NPR

Ig Nobel Prizes Celebrate Somewhat Suspect Science

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor scientific research that, in the words of Master of Ceremonies Marc Abrahams, "first makes you laugh, and then makes you think." This year's prizes, awarded in late September, include citations for research into mysteriously green hair, potentially explosive colonoscopies, and the creation of equations that model the back-and-forth swing of a ponytail in motion.

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. What do mysteriously green hair, the hairy physics of ponytail motion, and measuring the universe for a dress fitting, what do they all have in common? It could only be the Ig Nobel Prizes. Coming up on this post-Thanksgiving edition of SCIENCE FRIDAY, highlights from the annual prize ceremony honoring strange, silly and sometimes serious science.

We won't be taking your calls today, so please don't try to phone in. Instead, grab another slice of pie and sit back for a trip to the Igs. The prizes were awarded in a Nobel-studded gala ceremony at Harvard's Sanders Theater in late September.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudo-intellectuals, quasi-pseudo-intellectuals, and temporary residents of the universe, may I introduce our master of ceremonies, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, chief airhead Marc Abrahams.

(APPLAUSE)

MARC ABRAHAMS: Good evening, we are gathered here tonight to honor some remarkable individuals and groups. Each winner has done something that first makes people laugh and then makes them think. The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony is produced by the science humor magazine the Annals of Improbable Research, and it's proudly co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, the Harvard Computer Society, and by the new book "This Is Improbable," ISBN 9781851689316, by, well, me.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The editors of the Annals of Improbable Research have chosen a theme for this year's ceremony. That theme is the universe.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: I say the universe.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Now, Professor Jean Berko Gleason will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel Welcome Welcome Speech.

(APPLAUSE)

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: Welcome. Welcome.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The keynote address will be given by a leader of the team that was awarded the 2011 Nobel Physics Prize for measuring aspects of the size and shape of the universe. Today...

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: ...he will explain to us everything about the universe. Please welcome Harvard astronomy professor Robert Kirshner.

(APPLAUSE)

ROBERT KIRSHNER: The universe.

(APPLAUSE)

KIRSHNER: Introducing the universe requires a voice that conveys its size and age. The universe began in a hot Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. What is the evidence? Galaxies rush away from each other as the universe expands. And here are relics of the Big Bang. As the universe cooled, protons and neutrons, baryons to their friends, stuck together to make helium nuclei. And when you inhale this relic...

(LAUGHTER)

KIRSHNER: ...of the - when you inhale this relic of the Big Bang, it's hard to use your voice to convey the size and age of the universe.

(APPLAUSE)

KIRSHNER: Distant supernova explosions show that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. We attribute this to a mysterious dark energy, antigravity, associated with empty space itself. Opposing this acceleration is the gravitational tug from equally mysterious dark matter. The present situation is usually symbolized by a pie graph.

(LAUGHTER)

KIRSHNER: Here, in an excessive display of verisimilitude, we use a real pie - pumpkin. Now, about two-thirds of the universe, over here, is dark energy. About one-quarter is dark matter. And that leaves about five percent baryon. This thin slice, about four percent I should have said, represents the baryons that make up all the gas, all the galaxies, all the stars, all the planets, and all the people. Baryons are the most interesting and tastiest part of the universe.

(APPLAUSE)

KIRSHNER: I am proud to be made of baryons. Now, let me conclude by listing some excellent features of this universe, the one we live in. The expansion of this universe is just right. If it were too fast, galaxies would never form, stars would not fuse hydrogen and helium into the carbon we're made of, the silicon in our iPhones, the iron in our blood, there would be no planets, no people, no Ig Nobel Prizes, and no Miss Sweetie Poo...

MISS SWEETIE POO: I'm bored, please stop. I'm bored, please stop. I'm bored, please stop...

KIRSHNER: Before you go to bed each night, say thank you to the Big Bang.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALLOON POPPING; APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Several past winners of the Ig Nobel Prize have come back to take a bow and to help honor the new Ig Nobel winners. Please welcome them.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: First, the winner of the 2006 Medicine Prize for his medical case report "Termination of Intractable Hiccups With Digital Rectal Massage," Dr. Francis Fesmire.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The winner of the 1994 Medicine Prize, two doctors shared that prize with a man known as Patient X. Patient X was the victim of a venomous bite from his pet rattlesnake. Upon being bitten by that snake, Patient X instructed a friend to apply electroshock therapy. At Patient X's own insistence, automobile sparkplug wires were attached to his lip, and the car engine was revved to 3,000 RPM for five minutes. Please welcome one of the doctors who subsequently saved Patient X's life, co-author of the medical report "Failure of Electric Shock Treatment for Rattlesnake Envenomation," Dr. Richard Gustafson.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Winner of the 2009 Public Health Prize for inventing a brassiere that in an emergency can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander - Dr. Elena Bodnar.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Winner of the 1996 Arts Prize for creating the plastic pink flamingo, Don Featherstone and his wife Nancy Featherstone.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Winner of the 2007 Physics Prize for studying how sheets become wrinkled, Mahadevan.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Winner of the 2008 Chemistry Prize for testing whether Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, Dr. Deborah Anderson.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And winner of the 2007 Medicine Prize for co-authoring a study about the medical effects of sword swallowing, Dan Meyer.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The past Ig Nobel winners, thank you.

