IRA FLATOW, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

Each year as a holiday treat, we bring you our broadcast of highlights from the Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony, an event at which the publishers of the magazine the Annals of Improbable Research salute the strange and silly in science. And they find plenty of it. As they say, they pay tribute to work that first makes people laugh and then makes them think. This year marks the 15th First Annual Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony, and it's a place--if you've never been to it, you have to watch out, because there are paper airplanes flying through the air more or less at will. Most of them are aimed at the people onstage, where long-winded speeches are cut short by a little girl complaining that she's bored. So sit close to the radio, stare straight into the speakers, and imagine yourself in Harvard's Sanders Theater.

Unidentified Woman #1: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudo-intellectuals, quasi-pseudo-intellectuals and presidential science advisers...

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Unidentified Woman: ...may I introduce our master of ceremonies, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, chief airhead Marc Abrahams.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MARC ABRAHAMS (Editor, Annals of Improbable Research): Thank you. We are gathered here tonight to honor some remarkable individuals and groups. Every winner has done something that first makes people laugh and then makes them think. Tonight 10 prizes will be given. The achievements speak for themselves all too eloquently. Now Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth will give the traditional Ig Nobel `Welcome, welcome' speech.

Dr. MICHELINE MATTHEWS-ROTH: Welcome. Welcome.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The editors of the Annals of Improbable Research have chosen a theme for this year's ceremony. This year's theme is infinity.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: To fully explain and illustrate this year's theme, which I remind you is infinity...

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: ...we have commissioned a series of educational lectures. These are called the Infinite Lectures. There are three of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Each lecturer will strictly adhere to the time limit, which is infinity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The first infinite lecturer is Nobel laureate Dudley Herschbach, who will explain the concept of infinity.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. DUDLEY HERSCHBACH (Nobel Laureate): It's a very simple concept, but you have to understand a lot of other concepts. You have to understand the concept of one, of two, of three, of four, of five, and minus one, minus two...

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The second infinite lecturer is Nobel laureate Robert Wilson, who will recite, in their proper order, all of the digits of the number pi.

Mr. ROBERT WILSON (Nobel Laureate): 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399...

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The third and final infinite lecturer is Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow, who will tell you everything he knows.

Mr. SHELDON GLASHOW (Nobel Laureate): Well, it's hard to top Bob Wilson. I can give you the digits of E, but let me start in the year that I was born, which is 1932, when the...

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: There is a musical feast: the world premiere of a new mini-opera called "The Count of Infinity." There are three acts, three acts: one now, two--yes, that's two--later. The opera stars Margot Button, Simon Chausse, pianist Greg Neil and many of the scientists who are with us onstage tonight. Now here is our narrator, Karen Hopkin.

Ms. KAREN HOPKIN (Narrator): The Countess of Infinity rules over the land of Infinity--which, let me tell you, is a pretty big place. The countess wants to fall in love, get married and have children, but first--first--she has to complete a count of everything she owns. She is going to count everything in the land of infinity. That's because the countess suffers from a psychological disorder. It's called OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. The countess needs help, so she hires a handsome young accountant to assist in the counting. Let's join them at their first meeting.

(Soundbite of song, to the tune of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik")

Ms. MARGOT BUTTON: (As the Countess) (Singing) I, the Countess of Infinity, am aware of my virginity. Dear sir, I know it sounds abstruse, but here is my excuse why I can't reproduce. I've got to make an inventory first of everything I own. This is how I live. OCD makes me be all obsessed, compulsive. So no wedding rings, or even flings, till I complete my current counting spree.

Oh, pardon me, now don't you know I'd love to be impulsive? Oh, but romance is repulsive until I finish counting, counting, counting, this counting, counting, counting, counting, counting, counting, counting, counting.

Help me finish counting. I need you. I need your help. I really do. Counting isn't something I find fun. It's mandatory. It's got to be done. `You really should have children,' I hear the people mutter. But my mind's all a-clutter with counting guns and butter. Shoes and ships! Guns and whips! It's hard to keep track of all the inventory without making slips.

