You usually have to pull out all of the stops to win science’s highest honor, but at least one Nobel Prize winner earned his award with the help of some simple statistical analysis. John William Strutt, aka Lord Rayleigh, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1904 for discovering the noble gas Argon by paying close attention to the numbers.
Rayleigh was trying to figure out what air was composed of by eliminating all of the oxygen from a volume of gas (at the time, it was known that nitrogen was present in the air in about a 4:1 ratio). He did this via two methods. First, he passed normal air through molten copper, converting all of the oxygen to copper oxide and trapping it in the metal. Alternatively, he produced pure nitrogen gas via the chemical decomposition of nitrogenous compounds. At a constant volume, temperature, and pressure, Rayleigh massed the two samples of gas and found a 0.46% difference, with the sample collected from air slightly heavier. Seems pretty trivial, huh? Hardly. Rayleigh noticed that the difference in the two samples was larger than his experimental error. Rayleigh could have further proved the difference by conducting a t-test. The test is useful in comparing the standard deviation in two uncertain sets of numbers and proving or disproving the null hypothesis (i.e. proving or disproving a statistical difference between two sets of data). A t-test proves that Rayleigh’s two volumes of gas contain different contents. Rayleigh eventually went on to show that the difference is due to argon, a previously undiscovered element, in the air. Rayleigh went on to discover a bunch of other cool stuff (he’s the guy who explained why the sky is blue), and eventually got some craters on the moon and Mars named after him.
And that’s why you should stop drooling during AP Statistics