A tinge of professional jealousy is something that most have experienced at some stage, but in the field that the Science lite desk finds itself engaged – i.e. light hearted musings on the world of R&D – this time of year can render us especially envious. You see the arrival of autumn hails the Ig Nobel awards and as sure as the leaves turn brown we tend to go a little green-eyed at the awards aiming to “first make people laugh and then make them think”.
However, once over the fact that we didn’t think of the idea first we very quickly fall for the fabulous research that is honoured at the event. After all, who could resist this unique celebration of the imaginative and the obscure rewarding endeavours such as the personal study disproving the theory that knuckle cracking causes arthritis, an examination of homosexual necrophilia in the duck species Anas platyrhynchos and the magnetic levitation of a frog.
Organised by the Annals of Improbable Research, this – the 21st annual Ig Nobel prize ceremony – proved to be as inspiring as always and so here is a rundown, in all their glory, of this year’s winners.
First up, the Physiology Prize – and we were particularly chuffed to see the prize go to Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl and Ludwig Huber who were honoured for work on a subject very close to our heart. Yawning is very much the salute, the masonic handshake if you will, of the Science lite desk and once one of us goes the rest are sure to follow – but have you ever wondered if the red-footed tortoise suffers from contagious yawns? No? Well that presumably is why you don’t have an Ig Nobel prize on your mantel piece. Wilkinson et al did wonder – yet for them simple wonderment was not enough, for them the curiosity burnt until they gave in and jolly well went and found out. As it turns out the red-footed tortoise does not contagiously yawn, and hence will not be welcome here on the Science lite desk – despite its intellectual suitability.
The Chemistry Prize now and the winners Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami have continued in a great linage of brilliantly-crazy chemists who seem convinced that simple consumption is not good enough for some of our favourite treats. In 2008 a team discovered that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide (…they won’t reveal how they came up with that idea) and in 2009 some Mexican chemists made diamonds from tequila. Yet to us, Imai and his team topped them all after determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency and coming up with the wasabi alarm. Proving once and for all that best way to fight fire is with fire – albeit of a very different kind.
Before we tell you about the Medicine Prize we need to raise a slightly delicate matter, we need to ensure that prior to you deciding to read on you have, erm, considered all biological needs beforehand. You see the prize this year was awarded for work demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate. Presumably the best decision you can make when enduring a strong urge to urinate is the decision to urinate? The really amazing thing to us is that the prize was awarded jointly – which means that two separate groups managed to secure funding for this. That really does take the urination.
Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz scooped the Biology Prize for discovering that human males are not the only species to make horrible mistakes when it comes to mixing beer and sexual activity. They observed Male Julodimorpha bakewelli attempting to copulate with beer bottles. Colour and reflection of tubercles on the bottle glass are suggested as causes for attraction and release of sexual behaviour. Ah yes, the old colour and tubercule reflection trick – many a Science lite night out has been ruined by that little ruse let me tell you.
As for the Physics Prize, well that went to a team who may well have solved one of the biggest threats to the London 2012 Olympics – the threat of dizzy discuss throwers. Why is it, asked Philippe Perrin et al, that discuss throwers become dizzy yet hammer throwers do not? Despite both being sports largely based on spinning, they conclude that crucial differences in the execution mean that hammer throwers get off scot-free, whilst discuss throwers are bent double with motion sickness.
The Psychology Prize is something that will probably be of particular relevance for all you brave souls that are still reading. Karl Halvor Teigen won the accolade for examining why, in everyday life, people sigh. One of his key findings was that sighs express a state of “giving up” on something or somebody. And with that we shall depart back to our yawn riddled stupor – please feel free to breathe a sigh of relief – you have earned it.