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IgNobel Prizes Salute The Silly In Science

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This year's 21st First Annual IgNobel Prize Ceremony featured the science of sighs, inquiries into the yawning habits of the red-footed tortoise, and songs about the chemistry of coffee. Ira Flatow and Ig master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams present some of the highlights from this year's festivities.

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. It's the day after Thanksgiving. The plates have been washed, the relatives have been packed off to wherever they came from, and you've got your eye on that leftover slice of pie.

So take a moment and join us for our own SCIENCE FRIDAY holiday tradition. That's highlights from the Ig Nobel Awards. It's an annual tribute to research that first makes you laugh and then makes you think.

This year's 21st Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony took place at Harvard's Sanders Theater in late September. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology.

This year's awards included research into airborne wasabi, mm, the importance of sighing and some tasty songs about the chemistry of coffee. We won't be taking your calls this hour. So give your dialing finger a rest. And now on to the Igs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium and boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium and strontium and silicon and silver and samarium and bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium and barium.

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium and phosphorous and francium and fluorine and terbium and manganese and mercury, molybdinum, magnesium, dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium, lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium, palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium, tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium, and cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium and also mendelevium, einsteinium and nobelium and argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium and chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard - but I'm from Sheffield University, and we know there are at least another dozen that have been discovered.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudo-intellectuals, quasi-pseudo-intellectuals and stereo isomers, may I introduce our master of ceremonies, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, chief airhead Marc Abrahams.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARC ABRAHAMS: Good evening. We are gathered here tonight to honor some remarkable individuals and groups. Every winner has done something that makes people laugh and then think. The Ig Nobel ceremony is produced by the science humor magazine the Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and by the Harvard Computer Society.

Tonight, 10 prizes will be given. The achievements speak for themselves all too eloquently.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: The editors of the Annals of Improbable Research have chosen a theme for this year's ceremony, and that theme is chemistry.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Let me introduce a few of the several hundred people who are here on our stage, first the Nobel laureates: 1986 Nobel laureate in chemistry Dudley Herschbach.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: A 1993 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, Rich Roberts.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: A 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, Eric Maskin.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: A 2010 Nobel laureate in economics, Peter Diamond.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: A 1998 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, Lou Ignarro.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: A 2005 Nobel laureate in physics, a man who for more than a decade has humbly swept paper airplanes from the stage at this ceremony, Roy Glauber.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: 1990 Nobel laureate in physics from MIT, Jerome Friedman.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: As usual was prevented from joining us. He appears now via the magic of videotape.

JEROME FRIEDMAN: Congratulations. I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: As you know, we used to have a problem at this ceremony. Many of the speakers would exceed their allotted time. Here's how we now solve that problem. Please welcome the charming, delightful, ever-so-cute Miss Sweety Poo. Miss Sweety Poo, will you please demonstrate what you will do when someone has exceeded their allotted time?

MISS SWEETY POO: Please stop, I'm bored. Please stop, I'm bored.

ABRAHAMS: Thank you, Miss Sweety Poo.

MISS SWEETY POO: Please stop, I'm bored. Please stop, I'm bored.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Thank you, Miss Sweety Poo. Thank you, Miss Sweety Poo. And now Professor Jean Berko Gleason will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel welcome-welcome speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: Welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLEASON: Welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: We're honored to have with us tonight some Ig Nobel Prize winners from previous years. You may have noticed a while back that Dudley Herschbach is wearing an unusual business suit. Dudley, could you stand up? And I am wearing an unusual business suit.

If you're near the stage, you may have noticed that suits smell quite wonderful, and it's not just Dudley, it's not just me, it's the suits. The 1999 Ig Nobel Prize in Environmental Protection was awarded to the inventor of the self-perfuming business suit. Please welcome, from the Colin(ph) company in Korea, Hyuk Ho Kwon.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

HYUK HO KWON: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm (unintelligible) to come back to this ceremony again. When I received Ig Nobel Prize with self-perfuming business suit back in 1999, I said (unintelligible) my lifetime to be fragrant. I hope every one of you may have a fragrance in your eye, but in 12 years, I find that only my suit still has good smell.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HYUK KWON: This is my new product, which is designed to save lives from the dangerous of nature such as (unintelligible). So I hope this jacket could save your life and put fragrance in your life to save your soul. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: For testing whether Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, please welcome the scientist who did it, Dr. Deborah Anderson.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

