02 October 2009

British Triumph at the 2009 IgNobels

It is always a pleasure to report British triumphs at international award ceremonies. It is thus with great pride that I can report a home victory in the second most prestigious scientific awards in the world. I am referring of course to the IgNobels or Igs which 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.

Guardian Big Awards and humungous celebrities correspondent reported from yesterday’s ceremony which was hosted by the journal Annals of Improbable Research and took place at Harvard University. The coveted prizes were handed out by real Nobel laureates. Recipients were allowed no more than 60 seconds to deliver their acceptance speech, a time limit enforced by an eight-year-old girl.

Veterinary medicine prize

There was a British triumph in this category which was won Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University's school of agriculture. They shared 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 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. "It was inspired by the Chernobyl nuclear accident," said Bodnar, who is originally from Ukraine. "This way, the mask is always readily available."

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. 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%-proof tequila blanco in a pressure vessel.

Physics prize

Awarded to Katherine Whitcome at the University of Cincinnati and colleagues for a detailed explanation of why pregnant women do not topple over. "Pregnancy presents an enormous challenge for the female body," Whitcome explained. "It turns out that enhanced curvature and reinforcement of the lower spine are key to maintaining normal activities during pregnancy."

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% by using bacteria extracted from giant panda excrement. 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. 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".

Ach who needs the real Nobel prizes!


A Doubtful Egg said...

Who needs Beckett when you've the Irish police? A proud day for my homeland! (The Literature Prize could also go to the hysterical No campaign to Lisbon run by ultra-Catholic nutters Coir, though.)

jams o donnell said...

Ah Egg the Irish blood in me is as proud! I've not see their literature. Wasn't that the one formed by an ex provo turned religious nutter?

jmb said...

Diamonds into tequila. Not that is what a girl would just love to do, not. LOL

Claude said...

RE: Veterinary Prize. Knatolee would have told them it works on chickens too. That's why she whispers to them, and gives them names. To get more eggs, of course. Not milk!!!!

Liz Hinds said...

Oh wonderful!

I love the knuckle one and Daisy. Nsming cars doesn't seem to make them work better though.

jams o donnell said...

DDefinitely not diamons in a tequila slammer kmb!

TrueClaudia, Knatolee is the chicken whisprer!

I call my car bastard, Liz. It doesn't make it go any better but it makes me feel better!

James Higham said...

The naming of cows should surely have led to a research grant of millions.

jams o donnell said...

If there were any justice James!

Steve Hayes said...

Speaking of Mt Prawo Jazdy, i think I qualify.

I remember driving through Bologna, and wondering why all roads seemed to led to Senso Unico, and thought it must be a conference of an organisation attached to the United Nations (similar to Unicef) being held in the town.

I later discovered that it meant "One way".

susan said...

I'm glad you posted the list since I'd only seen the bra/gas-mask one. At least I know the one that would fit me would save the lives of a pair of tiny babies.

You have a fine blog and I'm glad you found mine because now I know how to get back here. The story written by the Sri Lankin journalist was amazing and very, very sad.

jams o donnell said...

Haha Steve, I love it!

Thanks Susan. I'm glad you like the blog. I'll definitely be back to Phantsythat

A Free Man said...

It is good to see that British academia is bearing up well without my contribution.

jams o donnell said...

That's a huge relief AFM!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

All well deserved!

jams o donnell said...