Dmitri Krioukov: Physics Equations Beat Traffic Ticket For California Scientist

on April 16 2012 4:59 PM

Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist at the University of California San Diego, used a four-page scientific argument -- graphs, formulas, subheadings and all -- to get himself out of a traffic ticket.

It all began when Krioukov was approaching a stop sign and something tickled his nose; the ensuing sneeze caused the scientist to stop more abruptly than the otherwise would have. A nearby police officer saw Krioukov's car approach the intersection, but did not think a full stop ever occurred. He slapped the physicist with a $400 ticket.

The cop didn't see the car stop, but doesn't mean it didn't happen. At least, that's what Krioukov argued in court.

The paper he submitted to the judge, which you can read here, was called 'The Proof of Innocence.' The argument included five graphs and an impressive collection of complex equations, and it all boiled down to a case of misinterpreted visual phenomena.

[I]f a car stops at a stop sign, an observer, e.g., a police officer, located at a certain distance perpendicular to the car trajectory, must have an illusion that the car does not stop, if the following three conditions are satisfied: (1) The observer measures not the linear but angular speed of the car; (2) The car decelerates and subsequently accelerates relatively fast; and (3) There is a short-time obstruction of the observer's view of the car by an external object, e.g., another car, at the moment when both cars are near the stop sign.

In other words, the cop was understandably mistaken due to a coincidental convergence of three circumstances. For one, he was far enough away so that his perspective on the car's speed was a bit skewed. Secondly, Krioukov stopped and started rather abruptly due to the sneeze. And thirdly, another car just happened to obstruct the officer's view at the exact moment of the stop.

It was a perfectly unlucky convergence of events, making it appear to the officer that Krioukov had committed a violation.

As a result of this unfortunate coincidence, the [officer's] perception of reality did not properly reflect reality, concluded Krioukov's paper.

Lo and behold, the judge was convinced. It is unclear whether his honor was persuaded by the series of inscrutable equations, found humor in Krioukov's over-the-top efforts, or simply wasn't keen on staring at a physics treatise for one second more than he had to.

Krioukov noted in the abstract of his published piece, The paper was awarded a special prize of $400 that the author did not have to pay to the state of California.

This isn't Krioukov's first scientific publication, but it may well become his most popular. The enterprising Russian physicist -- he attended university in St. Petersburg and is also a music, film and movie buff -- has previously researched topics including hidden variables in bipartite networks, sustaining the internet with hyperbolic mapping, and navigating ultrasmall worlds in ultrashort time.

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