to be. The fact that no one have seen a drop fall, is furthering this.

This experiment is regardless of it's basic non-importance to science and knowledge a beacon that all studenst can hold as a reason to look further than "what we can see".

The opinion that this is a waste of time, is failling to appreciate that some things are done, becasue they can be done and noting else, others for the possible benefits that can be had, and others yet for the inspiration that they can have on a thought process.

GO PITCH TAR!!!!!

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Having data at the extreme ends of reality is ALWAYS useful. Paradoxically, The Tar pitch experiment will have application to things with very LOW viscosity.

Think of a graph, showing drop rate vs viscosity. All known data is clumped around ordinary fluids, water, syrup, motor oil. It is hard to extrapolate this data into areas of very low viscosity (superfluids, liquid helium II, plasmas) because....

Too complex. Think of a seesaw.

It's easier to control one end of a seesaw from the other end, rather than from the middle. The tar pitch experiment gives us data (=control)over the extreme end of the seesaw of physics, and so we have better control over the other end.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

imcrazynow wrote:
My intentions were not to offend Sir Hampster. However, if time,grant money,and any energy whatsoever went into this research for absolutely no benefit to mankind then it was a total waste. Even for the sake of humor. I love a good joke as much as anyone else, however, couldn't their efforts have been been more beneficial to some other project?


No offense taken (except there IS no P is Hamster! ;-> ), and you do bring up a good point; There are many examples of things that just a waste of time. However, I can offer the some explanation or reasons behind some apparently "stupid" research:

1) The way grant funding works, researchers are required to publish a result, even if they haven't found anything useful. Some of it may be from self-published crackpots, like this 1993 Iggy for Mathematics appears to be. There's the possibility of private funding with a private agenda too, but that's another discussion.

2) Sometimes, you just don't know what the result is going to be until you do the experiment, and THEN it looks stupid. On the other hand, sometimes the original idea seems kind of silly and it turns up something unexpectedly useful (this idea came about from a can of soda that didn't taste "fizzy". I did the analysis and am listed as a co-author).

3) Researchers are required to publish their work for peer review so that it CAN AND WILL be criticized. It's a pretty good system most of the time. Can you imagine the results if every major industry had to go through this sort of scrutiny? What if (for example) ENRON had been as public about it's practices as researchers have to be?

I won't tell you that money is never wasted; sometimes it is. Could some of the money have been spent more beneficially? Almost certainly (at least in hindsight). To get government grant funding though, researchers have to convince multiple review boards there is a useful hypothesis, a reasonable chance of useful results, and that resources will not be spent needlessly.

One more thing. I should admit to a possible biased viewpoint, because I for and with researchers.

Dan

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