October 6, 2006 in Nation/World

Ig Nobelists, er, honored

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

2006 Ig Nobel winners

» The list of the 2006 Ig Nobel winners, awarded Thursday at Harvard University by Annals of Improbable Research magazine:

» Ornithology – The late Philip R.A. May and Ivan R. Schwab for exploring why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.

» Nutrition – Wasmia Al-Houty and Faten Al-Mussalam, for showing that dung beetles are finicky about the dung.

» Peace – Howard Stapleton, for inventing a teenager repellent, an electronic device that makes annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not adults.

» Acoustics – D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand for their experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

» Mathematics – Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.

» Literature – Daniel Oppenheimer, for his report “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

» Medicine – Francis M. Fesmire, for his medical case report “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage”; and Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan, and Arie Oliven for their subsequent medical case report.

» Physics – Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch, for their insights into why dry spaghetti often breaks into more than two pieces when bent.

» Chemistry – Antonio Mulet, Jose Javier Benedito, Jose Bon and Carmen Rossello, for their study “Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.”

» Biology – Bart Knols and Ruurd de Jong, for showing that female malaria mosquitoes are attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.

BOSTON – The sound sets teeth on edge, makes skin crawl and sends a shiver down the spine. Just thinking about it gives some people the heebie-jeebies.

But what is it about the sound of fingernails scratching on a blackboard that elicits such a universal reaction?

Randolph Blake and two colleagues think they know – the sound’s frequency level.

Their research has earned them an Ig Nobel, the annual awards given at Harvard University by Annals of Improbable Research magazine for weird, wacky and sometimes worthless scientific research.

This year’s winners honored – or maybe dishonored – at a raucous ceremony Thursday at Harvard’s inappropriately opulent Sanders Theater include a doctor who put his finger on a cure for hiccups; two men who think there is something to the old adage that feet smell like cheese; and researchers who discovered that dung beetles won’t tuck in to just any old pile of … well, dung.

What started as a small event in 1991 to honor obscure and humorous scientific achievements has grown into an international happening, with some of this year’s winners traveling from Australia, Kuwait and France. The awards are given out by real Nobel laureates, including Harvard physics professor Roy Glauber, who stays behind afterward to sweep up.

The nails on a blackboard research was part of a bigger, legitimate project, said Blake, a Vanderbilt University psychology professor who specializes in vision. He, along with Dr. D. Lynn Halpern and James Hillenbrand, did the research two decades ago while at Northwestern University.

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