CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS--While suspense builds for next week's announcement of the Nobel Prizes in science, a few of the past laureates gathered at Harvard University last night to help celebrate more dubious achievements: the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded annually by the Annals of Improbable Research to researchers whose findings "cannot or should not be reproduced."
Perhaps the most formidable winner was Troy Hurtubise of Ontario, Canada, who earned the safety engineering prize for designing a high-tech suit of armor to wear during encounters with grizzly bears. The awards committee was particularly impressed by Hurtubise's thorough testing methods, which included throwing himself off a cliff while wearing the armor and being smacked by baseball bats, bashed by a truck at 65 kilometers an hour, and blasted with an AK-47 at 3 meters. "I didn't even have a bruise," he told ScienceNOW.
Other notable winners included Peter Fong of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, who took home the biology prize for discovering that fingernail clams on Prozac reproduce 10 times faster than normal; previous chemistry winner Jacques Benveniste of the Digital Biology Laboratory in Clamart, France, who gathered his second Ig Nobel for claiming not only that water has memory but also that this information can be transmitted via e-mail; and New Age guru Deepak Chopra of La Jolla, California, who garnered the physics prize for his interpretation of quantum physics, "as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness."
Despite the Stirling competition, the star of the show was 11-year-old Emily Rosa of Loveland, Colorado. Although she was not a winner herself, her keynote speech on how she debunked a method of alternative healing called therapeutic touch brought the crowd to its feet. "I was just learning about science and spent only $10," she confessed--although she did manage to publish her findings in the 1 April Journal of the American Medical Association. Rosa did, however, accept the science education prize on behalf of the researcher whose work she had debunked.