FLATOW: So what makes research worthy of an Ig? I talked with Ig Nobel master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams about what the committee is looking for.

ABRAHAMS: The things that I'm always looking for are things that have the quality, as you've heard me say a few times, they make people laugh and then think. When you first see them, they're funny. You have almost no choice but to laugh. And then a few days later you find it's still rattling around in your head and you just want to tell somebody about it.

And these are things that really - they're funny mainly because they're so unexpected. There's something about them that you just, at first glance it's beyond anything you ever had any reason to think about. It just is staggering. Maybe later on when you get used to it, it doesn't seem funny anymore, but at first glance...

So that's where all these things come from. And of course the pick of the litter, so to speak, are the 10 things that every year we choose to give Ig Nobel Prizes for.

FLATOW: We're going to take a quick break, pass the stuffing, and be right back with more of this year's Ig Nobel Prizes. Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. We know this is the biggest shopping day of the year, either at the malls or online. So we're happy to have you here on SCIENCE FRIDAY. We now return you to Harvard's Sanders Theater for more of this year's awards festivities.

ABRAHAMS: And now get set for something special, the 24/7 lectures. We have asked several of the world's top thinkers to tell us briefly what they are thinking about. Each 24/7 lecturer will explain his topic twice: first a complete technical summary in 24 seconds; and then a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words.

The 24-second time limit will be enforced by our referee Mr. John Barrett. Mr. Barrett, do you have any advice for our 24/7 lecturers?

JOHN BARRETT: Gentlemen, keep it clean.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: The 24/7 lectures are about to begin. The first 24/7 lecture will be delivered by the biochemist who founded the education group Science from Scientists. She's also a former Miss Massachusetts, Erika Ebbel Angle. Her topic: mass spectrometry. First a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

ERIKA EBBEL ANGLE: A mass spectrometer separates and detects ions according to the mass-to-charge ratios. Identification of an unknown compound begins with a determination of its molecular mass. Additional structural information is derived from fragmentation, and thus the mass of the parent or intact molecules. Through interpretation of fragmentation patterns, it is possible to piece together the structures of potential compounds of interest.

ABRAHAMS: And now, a clear summary.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go.

ANGLE: It weighs the bits in your gunk.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The final 24/7 lecture will be delivered by the Ig Nobel Prize winner who invented the emergency bra. As a physician, she specializes in treating electrical trauma, Dr. Elena Bodnar. Her topic: electromuscular incapacitation. First a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

ELENA BODNAR: Electromuscular incapacitation is the physiological response to use of devices such as tasers, stun guns, batons and other so-called less-lethal weapons which liberally apply electric pulses in the microseconds range, causing muscle contraction followed by a period of induced incapacitation. Uncertainties and gaps in knowledge exist about cellular systemic mechanism and human consequences. Risks associated with this effect...

(BEEP)

ABRAHAMS: And now a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go.

BODNAR: You really don't want to be tased.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now let's get it over with, ladies and gentlemen, the awarding of the 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes. We're giving out 10 prizes. The winners come from many nations. This year's winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen, tell them what they've won.

KAREN: Thank you, chipmunk. This year's winners will each receive an Ig Nobel Prize.

ABRAHAMS: What else?

KAREN: A piece of paper saying they've won an Ig Nobel Prize.

(LAUGHTER)

KAREN: It's signed by several Nobel laureates, and it's two-dimensional.

ABRAHAMS: How nice, thank you. This, this is the coveted Ig Nobel Prize. This year, the prize is a grain of sand. It's a grain of sand that represents the universe.

(LAUGHTER AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: That particular grain of sand is somewhere inside this hourglass. The Psychology Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology is awarded to Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan of the Netherlands and Tulio Guadalupe of Peru, Russia and the Netherlands for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller."

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome Tulio Guadalupe.

