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Len Fisher explains his research to the BBC
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Different biscuits have different dunking times
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Monday, 4 October, 1999, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Brits take the biscuit
Dunking research: A winning formula
Journalists had a funny feeling about Len Fisher when they visited the Englishman's Bristol University laboratory. Anyone who spends that much time and effort researching the best way to dunk a biscuit in a cup of tea has to be in line for a top award - and so it proved.

At a ceremony in front of 1,200 spectators and a worldwide internet audience, Len Fisher was honoured with the Ig Nobel Prize for physics.

Len Fisher
Len Fisher: Poking fun
The Ig Nobels are a spoof on the Nobel Prizes which will be handed out over the next few weeks. The Ig Nobel committee recognises some of the more questionable contributions to life at the end of the 20th Century.

As they say: These are awards for achievements which "cannot, or should not, be reproduced".

"England has always had a reputation of really treasuring its eccentrics, and this is where it's finally paying off," said Harvard Professor Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research and master of ceremonies at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.

Like most winners, Dr Fisher accepted his prize in great spirit. "It's basically scientists pulling each others' legs," he said.

International headlines

The Bristol researcher made headlines around the world when he announced he had cracked the physics of dunking.

He wrote an equation to show what happens when the starch globules in a biscuit absorb liquid, producing a gunge that breaks off and falls to the bottom of the cup. From this, he was able to advise everyone on the technique that would result in the perfect dunk.

The obvious importance of this research was underlined by the award of another Ig Nobel to the British Standards Institution. They were honoured for their six-page specification on the proper way to make a cup of tea.

A biscuit takes the strain
Other winners included: Dr Arvid Vatle of Stord, Norway, who painstakingly determined which kinds of containers patients choose when submitting urine samples; Hyuk-Ho Kwon of Seoul, who developed a self-perfuming business suit; and Steve Penfold of York University in Toronto for his doctoral thesis on the sociology of Canadian donut shops.

The Ig Nobel for Peace went to Chari Fourie and Michelle Wong of Johannesburg, South Africa, for their car burglar alarm which consists of a detection circuit and flame thrower.

Sheldon Glashow, winner of a real Nobel for physics in 1978, was the prize in the annual win-a-date-with-a-Nobel-Laureate contest.

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