Taking a spin at the Igs

The annual IgNobel awards, webcast by "The Alchemist" and "HMS Beagle", came to a triumphant conclusion on Thursday night with the final prize of the year. It went to the late George and Charlotte Blonsky of New York City and San Jose for their ingenious birth assistance machine.

A woman in labour is strapped to a circular table which is then rotated at high speed. A US patent has been given to this process but it is not recorded whether any actual births have occurred in this way. At the award ceremony at Harvard University, the comments from the assembled scientific notables, including at least three actual Nobel prize winners, were distinctly un-academic in flavour. "You get extra points if you hit the bull's eye," said one. "Frequent flyer miles with each birth," said another.

The event provided the usual quotient of laughs and outrageous science. A Japanese researcher was awarded the Chemistry prize for devising a spray which wives can use on their husbands' underpants to see if they have been unfaithful. "Don't wear underpants" was the antidote suggested by an academic observer. On a similar note, a Korean company had invented the 'self-perfuming business suit' which dispenses more perfume the more it is pressed — it is seen as ideal for lawyers who are being hit by their clients.

For the UK delegates, it was a night of glory. No fewer than three British-based projects were rewarded for their outstanding research. Dr Len Fisher, an Australian now living and working in England, saw his work on the ideal way to dunk a biscuit awarded the Physics prize, in conjunction with Professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broek of the University of East Anglia, who has calculated how to make a teapot spout which does not drip. In literature, the UK came up trumps again, for a six page specification on how to make a cup of tea.

In conclusion, the event lived up to its reputation as one of the funniest scientific dates in the calendar, re-affirming the belief held by founder Marc Abrahams that science can be accessible to all.