Mad Scientists and Spoof Nobel Prize: Beetle Mating, Yawning Turtles And End-Of-World Claim Get Ig Nobel, 2011

The best and funniest of science will be awarded this month. As should be the rule, humour must precede seriousness and following that we have the Ig Nobel being given out before the Nobel Prizes. The Ig Nobel prize, a spoof of the Nobel Prize and given out yearly by Harvard University, honors the craziest of science ideas, which were taken a little too seriously by people. Though the world of physics was never revolutionized by the contribution of the Ig Nobel Prize winners (that is, if you don’t consider getting vanilla from cow dung revolutionary), there’re always some great laughs. This year’s Ig Nobel prizes went to ideas as diverse as Beetle Sex with a beer bottle and Yawning Turtles.

Not Quite Nobel...

Procedure and Protocols – or some semblance thereof

The aim of the Ig Nobel is to make people laugh and then make them think. The prize is handed over by real Nobel Prize Winners! The recipient is given exactly 60 seconds to make his/her acceptance speech. If that limit is exceeded, a little girl gets up and says that she’s bored. Try continuing after that! Yes, this is all in good humor.

The Winners! (Or Losers!)

The categories are the same as the Nobel Prize physics, chemistry, medicine and peace. The winner of this year’s Biology prize, Daryll Gwynne, researched how beetles would try to mate with a beer bottle confusing it for a large female. As Gwynne says:

It’s a great example of an evolutionary trap. They seek the biggest, browniest female they could find, but then these beetles wouldn’t leave the bottles and would eventually drop to one side and be preyed upon by ants.

He changed the shape of the bottle, but the beetles did the same thing. Yes, at Harvard, even fun is taken seriously.

The Medicine Ig Nobel was given for demonstrating that people can better control their emotions when they have a strong urge to urinate! Yes, I know what you’re thinking why did you never think of that?

The prize for Physiology went to a whole pan-continental team! A British-Dutch-Hungarian-Austrian team established that there is no contagious yawning behavior in red-footed turtles! That does provide a nice point to add to the list: How humans and tortoises are different, right?

The Chemistry prize went to a team of Japanese scientists for creating a fire alarm that gives off the pungent smell of Wasabi, a Japanese culinary mix renowned for its nose-clearing properties. The aim is to alert people who are blind or deaf, of if they are sleeping with earplugs on.

Japanese scientists are all smiles as their pungent creation gets the Ig Nobel

The Physics Ig Nobel went to a group for explaining why discus throwers get dizzy, while hammer throwers don’t!

The best laugh comes from the Math Ig Nobel! Six people were awarded the prize for predicting that the world will end for a number of years and still living to receive the prize. Their prize citation bore out their priceless contribution – for teaching the world to be careful while making mathematical assumptions. Yes, and they’ll receive the award, in full blood!

The Ig Nobel Prize Giving Ceremony is here:


Just For Laughs

The Ig Nobels should be more popular than the Nobels themselves. After all, how can you ignore the prize honoring people for magnetically levitating a frog (Andre Geim, 2001) and for finding the optimal way to dunk a biscuit (Len Fisher, 1999). This just goes to show that in addition to being accurate and awe-inspiring, science can be rip-roaringly funny!

Unknown “Ball of Fire from Sky” Causes Explosion In Buenos Aires, Argentina

Something big is up in Buenos Aires, Argentina and it’s unknown. There appears to have been some sort of fireball crashing into the earth, but this is unconfirmed. The casualties include one  dead and at least nine injured. The cause is still unknown, some suspecting a meteorite crash, other sticking to a burning plane or a gas line explosion. Eyewitnesses claim that a mysterious “ball of fire from the sky” was the cause of the explosion.

Strange fire in Buenos Aires. This was the supposed 'fire ball'.

The event took place very early in the morning – at 2:00 AM local time and thus most people were asleep. The explosion destroyed two houses, one store and a few parked vehicles. According to Bad Astronomy, the fireball was red in colour, but other news  reports say that it was blue.

Just to allay fears, we hasten to add that it was not NASA’s falling satelite, UARS, since that had hit the ocean a couple of days back. We had already told you why you shouldn’t get worked up about the falling satellite. There is no way some junk could’ve been hanging around in the atmosphere for two days. That is simply impossible.

Some people suspect that it was a a burning airplane that crashed, but there has been no wreckage found. Officials have also ruled out any gas leak related explosion.

Frankly, at this point we don’t know. Let us not bring aliens and a crashed UFO into the picture. Let the extra-terrestrials be as they are, please.

We will update as soon as we have some more news. As cliched as it may sound, we would ask you to stay tuned.

New Theory Explains The WTC Twin Tower Collapse, Blows A Hole Into The Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theorists can eat their hats. A materials expert from Norway, investigating the collapse of the WTC twin towers, has come up with a new theory explaining why they collapsed in the spectacular fashion seen on 11th September (9/11), 2001. Christian Simensen, a material scientist in SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, has claimed that it all has to do with alumina coming in contact with sprinkling water.

Our Tribute to 9/11:
A photo clearly showing an explosion below the area where the plane hit. This has led conspiracy theorists to conclude that the entire building was booby-trapped.

Simensen pointed out that molten aluminium running down to meet some hundred liters of water would create an explosion strong enough to disintegrate the tube-in-tube structure of the towers. These could easily punch away at solid steel columns. He quoted several instances of known explosions, which resulted when hot aluminium came in contact with mildly warm water, to support his theory. He says:

From other disasters and experiments carried out by the aluminium industry, we know that reactions of this sort can lead to violent explosions.

The Powerful Alumina and Water Bomb

There was no dearth of molten aluminum, as the planes could supply as much as 30 tons of the substance at a temperature close to 15000F for an optimal oxygen-jet fuel mixture. Aluminium even at half that temperature would have done the trick.

This aluminum-water explosion scenario would explain the explosions seen in the building just before they collapsed. The explosions, unexplained till date, have provoked many conspiracy theories, which have constantly claimed that 9/11 was an internal job and that the towers were booby-trapped. This might shut them up, or maybe not.

How Powerful? Very Powerful!

Just to give you an idea of the intensity of the explosion, let me quote a controlled experiment. It was conducted by Alcoa Aluminum. They mixed 20 kilos of molten aluminium with 20 liters of water and used a small quantity of rust as catalyst. Simensen reports the catastrophic observations:

The resulting explosion blew away the entire laboratory and left a crater 30 meters in diameter.

Simensen presented his findings at an international materials meet in San Diego, California and will publish the results in the trade journal Aluminium International Today.

Yet another conspiracy theory bites the dust!

Breathtaking Mandelbrot Videos – Now in Brilliant 3D

Yesterday, I saw the most amazing videos. These are called Mandelbulb videos, and half the fun of watching them is understanding the science and mathematics behind them. If you don’t want to learn how these are made, you can skip to the end of this article.

What is a Mandelbulb?

It’s a type of mathematical entity that’s based on ideas behind  Fractals  which were discovered in the 17th century. Fractal mathematics describe  geometric patterns that repeat at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractal patterns are often seen in nature, such as in snowflakes. Here’s an example of a Von Koch curve, which is one of the simplest forms of a fractal.


von koch curve

When a fractal shape is calculated, it is calculated in steps, or iterations. You can see the shape change, above, as it goes through each iteration.

Here’s another example of a complex fractal which was generated by the  GoogleLabs JuliaMap Generator.

Google Labs Juliamap web app

If you follow that link to Google Labs, your web browser will generate a fractal. One of the unique properties of fractals are that you can zoom in on the patterns and see even smaller but very similar patterns.

Over the years, many mathematicians have tried to determine the formulas for true 3D fractals. Finally, in 2007,  an amateur fractal image maker,  Daniel White, came up with some formulas that seem to generate these 3D fractal shapes. Daniel started his work by using one of the most famous fractal types, called the  Mandelbrot set. The resulting shapes are called Mandelbulbs.

A couple of months later, some software hackers and fractal enthusiasts got together to work on software to render Mandelbulbs on computers. The Mandelbulber Project has been a success, and as you’ll see below, it’s also resulted in some very fantastic images and videos.

Here’s a screenshot of what the software looks like, running on a Linux PC. The software is Open Source, completely free to download  and also runs on Windows PCs.

