Howdy folks and welcome to semester 2! Hopefully you had a real holiday, unlike the OnSET editors. One of us spent the entire time in bed swathed in blankets, wishing she knew how to hibernate. Another one decided it was all too much and ditched OnSET for the summery Mediterranean. That’s loyalty for you.
As the wind swept through our labcoats and chilled our bones, the only fever in the room was World Cup Fever. Of course, sporting events usually send science students into an enormous panic(unless you consider speed-photocopying a sport). They remind them of their great physical inadequacies and the time that they dropped their yellow bandana into the pool at the junior school swimming carnival. But if there’s one thing that scientists love to do, it’s to argue with each other, and this World Cup provided them with a wealth of opportunities.
There was the seemingly neverending stream of refereeing controversies. Missed handballs. Questionable penalties. Onside goals ruled offside. Offside goals ruled onside. But FIFA continues to resist the uptake of video technologies that have brought a revolution in other sports such as rugby and tennis. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, the debate about technology intruding into cultural traditions is not a new one.
Another source of controversy was the Jabulani soccer ball used in the tournament. Complaints about the unpredictability of the new ball were backed up by aerodynamics experts from NASA. You might also want to check out this entertaining video about the drag, turbulence and laminar flow of soccer balls made by the folks at the University of Nottingham.
Every World Cup has its stars. This year, octopuses around the world were delighted to see one of their own rise to celebrity stardom, all thanks to his (seemingly) impressive skills as a soccer pundit. Paul the Octopus correctly guessed all 7 of Germany’s games and Spain’s eventual victory (better than Craig Foster’s record, by the way). If the marine zoologists were happy, however, the statisticians certainly weren’t. Assuming no draws, they point out that a series of 8 random guesses would be completely correct every 1 in 256 times. That might still seem pretty incredible, until you consider the many hundreds of ‘oracles’ that were consulted in this World Cup. And you never hear about the ones that tried and failed.
Then there was every fan’s new favourite musical accessory, the vuvuzela. Fun fact: the vuvuzela is manufactured to produce a B flat tone. So when a group of vuvuzelas (a gaggle?) is played in unison, the resulting drone is the same pitch as a swarm of bees… that’s music to our ears. It also gave some pesky know-it-all physicists a chance to show off their noise-filtering skills. Check out this entertaining video (also from the University of Nottingham) to see how this works.