Alan Roberts understands the significance of the equation named, in part, after him. But it took him a while to figure out why it had become such a hot topic.
The JKR equation—a collaboration of University of Cambridge researchers K.L. Johnson, Kevin Kendall and Roberts, along with renowned professor David Tabor—first was published in 1971. The formula was designed to study adhesion and friction as it pertained to rubber.
Today, however, it is applied in a variety of applications, for research on surfaces and interfaces.
About three years ago, Roberts, the 2014 Charles Goodyear Medal Award winner, decided to use modern technology in his quest to find other applications that borrow his equation.
So he typed in “JKR Equation” in the Google search engine.
“Quite literally, the screen went blank,” he said. “I thought I'd pressed the wrong button. And 10 seconds later the results came up.”
The results surprised him.
“I looked, and I looked twice, and it gave something approaching 100,000 references, spread over I don't know how many hundreds of pages, 10 references per page,” he said, straining to believe what he was seeing.
“Page 1, 2, 3, 4, yea, they all seem to be using the equation for quite a range of materials,” he said, as he scrolled through the search results. “It was quite interesting to see that.
“Then I looked at page 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, all kinds of funny things people have done with the equation.
“Page 10 ... ooh, this is it ... What's this? What this? (The) top line on the page is JKR used something ... what's this, what's its name?”
Roberts discovered why the words had drawn so many Internet hits: Google also found references to J.K. Rowling, the English author of the popular Harry Potter series.
“On this page and on the next few pages ... J.K. Rowling? Along with Harry Potter?” Roberts said, chuckling.
He said the issue has been solved.
“Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Google now knows the difference between the JKR Equation and J.K. Rowling.”