Published September 30, 2010
Having trouble breathing? Try riding a roller-coaster.
A pair of Dutch researchers who discovered that the symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride are among this year’s winner of the Ig Nobel awards, the annual tribute to scientific research that seems wacky -- but also has real world applications.
"The awards are for science that makes people laugh, then think," Gareth Jones, professor of biology at the University of Bristol told FoxNews.com. Jones' team took the biology prize for documenting fellatio in fruit bats.
"It is the first documented case of fellatio by adult animals other than humans to my knowledge, and opens questions about whether female animals can manipulate males via sexual activity," he said.
Other winners honored Thursday at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater included scientists who perfected a method to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter; researchers who demonstrated mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random; and in homage to the global financial crisis, the executives of various financial institutions including Goldman Sachs, AIG, and Merrill Lynch.
The 19th annual event centered on the theme of “bacteria,” and was produced by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, featured actual Nobel Laureates handing out prizes -- one of which was the prize in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.
Most winners, despite the silliness, were enthusiastic about their award and saw the value in the light-hearted event.
“A bit jet-lagged but I’m very excited,” beamed Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University, who had just flown into Boston from the Netherlands. Along with his colleague Simon Rietyeld of the University of Amsterdam, the pair were honored for their work researching unusual cures for asthma.
“Of course, it’s important to spread news of your research," van Beest told FoxNews.com. "One of the parts I like of being a scientist is to learn -- but it’s also to make people laugh. Make them laugh first and then make them think,” van Beest continued, quoting the Ig Nobel motto.
Still, this is more than simply a laughing matter, their's is real science with real implications. “We've been doing research for 10-15 years now,” van Beest pointed out. Nor is it a gimmick. The beauty of the roller-coaster is that it provides a controlled setting where the entire spectrum of emotional stress is experienced, negative immediately before the ride, and positive after.
“The lungs are difficult because you can’t just look down and see if your tubes are constricted,” van Beest said. “You have to rely on how you feel so a lot of our research has been looking at various ways people try to understand their symptoms.”
Other researchers were equally excited by the event.
Mark Fricker received an award for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks -- and was delighted to be included in the event.
“It’s a great way of getting some public interest in science in a very accessible format," Fricker told FoxNews.com. "That’s quite a challenge nowadays because lots of areas are very complex, so to present it in an entertaining fashion while be grounded in very real science is quite an achievement.”
"Our work showed that even simple organisms like slime molds have things to teach us," he said.
From the world of physics, Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, were feted for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes. Parkin explained to FoxNews.com the genesis for the unusual bit of research.
"We live in the south of New Zealand in a very hilly city (we have the steepest street in the world!), and intermittent icy conditions in winter can create major havoc," she said. "As for the award, we're delighted that something we did for fun has been recognized in this way.”
The complete list of 2010 Ig Nobel award winners:
ENGINEERING PRIZE: for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter.
Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico
MEDICINE PRIZE: for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.
Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University, The Netherlands
TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PRIZE: for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.
Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber, Mark Fricker of the UK
PHYSICS PRIZE: for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.
Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand
PEACE PRIZE: for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.
Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.
Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland
ECONOMICS PRIZE: for finding ways to maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy -- or for a portion thereof.
The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar
CHEMISTRY PRIZE: for disproving the old belief that oil and water don't mix.
Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, and BP
MANAGEMENT PRIZE: for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy
BIOLOGY PRIZE: for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats.
Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol, UK
FoxNews.com's SciTech section is on Twitter! Follow us @fxnscitech.