14 Aug 2008

IgNobel awards for useless research

Scientists at St Andrews University hit the headlines after announcing a study into the reasons why people blush.

Experiments will include asking volunteers to suck a baby's bottle, and to sing the national anthem in front of friends or strangers.

But if that sounds weird, it's nothing compared with some of the more outlandish studies academics around the world have dreamed up to pass the time.

Some of the most unusual have even picked up prizes for their wackiness. The Ig Nobel Awards are given to those which "make people laugh and then think".

Here's 10 other studies which left the rest of us scratching our heads for all the wrong reasons.


New York-based food psychologist Dr Brian Wansink is known for his quirky research methods into our eating habits, but this was his high point.

By feeding people tomato soup from bowls with hidden tubes that kept them filled, he found people would eat 73 per cent more than they would otherwise, but they wouldn't feel any more full.


After realising that very little research had been carried out into sword-swallowing, radiologist Dr BrianWhitcombe set about interviewing nearly 50 practitioners of the art.

He concluded injuries were rare and a sore throat was only likely when learning, repeating performances frequently or using odd-shaped or multiple swords.


We've all been there. You take your hamster on holiday only to find the poor creature is jet-lagged when you arrive.

Now scientists from Argentina have an answer - stick some Viagara in its water. They found one dose of the impotence drug helped the animals recover from jet-lag twice as fast. The research might sound comical, but it does raise the question of whether Viagara could have the same effect on humans.


Chances are you've never wondered why a piece of dry spaghetti will break into three rather than two pieces.

But it was keeping some scientists in Paris awake at night, so they started conducting experiments using a high-speed camera and plenty of pasta.

They concluded the initial break created shock waves leading to more breaks.


We all know a woodpecker without a beak is called a headbanger but, for some boffins at the University of California, the more important question was why the birds never got a headache.

So they set about examining the creature's cranium, and found that it works like a perfect shock absorber, with muscles contracting a millisecond before every strike to cushion the impact.


It's only in our more questionable dreams that we would think about doing this. It would also be natural to assume that the goo would make swimming harder.

But two researchers at the University of Wisconsin weren't so sure, so they filled a pool with a food-thickening agent and timed swimmers to see how they got on.

The goo didn't make the swimmers any slower as they could push harder against it. That could be worth remembering the next time you're being pursued through a vat of syrup.


Picture the scene. You're a handsome Aussie sheep-shearer who has to move your stubborn ewe to the right spot so you can get at that wool. What do you do?

Thankfully, a team of Antipodean researchers have the answer. They looked at everything from wood to plastic to wire mesh, and eventually concluded that dragging a sheep across a sloping wooden floor with the boards running parallel to the direction of the drag required the least force.


Neuroscientists in Barcelona found rats can't understand Dutch or Japanese sentences played to them backwards.

The startling revelation came after 64 rats were trained to press a lever when they heard either of the languages played forwards. When played backwards, the rats had no idea what was going on.

The study was to explore the way in which languages are acquired by the brain.


There's nothing worse than a flat pint, but how long can you leave beer before the froth disappears?

That was the question answered by German physicist Arnd Leike, who proved that beer froth follows the mathematical law of exponential decay.

He used three different beers, measuring the amount of froth 15 times over a period of six minutes.

Leike claimed the experiment was aimed at helping his students understand how to test their theories, although he admitted to drinking the beer afterwards.


It's difficult to tell when a clam is depressed. They don't have trouble sleeping, they don't get emotional and they don't have a short temper.

So you wouldn't imagine that giving them Prozac would have much of an effect. But US scientist Peter Fong had other ideas.

He fed the anti-depressant to fingernail clams and zebra mussels, and, while he never found out if they cheered up, he did manage to jump-start their reproductive behaviour.

A while back, I did post this on Australian Scientists....enjoy!

stolen from Daily Record UK.

Where do there scientists hang out?

1 commented:

Anonymous said...

God bless scientists and all that sail in them. I too have some old rope if anybody's willing to give me some money for it.