TULIO GUADALUPE: Hi. Good evening. I'm sorry my colleagues couldn't be here today, but I did bring a picture of them. There they are. That's Rolf and Anita. The thing is, they're getting married this weekend, so they had to stay in the Netherlands to finish arranging things. But we're all very happy and excited about this. In fact in the excitement, they even changed honeymoon plans. So now they bought a yacht, and they're going sailing around the Caribbean.

I should tell them there's no money involved in this prize, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

GUADALUPE: Well, perhaps they can lean to the left when estimating for how long they'll be in debt, because you see, we think of numbers, low numbers on the left, high numbers on the right, and this would bias estimation...

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. I'm bored; please stop. I'm bored; please stop.

GUADALUPE: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Peace Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the SKN Company of Russia for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome the company's director, Igor Petrov.

IGOR PETROV: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. The Peace Prize, this is very important. Thank you for having me here today. Actually, what we do is simple. First, we look for the military, take their ammunition, exploded it and then dig out the diamonds, just this one.

(APPLAUSE)

PETROV: Just kidding; our diamonds are a little bit smaller than that. I would like to thank my colleagues. Together we can learn, we turn means of destruction into something beautiful and useful for peace, nature and universe.

(APPLAUSE)

PETROV: Not to mention all ladies love diamonds. Ladies, if you want diamonds, come to see me after the show.

(APPLAUSE)

PETROV: But carry your own ammunition, please.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Acoustics Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Acoustics is awarded to Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada of Japan for creating the speech jammer, a machine that disrupts a person's speech by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay. Please welcome Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you. Our invention, SpeechJammer, can disturb people's speech. To demonstrate it, our speech will be terminated exactly in one minute. Anyway, we are very honored to receive this award. Thanks to the (unintelligible) YouTube video, we were able (unintelligible) many responses from so many people. For example, some people want to use it against barking dogs. And now I noticed that this world is filled with annoying noise. Here, let me thank many people around us. To my family, thank you. To the audience in this hall, thank you. To all the people on the Earth, thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: To all the people in the moon, thank you. To the - sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sorry for this annoying voice.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Neuroscience prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in neuroscience is awarded to Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller and George Wolford of the USA for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere, even in a dead salmon.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome, Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller and George Wolford.

(APPLAUSE)

CRAIG BENNETT: Wow, this is an incredible treat and a real capstone moment for the dead salmon.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: Some have called functional neuro-imaging - which is an important method for understanding the human brain - a fishing expedition. Some have even called the results a red herring. But...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Oh.

BENNETT: Oh, no, no. Stick with me. But - and we found - we did our own digging and found that up to 40 percent of papers were an incorrect statistical approach. And many other people have argued that they should be doing it correctly, but it wasn't sticking. So we decided: Can we use the tools of humor and absurdity to change a scientific field, nay, to put a dent in the universe?

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE CHEERING)

BENNETT: And the truth is that you can. Through a dead salmon, you can get the number of people who used the incorrect statistic under 10 percent. And so we've had a real impact. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One more thing.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: If you want your science to have a big impact, you have to find the right hook.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: It's time for the Win a Date with a Nobel Laureate contest. Here's Karen Hopkin to tell us about our laureate.

KAREN HOPKIN, BYLINE: Cute, cuddly and smart as a whip, tonight's Win a Date prize will make your heart skip. Eric Maskin won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on implementation theory, which holds that by manipulating market conditions, you can get people to do the right thing while they're chasing ka-ching. A dedicated teacher and family man, Maskin enjoys playing clarinet and squash and dressing up as Albert Einstein for Halloween.

(LAUGHTER)

HOPKIN: Please give a warm, Win-a-Date welcome to Eric Maskin.

(APPLAUSE)

WILLIAM LIPSCOMB: Now, let's see which lucky audience member will win a date with this Nobel laureate. When you entered the hall, the ushers handed you an attractive, printed program. Turn to page five. If your program contains a black hole, then you have won a date with this Nobel laureate. Come on up and claim your prize.

(APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: There's a lot of strange science out there, so I asked Marc Abrahams about the selection process for the awards.

ABRAHAMS: We decide with great difficulty and much violent arguing. We get something like 9,000 new nominations every year for Ig Nobel Prizes, and we're also out there looking ourselves all the time. And we consider anything that we had looked at in earlier years, but not chosen for a prize. So now after 22 years, the pool is gigantic. And we're looking for that quality, things that are very unexpected and that make us laugh, and then think, and that we're pretty sure we'll do the same thing.

We have lots of meetings. They're all secret. And the committee really does get into long arguments. Every year, there comes a point over some particular thing. It comes down to a choice of, all right, we have one slot left. Do we pick this one, or do we pick that one? And people in the room start arguing, as they've got their favorites. And they're really almost ready to launch into fistfights. And I have to always stop them and say, wait a minute. Remember what prize this is that we're giving. This is the Ig Nobel Prize. It doesn't really matter.

FLATOW: Each year's ceremony includes what organizers called a mini-opera. This year's subject, a so-called intelligent designer charged with designing a dress as a piece of clothing for the universe. Here's a sample.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE INTELLIGENT DESIGNER AND THE UNIVERSE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) I will design a dress for the universe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) We will design a dress for the universe.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Measurements this ones, I can't make for myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Nor can I get them easily off the shelf.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) I know just who to turn to, who to assist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) It's obvious, ask an astrophysicist.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) An astrophysicist can help with these clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) They measure more things than you just might suppose.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) They measure with the proper tools.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Proper tools. Proper tools. They are no (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Should it conversion?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) No need to get upset.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Inches or centimeters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) No need to fret.

FLATOW: We're going to take a break, a short one. Stay with us. And when we come back, more Ig Nobel silliness. Please don't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE INTELLIGENT DESIGNER AND THE UNIVERSE")

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, and you're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. The ballots are in. The results have been tallied, and here are the winners. Some science that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think. We now return you to the ceremony.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Chemistry Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANFARE)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize this year is awarded to Johan Pettersson of Sweden and Rwanda, for solving the puzzle of why in certain houses in the town of Anderslov, Sweden, people's hair turned green. Please welcome, Johan Petterson.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHAN PETTERSSON: Hello, laureates, my ladies and gentlemen of all hair colors. In my work, I have addressed the widespread problem of ingrob(ph), involuntary green tinting of blonde hair, or Halocare's(ph) syndrome, as it more well-known as. This scourge has appeared in newer buildings with copper tubing and is mainly affected special sensitive groups, such as young women and teenagers, which are groups using hot water and are very observant of their parents.

My studies were directed to find if there were any further side effects with more grave consequences. I can now gladly inform that ingrob is neither a sign of unhealthy, nor dangerous drinking water - at least not in my place in the universe, in Anderslov. The remedy for ingrob is to reduce the expose for the targeted groups either by putting them in older houses, change piping or by forcing them to take showers in cold water.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (unintelligible)

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. I'm bored. Please stop. I'm bored.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Literature Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Literature this year is awarded to the United States Government General Accountability Office for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports. The winners could not or would not be with us tonight.

(APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: How do people react when they find out they've won an Ig Nobel Prize? Here's how Marc Abrahams described it.

ABRAHAMS: Some people have heard of the Ig Nobel Prize. Many have not. To some of them, there have been some winners who have been waiting for it for years. More typically, they're not quite sure what it is. Our standard policy - which has a few twists now and then - but, in general, when we've chosen somebody, we will quietly get in touch with them, offer them the prize and give them the opportunity to quietly decline the honor. And if they say no, that's fine. That's it. We never mention it. We even keep records. We give it to somebody else. But happily for us, not many people decline. Almost everybody accepts.

FLATOW: By the way, these annual awards are produced by the folks at the science humor magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. And you can find out more about them at improbable.com.

ABRAHAMS: Before we announce the next prize, would everyone here in the audience and everyone watching us on the Internet, everyone who has a ponytail, please stand up. If you have a ponytail, would you please stand up? Thank you. The Physics Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to Joseph Keller of the USA, Raymond Goldstein of the USA and U.K., Patrick Warren and Robin Ball of the U.K., for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail. Please welcome Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein, Patrick Warren and Robin Ball.

(APPLAUSE)

JOSEPH KELLER: Thank you. We think we have discovered one of the secrets of the universe. In 2012, CERN discovered the Higgs boson and the origins of mass. We discovered the ponytail shape equation and the origins of volume. So I used to jog around Stanford campus and saw lots of young ladies running, and their ponytails swayed side to side like this, even though their head was only going up and down.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLER: And why did the ponytail go side to side? So I study that question. It turned out, it's an instability; the ponytail could go straight up and down like this, but that's unstable if the jogging frequency is twice the pendulum frequency of the ponytail.

(APPLAUSE)

KELLER: And the jogging frequency is always about the same. People vary their speed just by lengthening the stride, but they don't (unintelligible). And so for a 12-inch ponytail, you always get that resonance(ph). If it's too short or too long, it just hang free.

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop, I'm bored. Please stop, I'm bored.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: But would you please remain up here for a moment? We have a special message for Raymond Goldstein. It's from your cousin, Nobel laureate in chemistry Martin Chalfie.

