Ig Nobel Prizes honor research on why coffee spills when you walk

Los Angeles Times

The Nobel Prize. The Lasker Prize. The Fields Medal. The MacArthur Fellowships (a.k.a. “the genius grants”). The Kavli Prize. The Ig Nobels.

Among the various awards given for scientific achievement, the Ig Nobels may not be the most coveted — but they’re certainly the most fun. The winners are selected by the Annals of Improbable Research to recognize breakthroughs that first make you laugh, then make you think. “The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology,” according to the organization’s website.

The 2012 Ig Nobels Prizes were handed out Thursday night at Harvard University, a place that knows a thing or two about academic achievement. Winners traveled from as far away as Russia, Japan, Rwanda, France and California to participate in the celebration, and no fewer than five actual Nobel Laureates were on hand to serve as presenters.

Here are some highlights of the “honored” research:

The Neuroscience Prize went to four Americans who showed it was possible to pick up signs of brain activity in a dead salmon.

The Chemistry Prize was awarded to a scientist who figured out why some blond residents of the Swedish town of Anderslov saw their hair turn green.


The Fluid Dynamics Prize went to a team for solving the riddle of why a person walking with a cup of coffee is likely to spill it.

The Physics Prize honored an international team that developed a mathematical model for the shape and movement of a ponytail (the hairstyle, not the part of a horse).

The Medicine Prize was bestowed upon two French doctors for their helpful advice on how to minimize the risk that gas in the colon will cause a patient to explode during a colonoscopy.

The Anatomy Prize recognized scientists who discovered that chimpanzees can recognize each other by viewing photographs of their companions’ rear ends.

Other prizes were awarded for psychology, literature, peace and acoustics. A full list of winners is online at the Improbable Research site.

It’s worth noting that four winners — neuroscience laureates Craig Bennett and Michael Miller and fluid dynamics laureates Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer — were from UC Santa Barbara.

Still hungry for more? Read our report on last year’s Ig Nobel Prizes.

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