The alternative Nobel prizes
SMALL PRINTS: DID YOU know that leaning to the left can make the Eiffel Tower seem smaller, that you can make diamonds from old ammunition, and that there are methods to detect brain activity even in dead salmon?
It might sound like an odd collection of facts, but they all have something in common: people studying them have just won Ig Nobel prizes.
Every year an “Igs” ceremony in Harvard sees actual Nobel Prize winners presenting the Ig Nobels to awardees in order to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.
Other winners in last week’s ceremony included studies that looked at whether chimpanzees can identify other chimps from photographs of their rear ends, and why coffee spills when you walk with it.
Hair also featured prominently, with the physics award going to researchers in the US and UK “for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail”.
The chemistry prize was scooped by Johann Pettersson for figuring out why people living in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv in Sweden suddenly had green hair – he realised that copper was getting into the hot water in piping and water heaters overnight.
Quite possibly the most eye-popping winner was the study for medicine, which looked at how to minimise the risk of colonic gas explosion during a medical procedure.
And for literature, the Ig Nobel went to the US Government General Accountability Office, “for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports”.
It makes you think. See improbable.com/ig/2012/.