RefME Salutes the 2015 IgNobel Prize Winners

Which came first: The Dinosaur Chicken or the un-boiled egg?
Which came first: The Dinosaur Chicken or the un-boiled egg?

 

Yesterday we saw the 25th edition of the Ig Nobel prize, a lighthearted warm-up act to the Nobel announcements which will happen in early October. Lauded by Nature as “arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” the aim of the prize is to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

Highlights of this year’s research include a study from Georgia Tech showing that nearly all mammals take the same amount of time to urinate, and an entomologist who set out to chart how painful insect stings were by pressing them repeatedly to the most delicate parts of his own body. Past honorees include Dr Elena Bodnar with her invention of a brassiere that could be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks.

The prizes themselves are presented by Nobel laureates, and although the research featured in the IgNobels can seem quite off-the-wall, it shouldn’t be dismissed off-hand. They have, in fact, often turned out to be the precursor to the “real thing”. Sir Andre Geim, for example, was the recipient of the IgNobel in 2000 for (alongside Sir Michael Berry) magnetically levitating a frog, and then went on to win the 2010 Nobel prize for “Groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”. Both achievements are proudly listed on his University of Manchester profile.

Similarly, Theoretical Physicist Roy Jay Glauber was unable to attend the 2005 ceremony as he was on his way to Stockholm to collect the 2005 Physics Nobel for “contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence”. He later resumed his long-standing post as the official “Keeper of the Broom,” which involved sweeping away the paper airplanes that are traditionally thrown onto the IgNobel stage.

So without further ado, here is a full list of the weirdest science to come out of 2015:

  • Chemistry: Inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg
  • Physics: testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds)
  • Literature: discovering the that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why.
  • Management: discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences.
  • Economics: The Bangkok Metropolitan Police for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
  • Medicine: experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities)
  • Mathematics: trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
  • Biology: observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
  • Diagnostic Medicine: determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
  • Physiology and Entomology: painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects

Bibliography – Generated by RefMe

‘Andre Geim (The University of Manchester)’ <http://www.condmat.physics.manchester.ac.uk/people/academic/geim/> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Ashdown, Helen F, Nigel D’Souza, Diallah Karim, Richard J Stevens, Andrew Huang, and Anthony Harnden, ‘Pain over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study’ (British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 2012), e8012 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8012>

Dingemanse, Mark, Francisco Torreira, and N. J. Enfield, ‘Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items’, ed. by Johan J. Bolhuis, PLoS ONE, 8 (2013), e78273 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078273>

‘Faculty: ROY J. GLAUBER | Harvard University Department of Physics’ <https://www.physics.harvard.edu/people/facpages/glauber> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Grossi, Bruno, José Iriarte-Díaz, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, and Rodrigo A. Vásquez, ‘Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion’, ed. by Andrew A. Farke, PLoS ONE, 9 (2014), e88458 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088458>

Guinea, F, M I Katsnelson, A K Geim, Nature Physics, Published online, and nphys 1420, ‘Energy Gaps and a Zero-Field Quantum Hall Effect in Graphene by Strain Engineering’, Nature Physics, 6 (2009), 30 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys1420>

‘Improbable Research’ <http://www.improbable.com/ig/> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Kamodyová, Natália, Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and others, ‘Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples after Intense Kissing’, Forensic Science International: Genetics, 7 (2013), 124–28 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fsigen.2012.07.007>

Kimata, Hajime, ‘Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels’, Physiology & Behavior, 80 (2003), 395–98 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2003.09.004>

Kimata, Hajime, ‘Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients’, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19 (2004), 151–54 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681990410001691361>

Oberzaucher, Elisabeth, and Karl Grammer, ‘The Case of Moulay Ismael – Fact or Fancy?’, ed. by Attila Szolnoki, PLoS ONE, 9 (2014), e85292 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0085292>

Patent US7255627 – Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks (Google Books, 2005) <https://www.google.com/patents/US7255627> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Pilcher, Helen, Nature News, Published online, and news 040927 – 20, ‘Laughter in the Lab’, Nature News, 2004 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/news040927-20>

Schmidt, Justin O., Murray S. Blum, and William L. Overal, ‘Hemolytic Activities of Stinging Insect Venoms’, Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, 1 (1983), 155–60 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/arch.940010205>

