Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ig Nobel Prizes awarded!

Late last week, the 2006 Ig Nobel prizes were awarded at a star-studded ceremony on the campus of Harvard University. These award celebrate the "best" of research that cannot and often should not be repeated.

For example, the Ig Nobel in physics went to Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris), who studied why, when you bend spaghetti until it breaks, you get three or more pieces instead of just two. The short answer being, that, when the spaghetti breaks, little waves from the break travel up and down the noodle. As much of the noodle is near the breaking point, in some places this wave pushes the pasta over the limit.

(Note to kids -- this is a fun experiment to try. Bend a bunch of spaghetti until it breaks, and count how many pieces it makes. Then try to explain to mom or dad why there is spaghetti everywhere. Remember to tell them that this is award-winning physics! And then you can explore the physics of how a broom sweeps up spaghetti. Just don't tell your parents where you got the idea from.)

The Ig Nobels are given in the spirit of fun. Yes, science does address important issues facing society, but some issues are more important than others.

I think there is also a small lesson to be learned. Many of these awards are given to research that is published in a professional journal. Remember -- just because some research is published doesn't mean it is important and/or correct!

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