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I love this.  Every year, prizes are awarded by the Annnals of Improbable Research for the oddest and silliest actual research discoveries.  A whimsical play for contrast to the Nobel Prizes which will be announced soon.  Apparently former actual Nobel Prize winners present the igNobel prizes at a ceremony at Harvard University.

If you are planning to travel to Paris you might check this out:  scientists have discovered that leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller. I would never have figured that out.

Blowhard Silencer: This year’s Acoustics Prize goes to Japanese researchers Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada for their development of a machine that disrupts a person’s speech by playing it back with a very slight delay.  According to  Marc Abrahams editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels,  “It’s a small thing you aim at someone who is droning on and on.  What the person hears is just off enough that it completely disconcerts and discombobulates them, and they stop talking. It has thousands of potential good uses.”

Green Hair:   A Swedish researcher was awarded an igNobel  for solving the puzzle of why people’s hair turned green while living in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden.  He found out that a combination of copper pipes and hot showers were the cause.

Neuroscience prize:  DEAD SALMON ‘THINK’

An often-quoted study exposing the perils of fMRI science, which can be prone to false signals, won an Ig Nobel for research detecting meaningful brain activity in a dead salmon. It underscored the need to do statistical corrections to safeguard against such silly findings.

“It started as a lark,” explains Craig Bennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies adolescent brain development using functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI.

Before starting tests on people, scientists first check their equipment using a phantom object, typically a sphere filled with mineral oil. But since any object will do, Bennett and colleagues had been trying out a variety of items, including a pumpkin, a Cornish game hen, and finally, an Atlantic salmon.  The team showed photos to the dead fish and asked it to determine what emotion the person was feeling.  “By random chance and by simple noise, we saw small data points in the brain of the fish that were considered to be active,” said Bennett. “It was a false positive. It’s not really there.”

Some of the other winners are:

  • Anatomy Prize:  U.S. researchers who discovered that chimps can recognize other chimps by looking at snapshots of their backsides
  • Physicists at Unilever led by Dr. Patrick Warren and at Stanford University led by Professor Joe Keller for their use of mathematics to explain why ponytails take on their distinctive “tail” shape
  • Fluid Dynamics Prize:  Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, for illuminating why carrying a cup of coffee often ends up in a spill  (They could have just asked me!)
  •  Chemistry Prize: went to a Mexican team who created the sparkly stones from tequila
  •  Peace Prize:  awarded to a Russian company “for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
  • French researcher Emmanuel Ben-Soussan on how doctors performing colonoscopies can minimize the chance of igniting gasses that make their patients explode
  • and my personal favorite:
    Literature prize:  The U.S. Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report recommending the preparation of a report to discuss the impact of reports about reports.                        MM

From Reuters,  Editing by Michele Gershberg and Richard Chang)