Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Let the Ig Nobels Light Up Your Life

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Let the Ig Nobels Light Up Your Life

Article excerpt

There's nothing The Morning File likes better than smart people being silly -- we're looking forward someday to seeing what we hear is a great Marilyn Monroe impression by Stephen Hawking -- and that's why we're happy once more to chronicle the Ig Nobel Prizes.

The Ig Nobels are awarded each year in Cambridge, Mass., by the folks responsible for a publication called the Annals of Improbable Science. As a precursor to the Nobel Prizes, the Ig Nobels honor -- or dishonor, though with humor -- some of the more ridiculous research of the scientific community.

An Ig Nobel Prize is just the kind that The Morning File would hope to win someday, if only we did silly research instead of just silly writing. Lucky for us, there are at least others to tell you about.

Ponytails: the last frontier

We've always been a fan of ponytails -- whether on girls, women, artistic men, ponies, anyone -- so we were happy to see a group of American and British researchers take home the physics Ig Nobel for calculating the forces involved in hair movement in a human ponytail. Among the published work for which they were recognized was "Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles."

We looked up that paper in the journal Physical Review Letters, and -- after reading an amazing number of mathematical computations related to the hairs involved in a ponytail -- we have to say, frankly, we have no better understanding of how a ponytail works than we did before. We're also not sure, frankly, that we care.

In a separate Journal of Applied Mathematics paper, "Ponytail Motion," by co-honoree Joseph Keller, he noted the ponytail of a jogger is both a "rigid pendulum" and "flexible string."

"It is hanging from a support which is moving up and down periodically, and we solve the linear equation for small lateral oscillation," Mr. Keller summarized. And, of course, the world is all the better for it -- or at least for those who wear ponytails.

Coffee: the pain when it rains

The fluid dynamics prize of the Ig Nobels, which is not a category we're aware of the real Nobel Prizes recognizing, went to a pair of professors who wrote the research paper, "Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill? …

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