Oh, please, please, please assist me, and please don't mind my checking. My counting and my becking, my breathing-down-your-necking. Diligence with percents is all I need to show me so you don't make any sense. I really hope you're not a dope. I really don't think I could cope. Are you a dope?

Mr. SIMON CHAUSSE: (As Accountant) (Singing) No, no, no, nope, I'm not a dope.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) I, the countess of virginity will preserve my virginity!

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now get set for something special: the 24/7 lectures. We have invited several of the world's great thinkers to tell us very briefly what each of them is thinking about. Each 24/7 lecturer will explain her or his 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, do you have any words of advice for our 24/7 lecturers?

Mr. JOHN BARRETT (Referee): Certainly. Gentlemen, keep it clean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now let's have the first group of 24/7 lecturers. Will the Divide by Zero specialists bar the doors!

(Soundbite of doors being barred)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The first 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Rebecca German, the vice chair for research at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins University.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Dr. German's topic: morphology. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go!

Dr. REBECCA GERMAN (Johns Hopkins University): Morphology is the property of an object with a visual appearance that exists in some two- and three-dimensional space. It can be measured by Eigenfunctions of the bending energy matrix, interpretive of the actual work surfaces over the picture of the original landmark configuration. It is the product of a phenotypic process portrayed by Procrustes Paradigm of partial warps from a PCA(ph).

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now...

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

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

Dr. GERMAN: It's not just size; shape matters, too.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by William Lipscomb, the 1976 Nobel laureate in chemistry. His topic: infinity.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go!

Mr. WILLIAM LIPSCOMB (1976 Nobel Laureate, Chemistry): Did you know that there are just as many even numbers as there are even and odd numbers together?

Unidentified Man #1: No, I didn't know!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPSCOMB: When you have infinities, when they are at infinity--in fact, Canter defined a collection...

(Soundbite of whistle)

Mr. LIPSCOMB: ...in infinite of some of his thinking--OK.

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

Mr. LIPSCOMB: Weird things can happen with these infinities.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Richard Jakowski, associate professor at the department of biomedical sciences at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. His topic: purring. First, a technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go!

Professor RICHARD JAKOWSKI (Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine): Purring results from the low-frequency oscillation of the caudal portion of the soft palate, which is more elongated in cats than other mammalian species. This places the feline soft palate in a lamellar air stream between the posterior coama(ph) and the rima glottidis, resulting in fluttering from the posterior portion and an audible sound wave in the range of 50 to 200 hertz. The brain mechanism is similar to the flapping uvula of a snoring person; however, rather than keeping us awake...

(Soundbite of whistle)

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

Prof. JAKOWSKI: The cat's purr is a melodious snore.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

FLATOW: We're going to take a short break. More silliness to come, including the awarding of the first set of prizes. I'm Ira Flatow. Stay with us.

This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We now return you to Harvard's Sanders Theater, where the 15th First Annual Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony is in progress.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now let's get it over with, ladies and gentlemen: the awarding of the 2005 Ig Nobel Prizes. We are giving out 10 prizes. The winners come from 12 nations on slightly more than four continents. This year's winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen, would you tell them what they've won?

Ms. HOPKIN: Hi. This year's winners each receive an Ig Nobel Prize.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: What else?

Ms. HOPKIN: A piece of paper signed by several Nobel laureates saying they've won an Ig Nobel Prize.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Ah. Anything else?

Ms. HOPKIN: No.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: OK. How wonderful. Thank you, Karen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Economics Prize. This year's Ig Nobel economics prize is awarded to Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology...

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: ...for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides repeatedly, thus ensuring that people do get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Ms. GAURI NANDA (MIT): Thank you so much for this award. You know, it's kind of funny getting this award, because my intention wasn't actually to get people to work on time. I just kind of wanted them to have something to laugh at in the morning, maybe make--personalize the whole waking-up process. But I think it's actually gone too far, because the other day I was--I accidentally knocked my laptop computer screen and I actually apologized to it. Really...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NANDA: But thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Fluid Dynamics Prize. The Ig Nobel prize for fluid dynamics is awarded to Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University in Bremen, Germany, and also at the University of Oulu, Finland, and to Jozsef Gal of Larant Eotvos University in Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report, "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh--Calculations on Avian Defecation."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The winners very much wanted to join us, but they were unable to come because the United States government refused to grant them a visa.

