Acoustical Watermelon Studies: Reaching for More Than What’s on Tap

June 23rd, 2017

To know whether a watermelons is ripe — before cutting into the melon — is a dream brought to exciting levels by generations of scientists, building on the wisdom and wishfulness of their ancestors. Here are three of the juicier studies published in recent times.

Acoustical Watermelon Study (1998)

Study on acoustic characteristics of the watermelon,” M.S. Kim, D. S. Choi, Y. H. Lee, and Y. K. Cho,  Journal of the Korean Society for Agriculture, 1998.

Acoustical Watermelon Study (2002)

Numerical analysis on acoustic impulse response for watermelon,” Yong Sul Kim, Dong Hoon Yang, Young Jae Choi, Tas Joo Bae, Chul Ho So, and Yun Ho Lee, Proceedings of the Korean Society for Nondestructive Testing Spring Meeting 2002. The authors report: “As we analyzed impact pulse signal and extracted featured parameters concerned with evaluation of its ripeness, we found the plausibility of progress on nondestructive evaluation of ripeness and adoption of numerical analysis on acoustic impulse response.”

Acoustical Watermelon Study (2015)

Nondestructive determination of watermelon flesh firmness by frequency response,” Rouzbeh Abbaszadeh, Ali Rajabipour, Yibin Ying, Mojtaba Delshad, Mohammad J. Mahjoob, and Hojjat Ahmadi, LWT-Food Science and Technology, vol. 60, no. 1, 2015, pp. 637-640. The authors, at Tehran University, report:

“The identification of watermelon ripeness from its appearance such as size or skin colour is very difficult. The common subjective method is usually based on the sound produced by a slap. This method is prone to human factor errors; it may be a good way only for people with much experience. This idea led researchers to study acoustic methods…. The main objective of the present work is to study the potential of laser Doppler vibrometery and vibration spectra for evaluation of watermelon firmness….

“Briefly, laser beam from the LDV device is directed to the upper surface of the sample and the vibrations are measured from the Doppler shift of the reflected beam frequency due to the motion of the surface. Amplitude and phase shift between the mentioned signals were extracted for the entire frequency range using fast Fourier transform applied to the response and the excitation signals…. [This nondestructive determination of watermelon flesh firmness by frequency response proved to be] accurate and fast.”

Two Heads (One of Them Real) Are Somewhat Better Than One

June 22nd, 2017

A new test of the old idea that apparently having a head at your rear might save your life, if you are a butterfly:

Two-headed butterfly vs. mantis: do false antennae matter?Tania G. López-Palafox and Carlos R. Cordero, PeerJ, vol. 5, 2017, e3493. The authors, at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, report:

“The colour patterns and morphological peculiarities of the hindwings of several butterfly species result in the appearance of a head at the rear end of the insect’s body…. We explored the role of hindwing tails (presumably mimicking antennae) in predator deception in the ‘‘false head’’ butterfly Callophrys xami. We exposed butterflies with intact wings and with hindwing tails experimentally ablated to female mantises (Stagmomantis limbata)…. [Our study indicates] that at least some aspects of the ‘false head’’ help C. xami survive some mantis attacks, supporting the notion that they are adaptations against predators.”

Why Are Bird Eggs Bird-Egg-Shaped? [New research from an Ig Nobellian]

June 22nd, 2017

Mahadevan, who won an Ig Nobel Physics Prize in 2007 for studying how/why wrinkled sheets become wrinkled, has a new study out about how/why bird eggs become bird-egg shaped. The study, by Mahadevan and several collaborators, is:

Avian Egg Shape: Form, Function, and Evolution,” Mary Caswell Stoddard, Ee Hou Yong, Derya Akkaynak, Catherine Sheard, Joseph A. Tobias, and L. Mahadevan, Science, vol. 356, no. 6344, June 23, 2017, pp. 1249-1254. Here’s a bit of detail from it:

Ed Yong, writing in The Atlantic, savors the new paper:

Think about an egg and you’ll probably conjure up an ellipse that’s slightly fatter at one end—the classic chicken egg. But chickens are outliers. Hummingbirds lay eggs that look like Tic Tacs, owls lay nigh-perfect spheres, and sandpipers lay almost conical eggs that end in a rounded point. After analyzing hundreds of species, Stoddard showed that the most common shape—exemplified by an unremarkable songbird called the graceful prinia—is more pointed than a chicken’s.

“We mapped egg shapes like astronomers map stars,” Stoddard says. “And our concept of an egg is on the periphery of egg shapes.”

Beyond displacing chickens as the Platonic ideal of egg-dom, Stoddard’s data also helped her to solve a mystery that scientists have debated for centuries: Why exactly are eggs shaped the way they are?…

To solve it, Stoddard teamed up with L. Mahadevan, a biophysicist at Harvard University who has studied “how leaves ripple, how tendrils coil, and how the brain folds, among other things.” He realized that all eggs could be described according to two simple characteristics—how asymmetric they are, and how elliptical they are. Measure these traits, and you can plot every bird egg on a simple graph. They did that for the eggs of 1,400 bird species, whose measurements Stoddard extracted from almost 50,000 photos…

The Los Angeles Times report about this includes an appraisal by Charles Deeming, who himself was awarded a 2002 Ig Nobel Biology Prize for co-authoring the study “Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain.” The LA Times writes:

Charles Deeming, an ecologist who studies bird reproduction at the University of Lincoln in England and who was not involved in the study, said that pelvis shape, in particular, could be critical in determining egg shape. With further research, he said, scientists may be able to narrow down a more specific link between bird anatomy and egg shape.

The place of fish farting in fish flirting and in international relations

June 22nd, 2017

The two independent research studies about herring farts gave different insights: one that fish probably use farting to communicate, the other that farting herrings in Stockholm harbor were mistakenly identified as Soviet submarines. Brian Owens appreciates these studies — their two sets of scientists shared the 2004 Ig Nobel Biology Prize — in an article in Hakai Magazine.

Owens’ article carries the headline “Quiet Please, the Fish Are Flirting — Fish that fart together stay together.”


Dirty Hands Make Dirty Leaders? (study)

June 22nd, 2017

Florien Cramwinckel Msc (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) researches how people respond to the moral behavior of others. As part of this remit, an experiment was devised in which 78 participants demonstrated how dirtiness versus cleanliness might influence moral behavior in leader–subordinate relationships :-

“They were asked touch, smell, and evaluate a dirty (fake poop) or clean (hygienic cleansing wipe) product and answer several questions about this product. These questions were how ‘‘handy,’’ ‘‘pretty,’’ ‘‘functional,’’ ‘‘nice,’’ ‘‘clean,’’ ‘‘dirty,’’ ‘‘useless,’’ ‘‘weird,’’ ‘‘funny,’’ and ‘‘realistic’’ they thought this product was (1 = not at all, 7 = completely). They also answered to what extent they would like to have this product, if they thought this product smelled nice, if they thought this product felt clean, if they would buy this product in a store and if they felt dirty after touching this product (1 = not at all, 7 = completely).”

Subsequent evaluation of the experimental results showed, amongst other things that :-

“ […] subtle cues such as bodily sensations can shape moral decision-making and behavior in leader–subordinate relationships, but selfinterest, as a core characteristic of interdependence, can override the influence of such cues on the leader’s moral behavior.”

See: Dirty Hands Make Dirty Leaders?! The Effects of Touching Dirty Objects on Rewarding Unethical Subordinates as a Function of a Leader’s Self-Interest. Journal of Business Ethics, Volume 115, Issue 1, pp 93-100,