Science!: Panda Feces, Tequila and Cows


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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The Chemistry prize went to researchers who made diamonds out of various liquids – including tequila. OK, not entire diamonds, but a diamond film. Apparently, tequila has the correct ratio of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon to be in a “diamond growth region.” When 80 proof tequila is heated over a silicon substrate, it creates a diamond film. These diamonds aren’t going to be worn in ring form any time soon, but are more likely to be used in electrical insulators, cutting tools, radiation detectors and other optical-electronic devices.

The Medicine prize goes to Donald L. Unger, a candidate determined to answer the age-old question, “Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis?” For 60 years, he cracked the knuckles of his left hand every day, but not the knuckles of his right hand. He found that cracking his knuckles did not create arthritis. The 83 year old said: “After 60 years, I looked at my knuckles and there’s not the slightest sign of arthritis. I looked up to the heavens and said: ‘Mother, you were wrong, you were wrong, you were wrong.'”

The Physics prize goes to researchers who did a study titled “Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins.” In other words, they analytically determined why pregnant woman don’t fall over. It was found that females have evolved an extra curvature and reinforcement of the vertebrae to compensate for the extra mass they’re carrying for nine months. According to Liza Shapiro, one of the researchers of this study, “The fact the spine is more curved in females makes it kind of easier for us to increase that curve even more in pregnancy, and not put extra stress on the bones and back muscles.”

Source: Physorg


Elena Bodnar began her career studying the effects from the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, but won the Ig Nobel prize for her work in bra research. She created a bra that is capable of being broken down into two gas masks.

“I invented this brassiere with the expectation that people will pay attention to the matter of individual preparedness for any kind of emergency.” Bodnar stated. “There’s some humorous part in that and definitely makes people laugh first but after getting more information and especially after being able to see the demonstration, people appreciate the importance and start to think a lot about that.”

She demonstrated the conversion from common bra to gas mask extraordinaire on stage during the award ceremony. A single bra can be converted into two gas masks, one for the bra-wearer and one for their friend. Each cup is designed to fit over the mouth and nose snugly and an additional layer of filter material is in each cup of the bra. They look good, too.

And finally, winners of the Biology prize found that kitchen refuse can be reduced in mass by 90% by using bacteria from Giant Panda feces. That just makes me think of the scene in The Flintstones, where they had a brontosaurus as a trash compactor.

Five different types of bacteria were isolated from panda dung; they were identified as the bacteria most efficient at breaking down proteins and fats.

In one experiment, researchers mixed the bacteria with 100 kg of raw garbage and walked away for seventeen weeks. When they checked back, they found that only 3 kg of waste remained, and the rest had been converted into water and carbon dioxide.

And that’s it for the Ig Nobel winners! Check out the site for more information on the winners, and also make sure to join the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.

Source: Daily Mail


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