2012 Ig Nobels: Ponytail Physics, Coffee Sloshes, and Reports on Reports on Reports

A UCLA gymnast shows off her ponytail, the study of which won this year’s Ig Nobel prize in physics. Credit: Parker Michael Knight.

Research on a host of unusual topics was honored on Thursday night at the Ig Nobel awards ceremony, at Harvard University. The prizes, which go to the researchers behind the year’s most startling scientific achievements, don’t include the cash awards that are common to other accolades. But the Ig Nobel ceremony, now in its 22nd year, is approaching legendary status.

Thursday’s fete featured opera, showers of paper airplanes, and silver-painted human “spotlights.” See the full broadcast here.

Without further ado, the winners:

Acoustics: The SpeechJammer, a machine that can disrupt the overly gregarious by making them hear their own words at a slight delay. From Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada.

Anatomy: Proof that chimpanzee assets matter: Chimps can identify other chimps merely by looking at photos of their backsides. From Frans B.M. de Waal and Jennifer J. Pokorny.

Chemistry: Figuring out why some Swedes’ hair is turning green. From Johan Pettersson.

Fluid Dynamics: Answering the modern question “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” From Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer.

Literature: If you can’t see the Kafkaesque resonance in “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies,” then we don’t know how to explain it any more clearly. From the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Sadly, no one from the GAO appeared at the ceremony to accept its award.

Medicine: Tips for doctors conducting colonoscopies, on “meticulous bowel preparation,” or, how to keep your patient from exploding. From Emmanuel Ben-Soussan.

Neuroscience: A demonstration that brain researchers can see meaningful activity nearly anywhere … including in the brain of a dead fish. From Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford.

Peace: From Russia, with love: technology that turns old Russian ammunition into diamonds. From the SKN Company.

Physics: A thorough accounting of the forces that shape the human ponytail. From Joseph B. Keller, Raymond E. Goldstein, Patrick B. Warren, and Robin C. Ball. We wish we could say that all four have long, luxuriant manes, but alas: It would be patently untrue.

Psychology: The knowledge that leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower appear smaller, or, a paper on “Posture-Modulated Estimation.” From Anita Eerland, Rolf A. Zwaan, and Tulio M. Guadalupe.

Image from Flickr user Parker Michael Knight.

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