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Ig Nobel honors the offbeat

Man wins award for inventing prosthetic testicles for neutered dogs
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The International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, took home this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  The Nobel committee cited the United Nations watchdog group’s incalculable importance in the fight for nuclear disarmament, particularly in North Korea and Iran. 

Though another accolade honors others fighting crisis: neutered pets. 

This year's Ig Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Greg Miller of Missouri who invented Neuticles, prosthetic testicles for neutered dogs. 

Scientists from England won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for electronically monitoring the activity of brain cells in locusts while showing them scenes from the “Star Wars” trilogy. 

The founder of the Ig Nobels and editor of The Annals of Improbable Research, Marc Abrahams, talked to MSNBC-TV's Alex Witt about the unique honors.

ALEX WITT, COUNTDOWN GUEST HOST: Did this year‘s recipients live up to the Ig Nobel precedent?  Are Neuticles a prime example of what you‘re looking for? 

MARC ABRAHAMS, FOUNDER, IG NOBEL PRIZES: Yes.  I‘m not sure whether up is the right direction you‘re asking about or not.  But, certainly, they fulfill the criteria. 

There are 10 winners this year.  Seven of them traveled here, some from literally halfway around the world.  Neuticles, really, you just need to describe them and that‘s sufficient to give anybody as much information they need. 

WITT: They make you laugh.  They make you think.

ABRAHAMS: Perhaps you would describe them, or would you like me to? 

WITT: Oh, no, no.  I want to harp on this just a wee bit. 

ABRAHAMS: I had a feeling you would. 

WITT: You know the inventor.  Can you give us any light here on why 150,000 people would buy fake nuts for their dogs? 

ABRAHAMS: All I can think of is the old phrase, 'out with the old, in with the new'. 

WITT: Ah, OK.  All I have to say is, I‘m still getting paid no matter what I say.  I told a friend I was going say that.  And I just did it.

Let‘s move on to the locust experiment.  So, here‘s the question. 

Why?  And what were the results of that? 

ABRAHAMS: Yes, that is the question. 

WITT: Why?  I mean, why do this, the locust research? 

ABRAHAMS: Well, they were looking at the question of how is it that locusts are able to supply through a swarm of locusts without colliding all that much.  So they...

WITT: So, what does “Star Wars” have to do... 

ABRAHAMS: So, they figured that, if you saw “Star Wars,” it was just part of it was just like being in a swarm of locusts.  So, they measured, what‘s going on electrically inside one brain cell. 

What they discovered was, there‘s a lot of electrical activity inside of one brain cell of a locust while the locust watches “Star Wars.” 

WITT: Huh.  That‘s all I can say to that.

OK, I see there is actually a category called fluid dynamics.  What took the cake for that one?  What‘s that about? 

ABRAHAMS: We had a hard time coming up with a category for this one.  This is two scientists in Europe who calculated the pressure that builds up inside a penguin when the penguin defecates. 

And most penguins, or at least some types of penguin, when they let loose, project a stream, a long stream.  And these scientists looked at it, realized it takes a lot of pressure to do that.  They applied some basic physics.  And there you are. 

WITT: OK.  I‘m sensing a theme here.

ABRAHAMS: You seem to be harping on certain types of questions here. 

WITT: Well, there‘s a theme here of torturing animals.  I mean, come on. 

ABRAHAMS: ... would lead one to believe that this is all we deal with. 

WITT: No.  It‘s this biology category.  The researchers, what did they do?  They felt frogs were feeling stressed?  What is up with that?

ABRAHAMS: Yes.  Well, they were much more careful than that.  This was 131 different species of frogs. They sniffed them while the frogs were feeling stressed.  It turns out frogs give off different kinds of frogs give off very different smells. 

Some smelled like perfume.  Some smelled like popcorn.  Some smelled like cigars.  Some smelled like lemons. 

WITT: Perfume? 

ABRAHAMS:  Perfume. 

WITT: Oh, OK.  I‘m going to take your word for that, yes.

ABRAHAMS: One of them, one of those scientists just took a new job, moved from Australia, where he lived, to Switzerland.  He now works for a perfume company. 

WITT: Oh, well that‘s encouraging.  I‘m going to go shopping. 

Let‘s move on to more practical prizes, or not, as the case may be, the economics prize and that inventor. 

ABRAHAMS: I want to see how you define practical.  Yes.  Pardon me?

WITT: Yes, OK.  The guy that designed the lazy man‘s alarm clock, tell us about that one. 

ABRAHAMS: It‘s not a guy.  That‘s Gauri Nanda.

She‘s a graduate student at MIT.  She designed an alarm clock that runs away and hides repeatedly until you find it and shut it off.  She won the economics prize this year, because, theoretically, this would add many hours to the productive work day. 

WITT: I tell you, I just love this interview.  Mark Abrahams, the Ig Nobel Prize‘s author, thank you so much.  It‘s been very illuminating.  Pleasure talking with you. 

ABRAHAMS: It‘s been a pleasure.