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2013 Ig Nobel Prizes

ig nobel mascot

Science is serious business, but it is also a giant playground for comedy and drama. The annual Ig Nobel Prizes epitomize this playful nature of science, rewarding scientists for research that makes people laugh and then makes them think. Past winners have won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for figuring out how to convert old Russian ammunition into new diamonds, and the Ig Nobel Biology Prize for explaining the bizarre mating behavior of certain Australian beetles.

The awards ceremony will be broadcast live today at 5:30 pm EDT. For those who are in Cambridge, MA on Saturday, the Ig Nobel laureates will present informal lectures explaining their research. More details are available here.

Richard Feynman on the Differences between Mathematics and Physics

As previously discussed, mathematics is not a science in the same way as physics, chemistry, and biology, yet because it is treated as a scientific discipline in school, students rarely understand it’s role. If you’re a math teacher, ask your students the following question: “Biology is the study of living organisms, physics is the study of matter, motion, energy, and forces, but what does math study?” You are certain to elicit a great deal of confusion.

In the following video, Richard Feynman, one of the great physicists of the twentieth century, attempts to answer the question by differentiating between the mental models of mathematicians and those of physicists (and by extension other scientists). Feynman, whose mathematical abilities stood out even among other elite physicists, was supremely qualified to compare the different approaches and to elucidate the peculiar nature of mathematical research. His lecture was recorded almost half a century ago, and lacks the polish of more modern science productions, but it more than makes up for it in both substance and Feynman’s impassioned lecture style. This is a must-see lecture for high school students who have an interest in a math or science career.

For the Love of Physics: Science as a Performance Art

Inspiring future scientists takes great teachers who are often talented performers. The beauty of physics as an academic subject is that it lends itself well to awe-inspiring demonstrations and performances. Walter Lewin, an MIT physics professor and legendary lecturer, is one of those talented teachers and performers who squeezes out of physics every drop of excitement that can be conveyed to a lay audience. In this lecture, filled with some of his most famous demonstrations, he puts his life on the line to illustrate the principles of classical mechanics, explains why the sky is blue while clouds are white, and leaves the lecture hall on a rocket. The lecture does not require mathematical sophistication, which makes it accessible to middle school students, but it will inspire anyone to pursue physics.