Ig Nobels Highlight Science of a Special Kind Why don't woodpeckers get headaches? Why don't people like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? And what happens when you break a piece of raw spaghetti? Those are big questions, and solving them would be worthy of an award — well, at least an Ig Nobel award.
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Ig Nobels Highlight Science of a Special Kind

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Ig Nobels Highlight Science of a Special Kind

Ig Nobels Highlight Science of a Special Kind

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IRA FLATOW, host:

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

You knew it was coming, the 16th First Annual Ig Nobel Award Ceremony, a tribute to the good, the bad, and the ugly in science, or at least the strange, the silly, and the unusual. Where else would levitating frogs, pink plastic flamingos, and the beauty preferences of chickens find highest honors?

This hour, highlights from this year's ceremony. The awards were handed out in early October at Harvard's Sanders Theatre. This year's ceremony features inertial debates, a win-a-date with a Nobel Laureate contest, lectures on fractals and car safety, and 10 awards.

(Soundbite of “16th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony”)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Ig, Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Ig Nobel...

Unidentified Man #1: Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel. Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

Unidentified Woman: Ig Nobel, bel, bel.

Unidentified Man #1: Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

Unidentified Woman: Ig Nobel, bel, bel.

Unidentified Man #1: Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

Unidentified Woman: Ig Nobel, bel, bel.

Unidentified Man #1: Ig, Ig, Ig Nobel.

Unidentified Woman: Ig Nobel, bel, bel, bel, bel, bel.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. LISA DANIELSON (Bride, 2001 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony): Hi, y'all.

Audience: Hi (unintelligible).

Ms. DANIELSON: Good job. I'm Lisa Danielson.

Mr. WILL STEFANOV (Groom, 2001 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony): And I'm Will Stefanov. You may recall in the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony a couple got married. We are that couple.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

Ms. DANIELSON: Thank you. And so, we've come back to relive the glory day. Yee-ha!

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KEES MOELIKER: Good evening. My name is Kees Moeliker. You may recall that in 2003, I won the Ig Nobel Prize for biology.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MOELIKER: Maybe you remember why I won it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOELIKER: I reported and documented the first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. MOELIKER: This is the duck. And now I'm married.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOELIKER: Just a few days ago.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MOELIKER: And this is my wife.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. MOELIKER: And this is our honeymoon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOELIKER: Dennis and I, Lisa and Will are very curious what is going to happen during this year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. We are curious and so are you. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

FLATOW: The awards are a place of grand tradition, time, circumstance, and all that other stuff. One tradition involves the flying of paper airplanes. In past years, attendees sent paper airplanes aloft at just about any time during the ceremony, but times have changed.

Mr. JONATHAN SALSE(ph) (Senior Production Associate, Sanders Theatre): Hi, I'm Jonathan Salse, the senior production associate at Sanders Theatre. Before the ceremony starts, there are a few things I need to mention. First, paper airplanes. Paper airplanes are a tradition at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. However, new security regulations prohibit the flying of airplanes inside Sanders Theatre. However, we think we found a way to accommodate those regulations. As you know the theme of tonight's ceremony is inertia. Sanders Theatre has been declared a high inertia zone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SALSE: Accordingly, paper airplanes can be flown only en masse. If you have made or brought paper airplanes, please pass them sideways to the aisle where our paper airplane flight crewmembers will collect them.

The flight crew will gather the paper airplanes and then fly them in formation at very special times during the ceremony. We are sorry for the inconvenience of this, but we are also excited by this bold new experiment in the history of paper airplane flight. Thank you for taking part.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. DANIELSON: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudo intellectuals, quasi-pseudo intellectuals and presidential science advisors.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DANIELSON: May I introduce our master of ceremonies, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and chief airhead, Marc Abrahams.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

Mr. MARC ABRAHAMS (Master of Ceremonies, Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony): Thank you, thank you. We're 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.

The Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is produced by the science humor magazine the Annals of Improbable Research. It's proudly co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and by the new book called “The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself,” published by Plume, ISBN 045287723.

Tonight, 10 prizes will be given. The achievements speak for themselves all too eloquently. And now Professor Helen Haste will give the traditional Ig Nobel welcome-welcome speech.

