Gilovich. (Courtesy Ezra Magazine)

Ithaca, N.Y. — Today we present our fourth installment of an Ithaca Voice series highlighting just a handful of the crazy cool things Cornell University professors are researching, writing, designing, discovering, or (insert here) at any given time.

We have no doctrinal preferences and no academic prejudices. Our sole criteria is that the professor’s work be, as the headline suggests, “crazy cool.” And, no, we don’t have a precise definition of “crazy cool.”

(Got a professor we should highlight? Email

Without further ado…

1 – Cornell cosmologists try to understand Big Bang

Cornell cosmologists — who study the nature and evolution of the universe — have launched a “vigorous effort” to understand the Cosmic Microwave Background, the thermal radiation left after the Big Bang.

Over the last 30 years, the field has expanded greatly, Jeevak Parpia (Correction: A previous story incorrectly spelled Parpia’s name as Paripa), professor of physics told the Cornell Chronicle. “We are in an era of ‘precision’ cosmology,” he told the Cornell Chronicle.

“A large portion of all knowledge about the history of the universe as a whole is revealed when you fully understand the CMB,” Michael Niemack, assistant professor of physics, said in a university press release.

Paripa. (Courtesy Cornell University)

From the press release:

Cornell’s experimental cosmology research group – which includes assistant professor of physics Michael Niemack, postdoctoral researchers Francesco De Bernardis and Shawn Henderson, and graduate students Brian Koopman and Patricio Gallardo – recently announced the first results from a Cosmic Microwave Background study using a polarization-sensitive camera (ACTPol) that Niemack led the design of for the 6-meter Atacama Cosmology Telescope.

2 – Could sharing taxis save money and the environment?

In collaboration with MIT professors, Cornell math professor Steven Strogatz has revealed the “vast untapped potential of New York City’s taxi system, with results that could be applied to other urban areas.”

Steven Strogatz. (Courtesy Cornell University)

The study, led by Carlo Ratti of the MIT Senseable City Lab, found that ride sharing could reduce taxi rides by 40 percent and operational costs by 30 percent.

“Imagine New York with calmer streets and clearer skies,” said Paolo Santi of the MIT team.

The only downside to the ride sharing? Minimal delays in bringing passengers to their destination — only a few minutes at most, according to the report.

3 – Drones: the future of photographic lighting

Researchers at Cornell and MIT are developing intelligent drones that hover around photographic subjects that position themselves for the best lighting effect.

“I think drones are going to play a big role in photography in the future,” said Kavita Bala, associate professor of computer science at Cornell, according a university press release.

Bala’s work comes as a part of the growing field of “computational photography,” where robotics and computer graphics are used to assist photographers.

4 – To get the most out of your dollar, spend it on experiences – not possessions, says Cornell research

Cornell researchers have determined that spending money on experiences, rather than material possessions, may be the best way to get the most out of your dollar.

Thomas Gilovich. (Courtesy Ezra Magazine)

Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich — along with doctoral student Amit Kumar of Cornell and Matthew Killingsworth of the University of California, San Francisco — revealed that people thinking about “experiential purchases,” like a ski pass or concert tickets, are happier than those who anticipate spending money on objects.

The research, published in the September issue of Psychological Science, also determined that waiting in line to buy something that will give them an experience were, on average, more content than those waiting in line to purchase material possessions.

5 – Action TV makes you more prone to ‘mindless eating,’ says study

Ninety-four undergraduate students participated in a study that shows people who are distracted by television are more likely to eat past a point at which they would normally stop.

The study, published the Sept. 1 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, determined how eating habits are affected by different TV programs.

From the Cornell Chronicle:

In the study, one-third of the participants watched 20 minutes of the 2005 science fiction thriller, “The Island”; one-third watched the same movie without sound; and one-third watched 20 minutes of the PBS interview show, “Charlie Rose.” The viewers had access to all the M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes they wanted.

Distracted by all the camera cuts and loud explosions in the action movie, watchers mindlessly consumed an average of 206 grams  (354 calories) of snacks apiece, almost twice as much as the viewers who were not so distracted by Charlie Rose and guest; they ate 104 grams (almost 21 calories). Those watching the silent movie fell in the middle by consuming 142 grams.

Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: