Math in the 2009 Ig Nobels


trophyThe 2009 Ig Nobels were announced last week.  These are awarded “For achievements that first make people LAUGH then make them THINK”.    This year’s mathematics award is probably more of the think than laugh variety, however:

Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

Poor Zimbabwe: we’ve talked about their  super-inflation difficulties and really big banknotes before.   They practically need their own category.

Most of the research is more amusing.   For example, the Peace Prize was given to Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl for their analysis of whether full beer bottles or empty ones caused more damage.  From their abstract:

Beer bottles are often used in physical disputes. If the bottles break, they may give rise to sharp trauma. However, if the bottles remain intact, they may cause blunt injuries. In order to investigate whether full or empty standard half-litre beer bottles are sturdier and if the necessary breaking energy surpasses the minimum fracture-threshold of the human skull, we tested the fracture properties of such beer bottles in a drop-tower.

(Short answer:  empties broke at a higher impact, which I think means they’re more dangerous.  I wouldn’t want to be hit by either one, though.)

But wait, there’s more.  Cows who give more milk when called by name.  A man who cracked the knuckles of his left hand — but not his right — every day for 60 years.  Giant panda poop as garbage disposal.  A bra that can turn into a pair of face masks in an emergency.  And my favorite, the Chemistry Prize, which went to Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño for creating diamonds from Tequila.

For all the winners, see the official site.

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