x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Creative science prize could lead to real prestige

This year's star winner of the Ig Nobel awards was Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, who used a miniature remote-controlled helicopter to gather samples of whale snot.

Slime molds that can solve puzzles. The medical side effects of sword swallowing. Whether it is better to be hit on the head with a full bottle or an empty one. Roller-coaster rides to treat the symptoms of asthma.

These are a few of the recent research projects that have been honoured by an Ig Nobel Prize. Now in its 21st year, the Ig Nobel Prizes are the brain child of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research whose motto is: "First make people laugh, and then make them think."

The awards are a serious affair, held at a gala ceremony at Sanders Theatre in Harvard University and handed out by genuine Nobel prize winners. This year's star winner was Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse of the Zoological Society of London. She and her two colleagues used a miniature remote-controlled helicopter to gather samples of whale snot. Now, why? Simple. Contact with whale watchers may be contaminating pods with human diseases. Petri dishes attached to the helicopter proved a nimble way to learn which microbes the behemoths were blasting out through their blow-holes.

So if she saves the whales, Dr Acevedo-Whitehouse might eventually win a real Nobel Prize. Stranger things have happened.