October 14, 2011
Ig Nobel Prizes Honor Wasabi Alarm, Odd Beetle Sex, More
Brian Handwerk in National Geographic:
The unique annual awards go to real research "that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think." The scientific celebration, now in its 21st year, was hosted by the Annals of Improbable Research and several Harvard University student groups.
As usual, more than a half dozen genuine Nobel laureates were onstage at Harvard's Sanders Theater to hand out the coveted prizes.
Wasabi Alarm: The famous sushi condiment has become a lifesaver thanks to the work of Makoto Imai, of Japan's Shiga University of Medical Science, and colleagues. The team won the 2011 Ig Nobel chemistry prize for developing a "wasabi alarm" that discharges an airborne spray made from the spicy horseradish. The spray is potent enough to wake a soundly sleeping person in the event of an emergency.
"People with hearing difficulties may fail to wake up with noise or flashing lights, and another mode of communication may be necessary to save their lives," Imai said. "The wasabi alarm is not a smell but a stinging sensation to the upper airways."
Airborne wasabi concentrations of up to 20 parts per million are strong enough to awaken sleepers via stinging noses and watery eyes, Imai reported, but not so strong that the effect hinders peoples' ability to evacuate efficiently.
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