DEBORAH ANDERSON: Classic Coke kills sperm within one second. Diet Coke is equally effective. The New Coke and Cherry Coke are not effective. Be careful when you use Coca-Cola as a contraceptive.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The 1996 Ig Nobel Prize in Art was awarded to the creator of the plastic pink flamingo. Please welcome back Don Featherstone and his wife Nancy Featherstone.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

DON FEATHERSTONE: Did you ever think what this world would be like without chemistry? You wouldn't have some of the beautiful things we have today like the pink plastic lawn flamingo.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: Each year, the ceremony features what they call a mini-opera. This year's was a musical tribute to the chemistry of coffee. Here's a sample.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "CHEMIST IN A COFFEE SHOP")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) (unintelligible).

FLATOW: We'll be right back with more of the 21st First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. So stay with us. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Now back to Harvard's Sanders Theater for more of the Ig Nobel Awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now let's get it over with. Ladies and gentlemen, the awarding of the 2011 Ig Nobel Prizes. We are giving out 10 prizes. The winners come from many nations. This year's winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen(ph), would you tell them what they've won?

KAREN: Each year's winner will receive an Ig Nobel Prize.

ABRAHAMS: And what else?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KAREN: A piece of paper saying they've won an Ig Nobel Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Are there any distinguishing marks?

KAREN: It's signed by several Nobel laureates, and it's - it's made of chemicals.

ABRAHAMS: Genuine chemicals.

KAREN: Oh yeah.

ABRAHAMS: This, this is the coveted Ig Nobel Prize. It's a periodic table table.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: This was invented by Theo Gray, and Theo Gray received the Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the periodic table table. And now our winners. First, the Physiology Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Physiology is presented to Anna Wilkinson of the U.K. and Natalie Sebanz of the Netherlands, Hungary, and Austria, Isabella Mandl of Austria, and Ludwig Huber of Austria for their study "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And here is Ludwig Huber.

LUDWIG HUBER: So many, many thanks to you for your patience and for your laughing. It is really a funny story, and this is Anna Wilkinsin, all the credit go to her. She's the mastermind behind the Cold-blooded Cognition Lab in Vienna. So we are testing reptiles like tortoise, whether they engage in social learning and any kind of social behavior.

So for instance, we found that they learn socially, although they are completely solitary species. And also they follow the gaze of each other. But they do not yawn contagiously. That means they do not behave the way we behave if we empathize, if we share interests and do other things.

So this is really a short about the evolution of cognition. I thank Anna. I thank Isabella. I thank Natalie Sebanz and also Wilhelmina and all the tortoise. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Chemistry Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize is awarded this year to Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of Japan for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi, pungent horseradish...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: ...to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm. Here is everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have been thinking about how to wake up people with (unintelligible) in case of emergency. The answer is wasabi spray.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The optimal concentration of airy wasabi is from five to 20 ppm. By the way, this prize is a gift from the subjects who slept in the examination room and had been choked with the pungent smell, with the (unintelligible). I do appreciate their courage and cooperation.

Our next mission is to maximize the potential wasabi spray - for example(ph), to reduce uncomfortable smell of shoes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But do not spray onto sushi and Japanese noodles. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: The Medicine Prize. The Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine is awarded this year to Mirjam Tuk of the Netherlands and the U.K., Debra Trampe of the Netherlands, and Luk Warlop of Belgium, and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman of the U.S.A., and to Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff of Australia, for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things but worse decisions about other kinds of things when they have a strong urge to urinate.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome Mirjam Tuk, Luk Warlop and Peter Snyder, Robert Feldman and David Darby. Each group will give its own speech.

MIRJAM TUK: Thank you. In our research, we examined that psychological form of control, bladder control, can also facilitate behavioral control. We had several participants who had to drink either a lot or just a little bit of water, and approximately one-half hour later they engaged in several tasks.

It turns out that those who had to control their bladder to a larger extent were better able at controlling their automatic impulses, and they were more patient with money. So they could wait for a later but larger reward instead of wanting a more immediate reward.

This suggests that neurological control signals are task-unspecific, which has important implications for impulse control. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, thank you on behalf of all scientists who work tirelessly each and every day to understand the complex relationship between man's brain and his urologic system. We - our results are a little bit different from what you just heard because we caused some serious pain in our study.

