News blog

Ig Nobel prizes honour science of ponytails, coffee spills, and dead salmon

Posted on behalf of Nicky Guttridge.

Diamonds made from ammunition, ponytail swishing and how to stop a medical patient from exploding: all of these were topics of genuine research celebrated yesterday evening at the Ig Nobel awards at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A parody of the Nobel prizes, the awards celebrate research in similar categories, including physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, literature and peace. They are given for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think”.

If you want to know how the natural curl in your hair affects the way your ponytail flicks, the winners of the 2012 Ig Nobel for physics have the answer. If the level of mental activity possessed by dead salmon is something that concerns you, you’re not alone — US researchers have looked into it, earning them a neuroscience prize (see ‘Study warns of red herrings in brain scan data‘).

The amusing topics continue, with awards going to papers focusing on why coffee spills as you walk (fluid dynamics), how to minimize the chance of a patient exploding during a colonoscopy operation (medicine) and whether or not chimpanzees can recognize each other from photographs of their rear ends (anatomy). The literature prize understandably went to the US Government General Accountability Office for “issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports”.

Other prizes went to research in how leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller, how to fashion diamonds out of old Russian ammunition, why residents of Anderslöv in Sweden may find their blonde hair turning green and the creation of the SpeechJammer, a device that plays your spoken words back to you with a tiny delay, confusing and disrupting your speech patterns.

One of the recipients of the Ig Nobel 2012 physics prize, Joseph Keller, was accidentally overlooked in 1999 for research he contributed to the engineering of a non-drip teapot spout. This was corrected this year, making him a two-time Ig Nobel laureate in physics.


Comments are closed.