(Soundbite of boos)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The agricultural history prize.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel prize in Agricultural History is awarded to James Watson of Massey University in New Zealand, for his scholarly study, "The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers."

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Mr. JAMES WATSON (Massey University): I'm infinitely grateful to the editorial staff and referees of the journal Agricultural History for recognizing that there was an important message, and not just a safety message, in an article entitled "The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers." I think the popular science journal New Scientist also deserves a mention for making the article more widely known. Next, I'm infinitely grateful...

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. WATSON: ...to Marc Abrahams and his team for choosing to honor my article in the way they have. Despite the fact that New Zealand has only four million people but 40 million sheep, rural history does not have a high profile there. Hopefully the publicity from this award will help change that. It's hard to believe, but many people find history and even science somewhat dry and lifeless. The Ig Nobel Awards have, I think, given the lie to those impressions.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Biology Prize. This year's Ig Nobel prize in biology is awarded to: Benjamin Smith of the University of Adelaide, Australia, and of the University of Toronto, Canada, and of the Firmenich perfume company in Geneva, Switzerland, and of ChemComm Enterprises in Archamps, France; and to Craig Williams of James Cook University and the University of South Australia; and to Michael Tyler of the University of Adelaide; and to Brian Williams of the University of Adelaide; and to Yoji Hayasaka of the Australian Wine Research Institute; for painstakingly smelling and cataloging the peculiar odors produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH (University of Adelaide): Thank you, Marc. I'd just like to say that there are an infinite number of interesting odors out there for us to smell, and we're very pleased that we could follow in the footsteps of famous scientists like Platus. In fact, it was Platus--and bear with me with--my Latin's not very good--who said (Latin spoken): `Puppies and pigs have very different smells and so do frogs.'

Mr. CRAIG WILLIAMS (University of Adelaide): We'd like to thank our co-conspirators, Mike Tyler, who is a mentor to me and Ben and, in fact, his hand was the first time I smelled another man's hand; Yoji Hayasaka and Brian Williams, fantastic. And--yeah.

Mr. SMITH: We've got a quote from another famous infinite person.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yes. We're at Harvard; and keep the tone intellectual. I think it was Elizabeth Taylor...

Mr. SMITH: Yes, it was Elizabeth.

Mr. WILLIAMS: ...who had an infinite number of husbands, who said, `Success is the best deodorant.'

Mr. SMITH: Deodorant. Thank you.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

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

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Here's Karen Hopkin to tell us about our laureate.

Ms. HOPKIN: For those of you out there looking for fun, tonight's Win a Date prize is Bob Wilson. Robert Woodrow Wilson won the 1978 Nobel Prize for his accidental discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, that persistent hum left over from the birth of the universe.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Ms. HOPKIN: Yeah. A Texas-born astronomer who has a serious problem with pigeons, Bob enjoys figure skating, playing the piano and listening to interstellar space. With any luck, he'll help one of you find your own personal big bang.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOPKIN: Let's give a warm Win a Date welcome to Bob Wilson.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Let's see who will win a date with this Nobel laureate. When you entered the hall, the ushers handed you an attractive printed program. Pick it up. Turn to the special scratch-and-sniff drawing of a frog on page 5. Scratch it and sniff it. If your frog smells like piping hot McDonald's french fries, then you have won a date with this Nobel laureate. Come on up and claim your prize.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Hi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now, act two of our mini opera, "The Count of Infinity." Here is our narrator, Karen Hopkin.

Ms. HOPKIN: Our handsome young accountant decides that he needs to take charge of the project--the project being to make a complete inventory of everything in the land of Infinity.

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: Why? Because he is falling in love with the Countess of Infinity...

