Issue Date: October 8, 2007
2007 IG Nobel Prizes
It's early October and everyone is waiting by the phone to hear if they've nabbed one of those renowned prizes. The Nobel Prizes? No, that's next week. This week, Newscripts is devoted to the SPECIAL WINNERS of the Ig Nobel Prizes, which honor "achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think," according to the folks at the Annals of Improbable Research, who administer the awards.
Aflutter or perhaps aghast, seven of the 10 winners traveled—at their own expense—to Harvard University to receive their prizes. As always, the awards were physically handed to the Ig Nobelists by genuine Nobel Laureates, including Chemistry Nobelists William Lipscomb (1976) and Dudley Herschbach (1986). Awardees had 60 seconds to deliver their acceptance speech before a "cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girl" taunted them offstage to the tune, "Please stop. I'm bored."
This year's CHEMISTRY PRIZE went to Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan for developing a method to extract lignin-derived vanillin from cow dung (Aroma Res. 2006, 7, 258). Yamamoto reports that she has "developed a method for the production of plant polyphenol including vanillin with the herbivorous animals' excrement as a natural resource of lignin by using a high pressure and high temperature reaction."
In honor of Yamamoto's achievement, Cambridge, Mass.-based Toscanini's Ice Cream has created a new ice cream flavor: Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist.
Think that's hard to swallow? This year's MEDICINE PRIZE went to Brian Witcombe, a radiologist in Glouscester, England, and Dan Meyer, executive director of the Tennessee-based Sword Swallowers Association for their paper "Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects" (Brit. Med. J. 2006, 333, 1285). In this penetrating medical report, Witcombe and Meyer surveyed 110 sword swallowers and concluded that "major complications are more likely when the swallower is distracted or swallows multiple or unusual swords" and also that "sore throats are common."
Cupid-inspired scientists at the Air Force Wright Laboratory, in Dayton, Ohio, took home the PEACE PRIZE for their 1994 research project toward the development of "a chemical weapon that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other" (www.sunshine-project.org/incapacitants/jnlwdpdf/wpafbchem.pdf).
Glenda Browne of Blaxland, Australia, garnered the LITERATURE PRIZE "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" (Indexer 2001, 22, 119).
Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Kuo Cheng Hsieh, of Taichung, Taiwan, who won this year's ECONOMICS PRIZE for his 2001 patent of a device that catches bank robbers by dropping a net over them (U.S. patent #6,219,959). According to the patent, the device "looks like a storing box and is installed above the entrance of the business. When a robbery takes place and the system is activated, an infrared detecting device determines if a robber is in a zone beneath the storing box. A net, a curtain, and a plurality of barriers will drop down immediately and simultaneously. After a lifting motor is activated, the system traps the robber and suspends him above the floor."
Marc Abrahams, mastermind of the Ig Nobel Prizes, closed the ceremony with these words of wisdom: "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight—and especially if you did—better luck next year."
A recording of the ceremony can be viewed at www.improbable.com, and an edited version of the event will be broadcast on Friday, Nov. 23, as part of National Public Radio's "Science Friday."
This week's column was written by
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