Why plow through years of graduate school, labor nights and weekends, abandon your family in the name of science? Because one day, if you’re very lucky, your work may be recognized by some prestigious international award committee. If you’re only kind of lucky, though, you still might be able to snag an Ig Nobel.
This year’s esteemed spoof awards went to a range of research, papers and patents that met the tight criteria: “First make people laugh, and then make them think.” Among the winners was the Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, which swept the Peace category for its research into a harmless, but doubtless hilarious, “gay bomb.” The weapon, laden with aphrodisiac chemicals, would presumably make enemy soldiers so irresistible to one another that they would drop their weapons in favor of dropping trou. Oddly, no one attended to accept the prize.
Other winners ran the gamut from food science (who knew you could extract vanilla from cow dung?) to medicine (who knew sword swallowing could cause a sore throat?). For the full list of science winners, launch the gallery. But to get you in the right frame of mind, you may first want to check out the highly informative keynote speech below.
Not only did Mayu Yamamoto figure out the cow-dung/vanilla connection (synthetic vanillin is made by breaking down the chemical lignin–guess what contains a bunch of lingin?), she got an ice cream flavor created in her honor. If you’re in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area, hit up Toscanini’s Ice Cream for a pint of Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist. Don’t ask what the twist is.
Brian Wansink of Cornell University studied “mindless eating” and how it pertains to obesity by building a truly bottomless soup bowl–hidden tubes snaked in from beneath the counter kept the bowls full no matter how much the unknowing test subjects spooned into their mouths. Those eating from Wansink’s trick bowls consumed 70 percent more soup than normal.
Inventor Hsieh Kuo-cheng captured top honors in the Economics category for his refreshingly old-timey approach to capturing bank robbers: Drop a giant net on the crook from the bank’s ceiling before he has a chance to get away. Once the system is activated, an infrared camera monitors the zone beneath the net, triggering it as soon as someone crosses the threshold. And here we thought giant nets only worked in cartoons. Check out the patent application here.
Damn these sheets and their propensity to wrinkle! L. Mahadevan’s and Enrique Cerda Villablanca’s theory of wrinkling won them the Physics award. Buried deep in their papers–which include “Elements of Draping,” “Wrinkling of an Elastic Sheet under Tension” and the always classic “Geometry and Physics of Wrinkling”–is a nonlinear equation that explains how sheets wrinkle. Unfortunately for you, there’s still very little you can do to prevent wrinklage other than shutting off the lights.
From the “stuff we’re better off not knowing too much about” category, Dutch scientist Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk captured the Biology prize for her tireless study of the assorted microscopic critters–insects, spiders, crustaceans, fungi, bacteria, the whole shebang–that live in our beds. In her acceptance speech, Bronwijk reminded the attendees that no matter how lonely they may be, they never truly “sleep alone.” Gee, thanks.
Here’s what rats can do: understand that Japanese and Dutch are different. Here is what rats cannot do: understand that Japanese and Dutch are different when spoken backward. Well, we all have our limitations. Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles scooped an Ig for discovering just how far rodent intelligence extended.
Aviation Proving that we have only just begun to uncover Viagra’s full potential, a trio of researchers at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Argentina discovered that hamsters subjected to artificial jet-lag conditions (don’t ask) were better able to readjust their circadian rhythms after being dosed with everyone’s favorite ED drug. Try it on your next long-haul flight!
And finally, illustrating that the U.S. government will do anything to protect its citizens in a time of war, a non-lethal weaponry plan developed by the Air Force Wright Laboratory bagged the Peace category for the “gay bomb,” a weapon designed to douse enemy soldiers with superpowered pheromones in the hope that they would drop their weapons and focus on their now “sexually irresistible” foxhole mates instead.
Guess what? Sword swallowing can lead to throat problems. Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer garnered an Ig for “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects.” At left: Radiographs of four gastroesophageal junctions; and Meyer shoves seven swords down his gullet despite his findings that multiple knives can cause a sore throat. Bad doctor.