Light Friday: It Pays to Sound Like James Earl Jones
Credit: Stuart Crawford
Credit: Stuart Crawford

The Science of Jetpacks
The Baby Turtle Robot
Building a Better Sand Castle

If you’ve ever wondered why Darth Vader was so successful, the answer is simple: he had the deep, baritone voice of James Earl Jones. New research indicates that business leaders with deeper-pitched voices are likelier to run bigger companies, earn more, and stay in their jobs for longer periods.

In a recent study from Duke University, researchers analyzed the vocal pitches of 792 male CEOs at publicly traded companies to determine whether deep voices correlated with business success. The experiment tracked voice frequencies during earnings calls and investor presentations, then measured the voices against an executive’s compensation, company size, and tenure at the CEO level.

“The median CEO, with a 125.5 Hz vocal frequency, earned $3.7 million, ran a $2.4 billion company and was 56 years old,” the Wall Street Journal’s At Work blog reports. “Not bad, but researchers found that executives with voices on the deeper (that is, lower-frequency) end of the scale earned, on average, $187,000 more in pay and led companies with $440 million more in assets.”

The study found that a voice pitched 22.1 Hz lower translated into considerable differences in success, even when adjusted for a leader’s experience, education, and other variables that might influence performance. How big of a gap is 22.1 Hz? It’s roughly one-sixth the variation between James Earl Jones’s voice and Mike Tyson’s.

“The CEO study also showed that bosses with lower-pitched voices tend to hold onto their jobs for around five months longer than their higher-pitched counterparts,” Forbes notes. “The CEO study backs up previous laboratory research showing that voters prefer politicians with deep voices.”

The Science of Jetpacks

Sure it’s dangerous and the technology is far from being perfected, but who hasn’t fantasized about flying in a jetpack at some point in their lives? Before strapping rockets to your back, though, it’s probably a good idea to learn about some of the science underlying jetpack systems.

Science video blog 2Veritasium recently issued a primer explaining the physics of jetpack-flight: “It works on the same principle as a rocket (Newton’s 3rd law) but unlike the shuttle, you don’t carry your own propellant with you. Instead, water is pumped out of the lake by the jet [pack] at up to 60 liters a second. It is then fired out of the nozzles at around 15 m/s creating 1800 N of force, the equivalent of about 150 fire extinguishers.”

The Baby Turtle Robot

Sea turtle mothers undergo a harrowing ordeal to propagate their species: in the dead of night, they heave themselves up the beach, dig a deep pit, lay their eggs, and then drag themselves back to the ocean. When the offspring hatch, they must dig through the sand, orient themselves properly on the beach, and crawl a proverbial football field to their home in the sea.

So how do they do it? Researchers at Georgia Tech have built a robot to answer that very question. By mimicking the appearance and motions of sea turtles, as well as pinniped animals like seals and walruses, the team was able to create Flipperbot, which moves through sand by pulling itself with two flipper-like appendages.

Physics professor Daniel Goldman said the project came about after he noticed some loggerhead sea turtles were quickly scampering to the ocean while others dug themselves into the sand and got stuck. Since baby sea turtles are under heavy predation while trying to flip themselves to safety, Goldman decided to look at the mechanics of locomotion on similar surfaces.

“We are looking at different ways that robots can move about on sand,” Goldman noted. “We wanted to make a systematic study of what makes flippers useful or effective. We’ve learned that the flow of the materials plays a large role in the strategy that can be used by either animals or robots.”

To see the Flipperbot in action, watch the video below. Or, you can see some real baby turtles here.

Building a Better Sand Castle

With the weather starting to warm up, folks are getting ready to head to the beach. If you’re interested in crafting sand castles, why build a wimpy one when you can use scientific principles (and some common materials) to construct a mighty coastal fortress?

At the Pascal’s Puppy blog, geoscientist Matt Kuchta provides a step-by-step video guide to building a “super sand castle” that can support even a person’s full weight.

“If you are building your sandcastles this way, you are indeed ‘cheating’ in the sense that a ‘true’ sandcastle is only held together by sand and water,” Kuchta warns. “But I see no ethical dilemma in using this technique if you are going for strength and showing off. If you are competing with others, it’s probably against the rules.”



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  • Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry
    April 29, 2013

    Did you correlate East Block countries too—they tend to pitch so low they sound like gravel… (their languages augment the low pitch with harsh gutturals).

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