Director of the NSGRC: An interview

Just Wondering spoke with Emilia, director of the North Seattle Gravity Research Center, on 30 January, 2011.

JW: Will you briefly describe your organization and tell us what you’re doing here at the NSGRC?

E: The team consists of myself in both a directorial and a lead researcher role, and I have several highly trained assistants working with me. As for the NSGRC, the name really says it all. We’re researching gravity. What it is, what it does, how reliable it is, plus some collateral investigations, such as what happens as a result of the act of testing itself.   

JW: What does that look like in practice?

E: I drop stuff, chiefly.

Director and lead researcher Emilia in the lab.

JW: What kind of stuff do you drop, and from where?

E: We use a number of objects carefully chosen for their properties. One is the Nippler, a teething implement that looks a little like a World War II underwater mine. Round Shakey is a combination teething implement and a rattle. Another is called Snappy Girl. For a launch platform I use a special elevated research chair with a flat workspace mounted in front of me.  

JW: It looks like a high chair with a tray.

E: It’s an elevated research chair.

JW: Your own sister was director previously and still has an emeritus role here, isn’t that true?

E: That’s right. Mara did some pioneering early work, particularly in edibles, but she’s grown older and can’t do the pure research anymore.

Snappy Girl and the Nippler on deck.

JW: How does growing older impede “pure” research?

E: I mean, you obviously need to be focused on the behaviors. I drop this, it bounces toward the stove. I drop it again, it bounces under the chair. As you get older, experience skews your thinking. You think you know things. You start anticipating results. You start averaging things out, using your imagination. All good skills in life, but as a research institution we have to stay on task. It’s just observing what happens.

JW: What kind of things are you working on now?

E: I can’t say too much about it yet, but just this morning I was experimenting with using one implement to push another one off the workspace. That’s pretty exciting for us, the whole indirect agency thing.

JW: Why? What does that suggest?

E: Like I said, it’s really early and the results aren’t conclusive yet. All I can say about it is that the idea of indirect agency seems to fit some other theories we’re developing, things we’re seeing in other areas.

The Nippler about to be jettisoned.

JW: What have you learned lately that you’re confident about enough to talk about?

E: I’ve noticed a correlation between the number of things dropped and the number of things on my tray…workspace, I mean. Like it gets kinda quiet and boring after I’ve dropped a certain number of things, and this number — we think! — is often, maybe always, the same number of things I started with. But I can say for sure that there is a correlation there.

JW: You mentioned “other areas” and “collateral investigations”. It’s been suggested that your dropping studies are really just cover for your real study of your assistants.

E: Is there a question? I didn’t hear a question.

JW: Are you in fact studying your assistants? They pick up the things you drop over and over again. You said they are highly trained, but they’re unpaid. Their behavior could be seen as confusing. Are you studying this phenomenon?

E: Parallel research is ongoing into the motivations of my assistants, yes. They aren’t paid, it’s all volunteer, which, you have to admit, is pretty weird. I’m developing a theory that the assistants view this activity as a kind of investment, and several colleagues have suggested that my assistants might in fact be studying me. This line of inquiry quickly gets us into the hypermechanics of reciprocal observation, which is like string theory. I don’t think you want to go there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do…

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13 Responses to “Director of the NSGRC: An interview”


  1. 1 Kip January 31, 2011 at 16:01

    The satellite office in Boise is also doing research in many of the same areas. The launch areas are, however, elevated at this office, and are reached by climbing on various pieces of furniture. Also, the original director still holds the position, but the future director is staging an impressive coup.

  2. 3 leatherhead109 January 31, 2011 at 17:50

    And once again, I can’t breathe for the laughter impairment!

  3. 4 marni January 31, 2011 at 21:48

    Interestingly, my dog is hard at work in a parallel study. At the moment however, she’s distracted by the choking-huffing noises I’m making and the laugh-tears that are falling. What a perfect pairing of words and pictures you have created here!

  4. 5 Janet February 1, 2011 at 09:12

    Yes, a cat or a dog could add to the excitement in the lab. I suggest a retriever.

  5. 6 jstwndrng February 1, 2011 at 09:19

    @Kip, your Boise branch must be the ones looking into breakables?
    @Jen, Ben, Marni – Happy to provide a smile.
    @Janet, I AM a retriever!

  6. 7 Kip February 1, 2011 at 14:21

    Yes, breakables are key. The pattern with which items shatter is important. It is also important to study the difference between items such as plates and glasses. The results are astonishing!

  7. 8 aplscruf February 5, 2011 at 09:59

    In six months or so, I expect there will be a follow-up post, a summary of the conclusive results found in The Journal of Gravity Research…
    I laughed so hard I almost dropped the cat. The clawing and puncturing of my quad muscles impeded a perfect gravity test.

    • 9 jstwndrng February 5, 2011 at 12:13

      Thanks for reading and for the comment aplscruf (is that a scramble for something like “scrapful” or is it a shortening of “apple scruff”?). I love this “drop the cat” idea as a metaphor for being extremely amusing. I can see the phrase in my lexicon of useful idioms. “That postcard you sent was drop-the-cat funny” or “it was billed as a comedy, but it’s not like I dropped the cat or anything.” As for your imperfect test, maybe you can salvage the data for later testing on subjects “unwilling to be dropped”, which we haven’t yet got to here, although you might first check with the Boise branch (see above).

      aplscruf blogs about live performances of bands you may not yet know about and seems to have a knack for getting into the sweat zone. (Click the name “aplscruf” above).

  8. 10 aplscruf February 5, 2011 at 15:54

    “Drop-the-cat-funny” will go viral, I’m sure!

    “Apple Scruffs” is a George Harrison song from the album “All Things Must Pass”. The Apple Scruffs were the original Beatles groupies who hung out in front of Apple Corps and Abbey Road Studios.

    …and the Sweat Zone is always the best place to to experience a live show!

  9. 12 Carrie February 17, 2011 at 12:21

    That was a very adorable blog post. Loved the pictures!


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