Sheep are a fluid (as will be explained tonight in Washington)

February 13th, 2016

Nicole Sharp explains, in FYFD, how sheep are, more or less, a fluid:

Not all fluids are, well, fluid. Traffic, flocks of birds, ants, and even sheep can behave like fluids. This video shows an aerial perspective on sheep being herded, and despite the four-legged nature of these particles, they have a lot of fluid-like characteristics.

This video shows the flow:

Tonight’s show: Nicole Sharp will be one of the stars of the Improbable Research show, tonight, Saturday, February 13, at the AAAS Annual Meeting, in Washington, DC.

The Show begins at 8 pm, in the Diplomat Room of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. You will also meet two Ig Nobel Prize winners, and be exposed to: the discovery that most mammals urinate in (on average) 21 seconds; an algorithm that predicts who will win the 2016 US presidential election; a one-minute History of the Universe; research on why people watch cat videos; and the partial unboiling of an egg.

Tonight’s event is open, free, to the public. Spread the word, please!

BONUS: Demonstration of the physics of sheep through a bottleneck

BONUS: “Describing People as Particles Isn’t Always a Bad Idea” (though sometimes it is)

Throwing glass balls from tall buildings

February 13th, 2016

Things researchers do with ping-pong balls

February 12th, 2016

If you are one of those who thinks that a ping-pong (table tennis) ball is only good for playing ping-pong (table tennis) then you’d be wrong. Researchers across the globe have found them useful in many ways – for example:

Ping-Pong-BallTo simulate snow avalanches (videos here in .avi format)

As a surgical aid in liver transplantation

For tracking whelks

To make ganzfeld goggles

To deter elephants (when filled with chilli oil)

Improbable can predict, with some confidence, that there are other research fields where ping-pong (table tennis) balls are found to be useful, if not indispensable – if you are aware of any, do let us know by commenting below (please note that in this instance, we’re looking for uses that researchers find for the balls, rather than researchers observing what others might do with them.)

Further reading: Technical Leaflet T3: The Ball


A partial history of trained dancing chickens

February 11th, 2016

This video tells part of the history of trained dancing chickens, with emphasis on the role played by psychologist B.F. Skinner (who is pictured below):

Modern Farmer offers a more extensive history.


Influence of personality and fatalistic belief on South African taxi driver behaviour

February 11th, 2016


Are you one of those who believes that, when it comes to South African taxi drivers, road accidents are pre-destined, and not as a result of individual’s driving behaviour? If so, your beliefs could be erroneous – according to the results of a newly published study undertaken by Dr. Bright Mahembe (University of the Western Cape) and Professor Olorunjuwon Samuel (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)

“We collected data from 203 conveniently sampled taxi drivers in Gauteng province of South Africa by means of a structured questionnaire. Our analysis, using Structural Equation Modelling, found significant positive relationships between agreeableness and positive driver behaviour, conscientiousness and positive driver behaviour, fatalism and extraversion, as well as fatalism and positive driver behaviour.“ [our hyperlink]

Following their investigations, the research team have suggestions for the South African road traffic authorities :

“Insights provided by this study could assist the Department of Transport and related Road Safety Authorities in designing road safety campaigns that addresses the erroneous beliefs by drivers that road accidents are pre-destined, and not as a result of individual’s driving behaviour.“

See: ‘Influence of personality and fatalistic belief on taxi driver behaviour’ South African Journal of Psychology, January 8, 2016.

Further reading: Taxi wars in South Africa