Friday, October 06, 2006

2006 IgNobel Prize Winners

Research into stinky feet, a study on the sound of fingernails on a blackboard and a device that repels teen-agers with an annoying high-pitched hum on Thursday won IgNobel prizes -- the humorous counterpart to this week's Nobel prizes.

Other winning research included a U.S. and Israeli team's discovery that hiccups could be cured with a finger up the rectum and a study into why woodpeckers do not get headaches.

"The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humor magazine "Annals of Improbable Research," which sponsors the awards with the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

All the research is real and has been published in often-prestigious scientific and medical journals. However, unlike the Nobel prizes awarded this week by the Swedish Academy of Sciences, IgNobel winners receive no money, little recognition and have virtually no hope of transforming science or medicine.

Even the name of the award, a play on the word "ignoble," is meant to be deprecating.

But they receive their awards from real Nobel winners in an event broadcast on the Internet at on

Thursday evening.

Some of the 2006 IgNobel winners:

-- BIOLOGY - Bart Knols of Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, the National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria and colleague Ruurd de Jong for showing that the female Anopheles gambiae mosquito, which carries malaria, is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.

"We have shown that three different Anopheles mosquito species prefer to bite different parts of a naked motionless volunteer and that this behaviour is influenced by odors from those body regions," they wrote in their report, published in the Lancet medical journal in 1996.

-- ORNITHOLOGY - Ivan Schwab of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip R.A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, for explaining why woodpeckers do not get headaches.

-- NUTRITION - Wasmia Al-Houty of Kuwait University and Faten Al-Mussalam of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, for showing that dung beetles are finicky eaters.

-- PEACE - Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, for inventing a teen-ager repellent -- a device that makes a high-pitched noise that is annoying to teen-agers but inaudible to most adults; and for later using the technology to make cellphone ringtones that teenagers can hear but not their teachers.

-- ACOUSTICS - D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand of Chicago's Northwestern University for a 1986 experiment aimed at discovering why the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard is so irritating.

-- MEDICINE - Francis Fesmire of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and the team of Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan and Arie Oliven of Bnai Zion Medical Centre in Haifa, Israel who both published studies entitled "Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage."

-- MATHEMATICS - Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation, for calculating the number of shots a photographer must take to almost ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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