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October 07, 2006

Ig Nobel Prizes 2006

At about the same time that the Nobel Prize winners of this year have been announced the 'Ig Nobel Prizes' have been awarded as well to ten achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think". This year's prizes fulfill these criteria easily.

  • The first one goes to scientists from the University of California Los Angeles for explaining why woodpeckers, to be more specific the pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) don't get headaches. I must admit I have often wondered about that myself when sitting in the garden and watching the woodpeckers having a go at the trees for hours on end. This specific woodpecker strikes the surface of a tree at a rate of up to 20 times a second and up to 12 000 times a day. Acceleration forces are as high as 1200 g with each impact. But the bird is well equipped for this work and easily avoids headaches, internal haemorrage or even retinal detachments by the construction of its head. You might like to read up on this yourself.
  • The second award is awarded for a detailed insight into the eating habits of adult dung beetles (Scarabaeus cristatus). The beetles consume te fluid components from dung and bury dung as food deposits for their larvae. They showed a marked preference for the more fluid horse dung compared to sheep and camel dung. Indeed, and who wouldn't prefer the juicier food when having to live in a desert or at least desertlike environment?
  • Now, Peace Ig Nobel Prize is a really interesting one. It is awarded for inventing a teenager repellant - an electromechanical device that makes annoying noises, whose frequencies can only be picked up by the more sensitive teenage ears. Adults are not bothered by them at all. I wonder, when these devices will be commercially available. I would sometimes like to have a go myself when going by public transport. Just think how quickly you would have the bus to yourself and peace restored ....
  • Some specialists in acoustics have found out why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. More information about that can be found in Psychoacoustics of a Chilling sound. Aarrgh - gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
  • You can always rely on the mathematicians to come up with something really useful. This year they are awareded an Ig Nobel Prize for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. The article about 'Blink-Free Photos' is well worth reading. Aren't they a bit late, though? In the age of digital photography and useful tools like Photoshop and GIMP?
  • Princeton University takes the prize for literature this year with a paper called 'Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly'. It is about people trying to appear more clever and intelligent in their publications by needlessly using long words and complex expressions in an attempt to make it sound more scientific. I wonder where thy got the idea for this study from? I always had the highest respect for those of my professors who could explain complex things in simple words.
  • The award for Medicine might come in useful, too, one day. Try this http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve if you want to find out more about the 'Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage'.
  • The Physic's award goes to France this years for finding out why dry spaghetties don't simply break in half http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/index.html. Mausi has already written upon this highly intriguing phenomenon earlier this year.
  • My favourite award in 2006, however, is the one for chemistry. Scientists from two Spanish Universities have investigated the 'Ultasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature'. I wonder, why do they examine British Chesse in Spain? Don't they have cheese of their own? And why would you like to knoe about ultrasonic velocity in cheese anyway? To decide whether it would make an effective earplug at different temperatures (winter, summer, inside, outside)? I think there's still a lot of research left to be done ...
  • Last but not least the Ig Noble Prize for Biology goes to the Netherlands for doing research on the responses of female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae (Diptera: Culicidae) to Limburger cheese volatiles. Mind you, Limburger cheese has a tendency to turn runny very easily at slightly elevated temperatures. How would you keep it enticing to mosquitos in the warm and humid climate of Malaria countries?
  • Hope, you enjoyed this list as much as I did. I am certainly very much lookin forward to next year's winners. By the way, the presentation of the awards is organised by the 'Annals of Improbable Research' (AIR), a journal well worth reading.

    Posted by Mausi at October 7, 2006 01:50 PM

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