Cutting edge science
Ever levitated a frog?
How about, organized an athletics contest between the fleas of a dog and the fleas of a cat?
Ever observed homosexual ducks commit necrophilia?
Ok, I think I need to explain…
These scientific “feats” were amongst the wacky studies presented last night on the latest stop of the Ig Nobel awards tour, in Bristol.
I went along to see if the show lives up to its claim to “first make people laugh, and then make them think”.
Jovial compere Marc Abrahams opened the proceedings telling each speaker they had “5 minutes and NOT A SECOND MORE!”
In the physics category, Sir Michael Berry of Bristol University described how he won the prize in 2000 for explaining how frogs can be levitated with magnets. “Of Flying Frogs and Levitrons” was published in the European Journal of Physics.
Surely the weirdest talk was from 2003 winner for biology Kees Moeliker who talked about homosexual ducks committing necrophilia. So the story goes he had been sitting in his office when he heard the loud bang of a duck crashing into his window. Rushing out to see if it was ok he was shocked to witness the duck – dead, with a second, live duck, forcing itself upon the corpse. Later observations revealed both ducks to be male and the study was published in the Annual of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam.
A slightly tamer ornithological study addressed the question of “why woodpeckers don’t get headaches?” Apparently it’s because of a millisecond delay between the bird’s beak hitting the tree and its head moving forwards. I caught up with study’s presenter Julian Vincent and his wife after the show. She said he’s “always been full of ideas”.
My favourite act was Dan Meyer – a sword swallower from Tennessee. He eloquently talked us through his 2007 prize-winning paper “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects,” before ramming a 17 inch blade down his throat.
A scared looking young girl near the front asked the question everyone was thinking “does it hurt?” To which he replied “a little”
So did the evening make me laugh and then think afterwards?
Well, putting the ancient art of sword-swallowing to one side – I have to say that I found the whole thing a little bit “zany” for my taste.
Having said that, when I looked around the conference room, people were certainly laughing and there was plenty of scientific interest in the after show Q&A session. So perhaps it’s just me becoming an old fuddy-duddy before my time…