College Guide


September 24, 2012 11:00 AM This Is Real Research

By Daniel Luzer

Improbable Research, a Cambridge, Massachusetts based organization that delights in exploring and publishing the world’s more unusual academic research, has just released its annual Ig Nobel prizes. Ig Nobel prizes are given to bizarre research in the same fields as those in which the Nobel Committees and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences award real Nobel prizes.

This year’s Ig Nobel awards went to researches for the following projects:

PHYSICS: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.
REFERENCE: “Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles.” Raymond E. Goldstein, Patrick B. Warren, and Robin C. Ball, Physical Review Letters, vol. 198, no. 7, 2012. REFERENCE: “Ponytail Motion,” Joseph B. Keller, SIAM [Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics] Journal of Applied Mathematics, vol. 70, no. 7, 2010, pp. 2667-72.
CHEMISTRY: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people’s hair turned green.
LITERATURE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
REFERENCE: Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies, US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.
PEACE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
MEDICINE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.
REFERENCE: “Colonic Gas Explosion During Therapeutic Colonoscopy with Electrocautery,” Spiros D Ladas, George Karamanolis, Emmanuel Ben-Soussan, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 13, no. 40, October 2007, pp. 5295-8. REFERENCE: “Argon Plasma Coagulation in the Treatment of Hemorrhagic Radiation Proctitis is Efficient But Requires a Perfect Colonic Cleansing to Be Safe,” E. Ben-Soussan, M. Antonietti, G. Savoye, S. Herve, P. DucrottĂ©, and E. Lerebours, European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 16, no. 12, December 2004, pp 1315-8.

Improbable Research also gave an Ig Nobel to Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer for “studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.” The title of their article, published in Physical Review E, was “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?”

Sadly, the organization did not award an economics prize this year.

Improbable Research held an awards ceremony at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. Oddly, many of the researchers “honored” actually attended the event. Check it out here:

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer