Science!: Panda Feces, Tequila and Cows

Lauren Admire | 12 Oct 2009 21:00

If you've been following the Nobel awards, you may already know that Barack Obama has won the Peace Prize and others have won similarly illustrious awards for their research in fiber optics, ribosomes, and other fancy science stuff. However, in this issue of Science!, we're going to be covering the Ig Nobels, a parody of the Nobel prizes. Every year in October, ten lucky winners receive prizes that "first make people laugh, then make them think." Here are some of our favorite winning experiments.

The winning research in the Veterinary Medicine category proves that giving your cows a name, such as Buttermilk or Daisy, will cause them to give more milk than cows that remain nameless.

Peter Rowlinson explained his findings: "I think people are always amused at the concept of 'How on Earth could having a name make a cow give more milk?' That's crazy, that's daft, why is anyone doing that. But then what we'd like them to think of is okay this whole area of inter-relationships between the human and domestic animals - there's something in that. No one would have a pet dog or a pet cat without giving it a name, because there's a relationship. Good stockmanship is not dissimilar. If the animals have a name, it suggests a caring relationship between the human in charge of the animal and the animal. And the animal will recognize that, in intonation of voice and demeanor."

Ironically, the Peace prize went to researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland for determining whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle. The answer is: neither. In both cases, the bottles can easily crack a human skull and you're left fighting someone who takes all his cues from Spaghetti Westerns.

Stephan Bolliger is a forensic pathologist and often has to examine victims of bar brawls. "These people actually resort to using anything that is at hand. Ashtrays, glasses, and obviously also beer bottles. I've been asked on several occasions by members of the court whether hitting somebody over the head with such a beer bottle is capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and I wasn't sure, so I decided to perform some experiments to prove whether it was or wasn't."

To determine which kind of bottle had enough oomph to break a person's skull, Bolliger placed both empty and full beer bottles under a drop tower, then dropped weights from a certain height to find the breaking thresholds of the bottles. Full beer bottles broke at 30 joules, empty ones at 40 joules. A human skull will easily break at just 14 joules; therefore, both types of bottles are able to break a human skull easily.

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