The brain's control of bladder is complex. We can delay voiding as long as we choose, to a point. As we know, the longer we wait, the more pain that we feel. Using sensitive cognitive tests that we designed ourselves, we found that increasing cognitive impairment in attention working memory with delayed voiding - these impairments were the same, actually, as staying awake for 24 hour or if you reached the legal limit for driving at a bar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Also, these deficits magically go away as soon as you run to the bathroom. Why this relationship between thinking and peeing?

MISS SWEETY POO: Please stop, I'm bored.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: When you've got to go, you've got to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now it's time for the Win A Date with a Nobel Laureate Contest.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And here is Karen Hopkin(ph) to tell us about our laureate.

KAREN HOPKIN: Thank you, my silver-filled whoopee pie. Tonight we have a real treat for you. Our Win a Date Prize is a charmer called Lou. Louis Ignarro won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His stimulating studies on nitric oxide and its effects on erectile function in rabbits...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPKIN: ...almost single-handedly gave rise to the development of Viagra. A native of Brooklyn, this cuddly little bundle of pluck knows how to handle a stick-ball bat. Lou enjoys fun in the sun and other places. He's a master of N-O, but if you take Lou home tonight, ha-ha-ha, please give a warm win-a-date welcome to Lou Ignarro.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LOUIS IGNARRO: Hi.

ABRAHAMS: Let's see who will win a date with this Nobel laureate. When you entered the hall tonight, you were handed an attractive printed program. Please pick it up, open it and look through it. If your program contains a picture of Professor Lipscomb making a cup of tea, then you've won a date with this Nobel laureate. Come on down and collect your prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: Good luck, kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: Now, a very special musical event. You're familiar with Tom Lehrer's classic song "The Elements." He also made an alternate version. It has been performed only once in public, and that was long ago, in a place where there were very few people to see it. Here now is the modern premiere of "The Elements by Aristotle," translated by Tom Lehrer. It will be performed by mezzo-soprano Roberta Gilbert and pianist Branden Grimmett.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ELEMENTS BY ARISTOTLE")

ROBERTA GILBERT: (Singing) There's earth and air and fire and water.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

FLATOW: Past winners of the Igs have been honored for things as diverse as studying the physics of hula-hooping, or research into why woodpeckers don't get headaches. Ever think about that? Ten genuine Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded each year. Winners travel to the Ig ceremony at their own expense, if they dare.

ABRAHAMS: The psychology prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology is awarded to Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo, Norway, for trying to understand why, in daily life, people sigh.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome Karl Halvor Teigen.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

KARL HALVOR TEIGEN: Well, this study is the result of a research project with psychology students. I wanted to show that there are still topics in psychology that have been overlooked by research. Sighs is one such topic. We found no empirical studies on sighs, so we had to invent our own sigh-chology.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

TEIGEN: We asked people what it meant when other people sigh, and their thoughts, their (unintelligible). But when they sigh themselves, it simply meant resignation - I give up. So we gave people puzzles they could not solve, and they gave up, and they sighed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TEIGEN: Others have claimed different results. Physiologically, sighing serves to normalize irregular breathing during stress, but we also think...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored. Please stop. I'm bored.

TEIGEN: When you are bored...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

TEIGEN: ...you should sigh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The literature prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Literature this year is awarded to John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his theory of structured procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: Professor Perry was unable to be here tonight, but he sent a colleague to accept on his behalf. Please welcome Deborah Wilkes.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

DEBORAH WILKES: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and academics. I'm John Perry's editor, and I have - one of my duties, right - to show up, because he is a procrastinator.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WILKES: So he has sent me this message. He's in Germany this evening, and wanted me to relay these words: Beam at audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WILKES: I'm honored to receive this prize for my work on structured procrastination, and sorry I can't be here to celebrate with all these esteemed winners. Frankly, as a devout practitioner of structured procrastination, it was all I could do to compose this little speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WILKES: My thanks go mainly to my editor, Deborah Wilkes...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WILKES: ...who despite my procrastination, has published some of my finest works over many years. I have, in my opinion, made enormous contributions to philosophy in the course of my career, changing the way that occupants of the most widely...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

WILKES: ...(unintelligible)...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

WILKES: ...(unintelligible) and certainly, I get tons of email. And thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

WILKES: And blow a kiss to the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The physics prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Physics Prize is awarded this year to Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne and Bruno Ragaru of France, and Herman Kingma of The Netherlands for determining why discus throwers become dizzy and why hammer throwers don't.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The winners could not journey to the ceremony. Instead, here is their acceptance speech, delivered by video.

