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2014 Ig Nobel Prizes Recognize Outrageous Science

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes, honoring achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think, were awarded at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theatre on the evening of September 18, before 1,100 spectators in a ceremony filled with bananas, toast, dogs, cats, humans impersonating polar bears, opera singers, and paper airplanes. This was the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony (and the 20th consecutive year the ceremony was webcast). Most of the new winners journeyed to Harvard — at their own expense — to accept their prizes. The Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners by four genuine Nobel laureates: Carol Greider (Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, 2009) Eric Maskin (Nobel in Economics, 2007), Rich Roberts (Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, 1993), and Frank Wilczek (Nobel in Physics, 2004). Rich Roberts was also given away in the Win-a-Date-with-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest. The event was produced by the science humor magazine "Annals of Improbable Research" (AIR), and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students. The ceremony included the premiere of "What's Eating You," a three-act mini-opera about people who stop eating food and instead nourish themselves exclusively with pills. This production starred soprano Maria Ferrante, baritone Scott Taylor, and a chorus of microbes (played by ten Boston-area biomedical researchers and the Nobel laureates). The festive ceremony also featured brief talks by Rob Rhinehart, who created the all-in-one food called Soylent, and by Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats (image), the prolific (more than 3,000 patents) Japanese inventor/politican/author, who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for having photographed every meal he had eaten during the previous 34 years. Dr. Nakamats was given away in the Win-a-Date-with-Dr. Nakamats Contest. Each new winner was permitted a maximum of 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech. The time limit was enforced by a cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girl. Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies (and editor of the "Annals of Improbable Research"), closed the ceremony with the traditional, "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year." The ceremony was webcast live and a recording will be available on YouTube. An edited recording of the ceremony will be broadcast on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" program on the day after Thanksgiving. The winners tried to explain themselves at greater length (five minutes each) in free public lectures at MIT on the afternoon of Saturday, September 20. The ten illustrious groups of winners and the associated countries were as follows: Physics Prize (Japan)--Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima, and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that's on the floor; Neuroscience Prize (China, Canada)-- Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast; Psychology Prize (Australia, UK, USA)-- Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning; Public Health Prize (Czech Republic, Japan, USA, India)-- Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček and Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, and to David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat; Biology Prize (Czech Republic, Germany, Zambia)-- Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines; Art Prize (Italy)-- Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam; Economics Prize (Italy)—ISTAT, the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants; Medicine Prize (USA, India)-- Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky, and James Dworkin, for treating "uncontrollable" nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork; Arctic Science Prize (Norway, Germany, USA, Canada)-- Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears; Nutrition Prize (Spain)-- Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled "Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces As Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages." Additional ceremony details can be found at the following link (http://www.improbable.com/ig/2014). The Ig Informal Lectures at MIT can be found here (http://www.improbable.com/ig/2014/#informallectures) and a list of past Ig Nobel Prize winners can be found here (http://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/). Finally, this year's ceremony also celebrated the publication of two new books: “This Is Improbable Too,” by Marc Abrahams, founder and host of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony (http://goo.gl/emWq01) and “The Ig Nobel Cookbook (Volume 1),” with recipes by Ig Nobel Prize winners and Nobel laureates (http://www.improbable.com/2014/09/07/the-ig-nobel-cookbook-volume-1/).