Thursday, October 4, 2007

2007 Ig Nobel Prize Winners Announced!

Oh, you've never heard of the Ig Nobel Prize? Well, for one thing, don't confuse them with all those hoity-toity prizes that the Norwegians hand out this time each year.

Back in the early nineties, some guys at MIT decided to create their own version of the awards. It grew, and now every year on the first Thursday in October, they hold a big awards ceremony at Harvard. Originally these awards were intended to be given to feats of science that either could never, or should never, be duplicated. Now they say that their job is to highlight resarch that "first makes you laugh, then makes you think." I first heard about them in the late '90's, when I stumbled across the web site of one of the past winners--a certian George H. Goble, who discovered the quickest way known to man to fire up a charcoal grill to the point where it's ready to cook.

(You see, he was an engineering professor at Purdue, and he had a bunch of other engineering professor friends, and--well, it got a little competitive. The previous record holder used something like acetylene and had his grill ready to cook in about 40 seconds from a cold start. Then Professor Goble got it down to three seconds, by pouring pure liquid oxygen on top of the pile of briquettes with a smouldering cigarette on top. The reaction was enough to blast briquettes clear out of the grill, would kill all the grass for several feet around, and would frequently burn through the bottom of the grill. But if the grill survived, it was ready to cook.... Mr. Goble won the Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996.)

Personally, I'd rather wind up with one of these than a Nobel. Not that there's much chance of either happening, but still...

The page listing all the past recipients of this award is here. Note that since the 2007 winners were announced just a little earlier tonight, their site is being hammered with huge numbers of hits from around the world, so it's loading pretty slowly. And be forewarned: many of the past prizes were given for things that aren't appropriate for a family website (but are nevertheless really really funny).

Here are my favorites from this years crop of winners:

PHYSICS: "L. Mahadevan of Harvard University, USA, and Enrique Cerda Villablanca of Universidad de Santiago de Chile, for studying how sheets become wrinkled."

Apparently Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, and Villablanca's sister, were in attendance to accept the award.

BIOLOGY: Prof. Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk of Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, for doing a census of all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns and fungi with whom we share our beds each night.

What's so funny about this one are the Dutch titles of the published articles: "Huis, Bed en Beestjes" and "Het Stof, de Mijten en het Bed." To get the full effect, read the titles out loud in a Swedish Chef accent.

LINGUISTICS: Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Núria Sebastián-Gallés, of Universitat de Barcelona, for showing that rats sometimes cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.

Well, heck: neither can I.

LITERATURE: Glenda Browne of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word "the" -- and of the many ways it causes problems for anyone who tries to put things into alphabetical order.

Hey, my wife is a librarian by trade: this is a big deal.

NUTRITION: Brian Wansink of Cornell University, for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup.

I'm just trying to imagine how they designed a double-blind experiment to study this.

AVIATION: Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano and Diego A. Golombek of Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina, for their discovery that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters.

My wife just said, "Poor hamsters;" but I suspect they were pretty happy, actually.

Anyway, here are some of my favorites from previous years:

1999 IG NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong of Johannesburg, South Africa, for inventing an automobile burglar alarm consisting of a detection circuit and a flamethrower.

1999 MANAGED HEALTH CARE: The late George and Charlotte Blonsky of New York City and San Jose, California, for inventing a device (US Patent #3,216,423) to aid women in giving birth -- the woman is strapped onto a circular table, and the table is then rotated at high speed.

1998 BIOLOGY: Peter Fong of Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for contributing to the happiness of clams by giving them Prozac.

1995 MEDICINE: Marcia E. Buebel, David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa, and Michael R. Boyle, for their invigorating study entitled "The Effects of Unilateral Forced Nostril Breathing on Cognition."

1995 PUBLIC HEALTH: Martha Kold Bakkevig of Sintef Unimed in Trondheim, Norway, and Ruth Nielson of the Technical University of Denmark, for their exhaustive study, "Impact of Wet Underwear on Thermoregulatory Responses and Thermal Comfort in the Cold."

Well, now. After all that, I have no idea how to end this post. So, um... I hope you enjoy. But if you choose to click on the link to the Ig Nobel site to read the whole list, be forewarned that some of them will make you go ewwww....

No comments: