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Dung Beetle Navigation, Mouse Heart Patient Opera, and Shrew Swallowing Among The 2013 'Ig Nobel' Prizes [VIDEO]

credit: Stokkete via shutterstock.com

Coming a bit late this year, Improbable Research officially announced its 2013 list of Ig Nobel Prize winners on September 12 in its typically raucous fashion. Awarded annually for the past 23 years (with each new year being its “First Annual”), the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded to ” achievements that first make people LAUGH then make them THINK”.

Hosted by Ig Nobel Prize founder and Annals of Improbable Research magazine editor Marc Abrahams, the ever-lampooning yet oddly prestigious 2013 Ig Nobel Awards ceremony was  held at the Sanders Theater, Harvard University, to  its usual SRO house.

The  (usually) good-humored Ig Nobel recipients actually show up to claim their treasured trophies, where actual Nobel Prize winners — like Wolfgang Ketterle, Orhan Pamuk, and Paul Krugman — hand out awards for research in Medicine, Psychology, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Archeology, Biology, Astronomy (this year awarded jointly with Biology), Anatomy, Economics…as well as more novel Ig Nobel prizes for “Safety” Engineering (for capturing airline hijackers, no less), Public Health, Probability (you’ll have a cow over this one)…and even a Literature award (going to a beautifully redundant government report, as it often does) and yes, even an Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

The latter prize is perhaps the most mocking of such awards, given that its seldom-attending recipients tend not to be scientists, and tend to take “peace” a little too extremely. Case in point, this year’s Ig Nobel Peace Prize goes to Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding. (links preserved from the IR reference article, see link below).

blonsky_device_Fig1The evening is packed-filled with cerebral oddities and intellectual bemusements, some perhaps leaning to the more “gothic” or grotesque. To illustrate, this year’s ceremony also featured a world premier, “mini opera” entitled “The Blonsky Device” honoring the “life and work” of George and Charlotte Blonsky for their birth facilitating device (US patent #3216423, “APPARATUS FOR FACILITATING THE BIRTH OF A CHILD BY CENTRIFUGAL FORCE”). The husband and wife team were recipients of the Ig Nobel Award for Medicine in 1999.

Apropos to the mini-operatic theme, the performance also contained a one minute lecture on “The Biomechanical Forces Involved in Human Childbirth”, by Daniel Lieberman (co-winner of the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for physics, for explaining why pregnant women don’t tip over). Mini opera lyrics were written by Mr. Abrahams.

Other Nobel Laureates in attendance were: Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Eric Maskin (economics, 2007), Roy Glauber (physics, 2005), Frank Wilczek (physics, 2004)…most of whom are able to make the ceremony thanks to their work or residence at nearby Harvard University/Cambridge (nice having a talent pool so handy).

Obviously, a riotous good time was had by all. Don’t miss next year’s awards!

So, without further ado…

The following is the complete list of Award recipients (with description and links to their research), borrowed directly from the Improbable Research website (followed by an improbably amusing video clip from the ceremony)…

MEDICINE PRIZE: Masateru Uchiyama [JAPAN], Xiangyuan Jin [CHINA, JAPAN], Qi Zhang [JAPAN], Toshihito Hirai [JAPAN], Atsushi Amano [JAPAN], Hisashi Bashuda [JAPAN] and Masanori Niimi [JAPAN, UK], for assessing the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients who are mice.

REFERENCE: “Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells,” Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, vol. 7, no. 26, epub. March 23, 2012.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Masanori Niimi

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Laurent Bègue [FRANCE], Brad Bushman [USA, UK, the NETHERLANDS, POLAND], Oulmann Zerhouni [FRANCE], Baptiste Subra [FRANCE], and Medhi Ourabah [FRANCE], for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.

REFERENCE: “‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive,” Laurent Bègue, Brad J. Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, Medhi Ourabah, British Journal of Psychology, epub May 15, 2012.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Brad Bushman, Laurent Bègue, Medhi Ourabah

JOINT PRIZE IN BIOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY: Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz [SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

REFERENCE: “Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013. The authors, at Lund University, Sweden, the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, and the University of Pretoria

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Eric Warrant

SAFETY ENGINEERING PRIZE: The late Gustano Pizzo [USA], for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers — the system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane’s specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival. US Patent #3811643, Gustano A. Pizzo, “anti hijacking system for aircraft”, May 21, 1972.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Alberto Minetti [ITALY, UK, DENMARK, SWITZERLAND], Yuri Ivanenko [ITALY, RUSSIA, FRANCE], Germana Cappellini [ITALY], Nadia Dominici [ITALY, SWITZERLAND], and Francesco Lacquaniti [ITALY], for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon.

REFERENCE: “Humans Running in Place on Water at Simulated Reduced Gravity,” Alberto E. Minetti, Yuri P. Ivanenko, Germana Cappellini, Nadia Dominici, Francesco Lacquaniti, PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 7, 2012, e37300.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Alberto Minetti and Yuri Ivanenko

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Shinsuke Imai [JAPAN], Nobuaki Tsuge [JAPAN], Muneaki Tomotake [JAPAN], Yoshiaki Nagatome [JAPAN], Toshiyuki Nagata [JAPAN, GERMANY], and Hidehiko Kumgai [JAPAN], for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realized.

REFERENCE: “Plant Biochemistry: An Onion Enzyme that Makes the Eyes Water,” S. Imai, N. Tsuge, M. Tomotake, Y. Nagatome, H. Sawada, T. Nagata and H. Kumagai, Nature, vol. 419, no. 6908, October 2002, p. 685.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: All six co-authors.

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE: Brian Crandall [USA] and Peter Stahl [CANADA, USA], for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not.

REFERENCE: “Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton,” Peter W. Stahl and Brian D. Crandall, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 22, November 1995, pp. 789–97.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Brian Crandall

PEACE PRIZE: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

PROBABILITY PRIZE: Bert Tolkamp [UK, the NETHERLANDS], Marie Haskell [UK], Fritha Langford [UK, CANADA], David Roberts [UK], and Colin Morgan [UK], for making two related discoveries: First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and Second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.

REFERENCE: “Are Cows More Likely to Lie Down the Longer They Stand?” Bert J. Tolkamp, Marie J. Haskell, Fritha M. Langford, David J. Roberts, Colin A. Morgan, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 124, nos. 1-2, 2010, pp. 1–10.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Bert Tolkamp

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, for the medical techniques described in their report “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam” — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck. [THAILAND]

REFERENCE: “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam,” by Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, American Journal of Surgery, 1983, no. 146, pp. 376-382.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Nobel laureate Eric Maskin read aloud the acceptance speech sent by the winners.

Annals of  Improbable Research is wonderfully entertaining Magazine (note: I have no affiliation with the magazine). Please support their important work by subscribing

Watch this short clip from the Introductory Ceremonies of the 2013 Ig Nobel Prizes:

Top Photo: credit: Stokkete via shutterstock.com

Bottom Photo: The Blonsky Device (US patent #3216423, “APPARATUS FOR FACILITATING THE BIRTH OF A CHILD BY CENTRIFUGAL FORCE” via Improbable Research.com

 

 




3 comments
  1. Loretta Fisher

    Some of these are perfect examples of why people in my little hometown think high falutin academic types waste money on ridiculously obvious things.

  2. Loretta Fisher

    Some of these are perfect examples of why people in my little hometown think high falutin academic types waste money on ridiculously obvious things.

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      hi Loretta

      And yet, many years, the awardees are trying to answer/solve some long-standing question or puzzle (usually theoretical) and so, someone has to conduct what appears to be a simple or silly or obvious experiment to prove/disprove it…Your comment seems to apply as well to the Arts, where grant money goes to some rather questionable projects (like the performance artist who got an NEA grant for performance art piece in which she covers herself (naked) with chocolate sauce (meant to symbolize the “filth” / vulgar attitudes that men have towards women)….point being: there’s always some rationalization (from the artist’s or scientist’s perspective) for the work or experiment conducted.

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