The Ig Nobel Prizes are not an internet joke, at least not completely. They have actually been running for 19 years now, sponsored by Improbable Research. This group, which has genuine Nobel laureates on the editorial board, also publishes the Annals of Improbable Research, defined as “Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.” If you have a few spare hours it is well worth having a look at the classics, to find out that you really can compare apples with oranges.
Bearing in mind this is all genuine research, this year’s Ig Nobel winners:
Veterinary Medicine Prize: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows who don’t.
Catherine Douglas was unable to attend the ceremony because she has just had a baby, but she sent a photo of herself, her new daughter dressed in a cow suit, and a cow.
Peace Prize: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland. They experimented in controlled conditions and found that an empty beer bottle can take more strain before breaking than a full one. However both could break the weaker parts of human skulls. It was actually a forensics study, so you can see a point to it.
Economics Prize: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland. In this year of global financial turmoil they demonstrated that tiny banks can very quickly become enormous banks. Then it caught up with them and they crashed, taking the economy with them.
Chemistry Prize: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for using tequila to produce diamond films. Seriously.
Medicine Prize: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA. His mother told him not to crack his knuckles or he would get arthritis. So he cracked his left knuckles twice a day, but never his right, for over 60 years. He does not have arthritis in either hand.
Physics Prize: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA. Why don’t pregnant women fall over? Because they have a greater curvature of the lower spine than men which moves their centre of gravity.
Literature Prize: Ireland’s police service (An Garda Siochana). Remembering that they see a number of European driver’s licenses, they wrote over 50 traffic tickets for Prawo Jazdy. Unfortunately this is Polish for ‘Driver’s License.’ A Polish driver attended the award ceremony.
Public Health Prize: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA. Elena lived in the Ukraine during the Chernobyl disaster, which may have prompted her invention (?), or perhaps it is a response to swine flu – A bra with two cup inserts which can be converted into gas masks. In an emergency the wearer can whip them out and put one on, leaving a spare for a loved one or surprised but lucky passerby.
Mathematics Prize: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for finding a way of teaching people about very small and very large numbers. As a maths teacher, I hope they demonstrated the role of place value and the rule of 3. He printed bank notes ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000). Zimbabwe’s inflation rate got up to 231 million percent. I wonder how high he jacked up the interest rates?
Biology Prize: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan. In a brilliant piece of green research, they extracted bacteria from giant Panda poo that reduced the mass of kitchen waste by over 90%.
Happy laughing and thinking!
Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to hear about them all. Or grab my RSS feed