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Ig Nobels 2012: Physics of ponytails, chimp arse-cognition and more

Calling Bruce Schneier

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The butt-loving tendencies of chimpanzees have won this year's Anatomical Ig Nobel for researchers who found that monkeys can recognise each other from pictures of each other's arses.

Frans de Waal of The Netherlands and US boffin Jennifer Pokorny came along to the ceremony to lift their prize for their paper on chimps' sex perception, which gives them posterior recognition capabilities.

The more improbable, but nonetheless real, research of the boffin community is celebrated by the Ig Nobels, distant cousins of the more sober Nobel Prizes.

This year's winners also included French researchers Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti's advice on how to stop colonoscopy patients from exploding, and US boffins Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer's study on the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, in which they revealed why hot coffee always spills out over your hand.

A UK/US team including Dr Patrick Warren bagged the physics prize for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move someone's ponytail.

"I've been working on this for a long time," Unilever researcher Warren told the BBC. "At Unilever, as you can imagine, there is a lot of interest because we sell a lot of haircare products. But there are wider applications where you have a lot of fibres coming together, such as in fabrics.

"I've also wondered if we can contribute something to the whole area of computer animation. Hair, for example, is something that is very hard to make look natural in animated movies."

Bootnote

The full list of 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes:

Psychology Prize: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan [THE NETHERLANDS] and Tulio Guadalupe [PERU, RUSSIA, and THE NETHERLANDS] for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller"

Peace Prize: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

Acoustics Prize: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada [JAPAN] for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person's speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.

Neuroscience Prize: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

Chemistry Prize: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.

Literature Prize: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

Physics Prize: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

Fluid Dynamics Prize: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

Anatomy Prize: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

Medicine Prize: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

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