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Teen repellant takes Ig Nobel Peace Prize

Insights into dung beetles, hiccups, woodpeckers and spaghetti also took honors at Harvard's Nobel spoof.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Obnoxious noises were big winners at the "Sixteenth 1st Annual" Ig Nobel Prize Awards at Harvard University.

In a spoof of the Nobel Prizes being announced this month, 10 Ig Nobel Prizes were given out Thursday by eight actual Nobel laureates in attendance, including Roy Glauber, the 2005 Nobel winner for physics. Ig Nobel winners, who came from as far away as Australia, received a trophy, certificate and the honor.

"The Ig Nobel awards are given to science achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, the humorous science journal that co-sponsors the event, quoting the Ig Nobel mantra.

Howard Stapleton won the 2006 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for his "electromechanical teenager repellant," a device that produces a sound audible only to those 30 or younger. The device was made famous last May when it was discovered that teenagers had adopted the sound as a ring tone, so that teachers couldn't hear them receiving calls in class.

The award was followed by a surprise demonstration of the device that caused the majority of those in the audience to groan and cover their ears. Demonstrations and diversions in between award presentations, including a mini-opera about inertia, were part of the revelry.

Throwing paper airplanes throughout the ceremony is also an Ig Nobel tradition for which the Sanders Theatre, an imposing space inspired by Christpher Wren's Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, England, acts as the backdrop. The theater's seating arrangement, consisting of stacked wood-carved balconies, makes it easy for the planes to reach the stage.

Three scientists won the 2006 Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize for their study of why people hate the sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard. They concluded that the sound shares the same frequency as nonhuman primate calls and, therefore, humans subconsciously fear the sound as they fear the primal scream.

"Thanks for ensuring that this disquieting work will not be silenced," Lynn Halpern, one of the Acoustic Ig Nobel recipients, quipped in her acceptance speech.Acceptance speeches at the Ig Nobels ran on time, thanks to a little girl who policed them.

"Please stop talking. You are boring me!" she dutifully screamed when recipients ran overtime.

The 2006 Ornithology Ig Nobel Prize went to a scientist who studied why woodpeckers do not get headaches, while the Medicine Prize was awarded to Francis Fesmire for his discovery that "digital rectal massage" is a sure cure for the hiccups. The recipient accepted his award wearing one latex glove. The real Nobel laureates in attendance waved at him with foam fingers. A demonstration of the invention was stopped just short of indecency.

"I someday really wish to be recognized for my work in cardiac research, but my son told me to look on the bright side. It's sort of like winning a Darwin Award, but you don't have to die to win," Fesmire said.

Other awards focused on a wide range of subjects: why dung beetles are picky about which dung they eat; the number of photos it takes to get a crowd photo with everyone's eyes open; how conciseness is equated with intelligence; why raw spaghetti rarely breaks into only two pieces; the velocity of melted cheddar; and why female mosquitoes are equally attracted to lindburger cheese and human feet.

Those who missed the live Webcast of the event, which was sponsored by the Harvard Extension School, RealNetworks and Apple Computer, can listen to it the day after Thanksigiving on National Public Radio, where it will be included in "Talk of the Nation: Science Friday." Video highlights can also be seen on the Annals of Improbable Research's Web site.

The 2006 Ig Nobel Prize winners will present informal lectures at 1 p.m. Saturday at MIT's Ray and Maria Stata Center. Admission is free.