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October 5, 2009
Volume 87, Number 40
pp. 56

2009 Ig Nobel Prizes

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Broken bottles: Studied for peace.

It's that time of year when science, that normally staid and straight-faced sector of society, vogues some of its more oddball ideas to generate a few hearty guffaws. On Oct. 1, the folks at the Annals of Improbable Research presented the IG NOBEL PRIZES, given annually for "achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think."

Winners were invited to travel—at their own expense—to Harvard University's Sanders Theatre to collect their prizes, which were physically handed to them by eight genuine Nobel Laureates.

Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of England's Newcastle University were named the winners of the VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE "for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless" (Anthrozoos, DOI: 10.2752/175303708X390473). Their postal survey of U.K. dairy farmers revealed that those farmers on a first-name basis with their cows collected, on average, 258 L more milk per year than those farmers who related more formally to their bovine charges.

Researchers from Switzerland's University of Bern garnered this year's PEACE PRIZE "for determining—by experiment—whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle." Their paper, "Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?" (J. Forensic Leg. Med., DOI: 10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.013) concluded that full bottles of beer broke at 30 J impact energy, while empty bottles broke at 40 J. "These breaking energies surpass the minimum fracture-threshold of the human neurocranium," they note. "Beer bottles may therefore fracture the human skull and therefore serve as dangerous instruments in a physical dispute."

To win the CHEMISTRY PRIZE, Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño sought their inspiration inside of a bottle. More specifically, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México scientists used tequila to create diamond films, although there was no mention of a worm in their experimental procedure (arXiv:0806.1485v1).

Newscripts does its best to keep abreast of unusual science, so regular readers will be familiar with the work that was awarded the PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE. Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan won "for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander" (U.S. Patent No. 7,255,627; C&EN, Nov. 3, 2008, page 72). During the ceremony, Bodnar demonstrated the invention and gave one to each of the Nobelists.

Interested in leading a more eco-friendly life? The winners of this year's BIOLOGY PRIZE would tell you the latest green accessory is giant panda scat. Scientists from Japan's Kitasato University won "for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas" (J. Biosci. Bioeng. 2001, 92, 602). Just don't forget to stock up on bamboo.

Marc Abrahams, the events master of ceremonies and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, ended the evening, as he always does, by telling the audience, "If you didn't win a prize tonight—and especially if you did—better luck next year."

A recording of the event can be viewed at, and the ceremony will be broadcast on Friday, Nov. 27, as part of National Public Radio's "Science Friday."

Bethany Halford wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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