Science Wednesday: IG Nobel Prizes

Did you know that riding a rollercoaster can relieve asthma symptoms? Or that swearing helps to relieve pain? For 20 years, the Ig Nobel Prizes have been highlighting offbeat research largely overlooked by much of the scientific community. Learn about some of this year's award winners.

Ig Nobel Awards

Not everyone can win a Nobel Prize. Scientists who miss out on that ultimate form of recognition, however, can be validated through other awards. The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in a ceremony held at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre. The night of fun features recognition for science-types who often work at the fringes of the research community. A sampling of awards from the event:

Medicine Prize

The next time you or someone you know is experiencing an asthma attack, find the nearest rollercoaster. At least that is the recommendation of Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest, two researchers from the Netherlands who found that the positive emotional stress of riding a rollercoaster can relieve asthma symptoms. It might be best, though, to keep an inhaler around - just in case.

Peace Prize

In what is an interesting take on the idea of a 'Peace Prize,' the Ig Nobel Prizes granted an award to three British researchers who demonstrated that cursing helps to relieve pain. Results of the group's study, published in the journal NeuroReport, caused lead researcher Richard Stephens to go on record saying, 'I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.'

Physics Prize

Wearing socks on the outside of your shoes is not going to win you any fashion contests. According to a group of researchers at the University of Otago, though, it can help to prevent falls on icy sidewalks. The New Zealand academicians won a Physics Prize for their paper titled, 'Preventing Winter Falls: A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Novel Intervention.' Novel, indeed.

Engineering Prize

Isn't it great when you find just the right tool for an unpleasant task - some gadget that removes all element of difficulty or grossness? A trio of researchers won the Engineering Prize for creating just such a device. Their remote-controlled helicopter hovers above whales to collect the mucous/water spray mixture emitted from the mammals' blowholes.

If you want to learn about all of the Ig Nobel Awards, click here to view the ceremony. Don't let all of the laughter, though, distract you from the fact that award winners are achieving some very serious results. For example, the mucous-collecting helicopter that won the Engineering Prize may allow researchers to identify bacteria present in healthy whales, which may improve conservation efforts.

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