Professor HELEN HASTE: Welcome. Welcome.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

FLATOW: You think there might be some friction between the Ig Nobels and the regular old Nobel Prizes. Well, it's not so. Several genuine Nobel Laureates attend each year. In fact, Roy Glauber, professor of physics at Harvard, swept paper airplanes from the stage of the Ig Nobel Awards for 10 years and then he won a Nobel Prize. We're not sure if the two are related.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now we're honored to have with us a couple of other Ig Nobel winners from previous years. You've already met Kees Moeliker. Here is a member of the team who won the 2003 Ig Nobel Interdisciplinary Research Prize for their study Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans. Please welcome from the University of Bologna, Italy, Professor Stefano Gherlanda.

(Soundbite of applause)

Professor STEFANO GHERLANDA (2003 Ig Nobel Interdisciplinary Research Prize Winner): Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. GHERLANDA: It was exactly like that. Thank you. Inertia, the theme of this year, is a very important topic - important to our lives - but how is inertia being taught in U.S. schools? Evidence leaked from the Chicago Board of Education is alarming. Inertia demonstration...

(Soundbite of audience shouts)

Prof. GHERLANDA: Inertia demonstration materials: two dolls - Barbie and Ken -two cars. Strategy: place one doll in each car, secure one doll with a rubber band, push the car into a wall, ask the students what happened, talk about seatbelts. I have no further comments. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

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

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

Mr. DON FEATHERSTONE (1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize Winner): Well, in keeping with the theme tonight of inertia -

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. FEATHERSTONE: Inertia is what?

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. FEATHERSTONE: - led the flamingo to its success. A few people started, a few more got them, everybody had to have them. The more they put out, the more they wanted. We wound up selling a half million, a million a year, and it's built up to its 50th birthday.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. FEATHERSTONE: So remember the golden flamingo on your lawn.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: As you know, we used to have a problem here at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. Many of the speakers would exceed their allotted time. However, here's how we now solve that problem. Please welcome the charming, delightful, ever so cute Miss Sweetie Poo.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Miss Sweetie Poo is eight years old. Miss Sweetie Poo, please demonstrate what you'll do when a speaker exceeds his or her allotted time. Miss Sweetie Poo?

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored.

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

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And here is Karen Hopkin to tell us about our laureate.

Ms. KAREN HOPKIN (Creator, “Studmuffin of Science Calendar”): You've seen him before with his hat and his broom. Now he's our Win-a-Date prize, and he is va-va-voom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOPKIN: Professor Roy Glauber won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year for his ability to predict the strange behavior of photons, the particles that make up light. The son of a traveling salesman, Roy enjoys stargazing, playing with his grandchildren, and teaching freshmen how to enjoy a rainbow on every possible level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOPKIN: If you've ever wondered how many theoretical physicists it takes to screw in a light bulb, then Roy is the man for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOPKIN: Let's give a warm Win-a-Date welcome to Roy Glauber.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: OK, let's see which lucky audience member 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 page five. You'll see a picture of Roy Glauber. If your picture of Roy Glauber is covered with a peel-off picture of Roy Glauber, then you've won a date with this Nobel Laureate. Come on up and claim your prize.

(Soundbite of shouts)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: OK, OK, break it up, gang.

FLATOW: This year's theme is, again, inertia. So if you're at motion, stay in motion. If you're at rest, stay in rest. But do stay with us. We'll be right back.

We now return you to Harvard's Sanders Theatre where the Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony is in progress. This year's ceremony salutes inertia, which you may be familiar with if you had too much turkey and stuffing yesterday.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: In honor of this year's theme, which is inertia.

Audience: Inertia.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: We now present The Great Inertia Debate.

Audience: Inertia.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Each debate will be between two individuals. Each individual has been assigned a topic, which he or she will argue, and we've just been wondering whether we remembered to inform the debaters that they will be debating.

The first debate will be between Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek and Nobel Laureate Rich Roberts. The topic is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: ...the first debate will be between Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek and Melissa Fleming, official spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency. The topic will be fast versus slow. I will begin and end the debate by gesturing and making some sort of noise. Are you prepared? On your mark, get set, go.

Mr. FRANK WILCZEK (Nobel Laureate): Fast, fast, fast, fast.

Ms. MELISSA FLEMING (Official Spokesperson, International Atomic Energy Agency): Slllloooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast.

Ms. FLEMING: Slooooooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast. Fast, fast, fast.

Ms. FLEMING: Slooooooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast. Fast. Fast.

Ms. FLEMING: Slooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast. Fast. Fast.

Ms. FLEMING: Sloooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast, fast, fast, fast.

Ms. FLEMING: Slooooooow.

Mr. WILCZEK: Fast.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The second and final Great Inertia Debate will be between Nobel Laureate Rich Roberts and Nobel Laureate and sweeper Roy Glauber. The topic of the debate will be yes versus no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Debaters, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready?

Unidentified Man: Yes.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Not are you already in the midst of it? Are you ready?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you. On your marks, get set...

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, yes.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: No, no, are you...

Unidentified Man #2: Yes. (unintelligible)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Maybe, thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now, it's my honor to introduce our presiding monarchs. Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the king and queen - their majesties the King and Queen of Swedish Meatballs.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: Ten prizes are award each year. Winners travel to the Ig Ceremony at their own expense. 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?

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you. Sit down, sit down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get it over with. It's time for the awarding of the 2006 Ig Nobel Prizes. We're giving out 10 prizes. The winners come from many nations. This year's winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen.

Ms. HOPKIN: Yes.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Karen, please tell them what they've won.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: What else?

Ms. HOPKIN: Oh. A piece of paper saying they've won an Ig Nobel Prize. And it's signed by several Nobel Laureates.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Is that all?

Ms. HOPKIN: I don't know. I think so.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you very much, Karen.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Ladies and gentleman, this, this is the coveted Ig Nobel Prize. These are hand-designed and hand-manufactured by Eric Workman. Eric, could you take a bow.

(Soundbite of applause)

FLATOW: 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.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now our winners. First, the Ornithology Prize. The Ig Nobel Ornithology Prize is awarded to Ivan Schwab of the University of California, Davis, and the late Philip May of the University of California, Los Angeles, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don't get headaches.

(Soundbite of applause)

Professor IVAN SCHWAB (2006 Ig Nobel Ornithology Prize): Thank you, Marc. During the breeding season, the pileated - male pileated woodpecker will overcome the inertia of a stands - of a stationary position to drum on the trunk of a tree up to 12,000 times a day for the purposes of territory delineation, feeding, and courtship. That's done with a force equivalent to you running into a brick wall at 15 miles an hour, 12,000 times a day...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SCHWAB: ...face first.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SCHWAB: Woodpeckers can do this because of a series of marvelous adaptations which permit them to do this without the risk of retinal detachment, spontaneous enucleation - or eyes popping out of their heads...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SCHWAB: ...concussions, and especially headaches. Otherwise the male pileated woodpecker, after a successful day of courtship, might have to come home to his newfound darling and say, not tonight, honey, I've got a headache.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now get set for something special. The 24/7 lectures. We have invited several of the world's top thinkers to tell us very briefly what they're thinking about. Each 24/7 lecturer will explain her or his subject twice, first, a complete technical description in 24 seconds and then 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)

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

Mr. JOHN BARRETT (Ig Nobel Prize Referee): Gentlemen, keep it clean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now let's have the first group of 24/7 lectures. Will the perpetual motion specialist please bar the doors.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The first 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Professor Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Automation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her topic: Automobile Safety.

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

Professor MISSY CUMMINGS (Director, Humans and Automation Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): In-vehicle telematics can significantly load the visual channel, resulting in structural interference, which can negatively impact driving performance. Cognitive load disrupts recognition memory, resulting in longer latencies to perturbations of the driving ecology, as well as trajectories that violate critical safety boundaries.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CUMMINGS: Telematic interaction degrades the encoding and transferring of -

(Soundbite of whistle)

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

Prof. CUMMINGS: Don't talk, don't e-mail, just drive.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Frank Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach professor of physics at MIT and a Nobel Laureate in Physics. His topic: Dark Matter.

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

Professor FRANK WILCZEK (Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, MIT; Nobel Laureate in Physics): Everything we're familiar with is made out of quarks, gluons, photons and electrons. But something else is holding galaxies together, and something else again is blowing the universe apart. The part we understand is five percent of the total. Maybe, the rest is axions, maybe photenos(ph), maybe something else. I hope to live to see the day when we find out what it is.

