The nation can hold its head up high. Once again, Britons have been honoured in the annual Ig Nobel awards ceremony, the second most important event on the scientific calendar. The Ig Nobels, or Igs, are an annual exercise in irreverence that celebrate research that “cannot, or should not, be repeated”. They are given to scientists whose results first make people laugh, and then make them think.
The ceremony took place at Harvard University on Thursday, with the coveted prizes handed out by real Nobel laureates. This year’s recipients were allowed no more than 60 seconds to deliver their acceptance speech, a time limit enforced by an eight-year-old girl.
The event is hosted by the Harvard-based journal Annals of Improbable Research, and is timed to coincide with the far more lucrative and legitimate Nobels, which are due to be announced in Stockholm next week. The Ig Nobel awards were:
Veterinary medicine prize: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson at Newcastle University’s school of agriculture share the award for the groundbreaking discovery that giving cows names such as Daisy increases their milk yield.
“It’s the highlight of my career,” said Ms Douglas. “The work amused the public, but it addressed a serious issue about the welfare of animals and points to an easy way to improve yields by reducing stress in cattle.”
Peace prize: Awarded for research on whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full beer bottle or an empty one, the prize went to Stephan Bolliger and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “Empty beer bottles are sturdier than full ones,” the researchers reported. “However, both full and empty bottles are theoretically capable of fracturing the human neurocranium.”
Public health prize: Awarded to Elena Bodnar of Hinsdale, Illinois, for patenting a bra that, in an emergency, can be converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the owner and one for a needy bystander. “This way, the mask is always readily available,” she said.
Medicine prize: To Donald Unger, a doctor in Thousand Oaks, California, who cracked the knuckles of his left hand, but never those on his right, every day for 60 years to investigate whether it caused arthritis. Mr. Unger, now 83, told the Guardian: “After 60 years, I looked at my knuckles and there’s not the slightest sign of arthritis. I looked up to the heavens and said: ‘Mother, you were wrong, you were wrong, you were wrong.”’
Chemistry prize: Javier Morales shares the award with two colleagues at the National University of Mexico for turning the national drink, tequila, into diamonds. Thin films of diamond were produced by heating 80 per cent-proof tequila blanco in a pressure vessel.
Biology prize: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University graduate school of medical sciences in Japan share the prize for demonstrating that kitchen waste can be reduced by more than 90 per cent by using bacteria extracted from giant panda excrement.
Mr. Taguchi suspected panda faeces must contain bacteria capable of breaking down even the hardiest of foods because of the bear’s vast consumption of bamboo.
Mathematics prize: Awarded to Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple way of dealing with a wide range of numbers. Mr. Gono ordered his bank to print notes with denominations ranging from one cent to one hundred trillion dollars.
Literature prize: Awarded to the entire police force of Ireland for issuing more than 50 penalties to a man they supposed to be the most persistent driving offender in the country: a Mr. Prawo Jazdy, whose name in Polish means “driver’s licence”.
An investigation held earlier this year revealed officers had mistakenly taken down the wrong details from motorists’ documents.
Economics prize: Awarded to 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”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009