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Ig Nobel Prizes
Every aspiring scientist dreams of someday making a discovery so illustrious that it lands them a spot on the stage of the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm. Through a weird twist of fate, some instead find themselves wearing a silly hat and being led by a string onto the stage of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony in Cambridge, Mass.
The Ig Nobel Prizes, a whimsical spoof of the Nobels held each fall at Harvard University, honors scientists from around the world who have made genuine, but also hilarious, contributions to their fields. The 22nd annual ceremony took place Thursday evening (Sept. 20), and without further ado, here are this year's winners.
MedicineSlide 2 of 21
Emmanuel Ben Soussan of the Clinique de l'Alma in France and colleagues won the medicine prize this year for discovering how to prevent patients' bowels from exploding during colonoscopies. Yes, every once in a while this routine surgical procedure - in which the bowels are probed by a camera or other device inserted via the anus - goes horribly, explosively wrong. It happens because certain chemicals that are used to clean colons before colonoscopies (in order to clear the way for the camera or other device) can react with bodily fluids to produce a rapid buildup of combustible gases, such as hydrogen and methane. The lasers used by some colonoscopes can then ignite the gases.
Ben Soussan and colleagues figured out which preparatory chemicals pose a danger, and which do not. When asked what a colonic gas explosion is like, Ben Soussan put it this way: "It's big. And loud."Slide 3 of 21
AnatomySlide 4 of 21
The primatologists Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny of Emory University won this year's Ig Nobel Prize in Anatomy for their discovery that chimpanzees easily recognize their friends' rear ends. Chimps, when given the task of matching the faces and behinds of other chimps, did extremely well when the individuals pictured were ones they lived with. They didn't recognize the behinds of strangers, however - in fact, they even had trouble discerning the strangers' sex.
Humans, meanwhile, can easily identify a person's sex based on facial appearance alone. Whether we can recognize our friends' rear ends "remains to be tested," de Waal said. It could be that humans are extra adept at facial sex recognition for the very reason that we don't often catch a glimpse of each other's private parts. "The chimps, when they look at each other they see the whole body, and it's naked. In humans everything is covered, and so maybe we rely more on faces," he told Life's Little Mysteries.Slide 5 of 21
PhysicsSlide 6 of 21
Leonardo da Vinci once noted the similarity between flowing hair and flowing water. Turns out, hair is like a fluid. The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for physics went to a group of researchers in the U.K. for deriving a mathematical equation that describes the fountain-like shape of ponytails.
"In a sense we validated Leonardo's insight," said study co-author Ray Goldstein, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge.
Among the team's findings is that, regardless of a ponytail's length, its "launch angle" the angle at which the outermost hairs emerge from the hair tie is remarkably consistent at 17 degrees from the vertical.
Don't make the mistake of trying to apply the ponytail shape equation to the hair of animals. "This is a case where people are simpler than many animals. A lot of animals have at least two different types of hair in their fur, and understanding that more complex system is another challenge," Ball said. They're taking the research one step at a time.Slide 7 of 21
PsychologySlide 8 of 21