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: ...and wants to impress her. The countess suspects that the young man is stupid, but she lets him keep counting. Why? Because she is falling in love with him. Let's join this incipient couple.

(Soundbite of song, to the tune of "La Ci Darem la Mano" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni")

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Principles of accounting show just what I need to do. For me, this is work amounting to--let me see--oh, just a month or two.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Your claim that it will be easy to count to infinity sounds way beyond being breezy. It seems like some new form of asininity, asininity.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Fear not, for I'm an accountant.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Your manly goodness fills me with excitement.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Good! I will set up your bookkeeping.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) But if your system's double-entry, it's element'ry. It seems so element'ry.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Double entry! It keeps track of your possessions.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) But won't we need extra sessions?

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) That makes it twice as good.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) I hope I've misunderstood.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Yes, you've misunderstood.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Oh, please, just say it in a nutshell.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Tally! Oh, tally.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Oh, pretty tally, tally ho.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Tally, oh, tally.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Oh, we're heading for disaster if we don't find something faster. Oh, let us stop this silly arguing.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Don't dally. Just tally.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Just tally.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) This count won't take forever...

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing simultaneously) This count could go forever...

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) ...because we're very clever.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing simultaneously) ...unless we're very clever.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) We won't...

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) We'll...

Mr. CHAUSSE and Ms. BUTTON: (Singing in unison) ...tally, tally on infinitely. Our love for this endeavor will never end. No, never. We'll tally, tally on infinitely.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) We would.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) We would. We would?

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) We would.

Mr. CHAUSSE and Ms. BUTTON: (Singing in unison) We would tally infinitely. We'll tally infinitely. We'll tally infinitely.

FLATOW: If you want to read all the words of this year's opera, or maybe sing along yourself, visit sciencefriday.com, where we've got links to the libretto. I'm Ira Flatow, and this is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Medicine Prize. The Ig Nobel prize in medicine is awarded to Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri, for inventing Neuticles, artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes and three degrees of firmness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The winner was unable to travel, and so here he is, accepting via videotape.

Mr. GREGG A. MILLER: (From videotape) It all started when Buck, my bloodhound, had to be neutered, which proved to be traumatic for me and devastating to Buck. My veterinarian thought I was nuts when asked if a testicular implant was available. But after giving it thought, he encouraged me to pursue it. It took nearly two years to get the balls rolling. Today, 10 years later, over 150,000 dogs, cats, horses and bulls have been Neuticled in all 50 states and 47 countries worldwide without a single complication. Harried pet owners now have an option when altering. Many are pet owners that simply would not neuter before, and as a result, pet overpopulation is being reduced and happier, healthier pets are a part of loving families worldwide. Neuticles: It all began with a bloodhound named Buck and his nutty owner that is sorry for not being able to be with you tonight.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Nutrition Prize. The Ig Nobel prize in nutrition is awarded to Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats of Tokyo, Japan, for photographing--the award is for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years and counting.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. YOSHIRO NAKAMATS (Professor, University of Aomori, Kyushu Kyoritu University): Thank you, Marc. Please be patient before eating a meal. Take picture. You can get better brain quality and longevity. Long life shall be longer. Speech shall be short.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

FLATOW: Chief airhead Marc Abrahams says some people covet the prize; some people 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. For more information about the awards and a list of all the past winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes, you can visit the Web site www.improbable.com, or follow the links from the sciencefriday.com page. We need to take a short break. Stay with us. Coming up, the conclusion of the Infinity opera, more lectures about deep thoughts in science and the rest of the Ig Nobel Prizes.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

It's our annual broadcast of highlights from the Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony, now in its 15th First Annual year. Past winners of the Igs have been honored for things as diverse as inventing the pink plastic lawn flamingo or studying the physics of Hula-Hooping. Past winners have tackled tough questions like: Does the five-second rule apply when you drop food on the floor? And why do shower curtains billow inwards? The prizes are awarded at a gala ceremony in Harvard's Sanders Theater. Twelve hundred splendidly eccentric spectators watch the winners step forward to accept their prizes. The prizes are physically handed to the winners by genuinely bemused genuine Nobel laureates.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Peace Prize. The Ig Nobel peace prize is awarded to Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University in the UK for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."

