Pedestrian Physics Walks Away with Two Ig Nobels


• Physics 14, 128

This 12 months’s Ig Nobel prize winners embrace two teams of physicists learning how people keep away from—and typically don’t keep away from—collisions whereas strolling.

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Physicists track pedestrian movements to understand how people avoid colliding with each other.

The Ig Nobel prizes have as soon as once more offered a light-hearted take a look at current scientific achievements that “make people laugh, then think.” This 12 months, two of the prizes went to physicists learning collision avoidance amongst pedestrians. The award pair highlights the rising curiosity amongst physicists in probing the underlying “forces” that management crowd conduct.

The pedestrian physics work and eight different scientific efforts—together with a examine of cat-human communication, a microbial evaluation of discarded chewing gum, and a survey of the feelings of film watchers primarily based on the chemical compounds they exhale—have been acknowledged final week through the thirty first First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. This was the second time that the festivities have been performed on-line due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

Marc Abrahams—the editor of the journal Annals of Improbable Research (which organizes the prize)—ran the zany video convention, with conventional options resembling a paper-airplane toss and a science-themed opera. The awards—a build-your-own paper trophy and a ten-trillion-dollar invoice in Zimbabwean forex—have been handed out nearly by real Nobel laureates, together with Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell (who shared the physics Nobel in 2001).

The physics prize went to Alessandro Corbetta from Eindhoven University of Technology within the Netherlands and his colleagues for his or her examine of pedestrian dynamics in a prepare station. “We were ignobly surprised by the announcement,” Corbetta joked in a follow-up interview. He mentioned that the Ig Nobel prize is a chance to make folks conscious that physics will not be just for learning particles and planets.

“There are many unconventional systems—such as busy train stations—that can be understood by applying the language of physics,” Corbetta mentioned. By analyzing a number of million pedestrian trajectories, he and his colleagues discovered that crowd motion might be understood by assuming “social forces” that assist stop folks from operating into one another (Physics coated these leads to 2018, see Synopsis: How Walkers Avoid Collisions).

However, one other group of physicists discovered that our collision-avoidance talents should not foolproof. Hisashi Murakami from the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan and his colleagues requested two teams of volunteers to stroll previous one another whereas a few of the volunteers checked out their cellphones. “We wanted to interfere with the anticipatory ability of pedestrians,” Murakami mentioned.

As all of us would possibly guess, the pedestrians with cellphones typically failed to note their fellow walkers, resulting in a number of run-ins and close to collisions. But Murakami and his colleagues—who have been awarded the Ig Nobel kinetics prize—discovered that even the pedestrians with out cellphones had issue navigating via the group. The implication is that people rely on the notice of others to coordinate their strolling paths. “We discovered that mutual anticipation facilitates the orderly flow of movement in human crowds,” Murakami mentioned.

Why a lot curiosity in pedestrian dynamics? “There is this idea that human behavior is not predictable,” mentioned Federico Toschi, considered one of Corbetta’s co-winners from Eindhoven. But the statistical conduct of a giant ensemble of people might be anticipated, he says. For instance, scientists can measure how briskly folks stroll on common in a well-lit hallway or outdoors within the rain. The information can then be used to design prepare stations, soccer stadiums, and different city environments in order that overcrowding might be prevented.

“We might also use our understanding to improve the quality of a museum visit by applying some stimuli so that people don’t queue up in front of a painting,” Toschi added. Rather than a museum guard, a delicate change within the lighting or a sound coming from the subsequent room may present a subliminal nudge, prodding you to maneuver alongside and let others have a gaze on the Mona Lisa.

Just keep in mind to show your cellphone off.

–Michael Schirber

Michael Schirber is a Corresponding Editor for Physics primarily based in Lyon, France.

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