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Ig Nobel Prize stolen, insane/brilliant lectures delivered


2009 Ig Nobel Prize, designed and hand-built by Eric Workman

Mere days after the strange and terrifying and groin-grabbingly excellent Ig Nobel awards ceremony, we have received a distressing update: some nefarious Enemy of Fun has swiped an Ig Nobel!

The Improbable Research folks posted this Tuesday:

Somebody — somebody who is not an Ig Nobel Prize winner — walked off with an Ig Nobel Prize last week at the 19th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony last week, at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.

If you are that somebody, please return it. It will be quietly accepted, no questions asked.

If you've got any leads, drop 'em a line. (Or just start howling for street justice on Twitter -- that should do it.) 

We're not sure which illustrious 2009 Ig Nobelist had to go home without a trophy, but after attending the Ig Informal Lectures on October 3, we are acutely aware of what an injustice it would be to deny any of the honorees their hard-earned foam dice.

Last Saturday, in an MIT auditorium packed full of rain-dampened nerds, representatives from seven 2009 Ig Nobel-winning research projects (plus one returning Ig Nobel all-star) dropped science and got silly. And all Ignitaries were required to sum up their work in 5 minutes or less, lest they face the scourge of Miss Sweetie Poo, an eight-year-old attack moppet sicced upon all time-limit-breakers: as ruthless as any Schutzhund-trained rottweiler, she marches up to them, howling "Please stop! I'm bored!" until her targets relent, defeated. (Scroll to bottom for a video of Miss Sweetie Poo in action.)

In that spirit, we'll keep our lecture recap mighty brief:

Returning champ: Medicine Prize: "Digital rectal massage as cure for intractable hiccups"
Speaker:
Francis Fesmire (University of Tennessee College of Medicine, 2006 Ig Nobel winner)
Synopsis: Not to ruin the fun or anything, but here goes: Fesmire is a cardiologist, and he learned that a heart condition called SVT can be alleviated by activating the parasympathetic nervous system by way of the Vagus nerve, which runs from throat to rectum. Hiccups, thought by some to be a weird vestige of our gill-breathing days, are also caused by parasympathetic disorders. Thus, Fesmire put two and two together, and his anal-finger-blasting hiccup cure was born. Fun fact: Fesmire's find was name-checked on this episode of House, M.D.
Best quote: PowerPoint slide caption, showing Fesmire and his "Got Hiccups?" foam finger: "We All Have Our Dark Secrets."

Veterinary Medicine Prize: Cows That Have Names Give More Milk Than Cows That Are Nameless
Speaker: Peter Rowlinson (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK)
Synopsis: Cows tended by farmers who care enough to name their livestock produce $0.20 more milk a day than their nameless counterparts. (Rowlinson posits that the naming itself is not really a causal effect; instead, it's the "complete TLC package" usually extended to named cows that includes "grooming them, chatting with them, [and] doing a bit of tickling.") 
Best quote: Audience: "If I don't name my next dog, will he produce less stuff?"

Peace Prize: Which Is Better For Fracturing the Human Skull: A Full Beer Bottle, Or An Empty Beer Bottle?
Speaker: Steffen Ross (Bern, Switzerland)
Synopsis: Hailing from the land of "mountains, chocolate, watches, cheese, and tax evasion," Ross is a forensic pathologist who brings us a finding that will give any smarty-pantsed hooligan a leg up in their next bar fight. Somewhat counter-intuitively, empty beer bottles will deal more damage to the human skull than full ones, because empty beer bottles don't splinter apart as easily as full ones, making "very handy clubs." A full beer bottle is less structurally stable, owing to the pressure the fizzy yellow swill within exerts on the glass walls of the bottle.
Best quote: Ross: "I advise you to first drink, and then hit."

Chemistry Prize: How To Grow Diamonds from Tequila
Speakers: Javier Morales and Miguel Apátiga (Mexico)
Synopsis: Building on previous research that showed that "diamond films" could be grown from a mixture of acetone and water, Morales and Apátiga's research team took things a step further. They turned bottom-shelf tequila into a vapor, and superheated the gaseous molecules to 800 degrees celsius. Eventually, they were able to form carbon atoms that took the form of diamonds -- so small, they can only be seen under an electron microscope.
Best quote: Audience: "How much tequila do I have to give my boyfriend to receive a diamond?"

Medicine Prize: "Does Knuckle-Cracking Lead To Arthritis Of The Fingers?"
Speaker:
Donald L. Unger (Thousand Oaks, California, USA)
Synopsis: With a presentation that was light on science, and large on personality and unresolved mommy issues, Unger explained that his mother warned him that cracking his knuckles would give him arthritis. So, out of cheerful spite, he spent the next 60 years diligently cracking his left hand's knuckles, but never his right, and "the time has come to check it out. [dramatic pause] I see absolutely no difference. Mother, you were wrong!"
Best quote: Unger: "In case my mother was right, I didn't want to blow the good hand."

Physics Prize: Why Pregnant Women Don't Tip Over
Speakers:
Katherine Whitcome (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) and Daniel Lieberman (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Synopsis: "It took three of us to make the astute observation that pregnant women walk differently," said Whitcome, a human evolutionary biology prof. Weirdly enough, though, they made a discovery that you'd think would be more well-trodden ground: pregnant woman change their posture to change their center of gravity, which is accommodated by a specially evolved lumbar curve (or lordosis). They also found "similarly dimorphic morphologies in fossil vertebrae of Australopithecus," a bipedal hominid that predates the human species.
Best quote: Audience: "How do you tell a female skeleton from a male skeleton?" Lieberman (not missing a beat): "Female skeletons are pink, and male skeletons are blue."

Biology Prize: How to Melt Garbage with Panda Feces
Speaker:
Fumiaki Taguchi (Sagamihara, Japan)
Synopsis: Pandas -- those highly Improbable animals -- feed exclusively on cellulose-filled bamboo and need a mighty strong digestive bacteria to break down all that fiber. Taguchi and his team isolated a "novel thermophile" bacteria from panda feces (which have "no stinking smell," he reports, adding: "I'm lucky"). When combined with a pile of kitchen waste, the vigorous microbes decomposed 90% of the garbage.
Best quote: Title of Taguchi's presentation: "Feces Innovation!"

Public Health Prize: Gas Mask Brassiere
Speaker:
Elena N. Bodnar (Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Synopsis: Bodnar and her over-the-shoulder-boulder-holding breathing apparatus is the 2009 Ig Nobel find that's been making the most noise on the interwubs lately. And despite the wacky factor that makes this one so appealing, Bodnar's was the only presentation to jump from a lighthearted look at science straight into horrific images of street riots and 9/11. Strongly inspired by her experiences with survivors of the Chernobyl disaster, Bodnar's gas-mask bra (requiring only slight modification to the design of a normal bra, which already makes a pretty decent air filter) is "always readily available" and easily shared -- and also possibly machine-washable. ("I'm looking into that," Bodnar says.)
Best quote: Francis Fesmire: "[In case of a disaster] should I go for a woman with D-sized breasts or A-sized breasts?" Bodnar: "Size is irrelevant."


Miss Sweetie Poo accosting Elena Bodnar, inventor of the gas-mask bra
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