2011 Ig Nobels honor research into why people sigh, beetles that mate with beer bottles

Research lauded at the 21st Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony Thursday night ran the gamut from discovering beetles that mate with beer bottles to understanding the effect having to pee has on thinking.

Sponsored by The Annals of Improbable Research, the prizes celebrate research that may have been widely overlooked, but meet the criteria that it first should make you laugh, then learn.

While the theme of the evening’s event in Cambridge, Mass., was nominally chemistry, prizes in 10 disciplines including literature, psychology and physiology were also awarded.

WINNING: Why there’s no Nobel Prize in Computing 

HISTORY: A look back at 2010’s Ig Nobels 

The ceremony included an opera in five acts about coffee, raffling off a date with 1998 Nobel Laureate Louis Ignarro and two periods when the audience threw paper airplanes at the stage for no apparent reason.

At the end of the awards program, the editor of The Annals -- Marc Abrahams -- offered condolences to those who were disappointed. “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel prize this year, and especially if you did, better luck next year,” he said.

The prizes are:

PHYSIOLOGY: To Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl and Ludwig Huber for finding no evidence of contagious yawning in the red-footed tortoise.

CHEMISTRY:  To Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami for determining the density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of emergency and creating the Wasabi Alarm.

PSYCHOLOGY: To Karl Halvor Teigen For research into why in daily life people sigh. One experiment gave subjects puzzles they could not figure out. They gave up and sighed.

MEDICINE:  Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder, Robert Feldman, Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, Paul Maruff along with Mirjam Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop for discovering people make better decisions about some kinds of things but worse decisions about other kinds of things when they have a strong urge to urinate.

LITERATURE:  John Perry for the Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says to be a high achiever you should work on something important to avoid working on something that’s even more important.

BIOLOGY:  Daryll Gwynne and David Rentz for discovering a certain kind of beetle mating with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.

PHYSICS: Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne, Bruno Ragaru and Herman Kingma for determining why discus throwers become dizzy and why hammer throwers don’t.

MATHEMATICS: To several doomsday predictors for predicting the end of the world (1954, 1982, 1990, 1992, 1999 and 2011) and for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical calculations.

PEACE: To Arturas Zuokas for discovering that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.

PUBLIC SAFETY: to John Senders for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives a car on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flops down, intermittently blinding him. This decades old research has new relevance with the advent of phoning and texting while driving.

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