Simon, M D, and A K Geim, ‘Diamagnetic Levitation: Flying Frogs and Floating Magnets (invited)’, Journal of Applied Physics (AIP Publishing, 2000), 6200 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.372654>

Smith, Michael L, Berenbaum M, Berkley K, Breed, Guzmán-Novoa E, Hunt GJ, and others, ‘Honey Bee Sting Pain Index by Body Location’,PeerJ (PeerJ, 2014), e338–69 <http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.338>

‘The Nobel Prize in Physics 2005’ <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2005/index.html> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Webb, Jonathan, ‘“Universal Urination Duration” Wins Ig Nobel Prize’,BBC Science & Environment (BBC News, 18 September 2015) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-34278595> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Yang, Patricia J, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L Hu, ‘Patricia J. Yang’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy of Sciences, 2014), 11932 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1402289111>

Yuan, Tom Z, Ormonde, Callum F G, Stephan T Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N Smith, and others, ‘Shear‐Stress‐Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies’, ChemBioChem, 16 (2015), 393 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cbic.201402427>

Yuhas, Alan, ‘2015 Ig Nobel Prizes: Dinosaur-like Chickens and Bee-Stings to the Penis’, The Guardian (The Guardian, 18 September 2015) <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/18/ig-nobel-prizes-2015> [accessed 18 September 2015]

จำกัดบริษัท ข่าวสด, ‘Thailand Wins “Ig Nobel” Distinction for Bribing Cops Not to Take Bribes’ (www.khaosodenglish.com) <http://www.khaosodenglish.com/detail.php?newsid=1442571460&section=14&typecate=06> [accessed 18 September 2015]

‘2015 Nobel Prizes – Prize Announcement Dates’ <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/about/prize_announcements/> [accessed 18 September 2015]

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Ashdown, Helen F, Nigel D’Souza, Diallah Karim, Richard J Stevens, Andrew Huang, and Anthony Harnden, ‘Pain over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study’ (British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 2012), e8012

“The analysis included 64 participants who had travelled over speed bumps on their journey to hospital. Of these, 34 had a confirmed histological diagnosis of appendicitis, 33 of whom reported increased pain over speed bumps.”

Dingemanse, Mark, Francisco Torreira, and N. J. Enfield, ‘Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items’, ed. by Johan J. Bolhuis, PLoS ONE, 8 (2013), e78273

“A word like Huh?–used as a repair initiator when, for example, one has not clearly heard what someone just said– is found in roughly the same form and function in spoken languages across the globe. We investigate it in naturally occurring conversations in ten languages and present evidence and arguments for two distinct claims: that Huh? is universal, and that it is a word.” 

Grossi, Bruno, José Iriarte-Díaz, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, and Rodrigo A. Vásquez, ‘Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion’, ed. by Andrew A. Farke, PLoS ONE, 9 (2014), e88458

“Chickens raised wearing artificial tails, and consequently with more posteriorly located centre of mass, showed a more vertical orientation of the femur during standing and increased femoral displacement during locomotion.”

Guinea, F, M I Katsnelson, A K Geim, Nature Physics, Published online, and nphys 1420, ‘Energy Gaps and a Zero-Field Quantum Hall Effect in Graphene by Strain Engineering’, Nature Physics, 6 (2009), 30

“Among many remarkable qualities of graphene, its electronic properties attract particular interest owing to the chiral character of the charge carriers, which leads to such unusual phenomena as metallic conductivity in the limit of no carriers and the half-integer quantum Hall effect observable even at room temperature”

Kamodyová, Natália, Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and others, ‘Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples after Intense Kissing’, Forensic Science International: Genetics, 7 (2013), 124–28

“In our study, 12 voluntary pairs were tested at various intervals after intense kissing and saliva samples were taken from the women to assess the presence of male DNA.” 

Hajime Kimata, ‘Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels’, Physiology & Behavior, 80 (2003), 395–98

“The effect of kissing on allergen-induced skin wheal responses and plasma neurotrophin levels were studied in 30 normal subjects”

Hajime Kimata, ‘Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients’, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19 (2004), 151–54

“Effect of sexual intercourse on allergen- and histamine-induced skin weal responses was studied.”

