Improbability / Ig Nobel Prizes at NIST Friday (am), NYC (pm)

April 24th, 2014

Two (2) Ig Nobel events on the same day, in different cities:

Ig Nobel chemistry prize winner Theo Gray (inventor of the four-legged periodic table table) can and and will (thanks to some happy coincidences) join me in doing a talk at NIST, in Gaithersburg, Maryland on Friday morning, April 25, at 10:30.

Friday evening, I will be appearing a few hundred miles north of there, as part of the Lost Lectures, at a somewhat secret site in New York City. (Theo will not be part of that, but another Ig Nobel personage will.)


On the up and up: levitating particles & a frog, with sound & magnets

April 24th, 2014

Two visual demonstrations of levitation, each using known physics properties:

1. Using sound waves to levitate particles [REFERENCE: "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays," Yoichi Ochiai, Takayuki Hoshi, Jun Rekimoto, (2013) arXiv:1312.4006.. Thanks to @BetsytheDevine for bringing this to our attention.]:

2. The Ig Nobel Prize-winning levitation of a frog, using magnets [REFERENCE: "Of Flying Frogs and Levitrons," Michael V. Berry and Andre K. Geim [who has a rather colorful biography], European Journal of Physics, v. 18, 1997, p. 307-13.]:

Kisch of Prague, on kissing problems

April 24th, 2014

Between 1897 and 1899, many medical journals (e.g. the Canadian Medical Review, shown here) carried this blurb, about a recent advance by Dr. Enoch Heinrich Kisch.

evils-of-incomplete-coitusNever before had anyone realized that the withdrawal method of birth control leads to female dissatisfaction… which leads to occasional heart palpitations… which lead to irregular heartbeat, constipation, vertigo, weeping, and a gloomy view of life. Truly “One of the Evils of Incomplete Coitus”. But don’t worry: “All these symptoms will disappear as by enchantment”, if you just give up the withdrawal method.

The original French report is here at BIU Santé., the French medical history archive. It’s still only four paragraphs — so to see the evidence for Kisch’s “Cardiac Neurosis of Sexual Origin”, you probably have to read one of the noted balneologist‘s books about female physiology.

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Fire breathing – the dangers

April 23rd, 2014


“Fire breathing is a stunning but potentially injurious stunt. The fire-breathers direct a mouthful of fuel forcefully or creates a fine mist by spitting through pursed lips which is ignited over a flame resulting in a stunning visual show of plume, pillar, ball, volcano, or a cloud of fire [Figure 2].”

The potential injuries are described by Dr. Sanjay Saraf, from the Department of Plastic Surgery, NMC Specialty Hospital, Dubai, UAE, in a 2012 article for Indian Dermatology Online J. 2012 Jan-Apr; 3(1): 73–74.

“There are several immediate and long-term health hazards associated with fire-breathing act. Burns are the most obvious fire-breathing danger; however, there could be facial hair loss, ingestional toxicity, cutaneous irritation, peptic ulcers, fire-eater’s pneumonia (hydrocarbon pneumonitis/chemical pneumonia),[3,4] inhalational injuries, and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.“

See:Fire-breathing burn’

BONUS: Fire-breathers looking for a safe(r) non-toxic alternative (using corn starch) can check this video >


The most honored paper airplane sweeper visits China

April 22nd, 2014

The University of Science and Technology of China reports, on April 21, 2014, that begins:

A Noble Laureate, also the Keeper of the Broom of Ig Nobel Prize

On April 17th, Roy Glauber, who was awarded one half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence”, visited USTC and gave a lecture “Two Hundred Years of Light Waves, One Hundred Years of Light Quanta” for the students on the next day. During his visit, professor Glauber accepted a face-to face micro-interview.

A kind of chicken soup for the soul story about Roy Glauber is very popular in China which was published in Reader in 2009. For many years before winning his Nobel Prize, Glauber were familiar to the audiences of Ig Noble Prize, where he took a bow each year as “Keeper of the Broom”. In the chicken soup story, his sweeping the stage was described as a kind of cleaning the dust of mind. When hearing that in the interview, professor laughed and shared the context of the story.

Here’s a photo of Professor Glauber and the broom and a paper airplane, all illuminated by two human spotlights, at the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The photo is by David Holzman: