Issue Date: September 24, 2012
2012 Ig Nobel Prizes
Research involving mysteriously dyed green hair, carrying coffee, and dead salmon all garnered accolades at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The event, which was held on Sept. 20 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, honors “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think.” Awardees were sniffed out by Marc Abrahams and the humor hounds at the Annals of Improbable Research.
Going green isn’t always a good thing—especially when it’s blond hair that’s taking on the new hue, as happened to some inhabitants of Anderslöv, Sweden, last year. Copper levels in the town’s water supply were normal.
Enter this year’s Ig Nobel chemistry prize winner, Johan Pettersson. Pettersson, an environmental engineer, determined that it was hot showers combined with the uncoated copper pipes in new homes that gave residents their emerald locks. As The Local, one of Sweden’s English-language newspapers, put it: “Inhabitants in the area who wish to avoid an involuntary dye must now wash their hair in cold water. Or move to an older house.”
For their groundbreaking 2012 paper, “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” (Phys. Rev. E, DOI: 10.1103/physreve.85.046117), Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans C. Mayer, engineers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, took home the fluid dynamics prize.
When a team of four psychologists published the very first research paper in the Journal of Serendipitous & Unexpected Results (2010, 1, 1), they surely had to know that their work was bound for Ig Nobel neuroscience prize glory. Led by Craig M. Bennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the team demonstrated that “brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere—even in a dead salmon.”
Russian firm SKN garnered the coveted Ig Nobel peace prize for creating nanodiamonds by blowing up old Russian ammunition.
The medicine prize this year went to France’s Emmanuel Ben-Soussan “for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode” (World J. Gastroenterol.,2007,13, 5295).
A study titled "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller" (Psych. Sci., DOI: 10.1177/0956797611420731) won its authors—Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, and Tulio Guadalupe, all based in the Netherlands—the Ig Nobel psychology prize.
And the Government Accountability Office took home the literature prize “for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports” (GAO-12–480R).
For their creation of the SpeechJammer (arxiv.org/abs/1202.6106), “a machine that disrupts a person’s speech by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay,” Japan’s Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada won the acoustics prize.
The physics prize went to a group of physicists and mathematicians, based in the U.S. and England, who studied the movement of ponytails (Phys. Rev. Lett., DOI:10.1103/physrevlett.108.078101 and SIAM J. Appl. Math., DOI: 10.1137/090760477).
Finally, Emory University’s Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny garnered the anatomy prize “for discovering that chimpanzees can identify specific other chimpanzees from seeing photographs of their rear ends” (Adv. Sci. Lett., DOI: 10.1166/asl.2008.006).
If you want to catch the Ig Nobel ceremony in its entirety, you can watch a recording at youtube.com/improbableresearch. And if you still haven’t gotten enough improbable research, check out Abrahams’ new book, “This Is Improbable.”
Bethany Halford wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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