Kiyoshi Mabuchi and fellow researchers at Kitasato University in Minato, Japan, have won the IgNobel Prize in Physics for their research into the science behind the slipperiness of banana peels. Yes, banana peels. The IgNobels celebrate the truly unusual in science, technology, engineering and math and while they sound funny initially, they are often the result of profound discoveries in scientific research.
Mabuchi and his team reenacted scenes from a popular cartoon in their study in which someone slips on a banana peel and goes sliding across the floor. To determine exactly how slippery a banana peel is, they put the banana skins on linoleum and one of the braver research volunteers, stepped onto peel and pushed his foot forward.
The linoleum was placed on a force transducer, a sensor that measures the force, weight and pressure applied to an object. By measuring the horizontal and vertical forces, the brave volunteer sailing through the air, the Scientists came up with the coefficient of friction that results from a banana peel sliding along the floor; 0.066.
Next, the researchers crushed the peels and observed them under a microscope. What they discovered is that when when crushed, banana peels produce a gel-like substance. This gel-like substance is very similar to gels used in laboratory research much like the starches, biopolymers and polysaccharides used to form slippery gels.
More specifically, the goal behind the research was to use the friction results and the properties of the banana skin gel to improve artificial joints.
Mabuchi, a Biomechanics Researcher, explained that there was more to this seemingly silly research experiment than met the eye, “There is a similarity between the lubrication around cartilage and banana skin…They have similar friction.” (Mabuchi, Science)
So, by testing a hunch that evolved from a memory of a children’s cartoon, the Researchers have accomplished winning a prestigious award in science and furthering mankind’s progress towards finding new ways to treat the millions of Americans that suffer joint and cartilage pain everyday. Additionally, the Researchers are also hopeful that there may also be a possibility that the gel might lead to new forms of lubricants.
The article that brought us this fun news, Science News, conclude their piece with this:
“Next time you see a cartoon character go flying from a banana peel encounter, remember: It’s not just comedy, it’s real science.”- Science News.Org, 2014
Brookshire, Bethany. “Banana peel slipperiness wins IgNobel prize in physics.” Science News. N.p., 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/banana-peel-slipperiness-wins-ignobel-prize-physics>.