Left-leaning boffins honoured for zany discoveries
on 22/09/2012 00:00:00
The Ig Nobel Prizes, a whimsical spoof of the Nobel awards held each autumn at Harvard, honours scientists from around the world who have made genuine, but also hilarious, contributions to their fields.
It was a good year for zany science. At the 22nd annual awards on Thursday, Dutch researchers received the Ig Nobel Prize in psychology for noticing that leaning to the left makes the Eiffel tower seem smaller ("posture-modulated estimation", they call it). The effect may result from repeated exposure to the number line, which has small numbers on the left.
American neuroscientists earned an Ig Nobel for finding brain activity in a dead salmon, demonstrating how susceptible brain scans are to false signals.
French researchers who figured out how to prevent people's bowels from exploding during colonoscopies - yes, it really happens - took the medicine prize, while Russian engineers received the peace prize for building a contraption that converts unused military ammunition into diamonds. "Ladies, if you want diamonds, come see me after the show - but bring your own explosives," Igor Petrov said in his acceptance speech.
Mechanical engineers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, won the fluid dynamics prize for explaining why coffee tends to spill, while physicists in Britain worked out the equation describing that trademark shape of ponytails. A Swedish chemist claimed a prize for figuring out why so many people's hair was turning green in a Swedish village (there was copper in the water), while a Japanese group won for developing a device that shuts people up by playing back the sound of their voice after a short delay, creating a jarring echo.
And, thanks to the Emory University primatologists who won the anatomy prize, the world now knows that chimpanzees can recognise their friends' rear ends. Because humans wear clothes, we're probably not as good at this, the researchers say - and this may explain why we're extra adept at identifying people's sex simply by looking at their faces.