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University of Leicester Physics students disprove Roald Dahl peach calculation

08 January 2013 Leicester, University of

Four students from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy have calculated that it would take 2,425,907 seagulls, rather than the 501 described in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, to airlift the giant peach across the Atlantic Ocean.

The students used the famous novel from the 1960s and Henry Selick’s 1996 film adaptation to determine the buoyancy of the giant peach. The physics of aircraft was later applied to calculate the number of seagulls it would have taken for the giant peach to be lifted.

The research was conducted by Emily Jane Watkinson, Maria-Theresia Walach, Daniel Staab and Zach Rogerson and published in the Journal of Physics Special Topics. The project allowed the students to apply real principles of Physics to an imaginative topic and gain experience writing professional research articles that are of publishing standard.

Course leader Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “A lot of the papers published in the Journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical, or a bit off-the-wall. Our fourth years are nothing if not creative! But, to be a research physicist - in industry or academia - you need to show some imagination, to think outside the box, and this is certainly something that the module allows our students to practice.

“Most of our masters students hope to go on to careers in research where a lot of their time will be taken up with scientific publishing - writing and submitting papers, and writing and responding to referee reports.

“This is another area where the module really helps. Because Physics Special Topics is run exactly like a professional journal, the students get the chance to develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high profile journals later on in life.”

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