October 10, 2006

It ain't no Everest

"Because it was there" is Mallory's famous reason for climbing Everest. It still puzzles people why some people do certain things, if the only possible reason is "just because".

Recently the 2006 Ig-Nobel prizes were awarded at Harvard. Ig-Nobels are for research that " first make people laugh, and then make them think" - or as most peope just say are silly and useless, but make for very interesting dinner conversation. I learnt about the Ig-Nobels when Dr Karl won one for belly lint research. When I went in last month to discuss Honours with one of my university lecturers, she said that some people think that their first grad-school project should be something that will win the a Nobel Prize. I don't know about that being true for me, but I reckon I could aim for one of these. Here's a list of this years winners:

  • ORNITHOLOGY: "Why woodpeckers don't get headaches", Ivan Schwab (University of California, Davis) and the late Philip May (University of California, Los Angeles).
  • NUTRITION: "Dung beetles are finicky eaters", Wasmia Al-Houty (Kuwait University) and Faten Al-Mussalam (Kuwait Environment Public Authority).
  • PEACE: An electromechanical teenager repellant — a device that makes annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers, Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.
  • ACOUSTICS: "Why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard", D. Lynn Halpern (Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Brandeis University and Northwestern University), Randolph Blake (Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University) and James Hillenbrand (Western Michigan University and Northwestern University)
  • MATHEMATICS: Calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed, Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes (Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization).
  • LITERATURE: "Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly", Daniel Oppenheimer (Princeton University).
  • MEDICINE: "Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage", Francis Fesmire (University of Tennessee College of Medicine), Majed Odeh (Bnai Zion Medical Center), Harry Bassan (Bnai Zion Medical Center) and Arie Oliven (Bnai Zion Medical Center).
  • PHYSICS: "Why, when you bend dry spaghetti, it often breaks into more than two pieces", Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch (University of Pierre and Marie Curie).
  • CHEMISTRY: "Ultrasonic velocity in cheddar cheese as affected by temperature.", Antonio Mulet (University of Valencia), José Javier Benedito (University of Valencia), José Bon (University of Valencia) and Carmen Rosselló (University of Illes Balears).
  • BIOLOGY: "The female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet", Bart Knols (Wageningen Agricultural University, Tanzania's National Institute for Medical Research and the International Atomic Energy Agency) and Ruurd de Jong (Wageningen Agricultural University and Santa Maria degli Angeli).
Yes. This is for real. You can look at the past winners here. They include oddities such as 2003 Biology winner, a Dutchman who documented "the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck." Yes, that says what you think it says. Also this awesome, if annoying, alarm clock. And there's a giant poster of penises, but I don't really think it would be tasteful to link that (plus its 404ed).

The world truly is an amazing place.

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