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Ignored accomplishments

By Denebola
Published: October 2007
By Ally BernsteinWhile Al Gore recently won a Nobel Prize for his work promoting environmental awareness, he was not the only Peace Prize winner this year. The Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio won a similar prize. The biggest difference is that the latter won their prize for suggesting the research and development of the “gay bomb. In theory, the gay bomb causes the enemy troops to become so overcome with sexual attraction for each other that they are unable to fight. For this brilliant development, the Air Force Wright Laboratory won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize.
Every year, the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded to the achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are presented annually in an official ceremony at Harvard University. A few days later, the Ig Informal Lectures are given at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.The Informal Lectures are free and open to the general public. This year, the Lectures took place on October 4, and the auditorium brimmed with an eager audience.
Unfortunately, a few of the winners were not present, including any representative from the Air Force Wright Laboratory. Also absent were the recipients of the Ig Nobel Physics, Economics, and Linguistics Prizes.
The Physics Prize went to a scientific team who conducted a study of how sheets become wrinkled, while the Economics Prize went to a man from Taiwan who invented a clever device to protect banks from robbers. The device drops a net on criminals as they try to escape.
The Linguistics Prize went to an international team that had determined that rats cannot always detect the difference between Dutch and Japanese when both languages are played backwards.
The day started off with Marc Abrahams, the editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, introducing the guests and selecting two timekeepers from the audience, both of whom were equipped with cell phones. The job of the first timekeeper was to phone the second timekeeper at regular intervals, while the second timekeeper would announce the remaining time left. Each winner was allowed a scant five minutes to explain their research. If they exceeded the allotted time, the second timekeeper would announce that someone was on the phone for the speaker before ushering them off the stage.
The first talk was given by an annual presenter, C.W. Moeliker, of the Netherlands. His curious achievement was documenting the first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. This report was published with pictures and netted him the prize for Biology in 2003.
Abrahams then announced the winners of the Aviation Prize, which was given out for the first time this year. Patricia Agostino, Santiago Plano, and Diego Golombekhad conducted a study on jetlag, and after identifying a chemical that helps the biological clock adjust more quickly, they realized that it was one of the chemicals present in Viagra.
Upon feeding the prescription drug to test hamsters, they discovered that Viagra does help hamsters recover from jetlag more quickly. The team was only slightly flustered when an audience member asked which one of them gave up their Viagra prescription for the experiment.
The Australian Glenda Browne described a brief history of indexing and why the word “the is so important. This study of the word “the gave her the Literature Prize. Brian Wansink created a bowl of soup that slowly refilled to track people’s mindless eating, winning the Nutrition Prize.
In his report, he polled 100 French people and 100 Chicagoans about their eating habits. The French people said that they stopped eating when the food was cold, when the food no longer tasted good, or when they were full. The Chicagoans said that they stopped eating when everyone else had stopped eating, when their plate was clear, or when the television show that they were watching was over.
When biologist Johanna van Bronswijk took the stand to describe the study she had done of the millions of mites that live in your bed, she displayed a slight distaste for the award that she had won. She explained that tiny organisms are so common that her Ig Nobel Prize showed how ignorant most people are of the microscopic world. In good humor, however, her report was titled “You Never Sleep Alone.
Mayu Yamamota traveled from Japan to lecture on how she extracted the molecule vanillin (vanilla flavor and fragrance) from cow dung to win the Chemistry Prize. She explained that there is a serious pollution problem in Japan, and she sought a way to improve the smell. Although Yamamota stated that she had no intention to market the vanilla flavor extracted from cow dung, Toscanini’s has named a new ice cream flavor “Yum-a-moto Vanilla Twist in her honor.
The last presentation given at the Ig Informal Lectures was perhaps the most fascinating, as it included a live demonstration. The winners of the Medical Prize, Dan Meyer and Brian Witcombe, had published a report on the side effects of sword-swallowing. Meyer himself is a veteran sword-swallower and even swallowed multiple swords for the audience. He invited Abrahams’ wife, Robin Abrahams, to pull one sword out of his mouth.
Upon hearing that pulling the sword out too slowly would cause Meyer to choke and pulling it out too quickly could lacerate his spinal column, Abrahams refused to pull out the sword. Happily, van Bronswijk volunteered to remove the sword, and thankfully there were no accidents.
Although the Ig Nobel Prize is merely a spoof of the Nobel Prize, the research completed was all real. The prizes serve to encourage a type of creative and outlandish thinking that is not always rewarded in the scientific community. So as Abrahams said, “Celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative, because you never know if that extra knowledge might come in handy.

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