Ig Nobels highlight risk in science, finance, but guarantee night of delights
Note: A problem generated by the Internet Service Provider to Cambridge Day has resulted in the — hopefully temporary — loss of the live blogging done at the Ig Nobel awards ceremony held Thursday at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. Here’s a nonlive, less-bloggy report of the results of the night.
The gas-mask bra, 100-trillion-dollar banknote and conversion of tequila into diamonds were among the winners of the 2009 Ig Nobel prizes, presented Thursday night in Harvard’s sumptuous Sanders Theatre. The winners, representing four continents, were culled from dubious achievements and regrettable actions the world over and presented with flair, pomp and tongues in cheek by actual Nobel laureates. Some slated to appear were Martin Chalfe, winner of the 2008 Nobel for chemistry and Roy Glauber, winner of the 2005 award for phsyics.
The appearance of Paul Krugman, last year’s winner of the Nobel in economics, was a surprise for the audience. The Princeton professor and New York Times columnist showed up only moments before the ceremony and was whisked away immediately afterward.
The theme this year: risk. Hence the gas-mask bra, findings of whether full or empty beer bottles are best for head-bonking and honors for Icelandic bank directors, executives and auditors for “demonstrating tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into large banks and vice-versa, and for demonstrating similar things can be done to an entire economy.” The award was similar to that presented in 2002 to financiers — think Enron, Tyco and Arthur Andersen — for bringing the world of imaginary numbers into real-world banking practices.
As usual, it was a standing-room-only crowd, pumped up by the mostly tuneful preshow accordian concert (delivered by a quintet in white lab coats), a cabaret and the promise of the world premiere of “The Big Bank Opera.”
The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize winners are:
In veterinary medicine, Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, U.K., for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows who are nameless. Rowlinson was on hand to accept the prize, although Douglas sent a photo of herself, her brand-new baby daughter dressed as a cow, and a cow.
In peace, Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Osterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl, of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or an empty bottle. Bollinger and Ross attended the ceremony.
In economics, the directors, executives and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into large banks and vice-versa, and for demonstrating similar things can be done to an entire economy.
In chemistry, Javier Morales, Miguel Apatiga and Victor M. Castano of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, for creating diamond from liquid. Specifically tequila. Morales and Castano attended the ceremony.
In medicine, Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand every day for more than 60 years. Unger, a medical doctor, attended the ceremony.
In physics, Katherine K. Whitcome, of the University of Cincinatti, Donald E. Lieberman, of Harvard University, and Liza J. Shapiro, of the University of Texas, for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over. Whitcome and Lieberman attended the ceremony.
In literature, Ireland’s police service for writing and presenting more than 50 traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means “driver’s license.” Karolina Lewestam, a Polish citizen and holder of a Polish driver’s license, spoke on behalf of her fellow Polish licensed drivers and expressed her good wishes to the Irish police.
In public health, Elena N. Bodnar, of Hindsale, Ill., and Ukraine, and Raphael C. Lee and Sandra Marijan, of Chicago, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be converted quickly into a gas mask (one for the wearer and one for a needy bystander). Bodnar attended the ceremony.
In mathematics, Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent to one hundred trillion dollars.
In biology, Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu and Zhang Guanglei, of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90 percent in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas. Taguchi attended the ceremony.