Last week, in a 29-year-old Harvard University tradition, several scientists won 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars for their perplexing, unusual, and just plain weird studies.
The prizes, known as Ig Nobels, parody the real Nobel Prizes, and the Zimbabwean cash awards are worth less than one U.S. dollar.
This year’s winning research included a study that found surgeons learn and perform better when teachers use ticker training. The technique, commonly used by animal trainers, reinforces desired behavior by clicking a mechanical device when the animal, or, in this case, surgeon, performs correctly. It’s not quite the same as giving a doctor a treat and a pat on the head, but it still works, said Karen Pryor, one of the researchers. According to Pryor, experienced surgeons traditionally train younger surgeons, and the well-seasoned doctors can be hard on the students. But when trained with a clicker, the young surgeons performed procedures with greater confidence and precision.
Another award went to researchers who discovered that Romanian currency carries more germs than foreign money, including the euro, U.S. and Canadian dollars, and Indian rupees. The researchers found that Romanian banknotes contain a polymer fiber that makes counterfeiting difficult and improves durability but also allows the growth of drug-resistant pathogens.
And, good news for pizza lovers, another award went to Italian researcher Silvano Gallus, who discovered that pizza offers many health benefits. —J.B.