ROBERT MATTHEWS (b.1959)

1995 – England

‘A slice of toast sliding off a plate or table has a natural tendency to land butter side down’

This provides prima facie evidence for Murphy’s law. Matthews writes in a detailed research paper ‘Tumbling Toast, Murphy’s Law and the Fundamental Constants‘ in the European Journal of Physics (July 1995) ‘Toast does indeed have a natural tendency to land butter side down, essentially because the gravitational torque induced as the toast topples over the edge of the plate/table is insufficient to bring the toast butter-side up again by the time that it hits the floor’. The argument was explained by five pages of mathematical calculations. Matthew’s extraordinary insights into the behaviour of buttered toast won him the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize for physics.

In 2001 Matthews tried to prove his theory experimentally. About 1000 schoolchildren from schools across the UK took part in his experiments and performed 9821 drops of toast, of which 6101 were butter-side-down landings – ‘And thus Robert Matthews demonstrated both theoretically and experimentally that nature abhors a newly vacuumed floor’.

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