Every year since 1990, people have gathered to watch Noble Prize winners hand out awards for improbable research.
The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.
This year’s ceremony was held last night, and prizes were awarded in a number of categories. Here is the list (with links to the original articles):
“Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells,” Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, vol. 7, no. 26, epub. March 23, 2012.
Our findings indicate that exposure to opera music, such as La traviata, could affect such aspects of the peripheral immune response as generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells and up-regulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines, resulting in prolonged allograft survival.
“‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive,” Laurent Bègue, Brad J. Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, Medhi Ourabah, British Journal of Psychology, epub May 15, 2012.
This research examines the role of alcohol consumption on self-perceived attractiveness. Study 1, carried out in a barroom (N= 19), showed that the more alcoholic drinks customers consumed, the more attractive they thought they were. In Study 2, 94 non-student participants in a bogus taste-test study were given either an alcoholic beverage (target BAL [blood alcohol level]= 0.10 g/100 ml) or a non-alcoholic beverage, with half of each group believing they had consumed alcohol and half believing they had not (balanced placebo design). After consuming beverages, they delivered a speech and rated how attractive, bright, original, and funny they thought they were. The speeches were videotaped and rated by 22 independent judges. Results showed that participants who thought they had consumed alcohol gave themselves more positive self-evaluations. However, ratings from independent judges showed that this boost in self-evaluation was unrelated to actual performance.
JOINT PRIZE IN BIOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY
“Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.
This finding represents the first convincing demonstration for the use of the starry sky for orientation in insects and provides the first documented use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom.
SAFETY ENGINEERING PRIZE
The late Gustano Pizzo [USA], for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers US Patent #3811643, Gustano A. Pizzo, “anti hijacking system for aircraft”, May 21, 1972.
An anti hijacking system for an airplane to be operated during flight. A partition or barrier located immediately aft of the pilots cabin is adapted to be raised dividing the aft section longitudinally into port and starboard areas, the floors of which are dropped on command to lower the hijacker into a capsule in the belly of the plane. The capsule is releasable through opened bomb bay doors having attached thereto a parachute for safely returning the hijacker within the capsule to earth.
“Humans Running in Place on Water at Simulated Reduced Gravity,” Alberto E. Minetti, Yuri P. Ivanenko, Germana Cappellini, Nadia Dominici, Francesco Lacquaniti, PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 7, 2012, e37300.
Using both theoretical models and experiments, here we find what combinations of stride frequency, gravity and mass allow a human to run on water like the Basilisk lizards and Western Grebes.
“Plant Biochemistry: An Onion Enzyme that Makes the Eyes Water,” S. Imai, N. Tsuge, M. Tomotake, Y. Nagatome, H. Sawada, T. Nagata and H. Kumagai, Nature, vol. 419, no. 6908, October 2002, p. 685.
The irritating lachrymatory factor that is released by onions when they are chopped up has been presumed to be produced spontaneously following the action of the enzyme alliinase, which operates in the biochemical pathway that produces the compounds responsible for the onion’s characteristic flavour. Here we show that this factor is not formed as a by-product of this reaction, but that it is specifically synthesized by a previously undiscovered enzyme, lachrymatory-factor synthase. It may be possible to develop a non-lachrymatory onion that still retains its characteristic flavour and high nutritional value by downregulating the activity of this synthase enzyme.
“Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton,” Peter W. Stahl and Brian D. Crandall, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 22, November 1995, pp. 789–97.
This study describes the results of an experiment involving the consumption of a skinned, eviscerated, and segmented insectivore by an adult human male. Bone remains from recovered faecal contents are examined for skeletal element representation, breakage and digestive damage. Detailed examination of each category suggests severe skeletal attrition which is comparable to, and at times in excess of, the damage exhibited in microvertebrate skeletal accumulations originating from the scats of small mammalian carnivores.
Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.
Anyway, once it became clear that clapping was dissent, clappers were rounded up. And like all thuggish regimes this one was not too particular about who it arrested. That included Konstantin Kaplin, who said he was convicted of “applauding in public” despite fairly conclusive evidence of innocence: he’s only got one arm. “The judge read out the charges [and] the police affirmed that I was applauding,” said the one-armed man. “The judge looked ashamed of herself,” he said, but she imposed the fine anyway.
A journalist was also quoted as saying that a mute woman had been charged with “shouting antigovernment slogans,” but there was no independent confirmation of that.
“Are Cows More Likely to Lie Down the Longer They Stand?” Bert J. Tolkamp, Marie J. Haskell, Fritha M. Langford, David J. Roberts, Colin A. Morgan, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 124, nos. 1-2, 2010, pp. 1–10.
These hypotheses were that (i) the probability of cows standing up would increase with the length of time the animal had been lying down and (ii) the probability of cows lying down would increase with the length of time the animal had been standing….
The probability of cows standing up within the next 15 min increased (P < 0.001) with lying time in all experiments, which was consistent with the first hypothesis. The probability of cows lying down within the next 15 min did not significantly increase with standing time. This lack of change in probability was not caused by pooling of data across day and night or across cows with different behavioural strategies. Our second hypothesis was, therefore, refuted because cows were not more likely to lie down the longer they had been standing.
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE
“Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam,” by Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, American Journal of Surgery, 1983, no. 146, pp. 376-382.
Thailand recently experienced an epidemic of penile amputations. These were usually performed by angry wives on philandering husbands. This outbreak appeared to have been fueled by graphic press reports and fortunately seems to have abated. A technique for reanastomosis of the amputated penile segment was first described by McRoberts et al  in 1968. It was modified further so that it can be performed in any general hospital with an acceptable result. Experience with this procedure in 18 patients has been described.
Note that not all the writing, research, or publication was conducted during the past year. For example, Mr. Pizzo’s patent was granted in 1972. The penis amputation epidemic in Thailand occurred in the late 1970s and early 80s, predating the Bobbitt incident by over 10 years.
The study of science can be an exciting endeavour, and even in the most mundane topics, never needs to be boring.