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"Gay bomb", cow dung study among Ig Nobel winners

BOSTON (Reuters) - The inventor of a method to extract vanilla fragrance from cow dung, military developers of chemical “gay bomb” and a team that researched how sheets become wrinkled won Ig Nobel prizes for 2007.

The annual prizes, awarded by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, were presented on Thursday evening at a ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the winners must try to explain their work in a minute or less.

While some awards clearly poke fun at popular culture, others are meant to provoke debate about science, honoring achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”, according to the magazine.

“These people really ought to have someone, somewhere, in some tiny way, give some kind of recognition that they have done something nobody has ever done,” Annals editor Marc Abrahams said.

The Ig Nobel Prizes, in their 17th year, were handed to the winners by genuine Nobel laureates Craig Mello (2006 Medicine), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry 1986), Robert Laughlin (Physics 1998), William Lipscomb (1976 Chemistry) and Sheldon Glashow (1979 Physics).

This year’s winners include:

“Chemistry” -- Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin, or vanilla fragrance and flavoring, from cow dung.

“She seems to claim if companies start using this method it might help with global warming because some of all the cow dung that causes problems in the atmopshere will start getting used,” Abrahams said in an interview.

“Linguistics” -- Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles, of Universitat de Barcelona -- for a study showing rats sometimes fail to distinguish between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.

“Peace Prize” -- The Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio for instigating research and development on a chemical weapon, the so-called “gay bomb,” that “will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other”.

“Biology” -- Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk of Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, for their census of all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns and fungi that share our beds at night.

“Economics” -- Kuo Cheng Hsieh, of Taichung, Taiwan, for patenting a device in 2001 that catches bank robbers by dropping a net over them, known as the “net trapping system for capturing a robber immediately.”

The inventor, however, could not be found by Ig Nobel representatives in Taiwan “We had people in Taiwan looking for him. He’s vanished. Somebody suggested to us the possibility that maybe the poor man was trapped inside his own machine,” Abrahams said.