Thursday, August 5, 2010

Weird Science

While I was doing my master's degree, I spent a lot of time searching for articles and books in various university libraries. One day in the medical library, I was delighted to find a whole three-foot shelf filled with bound copies of the academic journal "Diseases in Poultry". It blew my mind that there are people out there who devote their working lives to the research of chicken sickness.

My experience in graduate school is that there are a lot of people in academia who become fascinated with a very specific topic and dive deeply into it. More deeply than anyone else could possibly care to go. At research presentations, I usually followed for the first five minutes after which time I blanked out and began hatching various escape plans.

Some people sneer at academics and their whole-hearted pursuit of one microscopic corner of the world. Others resent government money devoted to research, especially research that seems impractical or disconnected from daily life. While I understand these reactions, I love to know that there people who are passionately pursuing knowledge. I appreciate that our society supports the love of learning and diving deeply. And I especially love the ridiculous outcomes...

Each year, Harvard gives out Ig Nobel Prizes, awards for bizarre and funny research. In 2009, prizes were awarded for the following:
Veterinary medicine prize - cows with names give more milk than cows without names
Peace prize - empty beer bottles make better weapons than full ones, being more likely to fracture skulls in bar brawls
Chemistry prize - researchers found a way to make diamonds from tequila
Physics prize - physicists outlined the reasons that pregnant women don't tip over
Biology prize - researchers discovered that kitchen waste can be reduced to 90% of it's weight by exposing it to the bacteria in panda poop
Public health prize - the invention of a bra that in case of emergency, can be converted into two protective face masks, one for the now braless woman and another for a needy bystander. Below is a photo of the inventor accepting her Ig Nobel prize.

Background by Jennifer Furlotte / Pixels and IceCream