Putting the finger on a cure for hiccups

While the predictable research heavies gain the honours as the annual Nobel Prizes are dished out, Cobbers needs to honour a few more worthy recipients — those who rose to the top of the heap from the more than 7000 entrants in this year’s Ig Nobel Awards at Harvard.

They certainly put things in perspective: While this year’s Nobel prize for physics went to two scientists who helped to prove that the universe began with a big bang, Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris won the Ig Nobel physics prize for tackling the conundrum of why dry spaghetti breaks into more than one piece when it is bent.

People’s Choice will no doubt go to Francis Fesmire, of the University of Tennessee, who was awarded the medicine Ig for his report Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage.

The 2006 Ig Nobel award for peace went to Welshman Howard Stapleton for his electronic teenager repellant, called the Mosquito.

The device makes an annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults.

He later used the same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers.

Two Australian researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation (CSIRO) have won an Ig Nobel for their research on how many photos you need to take to ensure that nobody in a group photo has their eyes closed.

Australians Nic Svenson and Dr Piers Barnes have found that to take a photo of a group with fewer than 20 people, dividing the number of people by three gives the number of shots needed.

Ivan Schwab, of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip May, of the University of California Los Angeles, have won the ornithology prize for their pioneering work on the ability of the humble woodpecker to avoid head injury.

Wasmia Al-Houty, of Kuwait University, and Faten Al-Mussalam, of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, have taken home the nutrition prize for showing that dung beetles are in fact finicky eaters.

Three US scientists — Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand — have been awarded the acoustics prize for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

While the conclusions of a group of scientists from Valencia University and the University of Illes Balears in Spain are not immediately clear, the judges have deemed their study Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature worthy of the chemistry prize.

Also honoured for cheese research, Bart Knols from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands has won the biology award for his part in research showing that female malaria mosquito are equally attracted to limburger cheese and human feet.

Despite the ceremony’s irreverent tone, the awards are taken increasingly seriously in the scientific community, with eight of the 10 winners this year paying their own way to attend the ceremony.
The Improbable Research web site, home of the Ig Nobel Awards, will no doubt have full details of the research, once they’ve recovered from the hangover of the awards ceremony at Harvard last night.