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

Prof. WILCZEK: What you see isn't what you get.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot, a Sterling Professor of mathematical sciences emeritus at Yale University, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Professor Mandelbrot invented the branch of mathematics called fractal geometry.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

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

Dr. BENOIT MANDELBROT (Sterling Professor of Mathematical Sciences Emeritus, Yale University): Let X be a metric space and let me define Hausdorff measure and Hausdorff dimension. Don't - don't let me. It has very little to do with the story.

In fact, Hausdorff dimension was discovered by a man named Besicovitch, who was a very funny -

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

Dr. MANDELBROT: Beautiful, damn hard, increasingly useful, that's fractals.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The peace prize. The Ig Nobel peace prize this year is awarded to Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, for inventing and electromechanical teenager repellent, a device that makes annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults and for later using that same technology to make telephone ring tones that are inaudible - excuse me, that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers.

The winner had planned to be with us here tonight but a family medical matter intervened. Our best wishes go out to them. This morning Mr. Stapleton e-mailed us the text of his acceptance speech. Here to read that acceptance speech is our majordomo, Gary Dreyfuss.

Mr. GARY DREYFUSS: Regrettably due to family medical problems of a serious nature I am unable to attend this wonderful ceremony tonight to accept my award in person.

I am very proud to receive this award for the Mosquito Deterrent System, trademark, and it means a great deal that such a highly respected group of people such as yourselves would recognize this achievement.

As with many innovative products the Mosquito, trademark, was created in a back shed to solve a specific problem encountered by a colleague at the middle of 2005. At that time nobody would have dreamed that the product would have been so successful and attract so much media attention worldwide.

Since its launch, the Mosquito, trademark, has been totally redesigned and licensed to one of the world's largest fire and security equipment manufacturers and is now being rolled out internationally. So far 2,500 units have been sold since December 2005.

In addition, the nature of the product caught children's imaginations and we are now supplying secret, adult-proof ring tones for mobile phones.

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored.

Mr. DREYFUSS: Also we have released a full-length dance track combining regular frequency melodies with a high-frequency melody that only kids can hear.

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DREYFUSS: This was done in response to the demand created by the release of the ring tone which saw millions of hits on our Web site every day for several months. Thank you.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: We have a demonstration. We need seven volunteers from the audience to assist in doing this. You must be younger than 22 years of age. Do we have some volunteers who are younger than 22?

Seven Nobel laureates are assembling on stage with our seven young volunteers. Thank you. Are you all set? Ears are all prepared and ready? Stand tall. Let's begin.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you. Thank you, volunteers.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Thank you. That's OK. Thank you. Those of the volunteers who can no longer hear much let me tell you that the lawyers' delegation is up there. But, since you couldn't hear the announcement, oh well.

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

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The physics prize, the Ig Nobel physics prize this year is awarded to Bakil Odeli(ph) and Sebastian Newkirk(ph) of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris for their insight into why when you bend dry spaghetti it often breaks into more than two pieces.

Unidentified Man #3: So we've done everything with spaghetti. We've painted it. We bent it and we crushed it well mostly, we shot nasty video of it.

Unidentified Man #4: But in fact we made a great discovery. When you release the bent spaghetti it bends harder. Yes, when you release curvature, you get more curvature.

Unidentified Man #3: Now spaghetti are pretty useless. It's time for real-world application. Give your money to your friends. You'll get even more money back. Let your wife go, many women will come back to you.

Unidentified Man #4: Well yes. But the sentiment can have its drawbacks. For example, you do yoga, you let the pressure go and you get more stress. Or even you let your wife go but she comes back with her mother. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The literature prize, the Ig Nobel Literature Prize is awarded this year to Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University for his report, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems Using Long Words Needlessly.”

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. DANIEL OPPENHEIMER (Princeton University): My research shows that conciseness is interpreted as intelligence. So thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

FLATOW: Ig Nobel prizes are awarded for achievements that first make people laugh then make people think. The awards are given out by the science humor magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. You can find more at improbable.com.

We'll be back in a moment with more from Sanders Theatre. Stay with us.