Oberzaucher, Elisabeth, and Karl Grammer, ‘The Case of Moulay Ismael – Fact or Fancy?’, ed. by Attila Szolnoki, PLoS ONE, 9 (2014), e85292

“The scientific debate is shaped by assumptions about reproductive constraints which cannot be tested directly—and the figures used are sometimes arbitrary. Therefore we developed a computer simulation which tests how many copulations per day were necessary to reach the reported reproductive outcome. We based our calculations on a report dating 1704, thus computing whether it was possible to have 600 sons in a reproductive timespan of 32 years.”

Patent US7255627 – Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks (Google Books, 2005) <https://www.google.com/patents/US7255627> [accessed 18 September 2015].

“A garment device convertible to one or more facemasks wherein the garment device has a plurality of detachable cup sections. Each of the cup sections has a filter device, an inner portion positionable adjacent to the inner area of the user’s chest, and an outer portion positionable adjacent to the outer area of the user’s chest.” 

Schmidt, Justin O., Murray S. Blum, and William L. Overal, ‘Hemolytic Activities of Stinging Insect Venoms’, Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, 1 (1983), 155–60

“The direct hemolytic activities of the venoms from 21 species of stinging insects were determined. The activities spanned 3 1/2 orders of magnitude, ranging from a low of four to a high of 12,000 hemolytic units/mg dry venom, respectively, for the solitary wasp, Dasymutilla lepeletierii, and the social wasp, Polistes infuscatus. The latter activity is the highest reported for any insect venom and represents a level that is potentially harmful to humans stung by the wasp.”

Simon, M D, and A K Geim, ‘Diamagnetic Levitation: Flying Frogs and Floating Magnets (invited)’, Journal of Applied Physics (AIP Publishing, 2000), 6200

“Most substances are weakly diamagnetic and the tiny forces associated with this property make the two types of levitation possible. Living things mostly consist of diamagnetic molecules (such as water and proteins) and components (such as bones) and therefore can be levitated and can experience low gravity. In this way, frogs have been able to fly in the throat of a high field magnet.”

Smith, Michael L, Berenbaum M, Berkley K, Breed, Guzmán-Novoa E, Hunt GJ, and others, ‘Honey Bee Sting Pain Index by Body Location’,PeerJ (PeerJ, 2014), e338–69

“This study rated the painfulness of honey bee stings over 25 body locations in one subject (the author). Pain was rated on a 1–10 scale, relative to an internal standard, the forearm. In the single subject, pain ratings were consistent over three repetitions. Sting location was a significant predictor of the pain rating in a linear model (p < 0.0001, DF = 25, 94, F = 27.4). The three least painful locations were the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm (all scoring a 2.3). The three most painful locations were the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft (9.0, 8.7, and 7.3, respectively). This study provides an index of how the painfulness of a honey bee sting varies depending on body location.”

Yang, Patricia J, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L Hu, ‘Patricia J. Yang’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy of Sciences, 2014), 11932

“In this study, we report a mathematical model that clarifies misconceptions in urology and unifies the results from 41 independent urological and anatomical studies. The theoretical framework presented may be extended to study fluid ejection from animals, a universal phenomenon that has received little attention.”

Yuan, Tom Z, Ormonde, Callum F G, Stephan T Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N Smith, and others, ‘Shear‐Stress‐Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies’, ChemBioChem, 16 (2015), 393

“The reported methods require only minutes, which is more than 100 times faster than conventional overnight dialysis. This rapid refolding technique could significantly shorten times, lower costs, and reduce waste streams associated with protein expression for a wide range of industrial and research applications.”

ำกัดบริษัท ข่าวสด, ‘Thailand Wins “Ig Nobel” Distinction for Bribing Cops Not to Take Bribes’ (www.khaosodenglish.com)

“Thailand’s police force is more accustomed to criticism and calls for reform when it comes to the international community. But that changed today with a US-based organization honoring the force for creative economics.”

‘2015 Nobel Prizes – Prize Announcement Dates’

“The process of the Nobel Committees to independently and expertly select the 2015 Nobel Laureates is now in progress. This year’s Laureates will be announced between 5 and 12 October. These are researchers, authors and peace advocates who, according to the vision of Alfred Nobel, have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”

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