Ig Nobels: a night of laughs, laureates and dung-rolling beetles
Among this year’s Ig Nobel winners were scientists who discovered that alcohol makes people think they’re attractive and that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely she is to stand up.
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The Nobel Prizes aren’t for everyone. Thus the Ig Nobel Prizes, which were handed out Thursday night at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.
The awards are handed out by the folks who publish the science-humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research. The awards,which can seem goofy, have a purpose: To “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
The ceremonies in which real Nobel laureates announce the winners are usually silly, and this year’s was no different. It included a miniopera, a contest to win a date with a Nobel laureate and a demonstration of bras as emergency gas masks.
For the first time, the winners received cash prizes: $10 trillion, but in Zimbabwe dollars. So they’ll each get about four U.S. dollars.
Here are the achievements that earned the 2013 Ig Nobels:
The Medicine Prize was awarded to Japanese researchers who determined that mice who got heart transplants survived longer if opera music or Mozart was playing in the background during their surgeries, compared with mice who went under the knife to Enya or to a single-frequency tone. Their results were published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
The Psychology Prize went to European researchers, including one from Ohio State who also teaches in the Netherlands, whose study figured out that the more alcohol people consumed, the more highly they rated themselves for attractiveness, intelligence and cleverness. The study was published in the British Journal of Psychology.
The Joint Prize in Biology and Astronomy recognized scientists who tested the ability of dung beetles to roll their balls of manure under clear and cloudy nighttime skies. Their findings, published in Current Biology, demonstrated that the insects use the Milky Way to navigate.
The Physics Prize went to a European team’s discovery that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if both they and the pond were on the moon. Read the report in PLOS One.
The Chemistry Prize investigated why onions make people cry. The winning team, from Japan, showed that the plant biochemistry at work involved a previously undiscovered enzyme, lachrymatory-factor synthase. If onions could be engineered without that enzyme, it may be possible for them to retain flavor and nutritional value without causing eyes to water, the researchers wrote in Nature.
The Archaeology Prize went to two researchers who parboiled a dead shrew and swallowed it without chewing so they could examine their excrement to see which bones would dissolve in the human digestive system. Read more in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The Public Health Prize recognized researchers in Thailand who responded to an epidemic of penile amputations by improving the surgical method for reattaching said items. They said the method worked well, except in cases where an amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck, as explained in the American Journal of Surgery.
The Probability Prize went to researchers at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh who wanted to get a better understanding of what made cows decide when to lie down and when to stand up. The question isn’t trivial: A cow’s posture can indicate whether she is in heat or if she has a health problem. After observing nearly 11,000 “lying episodes,” scientists determined that the longer a cow has been lying down, the sooner she will stand up. They were surprised to discover that the reverse was not true. Their report was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
The Safety Engineering Prize went to the late American inventor Gustano Pizzo. In 1972, he filed a patent for what he described as an “anti-hijacking system for aircraft” that would trap would-be hijackers, seal them in the belly of the plane and drop them through bomb-bay doors to parachute to the ground, where they’d be met by law-enforcement authorities. He received U.S. Patent 3811643 in 1974.
The Ig Nobels aren’t all about science and medicine.
They have a Peace Prize, too, and it went to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for banning applause in public. The award was shared with the Belarus State Police, “for arresting a one-armed man for applauding,” according to the Ig Nobel citation.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.