(Soundbite of laughter, applause; more laughter)

Ms. CLAIRE RIND: Ah, well, it brings it all back to me. First of all, I'm infinitely pleased...

(Soundbite of cheers)

Ms. RIND: ...to have been honored with this prize. And I want to say that the reason I did the research was curiosity. I needed to show the locust a huge variety of visual scenes to see what this neuron was really interested in, and what I found was that it was Darth Vader. (Laughs) His TIE fighter was irresistible for the locust. It's the neuron that I was recording from--was very selective for that particular scene with Darth Vader approaching. The work has gone on to allow me to make artificial collision pincers similar to the ones that the locust has in its nervous system. So I've been very--this was just the start of the journey, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RIND: (Laughs) And my co-worker, Peter Simmons, was very helpful, providing infinite support and considering the (laughs)...

(Soundbite of cheers)

Ms. RIND: So that enabled the work to go on. Now the thing that the locusts were most interested in was the tie fighter in the Death Star, and the way I was able to pin that down was I dubbed the recording from the locust's visual neurons back onto the movie, and then I could see exactly what the neuron was interested in. And I monitored it frame by frame, so I am heartily sick of the "Star Wars" movie.

Unidentified Child: Please stop.

Ms. RIND: That would be a blessed relief.

Unidentified Child: Please stop.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Literature Prize. The Ig Nobel prize for literature this year is awarded to the Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria for...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: ...creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters: General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sani Abacha, barrister Jon A. Mbeki, Esquire, and others, each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled, and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them. The winners could not or would not be with us tonight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now the final act of our mini-opera, "The Count of Infinity." Our singers will be joined by the Nobel laureates and the other distinguished scientists whom you see here onstage. Here is our narrator, Karen Hopkin.

Ms. HOPKIN: Thanks, Marc.

Good news! The Countess of Infinity...

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: ...thank you--has tamed her obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her OCD is under control, thanks to some pharmaceutical help. The countess wishes that the handsome accountant would stop counting already and marry her and become the Count of Infinity.

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: But--but--but--he, the accountant I'm talking about, wants to finish counting all the way to infinity.

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: The nation's entire population, played here by all the scientists who are with us onstage tonight, is helping with the count. Now let's join this infinite cast of characters...

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

Ms. HOPKIN: ...for the thrilling conclusion to our opera.

(Soundbite of "Ninety-Nine Bottles")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, that one there looks like a pair, 100 bottles of beer on the wall. One hundred bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer...

Group of Scientists: (Singing in unison) ...that one there looks like a pair, 101 bottles of beer on the wall. A hundred and one bottles of beer on the wall, 101 bottles of beer, that one there looks like a pair, 102 bottles of beer on the wall. Hundred and two bottles of beer on the wall...

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Stop! Stop! Enough already. Stop!

(Soundbite of song, to the tune of "The Champagne Waltz" from "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss II)

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Counting one by one, you'll never get it done. It should be clear to you that you'll never reach infinity or anywhere in that vicinity.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Counting one by one would never get it done. On that we are agreed. I must simply multiply the speed, so this is how I will proceed. Hop-hopping like a kangaroo, I will count everything two by two. Doubling the speed will assure that I'm going to finish in half the time.

Or more rapidly I could count three by three or faster, if I please. I could even count by 30 and threes. Why not by a thousand thirty and threes? Why think small? No reason, not at all. I'll count a million at a crack. Like Napoleon, I'll say, `Attack!'

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) You're a monomaniac. You could go on that way happily, all day and night, counting sappily. You could go on that way all your life. Or you could stop and (speaking) make me your wife.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) But, countess, I'm confused. I thought you were enthused, enraptured and entranced, that until we'd reached infinity your middle name would be `virginity.'