MARTIN CHALFIE: Hi, Ray. It's cousin Martin. Sorry I can't be there to help celebrate your getting this wonderful prize. You have certainly had added bounce, sheen and luster to the family's collection of prizes. I applaud you and your colleagues on your ground-breaking research in to how things hang. But I have to say a regret, that giving our hair styles, neither you and nor I have great advantage directly from your research.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Thank you, Professor Chalfie. Ladies and gentlemen, 13 years ago we made a mistake. We want to correct that mistake. We're going to do that right here, right now. In the year 1999, we failed to include the name of one winner in the citation. We now correct that. Awarding a share of the 1999 Physics Prize to Joseph Keller. Joseph Keller is also a co-winner, as you just saw, of the 2012 Ig Nobel Physics Prize. This makes him a two-time Ig Nobel Prize winner.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: But he corrected - he's holding his prize upside down.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: He - the corrected citation for that 1999 Physics Prize now reads: It goes to Len Fisher of the U.K. and Australia for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit, and to Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck of the U.K. and Belgium, and Joseph Keller of the USA, for calculating how to make a teapot spout that does not drip. Please welcome back Joseph Keller.

(APPLAUSE)

KELLER: (Unintelligible) I had the experience of pouring tea out of a teapot, and the tea runs down the outside of the spout. That'd be OK except it that then falls off onto our laps and wets our pants. And so what my colleague Vanden-Broeck and I calculated was where gravity makes that stream fall off the spout. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Fluid Dynamics Prize. The Ig Nobel Prize in Fluid Dynamics is awarded to Rouslan Krechetnikov of the USA, Russia and Canada, and Hans Mayer of the USA for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee. Please welcome Rouslan Krechetnikov.

(APPLAUSE)

DR. ROUSLAN KRECHETNIKOV: Thank you, Marc. Paraphrasing the Nobel Prize laureate in physics Pyotr Kapitsa, in the same way as fairy tales help children to learn about the world of adults, simple science problems help students and researchers to learn about the physics picture of the universe. Some problems have become part of the folklore. (Unintelligible) article generated a lots of discussions of the physics of the spilled coffee. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Anatomy Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Anatomy is awarded to Frans de Waal of The Netherlands and USA, and Jennifer Pokorny of the USA, for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends. Please welcome Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny.

(APPLAUSE)

FRANS DE WAAL: Well, there is a saying. The saying is the higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of its behind. It has been applied to a current political candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

WAAL: What we found is if you present chimpanzees with pictures of faces and pictures of behinds, they can match the faces with the behinds of the chimps that they know, not of the chimps that they don't know. It has never been tried with humans so it's a bit hard to do because...

(LAUGHTER)

WAAL: ...you would need naked butts, right? You know? So that's never been tried and so we suspect it's a case of mental superiority of the ape.

(APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow and you're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

ABRAHAMS: The Medicine Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine this year is awarded to Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti of France for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome Dr. Emmanuel Ben-Soussan.

(APPLAUSE)

DR. EMMANUEL BEN-SOUSSAN: Thank you very much. It's terrible for a doctor to receive advice for medical publication. I'm sure now I'm an heretic for all my colleagues. Our research was about colonic gas explosion during colonic - therapeutic colonoscopy. Colonic gas explosion, it's terrible loud, when you put a light with (unintelligible). It's due to (unintelligible) level of colestid(ph) gas like hydrogen. Now, we have finded - we have founded the solution. And no colonic explosions occur in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now Professor Jean Berko Gleason will give the traditional Ig Nobel Goodbye Goodbye Speech.

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: Goodbye. Goodbye.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: What you see here, ladies and gentlemen, is the Ig Nobel Prize winners, new and old, and the Nobel laureates and the 24/7 lecturers are gathered here at the front of our stage for a pointless photo opportunity. Please whack your hands together and shower them with self-esteem.

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: On behalf of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and on behalf of the Harvard Computer Society, and especially from all of us at the Annals of Improbable Research, please remember this final thought: If you didn't win an Ig Nobel Prize this year, and especially if you did, better luck next year. Thank you. Good night.

(APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: Here's a little more of the Ig Nobel mini opera, here as a dress designer talks with astrophysicists about problems of measuring the universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) How tight, how tall is the universe?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Each time we measure it, it's bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) The weight, how full is it bigger?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Your guess is just as good as ours.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) The age.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Can you tell me a wonderful (unintelligible)...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We can, with a billion years' caveat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) The answers are usually for making a draft.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) It's depressing, you're only guessing...

FLATOW: That's about all for this year's prizes. Our thanks go to Marc Abrahams and the folks at the Annals of Improbable Research. You can find out more about them at improbable.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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