Weird Science Awards

The common cold still needs to be cured.

But even researchers like to have fun, broadening their microscopes to explore other mysteries — why children suddenly become gleeful, how to filter flatulence with fashion, and locating Hell.

These eclectic discoveries are among the winning entries of the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize Awards, an honor bestowed upon achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced."

"There are many prizes in the world for people who are the best at something. ... There are a few prizes for the worst things. But most people are somewhere in between, and there's nothing for them,'' said Marc Abrahams, host of the awards and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, a humor science magazine.

"That's why there's the Ig Nobel Prizes. It's for the great muddle in the middle, where most of us are, most of the time.''

David Schmidt, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Massachusetts, won an Ig for answering the question clean people have been asking for years — shower curtains billow inward because of air currents caused by water spray.  

Schmidt, 31, attended the ceremony and said the goofiness is good for science.

"We need good minds in science and we need people to enjoy science to see the fun in it. We do take ourselves too seriously sometimes in this field, it's healthy to have a good laugh about what we do.”

Buck Weimer, a therapist in Pueblo, Colo., invented "Under-Ease" air-tight skivvies with a charcoal filter patch to help eliminate flatulent odors and stressed the medical significance of his product.

"While we appreciate the humor — and get a lot of that — we recognize that it's a medical product, and it's for people in need,'' Weimer, 60, said. "We believe we're certainly fulfilling a service here."

Other winners included Peter Barss of McGill University for his medical report "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts," John Keogh of Australia for patenting the wheel in 2001 (and the Australian Patent Office for granting his request), and Dr. Jack and Rexella Van Impe of Jack Van Impe Ministries who figured out black holes could technically be the location of Hell.

Thousands of entries are received from around the world each year, Abrahams said. "The magazine editors, as well as scientists, past Nobel Laureates and reporters, narrow down the contestants, then on the final day we pull a random person off the street to help pick the winner."

Winners are contacted via phone and have the opportunity to turn down the award but most accept. "The initial reaction is shock married with either amusement or tolerance," Abrahams said.

The ceremony is just as irreverent as the process. This year's included a wedding of two scientists, a young girl donned Miss Sweetie Poo who would approach the lectern and say "Please stop, I'm bored," to the winners who surpassed the one-minute acceptance speech limit (she scolded three this year), and a mini-opera performance.

"This year seven of the winners attended the ceremony at their own expense and two sent in acceptance videos," Abrahams said.

The magazine's Web site broadcasted the show live and actual Nobel Laureates presented the awards to these Jacques Cousteaus of fringe, before a sold-out audience of 1,200.

Conclusion: if you're one of the millions who say they are looking for a mate with a sense of humor, stop cruising bars and start trolling laboratories.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.