Mandelbulb Interface

Here are a few screen-shots of Mandelbulber’s artificial worlds.

mandelbulb 45


mandelbulb 14a


mandelbulb image


mandelbulb 1


mandelbulb 2


mandelbulb 3


mandelbulb 4

Finally, we have reached the video. As you’ll see, Mandelbulber can create entire virtual worlds that can be explored. In fact, it can create an infinity of different worlds and some of them are almost scary in their complexity.

Video:  Trip to center of hybrid fractal

Here are more Mandelbulb videos from XLACE. It’s interesting to see how his videos have evolved over the years, and how Mandelbulber has suddenly changed the world of fractals forever. Someday, I expect to see these artificial worlds appear in movies. If you need an alien place for a Sci-Fi movie, it’s pretty easy to see where you could get one.


What is a Candle Flame Made Up Of? Millions of Real Diamonds, Of Course!

This is why ignorance is often regarded as a great source of bliss. Scientists have discovered the presence of real diamonds in a candle flame. Here’s the part which will hurt a lot you’ll not be able to procure any for sale. After centuries of wondering what candle flames are made up of, it seems that they are richer than imagined by anyone literally.

Diamonds Galore!!

Gem of a find

It’s indeed poetic justice that a Chinese chemistry professor, Prof. Wuzong Zhou, from the University of St. Andrews would uncover this sparkling secret. After all, candles were invented in China more than 2000 years ago.

Prof. Zhou developed a new sampling technique along with his student, Mr. Zixue Su, which can sample particles from the center of a candle flame. This has never been attempted before. Spectroscopic studies revealed the composition of the samples and it was found that all four allotropic forms of carbon diamond, graphite, soot and fullerenic forms of carbon – were present.

Prof. Zhou innocently reveals his motivation for looking inside a candle flame:

A colleague at another university said to me: Of course no-one knows what a candle flame is actually made of.  I told him I believed science could explain everything eventually, so I decided to find out.

Burning Diamonds

Diamond particles are created as an intermediate between hydrocarbon molecules at the base of the flame and the carbon-dioxide and water at the top of the flame. Diamond gets burned in the center. The production rate is also impressive Prof. Zhou counted more than 1.5 million diamond nanoparticles per second in a flame. So, a candle burns by burning up lots of diamonds!

Michael Faraday’s comment in his lectures The Chemical History of a Candlein 1860 seems prophetic now:

You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond; but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?

This is a glittering find. Feel rich just by thinking of the fact that you can afford to light a candle you’re literally burning up millions of diamonds!


Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Just last week, Google managed to waste millions of user hours by adding one of their most famous ever. The Les Paul Google Doodle allowed users to play their own music through keystrokes. The Les Paul Doodle also got a permanent home like the Google Pacman Doodle.

Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Today is this century’s 2nd largest Lunar Eclipse and we have a complete Guide on the Lunar Eclipse out here. However, if you have never seen a Lunar Eclipse in your life, you can do it now playfully with the latest Google Doodle.

The new Google Doodle has a progress meter which shows you how the moon is covered during the Lunar Eclipse. It plays automatically when you load, but you can also drag the progress bar either way to see it minutely.

This is definitely a fun way for people to learn about this natural phenomenon. Go ahead and check out the new Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle at You can also watch the Lunar Eclipse live at

Watch Supermoon Pictures and Videos

Supermoon is a natural phenomenon which occurs once every few years. During the Supermoon, the full moon is closest to the earth than any other days. According to Wikipedia, the last Supermoon took place more than a year ago on January 30, 2010. 

Today’s Supermoon has been a rage all across the world and the Internet. While, in the real world, it is a profitable day for quacks making big bucks off fooling people, the Supermoon has been linked to catastrophes and nightmarish calamities like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

With the Internet being the largest source of digital content, there is a totally positive and pleasant aspect to this Supermoon. This phenomenon will  fill up the Internet with some beautiful Moon pictures.

Here are a few Supermoon images and images capturing the moon in all its glory. I took a shot at capturing the Supermoon myself too. You see the results below. All in all, the Supermoon is really superb and bright tonight.

Picture 1


Picture 2


And if you do not have a good enough camera, you can always look at the moon through the WWT.


