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The Bacterial Opera and crazy prizes

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Staff writer ▼ | October 1, 2010
BP, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, bearded scientist, bacteria and people who wear socks on the outside of their shoes - they are stars of this year's Ig Nobel prize, a hilarious event that reminds us that science can be fun. And a bit weird.
Ig Nobel 2010
Ig Nobel 2010BP, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, bearded scientist, bacteria and people who wear socks on the outside of their shoes - they are stars of this year's Ig Nobel prize, a hilarious event that reminds us that science can be fun. And a bit weird.


A British scientist has proven what most people already know: a bunch of obscenities when you hurt yourself makes you feel better. So, next time you crush your thumb with a hammer and you're in extreme pain, go ahead, yell every filthy obscenity you know. It really does help, according to Richard Stephens who earned a 2010 Ig Nobel prize, the award from the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for silly sounding scientific discoveries.

This year's winners include scientists who developed a way to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter, doctors from New Zealand who found that wearing socks on the outside of your shoes reduces the chances of slipping on ice, and researchers from China and the U.K. who examined the sex life of fruit bats.

The 20th anniversary edition of the Ig Nobel awards ceremony was being held at Harvard University and, as usual, real Nobel laureates were on hand to give out the prizes. The theme this year was bacteria. There was the world premiere of "The Bacterial Opera," about bacteria that live on a woman's front tooth, and all 1,200 attendees got their prize: bacteria (it was on the tickets).

Ig Nobel 2010

Richard Stephens, a lecturer in psychology, was inspired by some painful experiences suffered by his own family. A few years ago, after smacking his hand with a hammer and blurting out a choice expletive, he felt much better. So, he decided to dive into it - scientifically. The test subjects in his research hold their hands in a bucket of ice cold water to see how long they could hold it there. People with potty mouth were able to hold their hands in the water longer.

As a family physician, Lianne Parkin has seen some nasty injuries caused by falls. She also lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, the home to Baldwin Street, called as "The Steepest Street in the World." Parkin decided with colleagues to conduct the study after discussing friends who wore socks over their shoes. They gathered a group of their students, had some external socks and walk down icy streets. Sure enough, those wearing socks on the outside got better traction.

Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Agnes Rocha-Gosselin and Diane Gendron won the engineering Ig Nobel for their novel way of gathering whale snot. They used a small remote-control helicopter with petri dishes attached to the landing skids to catch "exhaled breath condensate", the stuff that sprays out of a marine mammal's blow hole. The bacteria found in the blow can give clues about the whale's health.

Dutch researchers Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest won for investigating how rollercoaster rides affect asthma sufferers. They found that stress, such as at the start of a rollercoaster ride, can cause asthmatics to think they are suffering symptoms even if they are not.

This year's economics Ig Nobel went to executives at Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns for their creative investment techniques that brought the global economy to its knees. (None of the appeared at the ceremony.) British Petroleum was awarded in chemistry for disproving the old belief that oil and water don't mix, while Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor get their public health award for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.


 

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