Dr. Elena N. Bodnar couldn't be more serious about her research. The trauma and risk management specialist was in her native Ukraine during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and helped children cope with its aftermath.
Tonight, as she accepts the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for public health, she won't mind laughter when she demonstrates "in a very elegant way, without removing any clothes," how an ordinary brassiere can be transformed into a pair of gas masks.
"I think the Ig Nobel is not just a funny thing," she said in an interview this afternoon. "If it makes people first laugh and then think, my discovery fits perfectly."
Her winning discovery, made with Dr. Raphael C. Lee and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, is a patented bra with an extra filter layer in cups designed to be fastened over the face. The device is one of 10 achievements singled out this year by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Seven Ig Nobel winners are expected to take part in a ceremony at Harvard's Sanders Theatre tonight.
Eight real Nobel laureates are on tap to present the prizes in a traditionally loopy evening of good cheer. Just one of the highlights: Martin Chalfie, winner of the 2008 Nobel in chemistry and clearly a good sport, is the prize in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.
The other prizes, and their citations, are:
Veterinary medicine: Dr. Catherine Douglas and Dr. Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.
Peace: Dr. Stephan Bolliger, Dr. Steffen Ross, Dr. Lars Oesterhelweg, Dr. Michael Thali, and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.
Economics: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.
Chemistry: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.
Medicine: Dr. Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than 60 years.
Physics: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas for analytically determining why pregnant women don't tip over.
Literature: Ireland's police service, An Garda Siochana, for writing and presenting more than 50 traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means "Driver's License."
Mathematics: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from 1 cent to 1 hundred trillion dollars.
Biology: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90 percent in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.
There's more: Informal lectures by Ig Nobel laureates are at 1 p.m. Saturday at MIT.
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
Elizabeth Comeau, Senior Health Producer