PHILIPPE PERRIN: On behalf of all of us, we are very happy to accept the Ig Nobel prize. As we understand, it is something that deals with research that, at first glance, sounds very funny. And we accept it, especially because we want to show that our research is not funny at all. We are very serious researchers trying to figure out how the balance system works. We do that in sports situation, in natural situation and especially also in patients. So one of the things that we developed was a (unintelligible) to help our patients. And, for example, there's (unintelligible) implants, understanding more about diseases. And this is that we want to bring to your attention. Thank you. Complementary to this (unintelligible), it's also a (unintelligible) to understand motion sickness.

FLATOW: The Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded for achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The awards are given out by the science humor magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. You can find out more about them at improbable.com. We'll be back in a moment with more from Sanders Theatre, so stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. They revered the pink plastic flamingo, gave an award to a translator for dog barks, presented the inventor of karaoke with a peace prize and believe a longwinded speech is best dealt with by a sweet little girl saying: Please stop. I'm bored. This hour, yup, it's highlights from the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, presented each year by the editors of the science humor magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. You can find out more about them at improbable.com. So let's go back to Harvard Sanders Theater, where something unusual is probably going to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The biology prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Biology this year goes to Darryl Gwynne of Canada and Australia and the USA, and David Rentz of Australia and the USA, for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz.

DR. DARRYL GWYNNE: This is a study of sex and the brewing industry in Australia, and it was some 23 years ago we did this study. And David and I have been waiting by the telephone for the phone call...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GWYNNE: ...for decades, and it finally came. It's a study of Australian beetles that are fooled into mating with beer bottles. And I'll let my colleague, David Rentz, take up the theme.

DR. DAVID RENTZ: Well, we were out on the Australian desert one morning, and we discovered a large beetle called the buprestid that was attempting to mate with beer bottles that have been cast along the side of the road by truck drivers and the like. And we did a number of experiments that isolated the causes of this, and it had to do with color and with the tubercles that seem to be on the bottom of the beer bottle held as grips. No, keep talking...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

GWYNNE: It has deep ecological significance...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

GWYNNE: ...for the conservation of beetles, and also for sexual differences theories.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

GWYNNE: Only males make mating mistakes, not females.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please stop. I'm bored.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

FLATOW: Chief AIRhead Marc Abrahams says of the prize that some people covet it. Others flee from it. Some see it as a hallmark of civilization, others as a scuff mark. Some laugh with it. Others laugh at it. Many praise it. A few condemn it. Others are just mystified.

ABRAHAMS: The mathematics prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: The Ig Nobel Prize in Mathematics is awarded to Dorothy Martin of the USA, who predicted the world would end in 1954, Pat Robertson of the USA, who predicted the world would end in 1982, Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA, who predicted the world would end in 1990, Lee Jang Rim of Korea, who predicted the world would end in 1992, Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda, who predicted the world would end in 1999, and Harold Camping of the USA, who predicted the world would end on September 6th, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21st, 2011. They're being awarded this prize for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The winners could not, would not be with us tonight. The 24/7 lectures are about to begin.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: The first 24/7 lecture - I should explain what they are, shouldn't I? 24/7 lectures, they are the world's top thinkers. They're invited here to tell us very briefly what they're thinking about. Each 24/7 lecturer will explain his or her subject twice. First, a complete technical description in 24 seconds, and then, after a brief pause, a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. The 24-second time limit will be enforced by our referee, Mr. John Barrett. Mr. Barrett...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: Mr. Barrett, do you have any advice for our 24/7 lecturers?

JOHN BARRETT: Gentlemen, keep it clean.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ABRAHAMS: And now, the first 24/7 lecture will be delivered by a pioneer in the study of protein folding, a professor of biology at MIT, a member of the Whitehead Institute, Susan Lindquist.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: Her topic: stress responses. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

SUSAN LINDQUIST: Three sub-lethal exposures to diverse proteotoxic stresses. This is a highly orchestrated cellular response that counteracts this apoptotic and necrotic cell death pathways through the deployment of molecular osmolytes, protein-folding reagents, remodeling factors and deubiquitinating and ubiquitinating ligases.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And now a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go.

LINDQUIST: What doesn't kill you makes you strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by a professor of chemistry at Oklahoma University, a visiting professor at MIT, a science adviser to the television program "Breaking Bad," Donna Nelson. Her topic: single-walled carbon nanotubes. First, a complete technical description in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

DR. DONNA NELSON: We analyze functionalized single-walled carbon nanotubes by using NMR. Initially, we found that the analyses were not reproducible. They seem to depend upon how long the samples set before analysis. We thought the nanotubes might be re-bundling, so we tried sonicating the samples just before taking the NMR. That produced consistent results.

ABRAHAMS: And now a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go.

NELSON: Nanotube analyses should be shaken, not stored.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by a professor of chemistry at Harvard, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Dudley Herschbach. His topic: chemistry. First, a complete technical description in 24 seconds. On your mark...

DR. DUDLEY HERSCHBACH: Preamble, preamble. Look at page three of your program. You'll find oh, no. That's what my talk is about - a reaction that produces oh, no.

ABRAHAMS: First, a complete technical description in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

HERSCHBACH: Laser-induced fluorescence spectra have been obtained for OH radicals produced when hydrogen atoms and NO2 react in thermal energy collisions in the region where the two beams intersect, the reagents intersect. Spectra of the (0,0), (1,2), (0,1), (1,2), (0,2) and (1,3) bands of the A doublet sigma, the X doublet pi system have been observed. Distributions of OH over the whole energetically accessible range of rovibrational levels have been determined...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

HERSCHBACH: ...using surprisal analysis.

ABRAHAMS: And now...

HERSCHBACH: Oh, no.

ABRAHAMS: ...a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go.

HERSCHBACH: Molecules are seldom vicious, although often capricious.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Public Safety Prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize in Public Safety is awarded to John Senders of the University of Toronto, Canada, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

JOHN SENDERS: Thanks. In 1963, I was asked to investigate normal driving. Everyone was looking at accidents and things like that. And Don Gordon at the Bureau of Public Roads said if I knew anything about normal driving, he'd love to hear about it. So on the highways 'round, old Cambridge goes the car of old John Senders. Daring scientist, old John Senders, drives with eyes closed half the time.

Then he built a driving helmet. On command his sight occluded. Others thought he was deluded. Drives with eyes closed half the time. In accord with expectations, found robust correlations: wider roads, slower speeds, far, far, fewer looks he needs. Then came cell phones. Then came texting. Then came deaths and lawsuits vexing. Now to quantify distraction, my technique gives satisfaction. Forty years after the publication, my occlusion method became an international standard. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: The Peace Prize, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize this year is awarded to Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ABRAHAMS: Please welcome, Mayor Zuokas.

MAYOR ARTURAS ZUOKAS: Thank you. It seems that they have discovered that what unites people around the globe. And it's universally understood that idiot blocking a bike lane is the same idiot, no matter where he lives and what language he speaks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZUOKAS: If we finally solve the problems of illegal parking, the world for sure will be a better place with peace and harmony. And I'm glad to help to do my part in it. Mark Twain said, the human race has one really effective weapon and that is laughter. Thank you very much for this award.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Now, before we finish up the evening, it's time for the triumphal handshaking with Nobel Laureate, Roy Glauber. All the new Nobel Prize winners will now emerge one by one through the sacred curtain. There to receive a token handshake from Nobel Laureate Roy Glauber. Let the emerging and the shaking begin.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: Half winners, half tackle tough questions like, does the five-second rule apply when you drop food on the floor? And why do shower curtains below inwards? Hmm. The awards are given out by the science humor magazine, The Annals of Improbable Research. You can find out more about them at improbable.com.

ABRAHAMS: Prof. Jean Berko Gleason will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel "Goodbye, Goodbye" speech.

GLEASON: Goodbye, goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Ig Nobel winners and the Nobel Laureates, please gather here at center stage. Stay here if you are here. Gather here at center stage for a pointless photo opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, please whack your hands together and shower them with self-esteem.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: And behalf of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and on behalf of the Harvard Computer Society, especially from all of us with the Annals of Improbable Research, please remember this final thought.

If you didn't win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight, and especially if you did, better luck next year. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ABRAHAMS: Thanks a lot for (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE PERIODIC TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS SONG")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium and nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium and iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium, europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium and lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium and gold and protactinium and indium and gallium and iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium, and iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium, and iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium and iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium. There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium and boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium, strontium and silicon and silver and samarium, and bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium and barium, and strontium and silicon and silver and samarium, and bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium...

FLATOW: That's it for another year. Thanks to audio engineers, Miles Smith and Frank Cunningham for their help in recording the show. And to Ig Nobel impresario, Marc Abrahams.

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