Down through the centuries, scientists and inventors have come up with countless ways to improve our human existence. Can you imagine what life would be like without the wheel, without the electric light, without Velcro? Where would we be, as a culture, if someone hadn’t devised the telegraph (a primitive version of texting)?
Fortunately for us, researchers are still at it, asking questions and dreaming dreams. The strangest of them are honored each year with something called the Ig Nobel Prize. Presented at Harvard University by a publication called the Annals of Improbable Research, the awards are handed out by actual Nobel laureates. This year’s event, held on October 1st, was billed as “The 19th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony”. The 2009 awards, of which there were a total of ten, included these achievements:
Physics: To three doctors for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over.
Chemistry: Won by some scientists from Mexico who have devised a method to create diamonds from tequila. Who knows — someday tequila may be a girl’s best friend.
Veterinary Medicine: Presented to researchers who proved that cows with names give more milk than cows that aren’t named. Could that also be true of other kinds of anonymous donations?
Peace: This prestigious category was won by four gentlemen who dared to wonder about the effects of getting hit on the head by beer bottles. Their study, which I tracked down on the internet, was titled “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?” The short answer is yes, as reported in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. And full bottles, it turns out, shatter at a lower impact energy than empty bottles.
One can’t help speculating how many bottles had been emptied when the research team came up with the idea for the study. “Dude, we should totally do it!” “Hell yeah, dude. It’s ON!”
Public Health: Dr. Elena Bodnar, with Raphael Lee and Sandra Marijan, got this award for inventing a brassiere that quickly converts to a pair of gas masks. In a matter of seconds, presumably, one can wriggle out of her bra, slap a cup over her own face and offer the other cup to an innocent bystander. There’s no word how the bra-slash-facemask looks under a cashmere sweater, but Dr. Bodnar has obtained a U.S. patent for it. Granted on August 14, 2007, Patent #7255627 is described in Patent Office records as “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks”.
There’s real potential here, I believe; with minor modifications it can probably be put to other uses. Perhaps one day, airline flight attendants will be announcing during the safety briefing, “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, a brassiere will drop from the overhead compartment.”
According to the Annals of Improbable Research, the Ig Nobel Prizes “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” They’re right: they made me laugh, and then they made me think… about laughing some more.