This year’s Ig Nobel Prize for Physics has gone to Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan of Harvard University in the US and Enrique Cerda Villablanca from Universidad de Santiago de Chile for their pioneering work on the “physics of wrinkling”. The annual prize is given by the humour magazine The Annals of Improbable Research and honours work that “first makes people laugh and then makes them think”. Although their theories provide insight into why drapes hang a certain way, the pair offer no solution to stop our skin from wrinkling as we get older – a breakthrough that would bring them even more fame and fortune.
Mahadevan and Cerda Villablanca were honoured for a series of papers published in several prestigious journals. In their first paper (Nature 419 579), mathematician Mahadevan and physicist Cerda Villablanca considered the wrinkling effects of a stretched elastic sheet and were able to derive a set of scaling laws for the wrinkle wavelength and amplitude.
The pair then focussed on the wrinkling of thin elastic sheets over a range of length scales and geometries (Phys. Rev. Lett. 90 074302) and deduced a general theory of wrinkling occurring over a range of length scales. They also produced a set of simple scaling laws that could be the basis for characterizing the mechanical properties of thin solid films.
In a third paper (PNAS 101 1806) the pair considered what happens when a flat isotropic elastic sheet falls onto a 3D object. The scaling laws they derived were consistent with commonplace observations of drapes, and they argued that their results could lead to “qualitative guides to fashion design and virtual reality animation”.
The physics Ig Nobel was presented by two genuine Nobel laureates: Roy Glauber from Harvard University, and Robert Laughlin from Stanford University.
The Ig Nobel prizes were founded in 1991 and the 2007 awards were presented yesterday at a special ceremony at Harvard University. The theme of this year’s ceremony was “chicken”, which bizarrely involved keynote speaker Doug Zonker repeating the word “chicken” for two minutes, accompanied by technical diagrams.
The Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced next week.