Picture 4 and 5 (Taken by our own Kaushik – Also available on his Flickr stream)


This phenomenon is happening after 3 long years and is surely one you would not want to miss.

Check the buzz about Supermoon on Twitter at this page. If you were not following all the buzz, check out NASA’s explanation of what a Supermoon is at this YouTube page.

Google Says: Happy Birthday Jules Verne!

Today when I fired up Google for my first search, I was greeted with this cool looking interactive Google Doodle. You can see a video of the Verne doodle in action here.


Naturally, I was curious and after clicking on the doodle, I found out that it’s the 183rd birthday of Jules Verne. As most of you know, Verne is a famous French science fiction writer who died in 1905, at the age of 77.

Verne’s stories are so entertaining, that he’s listed as the third most translated individual author in the world. Even though some the gizmos in his books were unbelievable, many of them later became fact instead of fiction. Here’s a list of 8 Jules Verne inventions that came true. (courtesy of National Geographic)

  1. Electric Submarines
  2. Newscasts
  3. Solar Sails
  4. Lunar Modules
  5. Skywriting
  6. Videoconferencing
  7. Taser
  8. Splashdown Spaceship

Here are a few of the books that he has written. I bet you’ll recognize at least one.

The Mysterious Island

A Journey to the Center of the Earth

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas

From the Earth to the Moon, and a Trip Around It

Around the World in Eighty Days

The Lighthouse at the End of the World

I’ve read one or two of his books, but I think most of you are probably more familiar with the dozens of movies that have been made, based on his novels.

Here’s a trailer for one of the most famous movies.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Trailer

You can find many of Verne’s books online (for free!) at Project Gutenberg. You can also watch several clips from movies based on Verne’s novels, at Youtube.

Sixty Symbols Educates You Through the Power of YouTube

The good folks at the University of Nottingham have put together sixty videos on a variety of topics, aiming to educate you (the young learner with a rapt internet-induced attention deficit), on some of the most mind boggling facts and facets of our science.

In other words, we live in a very very strange universe filled with squiggly diagrams and improbability that approaches Douglas Adams’ metaphorical science fiction escapades. Everything from Schrödinger’s Cat, infinity, vuvuzelas, quantum tunneling and Feynman’s squiggly diagrams have been put up in a mysterious-looking site.


Each video has an assortment of nerdy scientists explaining each phenomenon in the most non-confusing way possible (which is a paradox in itself, because trust me nothing is crazier than quantum physics. Nothing). The scientists, however, have done quite a marvelous job at explaining these concepts fairly well, and the project page itself is quite friendly:-

Ever been confused by all the letters and squiggles used by scientists?

Hopefully this site will unravel some of those mysteries.

Sixty Symbols is a collection of videos about physics and astronomy presented by experts from The University of Nottingham.

They aren’t lessons or lectures – and this site has never tried to be an online reference book.

The films are just fun chats with men and women who love their subject and know a lot about it!

Head over to SixtySymbols to get your science fix for the day! (via ReadWriteWeb)

XWave: The iPhone App That Almost Reads Your Mind

Ok, so the app doesn’t exactly reads your mind but it visualizes whatever brain waves  XWave head gear senses while clamped to your head. The head gear costs $100 and once you put it on, it senses your brain waves and analyzes them to provide some very useful information. The iPhone app is free of cost and interacts with the head gear once it is inserted into the ear phone jack of your phone.

The gadget uses patented NeuroSky ThinkGear technology, essentially sensing analog electrical brain waves and converting them into digital signals that can be displayed on an interface and programmed. The device is currently based on  algorithms  that can capture signals related to “attention”, “meditation” and physical blinking of eyes. For example, one of the graphics that are displayed on the iPhone app is a ball that you can raise if you really focus your thoughts on any topic or thought. Moreover, the app measures your level of relaxation and dynamically displays it through a shift of colors on the screen.

The app also has a generic visualizer screen that displays through interesting graphics what kind of activity is going on in your brain right now. To clarify again, the gadget reads your brain waves and not your actual thoughts. The device is obviously not a perfect science yet but is definitely a great example of the kind of technology we should expect to see down the road. Over all, it is a great fun app to have if you a extra hundred bucks to spend on the gadget.

[Via Mashable]