Irreverent ... Irrelevant ... Ig Nobel

This year's Nobel Peace Prize has gone to a banker, whose big idea has raised countless thousands of people out of poverty. Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus created micro-credits — very small loans to help the very poor start businesses.

Then there are the Ig Nobels — awards for those who answer questions no one asks.

Each year, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman on this week's Assignment America, scientists from all over the world come to Harvard University, check their self-importance at the door of the Sanders Theatre, and honor the year's most bizarre research.

Ig Nobel Prize winners are like Nobel Prize winners, only slightly more irreverent … and much more irrelevant.

Take ornithology winner Dr. Ivan Schwab from the University of California, Davis. He was honored this year for his research into why woodpeckers don't get headaches.

"You see them doing this and you have to wonder, how can they do this and not hurt themselves?" says Schwab, who notes that "Yes, I have tenure."

As Schwab told the crowd, a woodpecker's tightly packed brain makes it a uniquely qualified headbanger,

Not trivial enough? How about this?

Sebastian Neukrich from the University of Paris won the physics prize for explaining why spaghetti often breaks into more than two pieces.

"It first breaks there," he says in explaining the process, "and then there are bending waves and it breaks at another point."

There was also an acoustics prize, which went to a team from Northwestern for … why fingernails on a chalkboard are annoying. An Australian researcher got the math prize for calculating how many pictures you need to take to be reasonably sure no one in the group is blinking.

The there's Kees Moeliker. He's an Ig Nobel legend. Three years ago, he won the biology prize for a paper he did in the Netherlands on the sexual perversity of mallard ducks.

"Because of this paper, this award, I have become kind of a specialist in peculiar bird behavior," he says.

His latest subject is a masochistic blackbird that has been flying into the same plate-glass window for the past two years.

"Every day, every week, every month," Moeliker says. "It's his life."





  • John Kreiser

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