Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brainiacs Just Wanta Have Fun

Thought for the day:  Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.  [Albert Einstein]

Some people believe science is boring, and think scientists have no sense of humor. Not me.

Most people are aware of the brilliance of Einstein's mind, but didja know he was also very witty? After all, he didn't just delve into relativity and declare that E=MC2. He also said,

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty woman is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.  

Yep, the same imagination and curiosity that leads people to pursue scientific endeavors very often fuels a keen sense of humor, as well. And nothing supports this notion better than the Ig Nobel awards.

Remember them?

Ig Nobel's official mascot, The Stinker
I wrote about 'em last year. If you missed that post, you can find it here

Or, I can simply do a quick recap.

These annual awards, whose purpose is to first make people laugh, and then to make them think, are the brainchild of Marc Abraham, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.  Ten awards are presented each year at an irreverent ceremony held at Harvard University's Sanders Hall, and although the tongue-in-cheek event is full of hilarity, satire, and tossed paper airplanes, some of the seemingly trivial research highlighted there can and does lead to important discoveries. For example, the 2006 award in Biology went to scientists who discovered some malaria-causing mosquitoes are just as attracted to limburger cheese as they are to human feet. Yeah, I've known some people whose feet smell like stinky cheese, too, so this study is worthy of a snicker or two, but the study also led to mosquito traps being baited with limburger cheese to help combat malaria.

The essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer. [Jacob Bronowski]

Scientists from all over the world gathered last week for this year's 22nd annual ceremony, and as always, the awards were presented by world-reknown Nobel laureates. As a point of interest, see that frog in the picture? He's alive, and he's being levitated magnetically. Cool, huh? In 2000, that unusual research into frog levitation earned Andre Geim and Sir Michael Berry an Ig Nobel in Physics. Ten years later, Geim won an honest-to-goodness Nobel prize in Physics for his work on graphene. He's the first to win both an Ig and a Nobel, but I doubt he'll be the last.

Facts are the air of scientists. Without them,  you can never fly.  [Linus Pauling]

Without further ado, I present to you (ta-DA!) the 2012 Ig Nobel winners:

 PSYCHOLOGY-  A team of scientists from the Netherlands and Peru won for their research, entitled Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.

PEACE- This one went to Russian SKN Company for converting old Russian ammunition into nano-diamonds. (WOW! That's even better than turning swords into ploughs!)

ACOUSTICS- Ever been in a meeting or presentation where you wished someone would Just. Stop. Talking? Two Japanese researchers came up with the perfect solution. Their machine, called a Speech Jammer, disrupts a person's speech by enabling him to hear his own time-delayed voice. The speaker is so discombobulated by the effect, He. Just. Shuts. Up.

Basic research is like shooting an arrow into the air and where it lands, painting a target.  [Homer Adkins]

NEUROSCIENCE- A U.S. team showed that if brain researchers used the right statistical tricks, they could measure meaningful brain activity just about anywhere ... even in dead fish.

CHEMISTRY- This award went to a team who discovered why the hair of blondes living in a certain Swedish town turned green.

LITERATURE- Although no one showed up at the ceremony to accept this particular prize, (Gee, I wonder why?) it was awarded to the U.S. Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends (you guessed it!) the preparation of another report about the reports about reports.

You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.  [Mark Twain]

PHYSICS- Ever wonder why, when a woman with a ponytail jogs, essentially an up-and-down motion, her ponytail swings from side to side? A team of U.S. and British researchers won a prize for exploring the forces governing the shape and movement in a human ponytail.

Nothing can travel at the speed of light, they say, forgetful of the shadow's speed.  [Howard Nemerov]

FLUID DYNAMICS- This award went to a U.S. team who studied the dynamics of sloshing. Specifically, exactly what causes your cup of coffee to slop over when you carry it? (Other than clumsiness, that is.)

ANATOMY- Researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. pooled resources to discover chimpanzees can identify other chimps from pictures. Not just ANY pictures, mind you, but pictures of their backsides. HUH! I don't know why that should come as such a surprise. Some men are like that, too. I mean ...

The world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle, wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it.  [Thomas Carlyle]

MEDICINE- The tenth, and final award, went to French scientists, who came up with a way to reduce the risk of causing an explosion while performing a colonoscopy. Really? I mean, REALLY??? (I always wondered why a hazmat team stood by when I was having those procedures ...)

Marc Abraham ended this year's ceremony just as he has every year ... by saying, If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize this year--- and especially if you did--- better luck next time.

Wanta hear a little more about these awards? Take it away, Mr. Abraham! (And, yeah, that IS a brassiere he's holding ...)

                      When I die, I'm leaving my body to science fiction.  [Steven Wright]

                                                              Me, too.

                             Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. Fire the arrow, and paint the target later? I wish I'd thought about that in my brief golf playing days!

  2. I wonder where one might purchase a Speech Jammer? I could put it to good use.

    So - - why exactly DID the hair of blondes in a certain Swedish town turn green? Ingesting too much pea soup and broccoli??

  3. Lol the news media reported the Dutch scientists won a Nobel prize! I love the topics of some of these projects! Can you just imagine how they come up with these things? "Hey, I have a great research project idea! Let's take pictures of butts!"
    "I am all for!"
    "Chimp butts!"
    "Uh, ok. Why?"
    "To see if chimps recognize each other's asses!"
    "Uhhhh did you take your pill today?"

  4. Why did the Swedes hair turn green?

  5. LOL! Thanks for another illuminating post.

  6. The Run EMC pic made me laugh out loud. Also love the kitty with the beret.

    I hadn't seen the previous post so I'm glad to catch up with these awards now LOL. :D

  7. I'm all for science, but it does sometimes seem like a few brilliant minds could be put to better use than discovering why a pony tail bobs up and down when a woman runs. Of course, I'm probably missing the deeper mechanical/physics-based importance of such a movement. The discovery of this secret force will probably fuel the next generation of cars! :PP

  8. Cro- Yeah, painting the target after the arrow's been shot would make things a lot easier, wouldn't it? Kinda reminds me of some of the medical researchers I worked with: they'd initiate a research project with the express purpose of proving a predetermined answer. Any data that didn't support their "answer" was discarded.

    Jon- I think we could ALL use one of those Speech Jammers from time to time. Nope, the Swedes didn't eat too much green food; the problem was in their plumbing. The copper piping wasn't properly sealed in a bunch of newly-buiilt houses, so when hot water sat in the pipes overnight, copper seeped into it. Copper is a natural green dye, so when those blondes took a shower in the morning, the high concentration of copper in the hot water (measured 5X the usual amount) made their hair turn grass green.

    Sylvia- HA! I love your scenario.

    Suze- The Swedes lived in new houses, and it turned out, the copper pipes in those house weren't properly coated. Because of seepage, when hot water sat in the pipes overnight, the concentration of copper in that water grew to five times the usual amount. Copper has a natural dying effect, so when those unsuspecting blondes took their morning showers, they came out with green hair. VERY green hair.

    Linda- My pleasure. Like every dim bulb, my goal is to spread as much light as I can.

    Julie- Glad you liked the pics. They cracked me up, too.

    L.G.- Sometimes, it's really hard to imagine a practical application for the info scientists gain from some of their research. As for the ponytail study, one thing that will come from it is a more realistic depiction of the way hair moves in animated graphics. Yeah, I know. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

  9. Arleen- Yeah, me too. I can think of a lot of situations where it'd come in mighty handy.

  10. Instructive and enjoyable post, Susan! Much interested by Geim's and Berry's levitation of a tree frog. Only the ones around here aren't much bothered by gravity to begin with. But if those boys could levitate my giant cousin Jack I'd give them a prize. Give them another one if they couldn't get him back down.

  11. There's so much in this post that I can't think where to start. Guess my brain activity is on the same level as the dead fish--that piece of information is going into my notes!

    As to my body, when I'm through with it, it can go anywhere it wants, so science fiction might be the choice it makes. I'm taking my brain and donating it to a fish.

    Loved the post.

  12. Now I see why everyone avoids a colonoscopy, I am definitely going to remember this one :)

  13. Geo- HA! There are a few people I wouldn't mind levitating for a bit, too.

    Cleemckenzie- Glad ya liked it. I'll be on the look-out for a dead fish in your next book.

    Jimmy- That one about preventing a colonoscopy explosion got to me, too.(Gives a whole meaning to "blow it out yer arse.")

  14. I love the ignoble awards!
    Most of the projects leading to awards probably "seemed a good idea at the time"

  15. Al- I think there may be a distinct possibility that some of these projects were conceived while under the influence of an adult beverage. Or a whole bunch of 'em.

  16. I love it, and yes, I have wondered why those pony tails swing like that. Now if someone would invent a mechanism that would automatically mutes the TV when the advertisements start blaring at ear deafening decibels.

  17. I love it, and yes, I have wondered why those pony tails swing like that. Now if someone would invent a mechanism that would automatically mutes the TV when the advertisements start blaring at ear deafening decibels.

  18. Einstein would be laughing his arse off. These are fab!!!

  19. Barb- You're in luck. Nobody's invented an automatic mute for those blaring commercials, BUT a new law will be going into effect in December making it illegal for advertisers to blast commercials any louder than the regular programming. (YAY!)

    Laura- I think he would, too. Glad ya liked 'em.

  20. Would it be sacrilegious to use a speech jammer in church?


  21. oh my much information here! I am feeling pretty out of it, because I did not know any of it!!

  22. Janie- Not if the sermon is too bloody long.

    Annmarie- No need to feel out of it. Most people don't know about these prizes. That's why it's so much fun for a nerd like me to write about them.