Last night, geeks celebrated at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, where Annals of Improbable Research editor Marc Abrams honored (among others) researchers who made diamonds from tequila and others who created a bra that converts into gasmasks. More winners below.
The Ig Nobels are an annual event at Harvard full of bizarre opera singing, extremely silly behavior from actual Nobel Prize winners (including our scifi nerd homeboy Paul Krugman), and much throwing of paper airplanes. The prizes are awarded for the best scientific research that makes you laugh - and think.
As the organizers noted after the event, which many of us watched via streaming video:
The evening also featured numerous tributes to the evening's theme of "Risk." The one-minute-long keynote address was delivered by Benoit Mandelbrot, the mathematician who showed how financial markets are fraught with wildness and risk (and who also invented fractals). Throughout the entire ceremony, Professor Mandelbrot and the ten Nobel laureates took turns playing in a poker game on stage . . . [Also present was] Dan Meyer (co-author of a study about the medical effects of sword-swallowing). During the ceremony, Mr. Meyer set a new world's record for how many Nobel laureates can simultaneously withdraw a sword from the throat of a sword-swallower.
So let's take a look at the winners, shall we? Here are the prize winners and citations to relevant research, as explained by the Ig Nobel Prize committee itself . . .
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 that are nameless.
REFERENCE: "Exploring Stock Managers' Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production," Catherine Bertenshaw [Douglas] and Peter Rowlinson, Anthrozoos, vol. 22, no. 1, March 2009, pp. 59-69. DOI: 10.2752/175303708X390473.
PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining - by experiment - whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.
REFERENCE: "Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?" Stephan A. Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael J. Thali and Beat P. Kneubuehl, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, vol. 16, no. 3, April 2009, pp. 138-42. DOI:10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.013.
ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks - Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland - for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa - and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.
CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid - specifically from tequila.
REFERENCE: "Growth of Diamond Films from Tequila," Javier Morales, Miguel Apatiga and Victor M. Castano, 2008, arXiv:0806.1485.
MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand - but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand - every day for more than sixty (60) years.
REFERENCE: "Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?", Donald L. Unger, Arthritis and Rheumatism, vol. 41, no. 5, 1998, pp. 949-50.
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, for analytically determining why pregnant women don't tip over.
REFERENCE: "Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins," Katherine K. Whitcome, Liza J. Shapiro & Daniel E. Lieberman, Nature, vol. 450, 1075-1078 (December 13, 2007). DOI:10.1038/nature06342.
LITERATURE PRIZE: Ireland's police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country - Prawo Jazdy - whose name in Polish means "Driving License".
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.
REFERENCE: U.S. patent # 7255627, granted August 14, 2007 for a "Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks."
MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers - from very small to very big - by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).
REFERENCE: Zimbabwe's Casino Economy - Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges, Gideon Gono, ZPH Publishers, Harare, 2008, ISBN 978-079-743-679-4.
BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.
REFERENCE: "Microbial Treatment of Kitchen Refuse With Enzyme-Producing Thermophilic Bacteria From Giant Panda Feces," Fumiaki Taguchia, Song Guofua, and Zhang Guanglei, Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi, vol. 79, no 12, 2001, pp. 463-9. [and abstracted in Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, vol. 92, no. 6, 2001, p. 602.]