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:


A most emotionally colorful study (plus eye blinks & nude bodies)

April 22nd, 2014

This study appears to combine the brightest aspects of phrenology, Jungian psychology,  painting-by-numbers, and numerous other disciplines:

Bodily maps of emotions,” Lauri Nummenmaa [pictured here], Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari and Jari K. Hietanen, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 2, January 14, 2014, pp. 646–651. The authors, at Aalto University, the University of Turku, and the University of Tampere, Finland, write:

lauri“Here we used a topographical self-report tool to reveal that different emotional states are associated with topographically distinct and culturally universal bodily sensations; these sensations could underlie our conscious emotional experiences. Monitoring the topography of emotion-triggered bodily sensations brings forth a unique tool for emotion research.”

Here are details from the study:



BONUS (by one of the co-authors): Mandel A, Helokunnas S, Pihko E and Hari R: “Neuromagnetic brain responses to other person’s eye blinks seen on video,” European Journal of Neuroscience, in press.

BONUS (by two of the other co-authors):  ”The Naked Truth: The Face and Body Sensitive N170 Response Is Enhanced for Nude Bodies,” Jari K. Hietanen and Lauri Nummenmaa, PLoS One, November 16, 2011. The authors explain:

“We conclude that… the visual processing of other people’s nude bodies is enhanced in the brain. This enhancement is likely to reflect affective arousal elicited by nude bodies. Such facilitated visual processing of other people’s nude bodies is possibly beneficial in identifying potential mating partners and competitors, and for triggering sexual behavior.”


The evasive shareholder meeting manoeuvre

April 21st, 2014

“When companies move their annual meetings a great distance from headquarters, they tend to announce disappointing earnings results and experience pronounced stock market underperformance in the months after the meeting. Companies appear to schedule meetings in remote locations when the managers have private, adverse information about future performance and wish to discourage scrutiny by shareholders, activists, and the media. However, shareholders do not appear to decode this signal, since the disclosure of meeting locations leads to little immediate stock price reaction.”

Prof_LiProf_YermackThis previously under-researched business tactic is (un)covered in a new NBER research paper from Lily Yuanzhi Li, [left] currently Assistant Professor of Finance at the Temple University Fox School of Business, Philadelphia, and David L. Yermack, [right] who is the Albert Fingerhut Professor of Finance and Business Transformation at the Leonard Norman Stern School of Business, New York University.

But how remote is remote? The authors give an example :

“As an example of a meeting held at a remote location, TRW Automotive Holdings, an auto parts manufacturer with a market capitalization of about $4 billion, convened its May 14, 2007, annual meeting at the Renaissance Casa de Palmas Hotel in McAllen TX, at the Southern tip of the continental United States near the Mexican border. The meeting took place almost 1,400 miles from the company’s headquarters outside Detroit, and more than 300 miles from the nearest major airport, Houston.”

And there are even more far flung instances :

“One company, General Cable Corp., has a Kentucky headquarters but held its annual meetings in Spain, Costa Rica, and Germany at different times during our sample period.”

The full paper can be read here : Evasive shareholder meetings (NBER Working Paper No. 19991, issued in March 2014)

A Swiss Bombardier-Beetle Defense Against Cash Machine Crooks

April 20th, 2014

The bombardier beetle’s violent method self-defence can now be applied to defending bank cash machines, as explained in this study be researchers at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland:

Self-defending anti-vandalism surfaces based on mechanically triggered mixing of reactants in polymer foils,” Jonas G. Halter, Nicholas H. Cohrs, Nora Hild, Daniela Paunescu, Robert N. Grass and Wendelin Jan Stark (pictured here), Journal of Materials Chemistry A, epub March 17, 2014. (Thanks to May Berenbaum for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

Prof_Stark_ETH_Zurich“The bombardier beetle uses attack-triggered mixing of reactants (hydrochinone, hydrogen peroxide H2O2 and enzymes as catalysts) to defend itself against predators. Using multi-layer polymer sheets with H2O2 and catalyst (MnO2) filled compartments we developed a 2D analogous bio-inspired chemical defence mechanism for anti-vandalism applications. The reactants were separated by a brittle layer that ruptures upon mechanical attack, and converts the mechanical energy trigger (usually a few Joules) into a chemical self-defence reaction involving release of steam, and optionally persistent dyes and a DNA-based marker for forensics. These surfaces effectively translate a weak mechanical trigger into an energetic chemical reaction with energy amplification of several orders of magnitude. Since the responsive materials presented here do not depend on electricity, they may provide a cost effective alternative to currently used safety systems in the public domain, automatic teller machines and protection of money transport systems.”

Here are details from the study (and here’s a press release from the university):



BONUS: Video of a bombarder beetle in action:

BONUS (related, though not in a relevantly meaningful way): The strange tale of the strange tale Bomby the Bombardier Beetle


April mini-AIR: Joints, bones, and pitted pebbles

April 20th, 2014

The April issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine). Topics include:

  • How Many Joints?
  • Ig Nobel Eurotour Thanks, and Next Year
  • Green: Thumb Injury Limerick Competition
  • Salamander 5th Toe Loss
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.