Demonstrating how the frog was able to be levitated by magnets

April 26th, 2018

Joe Schwarcz tells and shows, in this video, how Andre Geim was able to use magnets to levitate a frog (and thus, together with Michael Berry, win an Ig Nobel Prize for physics). Joe Schwarz also talks about Andre Geim’s gekko-stickiness research.

Moving Chairs in Starbucks: Rice-Wheat Cultural Differences in China

April 26th, 2018

The famed Chinese cultural divide — wheat-centric in the north, rice-centric in the south — plays out even in today’s coffee shops, suggests this new study:

Moving Chairs in Starbucks: Observational Studies Find Rice-Wheat Cultural Differences in Daily Life in China,” Thomas Talhelm, Xuemin Zhang, and Shigehiro Oishi, Science Advances, Vol. 4, no. 4, April 25, 2018: eaap8469. (Thanks to Minna Lyons for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Beijing Normal University, China, the University of Chicago, USA, and the University of Virginia, USA, explain:

Traditional paddy rice farmers had to share labor and coordinate irrigation in a way that most wheat farmers did not. We observed people in everyday life to test whether these agricultural legacies gave rice-farming southern China a more interdependent culture and wheat-farming northern China a more independent culture.

In Study 1, we counted 8964 people sitting in cafes in six cities and found that people in northern China were more likely to be sitting alone. In Study 2, we moved chairs together in Starbucks across the country so that they were partially blocking the aisle (n = 678).

People in northern China were more likely to move the chair out of the way, which is consistent with findings that people in individualistic cultures are more likely to try to control the environment. People in southern China were more likely to adjust the self to the environment by squeezing through the chairs. Even in China’s most modern cities, rice-wheat differences live on in everyday life.

This chart presents a featured finding from the study—that “People in wheat areas were about three times more likely to move the chair than people in rice areas”:

The insides of a singer singing, and a talker talking

April 25th, 2018

The insides of a singer singing are on display in this video, produced by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

And here’s a look inside a talker talking:

The Max Planck Institute is celebrating some of the work that made this kind of video possible. In particular, they say:

The European Patent Office has nominated physicist Jens Frahm from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry as one of the three finalists in the field of research. The Inventor Award recognizes individual inventors and teams in five categories, whose development helps to find technical answers to the key challenges of our time. The winners will be announced on 7 June 2018 in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France).

Treatment for Simulator-Sickness: Insert a Nose

April 25th, 2018

If you spend enough time in a flight simulator or using Virtual Reality goggles, you’re likely to suffer “simulator sickness”. The simulator shows your eyes objects, motions, and distances which don’t match what your other senses are perceiving, which can cause nausea, vertigo, headaches, and other documented symptoms.

Some designers try to lessen the effect by inserting a motionless frame around what the viewer sees – like a virtual dashboard or window frame. One research team decided to insert a nose.

Still image from the rollercoaster simulator used to test the nasum virtualis

(click on this image for video) Still image from the rollercoaster simulator used to test the nasum virtualis, courtesy of Purdue University and Wired magazine.

Nasum Virtualis: A Simple Technique for Reducing Simulator Sickness (D.M. Whittinghill, Bradley Ziegler, James Moore, and Tristan Case)

“…we placed a three-dimensional model of a virtual human nose in the center of the fields of view of the display of an Oculus Rift: the left display seeing only the left half of the nose model in the lower right corner, the right display seeing only the right half of the nose in the lower left corner. Two groups were tested, the Nose experimental group and the No-nose control group…”

This nose idea was suggested by Bradley Ziegler, then an undergraduate student.

“It was a stroke of genius,” said Whittinghill, who teaches video game design. “You are constantly seeing your own nose. You tune it out, but it’s still there, perhaps giving you a frame of reference to help ground you.”

Adding this virtual nose, or “nasum virtualis”, to the simulated scene delayed the effects of simulator sickness for different amounts of time, depending on the scene being viewed – users riding a virtual rollercoaster gained only a few extra seconds before symptoms began, while those walking around a virtual house gained an extra 94 seconds.

Surprisingly, the test subjects didn’t notice the virtual nose in their field of view.

“It’s a big honking nose… It never occurred to us that they wouldn’t perceive it, but they were almost universally baffled about what we were even talking about.”

BONUS: These test subjects who didn’t notice the nose placed virtually in front of their faces remind us of the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology, awarded to the researchers who demonstrated, “…that when people pay close attention to something, it’s all too easy to overlook anything else — even a woman in a gorilla suit.

A physics discovery: Why Clothes Don’t Fall Apart

April 24th, 2018

The UK-based team that shared an Ig Nobel Physics Prize in 2012 for exploring the physics of why ponytails (the hair style) are shaped like pony tails, has now looked into a different question from everyday life: Why clothes don’t fall apart. They published a study about it:

Why Clothes Don’t Fall Apart: Tension Transmission in Staple Yarns,” Patrick B. Warren, Robin C. Ball, and Raymond E. Goldstein, Physical Review Letters, vol. 120, 2018, 158001. The authors report:

In his celebrated Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, Galileo identified a fascinating puzzle in the mechanics of ropes…. From a modern perspective, we would say that the mechanical integrity of ropes derives from frictional contacts between fibers, and Galileo’s rope problem is but one exemplar of a host of related frictional phenomena in fiber assemblies, of which perhaps the canonical case is the ‘staple’ yarn.

The problem of how staple yarns transmit tension is addressed within abstract models in which the AmontonsCoulomb friction laws yield a linear programing (LP) problem for the tensions in the fiber elements. We find there is a percolation transition such that above the percolation threshold the transmitted tension is in principle unbounded. We determine that the mean slack in the LP constraints is a suitable order parameter to characterize this supercritical state. We argue the mechanism is generic, and in practical terms, it corresponds to a switch from a ductile to a brittle failure mode accompanied by a significant increase in mechanical strength.

(Thanks to Joan Codina for bringing this to our attention.)