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

We now return you to Harvard's Sanders Theatre where the Ig Nobel awards ceremony is in progress.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The nutrition prize, the Ig Nobel Nutrition Prize is awarded Wasmia al-Guti(ph) of Kuwait University and Faten al-Mousalum(ph) of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority for showing that dung beetles are finicky eaters.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Female: Thank you. Thank you. The dung beetle are finicky eaters although their kind of food is rubbish. But it will bury it on the soil, on the sand, then it will enrich the soil with minerals and with the nutrients. So it is a good biological fertilizer.

Besides it will clean the environment and it will - and protect it from the harmful (unintelligible). You know, it was sacred by ancient Egyptians and their - because it is, it reminds them it's like the life after death, sending after death.

That's why it is appreciated by the ancient Egyptians. That's it. And thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The mathematics prize, the Ig Nobel Mathematics Prize is awarded to Nick Svenson(ph) and Peers Barnes(ph) of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization for calculating the number of photographs you must take to almost ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. NICKI SVENSON (Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization): Thank you. If you've ever wielded the camera at an important family function, you know how hard it is to get a picture when no one's blinking.

I'm a writer and reluctant photographer at Australia's premier scientific research organization, CSIRO, so I figured there had to be someone somewhere who could do the math and do me a rule of thumb.

That someone was physicist Peers Barnes. After I overcame his initial inertia and provided -

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. SVENSON: - thank you, and provided some base data, he gave up a few lunch hours and did the calculations.

Mr. PEERS BARNES (Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization): We are very proud to have made a gross oversimplification of what is a very complex psychological and physiological problem. And we've backed it up with virtually no empirical data. Until now, that is.

For the record, for groups of less than 20 people you divide the number of people by three if it's good light or you've got a flash. If it's bad light divide the number of people by two.

Now last of all I'd like to thank the many people who posed

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored. Please, stop. I'm bored.

Mr. BARNES: for staff photos. These include Bruce Anderson.

SWEETIE POO: Please, stop. I'm bored.

Mr. BARNES: Sheila Carlisle. Bruce Baberson(ph). Sheila Claimworth(ph).

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Medicine Prize is awarded this year to Frances M. Fesmyer(ph) of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine for his medical case report “Termination of Intractable Hiccups With Digital Rectal Massage.” And to (unintelligible) Harry Boson(ph) and Ari Overman(ph) of Ben Zion Medical Center in Haifa, Israel for their subsequent medical case report also titled “Termination of Intractable Hiccups With Digital Rectal Massage.”

Mr. FRANCES M. FESMYER (Author, “Termination of Intractable Hiccups With Digital Rectal Massage”): Thank you, Thank you. Ladies and gentleman it's a great honor to be here at my old alma mater class of 1981. When I first learned that I'd won the Nobel Prize award for medicine, I assumed it was for my 18 years of research in cardiac patients. I immediately booked airline and hotel reservations for Stockholm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FESMYER: However, on a following week, Marc Abrahams explained to me that it I did not win the Nobel Prize for Medicine, but I won the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. FESMYER: My first reaction was shock, followed by depression, but then my oldest son Forest(ph) Fesmyer said cheer up Dad. Just think, it's sort of like winning a Darwin Award, but you don't have to actually die to get the award.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Will the perpetual motion specialist bar the doors?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The second and final round of 24/7 lectures is about to begin. The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by Irene Pepperberg, director of the Alex Foundation and researcher at Brandeis University and at Harvard University. Professor Pepperberg teaches parrots and humans to communicate with each other. Her topic: grey parrots. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

Ms. IRENE PEPPERBERG (Brandeis University): For 30 years, I've used a modeling technique to establish communicative competence with Psittacus erithacus. They can identify color, shapes, matter and numbers. We study communicative competence, transitive inference, stimulus equivalence. They understand concepts of big or small, or same, different and absence. We also study mutual exclusivity and conjunctive recursive tasks.

(Soundbite of applause)

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

Ms. PEPPERBERG: Parrots use English to demonstrate exceptional intelligence.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The final 24/7 lecture will be delivered by William Lipscomb, the Abbot and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at Harvard and a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, and also Irene Pepperberg's graduate school advisor. His topic: inertia.

