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Pocket-Sized #1019: “Hand Clap Shape-sounds”

July 6th, 2020

Hand Clap Shape-sounds

In this Pocket-Sized episode #1019, Marc Abrahams shows an unfamiliar research study to Chris Cotsapas. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

The research mentioned in this episode is featured in the Important Research issue (Vol. 25, #5) of the Annals of Improbable Research Magazine.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

1. Chris Cotsapas encounters:

Inferring the Hand Configuration from Hand Clapping Sounds,” Antti Jylhä and Cumhur Erkut, Proceedings of the Digital Audio Effects Workshop (DAFx’08), pp. 301-304, 2008.

Seth GliksmanProduction Assistant

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Sperm Production: Appreciating a Piece of Tail

July 6th, 2020

The far end of the tail of a human sperm has been studied scientifically a bit less than the other parts of the sperm’s structure. A new study suggests that this little chunk is a fairly important part of the sperm’s swimming mechanism.

Doing more with less: The flagellar end piece enhances the propulsive effectiveness of human spermatozoa,” Cara V. Neal, Atticus L. Hall-McNair, Jackson Kirkman-Brown, David J. Smith, and Meurig T. Gallagher, Physical Review Fluids, epub 2020. The authors, at the University of Birmingham, UK, explain:

“Spermatozoa self-propel by propagating bending waves along a predominantly active elastic flagellum. The organized structure of the “9 + 2’’ axoneme is lost in the most-distal few microns of the flagellum, and therefore this region is unlikely to have the ability to generate active bending; as such it has been largely neglected in biophysical studies. Through elastohydrodynamic modeling of human-like sperm we show that an inactive distal region confers significant advantages, both in propulsive thrust and swimming efficiency, when compared with a fully active flagellum of the same total length.”


The Jell-O museum

July 6th, 2020

The ‘Jell-O Museum’ website is temporarily closed,, but aficionados of Jell-O may be interested in the The Jell-O Gallery in Le Roy, NY, US. It’s run by The LeRoy Historical Society.

“In 1845, Peter Cooper dabbled with and patented a product which was ‘set’ with gelatin. Suffice it to say, it never did ‘jell’ with the American public. In 1897, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, was putting up a cough remedy and laxative tea in his home. He experimented with gelatine and came up with a fruit flavored dessert which his wife, May, named Jell-O. He tried to market his product but he lacked the capital and the experience. In 1899 he sold his formula to a fellow townsman for the sum of $450.” Text courtesy the Jell-O Museum


● The Jell-O Gallery in Le Roy is normally open for visits, but check ahead for current lockdown status.

● The text above is from the Jell-O Museum website, which is now offline, but can still be found, to some extent, via

● Production of Jell-O in LeRoy ended in 1964.

● The 1992 Ig Nobel Chemistry prize was awarded to Ivette Bassa, constructor of colorful colloids, for her role in the crowning achievement of twentieth century chemistry, the synthesis of bright blue Jell-O (see photo above).

Research research by Martin Gardiner

Beetle necrophilia and self-righting ability, in spotlights

July 5th, 2020

The Japanese Beetle Necrophilia Experiment and a test of the self-righting abilities of self-righting beetles get spotlighted in two beetle research studies featured in the “Beetles Research” column in the special Small Animals issue (vol. 26, no 3) of the Annals of Improbable Research.

Penguin Pooing Pressure, Calculated Anew

July 3rd, 2020

The penguin pooing pressure calculation that won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics has been calculated anew by a different group of scientists.

The new study is: “Projectile Trajectory of Penguin’s Faeces and Rectal Pressure Revisited,” Hiroyuki Tajima [@HiroyukiTajima3] and Fumiya Fujisawa, arXiv 2007.00926v1, 2020. The authors, at Kochi University and at the Katsurahama Aquarium, Japan, report:

We discuss a trajectory of penguins’ faeces after the powerful shooting due to their strong rectal pressure…. We estimate the upper bound for the maximum flight distance by solving the Newton’s equation of motion…. In the presence of the viscous resistance, the grounding time and the flying distance of faeces can be expressed in terms of Lambert W function. Furthermore, we address the penguin’s rectal pressure within the hydrodynamical approximation combining Bernoulli’s theorem and Hagen-Poiseuille equation for viscosity corrections. We found that the calculated rectal pressure is larger than the estimation in the previous work….

In the pioneering work of Reference [2], it is reported that this actual pressure could range from 10 kPa for relevant values of the faeces viscosity and the radius of the the bottom hole.

A Look Back at the Pioneering Early Work, and at the Pioneer

That 2005 Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu, Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report “Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh — Calculations on Avian Defaecation” (published in the journal Polar Biology, vol. 27, 2003, pp. 56-8). Here is a technical drawing from that original penguin poo pressure paper:

Meyer-Rochow has discussed why he undertook the question.

And by happy coincidence, this week the ICES Journal of Marine Science published his invited biographical essay “Ingredients to become a scientist: curiosity, enthusiasm, perseverance, opportunity, and a good pinch of luck.” The essay is filled with adventures, of which here is a tiny sample:

a personal highlight was the first (and only) Jamaican Antarctic Expedition with my assistant Walton Reid in 1993 (which led me to be introduced to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica). When asked by “The Queen” if it hadn’t been very cold in Antarctica and she inquired about how our work had benefitted society, I replied that, of course, it had been a little cold at times and regarding our results, they had made the “book of human knowledge” just a tiny bit thicker (I am not a believer that all research must immediately be seen to be applied).

You have really got to keep your eyes open and retain a childish curiosity (curiosity may kill the cat, but for a scientist it is an essential ingredient: another piece of advice) and, when I saw (and photographed) pooping penguins, I immediately wondered about the pressure that these not exactly tall birds generate to propel their faeces up to 50 cm away from their nest’s edge. The research on this immensely important aspect of penguin biology, conducted with my research assistant Dr Joseph Gal, led to an Ig- Nobel prize from Harvard University, which quite honestly was very helpful to me in Japan and many other countries (as I, erroneously, was often announced to the audience as a “Nobel prize winner”—well, of sorts).

Meyer-Rochow Comments on the New Paper

UPDATE [July 6, 2020] We asked Benno Meyer-Rochow, co-author of the original paper, to read this new one and comment on it. Here is what he wrote:

I read the paper and am very pleased that other researchers have taken up our ideas to look into penguin pooping. In hindsight  we can say that it is great to read that others are inspired by our pioneering paper and refined the original estimate / model. They reinterpret the distance in the model, the motion in the air and they even considered the effect of contraction in their calculations. Nice refinement of our original simplified model. Although in value of estimated pressure there is not that much of a difference is obtained compared with our result (same order of magnitude), but it is a good practical result that dmax = 1.34m  based on the trade-off of angle and distance dependency functions came out from their model. It is also a nice result that the paper can be used for didactic purposes in future physics teaching. Although we never saw any Adelie penguin ‘shoot’ their faeces in a slightly upward-directed arc, it is of course possible that either we missed that or that these penguins sometimes do that when they stand on an uneven rock and/or  bend forward more than what we had observed. So, the calculations of the authors do make sense and I would accept the article for publication as is.

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