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Oh, my dear, you see, when I had OCD, my life was strict routine. Filthy thoughts were few and far between. But now I take fluoxetine. I find infinity's no big deal, now I take Prozac at every meal. Now that I'm taking the right amount, I would be pleased if you'd be my count.

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) Oh!

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) Oh!

Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing) The counting is a drag, but there's a little snag. There's no way we can end. Count the dough our country spends on it. Our economy depends on it.

Ms. BUTTON: (Singing) You keep counting then. Yes, you keep counting with your men. I like that arrangement.

Ms. BUTTON and Mr. CHAUSSE: (Singing in unison) Praised be the men of great intellect. Oh, we acknowledge they are correct. There is no doubt about it then. Women just don't count as much as men.

(Soundbite of applause)

FLATOW: If you want to read all the words of this year's opera or maybe sing along yourself, visit sciencefriday.com, where we've got links to the libretto.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Will the perpetual motion specialists bar the doors! The second and final round of 24/7 lectures is about to begin. The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by psychologist Robin Abrahams, who writes the Miss Conduct etiquette column in The Boston Sunday Globe.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Her topic: the human mind. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go!

Ms. ROBIN ABRAHAMS (Psychologist): The complexity and efficiency of the human mind was not fully appreciated until attempts to create artificial intelligence systems led to the discovery that so-called common sense, such as the ability to understand jokes or that it's inadvisable to begin building a tower of blocks starting at the top, is, in fact, extraordinarily difficult to program into computers. Turns out we're smarter than we knew. However, research also shows that human cognition is prone to an infinite number of bugs such as binary thinking...

(Soundbite of whistle)

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

Ms. ABRAHAMS: People are brilliantly stupid and stupidly brilliant.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The final 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Lynn Margulis, distinguished university professor at the University of Massachusetts. Her topic: What is life? First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go!

Professor LYNN MARGULIS (University of Massachusetts): The secret of life. In her murky gut, the wood-feeding termite harbors the secret of life. What is it? A community becomes an individual. The arithmetic of the living. One plus one is one.

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

Prof. MARGULIS: If you feel you're falling apart, you are.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, and this is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now the final prize of the night.

(Soundbite of piano)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: This year's Ig Nobel prize in chemistry is awarded to Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin for conducting a careful experiment to settle the long-standing scientific question, `Can people swim faster in syrup or in water?'

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Unidentified Award Recipient: (University of Minnesota): You have to guess. You have to guess. The answer is, their speed doesn't change. And the reason it doesn't change takes a lot--takes infinitely long to understand.

Crowd: (In unison) Whoo!

(Soundbite of laughter; applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now, Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth will give the traditional Ig Nobel `Goodbye, goodbye' speech.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. MATTHEWS-ROTH: Goodbye. Goodbye.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: If you'd like to stay a moment and help us clean up, that would be greatly appreciated. Now, on behalf of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and on behalf of the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, especially from all of us at the Annals of Improbable Research, please remember this final thought: If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize this year, and especially if you did, better luck next year. Thank you.

(Soundbite of cheers, applause)

FLATOW: This is the 15th First Annual Ceremony. That's one more than 14 and one less than 16. For more information about the awards and a list of all the past winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes, you can visit the Web site www.improbable.com, or follow the links from the sciencefriday.com page.

That's about it from Harvard. We'd like to thank all of those who made this broadcast possible, especially Mark Abrahams at the Annals of Improbable Research. If you didn't get enough of today's shenanigans, Marc is also editor of the newly published book "Ig Nobel Prizes 2," now in your bookstore.

(Credits)

FLATOW: If you'd like to write us, please send your letters to SCIENCE FRIDAY, 55 West 45th Street, Fourth Floor, New York, New York 10036, or you can surf over to our Web site at sciencefriday.com, where you can check out SCIENCE FRIDAY's Kids' Connection, where we provide free curricula for teaching science using SCIENCE FRIDAY. Just click on the `teachers' link on the sciencefriday.com Web site. And if you'd like to podcast SCIENCE FRIDAY, you'll also have the links to our podcast on that site, too.

We'll see you next week. I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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