Monthly Archives: February 2015

Linotype-building

Academics won’t be typecast no more

All the world’s maths and science problem sheets look essentially the same.

If you’ve been taught these subjects at university, you might recognise them: too-wide margins, a serif font that’s more old-fashioned than Times New Roman, surprisingly good-looking equations and numbered section headings that are more reminiscent of an old textbook than something made on a modern computer. There’s a reason for that.

Problem Sheet Two

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man's foot about to slip on banana peel

Pulp Friction

Tripping on a banana skin can have an audience rolling in the aisles. Assuming, of course, you’re careless enough to leave one lying around.

The now ubiquitous slipping-on-a-banana-peel gag is thought to date at least as far back as 1879, when Harper’s Weekly magazine warned its readers against following in the literal footsteps of inconsiderate fructivores. The great novelist Umberto Eco, for his part, believed that the iconic banana skin evolved as a visual euphemism for far deadlier heaps of dog detritus.

Never having slipped on a banana skin, I’ve often wondered just how dangerous they can be. And for that matter, whether it’s the inside or the outside of the fruit that poses the greater health hazard. Fortunately, these are exactly the sort of slippery questions that scientists have been falling over themselves for decades to peel back and really sink their teeth into.

ronbananagif

In 2012, Kiyoshi Mabuchi and colleagues at Japan’s Kitasato University in Japan decided to formally investigate this phenomenon, by studying the coefficient of friction of banana skins. Their results appeared in the journal of the Japanese Society of Tribologists, a term for scientists who study the way moving surfaces interact.

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DoubleBlind

Nature’s newest secrets

The academic journal Nature is introducing double-blind peer review. This means that when a paper is being checked for accuracy, the reviewers won’t know who wrote it.

Papers are the main way researchers tell everyone about their work, and peer review is the process by which the journal chooses if the paper should be published. The reviewers are chosen by the journal, and are usually other scientists who do similar work to the stuff in the paper. Continue reading

NY9_116_8

Were these Victorian train lines just a load of hot air?

At any subway station, a gust of wind announces the arrival of a train long before it can be seen or heard. Like a piston, the train pushes the air in front of it – but could air be used to push the train?

Such “pneumatic railways” promised a smoother, quieter and more efficient mode of transport than electric or steam-powered trains, but the many attempts to build them in the late 1800s failed due to financial difficulties.

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