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Gordon McNaughton
"This was a serious bit of research "
 real 28k

Friday, 6 October, 2000, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
In praise of floating frogs
Frog Sipa Press/University of Nijmegen
Frogs will float when placed in a strong magnetic field
(Image: Sipa Press/University of Nijmegen)

The Brits held their end up in Boston, US, on Thursday and walked away with another clutch of Ig Nobel Prizes.

Professor Sir Michael Berry, from Bristol University, was honoured for his levitating frog experiments.

Three accident and emergency doctors from Glasgow picked up an Ig for their work on the dangers posed by collapsing toilets. And there was even a peace prize for the Royal Navy for encouraging sailors to shout Bang! rather than fire real rounds.

The Harvard-based spoof of the real Nobel Prizes recognises achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced".

Ten prizes were handed out in a fun evening that is also intended to spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.

It is an occasion that seems to bring the best out of UK scientists. Last year, another Bristol researcher, Len Fisher, won a prize for his work on how best to dunk a biscuit.

Annoying cats

"We'd like to emphasise that science shouldn't be boring," said Professor Andrey Geim, of the Universities of Nijmegen, Holland, and Leicester, UK, who helped levitate the frogs.

Arizona man Chris Niswander got the computer science Ig for his "PawSense" program that can detect when a cat is wandering across a keyboard. The annoying animal is then sent scurrying by a loud noise.

"There are certain ideas that occur to only one person," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the journal Annals of Improbable Research, part of the group that bestows Ig Nobels.

"To us, there was only one Einstein, there was only one Newton, and there is only one Niswander," he said.

The Scottish researchers Jonathan Wyatt, Gordon McNaughton and William Tullet were delighted with their public health Ig. The doctors issued a report, "The Collapse of Toilets in Glasgow," when they all worked in the city's Western Infirmary.

Good publicity

The Scottish Medical Journal paper was prompted by three cases in which patients came to hospital with wounds sustained when the porcelain lavatories on which they were sitting collapsed.

Wyatt and McNaughton were so pleased with the prize, they flew to Boston to accept it.

"We're not insulted," Wyatt said. "Between us, we've published more than 70 research papers. This is the only one that's given us any publicity at all."

McNaughton told the BBC that the research had a serious message: "We did suggest that as an accident prevention measure, you should be aware that if you see any cracks in your porcelain loo then perhaps it would be safer to hover rather than to actually sit on the seat."

No British Royal Navy officials were on hand to receive the Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

It was reported in May that sailors at HMS Cambridge, a gunnery school near Plymouth, would shout Bang! rather than fire real shells in their shore-to-ship guns. The practice was said to have saved the navy more than 1 million a year.

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04 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Brits take the biscuit
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