Yesterday, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Journal of Improbable Research announced the 2009 winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize, “For achievements that first make people LAUGH, then make them THINK”. There are summaries of the prizes awarded this year by both the New Scientist and Ars Technica; here are a couple of my favorites:
- PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, 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.
- CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.
- BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.
Incidentally, there is real, although perhaps odd, research behind these; the citations are at the Improbable Research site. But there are two prizes that, to me, really stand out.
The Mathematics prize went to Gideon Gono, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, for helping everyday people understand and relate to a huge range of numbers, “by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000)”. Of course, part of the credit must be given to Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, whose vicious, lunatic kleptocracy has reduced one of wealthiest countries in Africa to penury.
Last, but by no means least, the Literature prize was awarded to the Irish National Police service (An Garda Siochana) for issuing more than fifty traffic citations to a Polish driver whose address they could never find: Prawo Jazdy — which, translated from the Polish, means “driving license”.