(Soundbite of applause)

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

Professor WILLIAM LIPSCOMB (Harvard University; Nobel Laureate): When I was approached, it was - it occurred to me to talk about the Higgs Mechanism, how particles get their mass, which of course gives them inertia.

(Soundbite of audience shouting)

Professor LIPSCOMB: However, it's too complicated to present. So I come back to the physiological effects only, and I went to sleep, I woke up…

(Soundbite of whistle)

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

Professor LIPSCOMB: And I found inertia makes me go back to sleep.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The acoustics prize, the Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize, is awarded to D. Lynn Halpern of Harvard Vanguard Medical and Brandeis University, and Northwestern University; and to Randolph Blake of Vanderbilt University and Northwestern; and to James Hillenbrand of Western Michigan University and Northwestern University for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. D. LYNN HALPERN (Northwestern University): We are delighted that our seminal discovery, published 20 years ago, has been selected for an Ig Nobel Prize.

Unidentified Man: (Winner, 2006 Ig Nobel Prize in Acoustics) We asked a simple question about a human - a universal human reaction: Why does the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard make us cringe?

Ms. HALPERN: We imagines that the sound's shrillness could be chalked up to the high-frequency components in the acoustic signal produced by this grating action.

Unidentified Man #1: However, that's not the case. We actually removed the high frequencies from the sound, and our volunteers still found it aversive. In fact, it turns out to be the mid-range frequencies, which give us the chills.

Ms. HALPERN: These, by the way, are the same frequencies that are essential for speech perception, but it was our speculation that really made people cringe.

Unidentified Man: The sound waves produced by scratching fingernails on a chalkboard strongly resemble the vocalization of non-human primate warning cries. So we reckon that it's a vestigial reaction. When we hear that sound, we get frightened.

Ms. HALPERN: So our paper became famous, or perhaps infamous, not because of what we did but because of what we speculated.

Unidentified Man #1: In any event, we're delighted that the Ig Nobel Prize is honoring this chilling discovery.

Ms. HALPERN: And we thank the Annals of Improbable Research for ensuring that this disquieting work will not be silenced.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #5: We have a demonstration.

(Soundbite of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard)

Unidentified Man #5: Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Chemistry Prize. The Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize is awarded this year to Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito and José Bon of the University of Valencia, Spain; and Carmen Rosselló of the University of Illes Balears, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain for their study Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The winners could not join us this evening.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, and this is TALK OF THE NATION Science Friday from NPR News.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now the final prize of the evening, the Biology Prize.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize this year is awarded to Bart Knols of Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands; and of the National Institute for Medical Research, in Tanzania; and the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna Austria; and to Ruurd de Jong of Wageningen Agricultural University and of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Italy for showing that the female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. BART KNOLS (Wageningen Agricultural University): Ladies and Gentlemen, as a young boy, I hated feet. Just wiggling toes at me had me running for dear life. As a teenager, I first found out that cheese smells after feet rather than the reverse. As a Ph.D. student, I was thrilled to find out that olfaction in humans, our smell, is actually comparable to olfaction in mosquitoes.

As a son, I have to thank my parents for feeding my right brain more than my left. As a parent, I don't know which half to feed in my own kids. As a husband, I have to apologize to my wife, Inga(ph) - she's not here with me -for putting her naked under a net and releasing mosquitoes into it. And as a human being, I must say that I'm appalled by the political inertia displayed by governments all around the world to try and defeat malaria, which kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds. Beat malaria and eat limburger. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now, ladies and gentlemen, let's honor all of the people who put this ceremony together - back there, back there, up there, all around over there.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now, would the Ig Nobel Prize winners and the Nobel Laureates and the 24/7 lecturers please gather at the front of the stage for a pointless photo opportunity. Put your - whack your hands together and shower them with self-esteem.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: And now, Professor Helen Haste(ph) will give the traditional Ig Nobel Goodbye, Goodbye Speech.

Ms. HASTE: Goodbye, goodbye.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Now on behalf of the Harvard-Radcliff Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliff 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 applause)

FLATOW: That's all from us. Our thanks to Marc Abrahams and the folks at the Annals of Improbable Research. You can find out more at improbable.com. Thanks also audio engineers Miles Smith and Frank Cunningham.

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