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The Quest For Science Is A Beautiful Thing

Well, this year is the books.  They have awarded the 2009 Ig Nobel Awards.  For those that don't know, the Ig Nobels are put out by the Annals Of Improbable Research, a bunch of really fun fellows.  They gave their Peace award for improving cultural bonds and the sharing of the human experience to the inventor of karaoke.  They gave an award to the people who managed to track down the Murphy who came up with Murphy's Law.  They gave an award to the guy who patented the combover.  This year, besides the usual festivities, they brought in Martin Chalfie, who won the actual Nobel for chemistry in 2008, for a "Win a Date With a Nobel Laureate" contest.

The theme this year was "risk".  The winners were:

*  The Public Health Award went to Elena Bodnar and her colleagues.  They developed a fashionable bra that can be converted into a pair of emergency HEPA-filter gas masks.  James Bond is probably pissed at Q for not coming up with that first.  She joked, "It only takes 25 seconds for any woman to use -- five seconds to convert and wear her own mask, and 20 seconds to wonder who the lucky man is to wear the second mask."  To prove this, she conducted an onstage demonstration with Nobel laureates Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 economics prize, and Wolfgang Ketterle, recipient of the 2001 prize in physics.  The origina was actually quite serious -- Bodnar was a medical student trying to save victims of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  "I realized that just having a simple mask could reduce major contributions to internal radiation, like iodine-131," which is present in radioactive dust which could be inhaled.  In this age of terrorist attacks, it has an additional purpose.

*  The Chemistry award went to Miguel Apátiga and colleagues for creating diamonds from tequila.  See, Mornblade?  The stuff isn't pure evil after all.  "Tequila had the right composition of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen to produce diamonds," explained Apátiga.  Too bad this happened too late for the MythBusters episode about homemade diamonds.  It actually produces microscopic diamond films (optical instruments, electronics), but the process is inexpensive, and since cheap tequila works just fine, you can finally get rid of the stuff you've been given as a gift but would never touch yourself.

* Donald L. Unger has been conducting an experiment for 60 years, and now has the Ig Nobel in medicine as validation.  He decided to test if cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis.  He cracked the knuckles on his right hand every day for the past 60 years but left his left hand alone.  No arthritis in either hand, science marches on.

*  The Peace Prize went to Stephan Bolliger and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland.  Bolligner is an expert witness for the courts in the field of forensics.  He had been asked repeatedly on the stand about just how much damage a bear bottle, full or empty, could cause in a bar brawl.  He and his team decided to quantify it, and found the either one could potentially crack a human skull.  Empties were worse.

* The Physics Prize went to Katherine Whitcome, an anthropologist at the University Of Cincinnati, and her colleauges for figuring out how pregnant women keep their balance.  They found that women have three lumbar vertebrae that have evolved into a wedged shape.  Men have only two, so they would be unable to redistribute their weight and maintain balance.  Whitcome accepted the award, saying, "We dedicate this prize to all those pregnant bipeds who, for seven million years, have been carrying [their young] without tipping over."

*  Peter Rowlinson and his team at Newcastle University in the UK got the award for Veterinary Medicine for showing cows with names give more milk than those without.  "When [farmers] give cows attention and a little tender loving care, they respond.  They are less fearful and give two extra pints of milk per day—that's statistically and economically significant."

* The Economics Prize went to the executives of four Icelandic banks.  They showed that small banks can quickly become international powerhouse, and that international powerhouses can quickly become small banks.  They also showed the same effect can be achieved with a nation's economy.  I guessing the bailout bill tampered with the outcome, or America might have won this one.

*  The Mathematics Prize went to Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank Of Zimbabew.  The reason:  given the nation's bank notes range from one cent to a hundred trillion dollars, Zimbabweans must be among the world's best at quick computations.  I go chop your dollar....

*  The Literature Award went to the Irish police force.  They wrote more than 50 traffic tickets to one Prawo Jazdy.  What they thought was a name was Polish for "driving license."

*  The Biology award went to Fumiaki Taguchi, a microbiologistat Kiasato Univerity in Japan.  He found that panda shit is high in trash-devouring bacteria, and could be used to reduce kitchen waste.  Panda shit mostly consists of undigested bamboo, so it doesn't smell like typical shit.  "That was good for the experiment," he said.

As per tradition, after the winners were honored, the crowd threw paper airplanes at the stage, and master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams in tradtional style -- "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight—and especially if you did -- better luck next year."

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