CLOSE
Original image

15 Award-Winning Facts About The Nobel Prize

Original image

1. Robert Lucas, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the theory of "rational expectations," split his $1 million prize with his ex-wife. If there were a Nobel Prize for Foresight or Timing, I'd nominate her, based on a clause in their divorce settlement from seven years earlier: "Wife shall receive 50 percent of any Nobel Prize." But the clause expired on October 31, 1995. Had Lucas won any year after, he would have kept the whole million.

dynasty.jpg2. Physicist Lise Meitner, whose work helped lead to the discovery of nuclear fission, was reportedly nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times without ever winning. This makes her the Dynasty of the Nobel Prize scene (the show was nominated for 24 Emmy Awards but never won). Other analogies we'd accept: The Color Purple (11 Oscar nominations in 1985, no wins) and William Jennings Bryan (three-time Democratic nominee for President, losing twice to McKinley and once to Taft.)

3. In 2007, two winners had a combined age of 177. At 90, professor Leonid Hurwicz is the oldest person to ever win (one-third of the Prize in Economics); at 87, writer Doris Lessing is the oldest woman (Literature).

Keep reading for duels, sex scandals, overlooked legends and flat-out refusals.

Mullis2.jpg4. DNA expert Kary Mullis "“ 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "“ was scheduled to be a defense witness in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. However, Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck felt the prosecution's DNA case was already essentially destroyed, and he didn't want Mullis' personal life to distract jurors (read: he'd expressed an affinity for LSD and surfing.)

5. In the last ten years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has gone for the first time to authors in Portugal, China, Trinidad & Tobago, Hungary, Austria and Turkey [source].

einstein.jpeg6. Nobel Laureates you must know: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Jimmy Carter, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, Pierre & Marie Curie, Max Planck and Albert Einstein (====>).

7. Big names who never won: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mangesh Hattikudur, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Paul Tagliabue, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Edison and Mahatma Gandhi.

8. The following people refused the Prize:

kissinger_tho.jpg"¢ Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords. Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

"¢ Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature. His explanation: "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."

"¢ Afraid of Soviet retribution, Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he'd earned for Doctor Zhivago. The Academy refused his refusal. "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

"¢ Erik Axel Karlfeldt won for Literature in 1918. He did not accept because he was Secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. He was given the award posthumously in 1931.

9. As part of his divorce settlement, Einstein's Nobel Prize money went to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric.

10. Winners without the greatest reputations:

"¢ Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won in 1976 for his research in human slow-virus infections, spent 19 months in jail after pleading guilty in 1997 to charges of child molestation.

"¢ Johannes Fibiger won in 1926 after discovering parasitic worms cause cancer "“ a breakthrough that turned out to not be true.

arafat.jpg"¢ Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. This decision caused Nobel Committee member Kare Kristiansen to resign. "What consequences will result," he asked at the time, "when a terrorist with such a background is awarded the world's most prestigious prize?"

"¢ William Shockley won for Physics in 1956 for his role in the invention of the semiconductor. But his support of the eugenics movement alienated the scientific community. Shockley also donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank developed to spread humanity's best genes (Slate did a great series on this in 2001.)

11. The first Nobel Laureates collected 150,800 Swedish kronor (about $15,420 today). The stakes have been raised. This year's prize was $1.5 million "“ shared in the case of multiple winners.

MarieCurie.jpg12. The Curie family is a Nobel Prize machine, winning five: Pierre and Marie (==>) for Physics in 1901; Marie solo for Chemistry in 1911; daughter Irene and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for Chemistry in 1935; and Henry Labouisse, who was married to Pierre and Marie's daughter Eve, accepted on behalf of UNICEF in 1965.

13. Marie Curie's second prize was marred by scandal. Then a widow, Curie had an affair with a married scientist, Paul Langevin "“ a former pupil of Pierre Curie. Love letters were involved, eventually leading to a duel between Langevin and the editor of the newspaper that had printed them (no shots were actually fired.) When it was suggested that she not accept the prize, she wrote a shrewd letter, in which "she pointed out that she had been awarded the Prize for her discovery of radium and polonium, and that she could not accept the principle that appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by slander concerning a researcher's private life."

14.
Alfred Nobel "“ inventor of dynamite "“ may have been inspired to create the Nobel Prize after a premature obituary in a French newspaper called him a "merchant of death."

15. Nobel died on December 10, 1896. The formal awards ceremony is held in Stockholm each year on the anniversary of his death. The first awards show took place on December 10, 1901. These things take time to plan.

And in case you were wondering just how much of a say Alfred Nobel had in the prize, here's his will:

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:

The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical works by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

Elsewhere on mental_floss:

Indigenous Alcoholic Treats from Around the World
"¢ Quiz: What Presidents Did After Leaving Office
11 Pictures Politicians Wish Were Never Taken
X-Rays in the News
"When life gives you Scurvy, make lemonade" and other great t-shirts
mental_floss presents: Med School In A Box

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES