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Whale snot, roller coasters big winners in this year’s Ig Nobel awards

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Growing up, my twin cousins carried their inhalers around with them like their lives depended on it. If they ran too fast, they pumped the inhaler. If they stood up too fast, whoosh went their white inhalers. After awhile, it became a running joke that the inhaler was a “cure all,” capable of healing any ailment. You name it–broken arm, rupture spleen, hangnail–whoosh, whoosh. All better. Little did my cousins know, their asthma could have been treated with a roller-coaster ride.

On Oct. 10, Professors Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest won the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine for “discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.”

The Ig Nobel Prize’s are awarded to real professors or scientists around the world who perform “research that makes people laugh and then think,” according to the org’s website. More than 100 people have won the award since it began in 1991.

Here is a list of this years winners:

  • ENGINEERING PRIZE: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter.
  • MEDICINE PRIZE: Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University, The Netherlands, for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PRIZE: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber, Mark Fricker of the UK, for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.
  • PHYSICS PRIZE: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.
  • PEACE PRIZE: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.
  • PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA, for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.
  • ECONOMICS PRIZE: The executives and directors of Goldman SachsAIGLehman BrothersBear StearnsMerrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.
  • CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, and BP [British Petroleum], for disproving the old belief that oil and water don’t mix.
  • MANAGEMENT PRIZE: Alessandro PluchinoAndrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
  • BIOLOGY PRIZE: Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol, UK, for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats.
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