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Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Update on Didgeridoo and Snoring

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

A fairly recent Swiss TV report about the results of the didgeridoo / snoring research that won an Ig Nobel Prize:


The 2017 Ig Nobel Peach Prize was awarded to Milo Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz, and Otto Braendli, for demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring.

They documented their research, in the study “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome: Randomised Controlled Trial,” Milo A. Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz and Otto Braendli, BMJ, vol. 332 December 2006.


A vivid new telling of the herring farts / Soviet sub history

Friday, February 19th, 2021

The story of how the sound of herring expelling gas through their rear ends became mistakenly taken, by Swedish government officials, as evidence of invading Soviet submarines, gets a new, beautifully stylish telling in a new episode of the RadioLab podcast:

Red Herring

It was the early 80s, the height of the Cold War, when something strange began happening off the coast of Sweden. The navy reported a mysterious sound deep below the surface of the ocean. Again, and again, and again they would hear it near their secret military bases, in their harbors, and up and down the Swedish coastline.

After thorough analysis the navy was certain. The sound was an invasion into their waters, an act of war, the opening salvos of a possible nuclear annihilation.

Or was it? …

Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, the scientists who discovered that the supposed submarines were in fact herring were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, together with a group of scientists in Scotland and Canada who had independently been researching the ways of herring. The prize centered on the biology of the discovery.

The submarines aspect of the story was top secret at that time, and only years later was revealed to the public. The first public presentation of the submarine facts happened at an Ig Nobel event at the Karolinska Institute in March 2012, with Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, aided by a dead herring, demonstrating the biological mechanism that produces the sound.

That Ig Nobel Prize

The 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for biology was awarded to Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden’s National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.

Here are the research studies produced by the two groups, cited when the prize was awarded:

Sounds Produced by Herring (Clupea harengus) Bubble Release,” Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, Aquatic Living Resources, vol. 16, 2003, pp. 271-5.

REFERENCE: “Pacific and Atlantic Herring Produce Burst Pulse Sounds,” Ben Wilson, Robert S. Batty and Lawrence M. Dill, Biology Letters, vol. 271, 2003, pp. S95-S97.

Magnus Wahlberg has since done several other public talks about the incident. Here’s a TEDX talk he gave in 2012:





The Reason You Will Spill Coffee, No Matter How Careful You Are

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

When a person walks while carrying a full cup (with no lid) of coffee, it is almost inevitable that some coffee will spill. Two Ig Nobel Prizes have honored research that analyzed why. Small Expedition Room produced this video news report [in Korean] about the phenomenon:

Those Two Coffee-Spill Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics was awarded to Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

They describe that research, in the study “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” Hans C. Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov, Physical Review E, vol. 85, 2012.

The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics was awarded to Jiwon (Jesse) Han, for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee.

He describes that research, in the study “A Study on the Coffee Spilling Phenomena in the Low Impulse Regime,” Jiwon Han, Achievements in the Life Sciences, vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 87-101.

Improbable Research at AAAS—Thursday, Feb 11, 2021

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

The AAAS Annual Meeting is happening this week. Join us at the Improbable Research session, on Thursday, February 11, from 2:15 to 3:15. Navigate to the AAAS Meeting live channel <>

(NOTE: The Improbable Research session is a public session, which means that you can probably watch it even if you have not paid to attend the entire Annual Meeting. You may have to register (at no cost) first.)

Nobel laureate Frances Arnold (seen here testing an innovatively engineered hat) and Ig Nobel Prize winner Damiaan Denys (seen here munching an apple) are two of the many stars of this year’s Improbable Research session at the AAAS Annual Meeting

Improbability in the Past

In 1996 the AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science) asked us to do a special session—about Improbable Research—at their Annual Meeting. That session drew a crowd, rave responses, and press coverage around the world. We’ve done a special session there at every year since. “There” is a flexible concept here—the AAAS Annual Meeting bounces happily to a different North American city each year. Last year, 2020, it was in Seattle. In this pandemic year, though, the whole meeting is happening online.

This Year’s Session

This year’s Improbable Research session is a special presentation about the current crop of Ig Nobel Prize winners (and a look back at Dr. Elena Bodnar’s 2009 Ig Nobel Prize-winning Emergency Bra).

Ten Years Ago and Again at AAAS: The Emergency Bra

Monday, February 8th, 2021

Ten years ago, an emergency defense against airborne viruses (and much else) starred in the Improbable Research session at the Annual Meeting of the AAAS (Association for the Advancement of Science), held that year (2011) in Washington, DC. Johnathan Gitlin wrote about it—and took part in the event—for Ars Technica:

At this point, forgetting the adage that the journalist should never become part of the story, your author somehow ended up on stage. To provide some context, in 2009, Dr. Elena Bodnar, a Ukrainian physician, won the Public Health Prize for inventing a bra that can turn into a pair of emergency face masks, one for the wearer of the brassiere and one for a lucky bystander. We had been shown video footage of the 2009 ceremony, with a first amused, then slightly shocked-looking pair of Nobel laureates (Paul Krugman, Economics 2008; Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics, 2001) being used as demonstration models, as Dr. Bodnar removed her invention which she was wearing it at the time, and attached it to their faces. Dr. Bodnar then whipped out another bra, one half of which was then strapped to Orhan Parmuk (Literature, 2006).

As you can see from the photograph above, I helped model Dr. Bodnar’s invention, an example of which had been brought along.

That Prize-winning Brassiere, Then and Now

Here is the video to which he refers. It shows Dr. Bodnar accepting her prize— and giving the first public demonstration of her invention—at the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University.

Dr. Bodnar went on to perfect her design, and formed a company that now sells the invention, under the brand name Emergency Bra, worldwide.

This Year, at the AAAS Annual Meeting

The emergency bra has played a role at pretty much every AAAS Annual Meeting since 2010. The bra mask, and its inventor, will make a new appearance this year, in the Improbable Research session, on Thursday, February 11, from 2:15-3:15 pm, at the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting, which is all happening online.

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