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Everyday science

Listening to tornadoes, the physics of fame

11 May 2018 Hamish Johnston
Infrasound array
Bass line: the crossed lines on this roof are an infrasound detector (Courtesy: Collin Boettcher)

It’s heating up as summer arrives in North America and that means tornadoes, especially near Oklahoma State University, which is in a hotspot for the violent storms. To get a better view of what goes on inside a twister, Brian Elbing and colleagues are listening to the low-frequency infrasound produced by the storms using microphones positioned on the roof of a university building. They were able to detect a tornado that was about 20 km away and were able to calculate its diameter to be about 45 m, which was confirmed by the trail of destruction left by the storm. You can read about how the sounds are created inside the tornado in Wired.

Physicists Edward Ramirez and Stephen Hagen from the University of Florida have come up with a way of quantifying and comparing the fame of individuals. Using statistical methods, they determined how famous someone is by looking at various metrics including Google searches and the number of edits to a person’s Wikipedia page.  After analysing fame for hundreds of people who died in 2016 and 2017, they concluded the top three celebrities were Muhammed Ali, Fidel Castro and Prince. Delving deeper, the researchers also found that the statistical distribution of fame obeys a power law that has similar characteristics to “other natural and social phenomena” such as landslides and market crashes.

They even tackle the perception of “celebrity death clustering” showing that it is rather a “statistical consequence” of the large number of famous deaths each year. They describe their analysis in “The quantitative measure and statistical distribution of fame”.

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