Once a year scientists gather in Boston to celebrate the quirky and absurd in science. This year's Ig Nobel ceremony was no exception, with two prizes going to research that discovered old men really do have big ears and playing the didgeridoo helps relieve sleep apnea.
The 27th annual awards were held at Harvard University. The ceremony featured a traditional barrage of paper airplanes, a world premiere opera and real Nobel laureates handing out the 10 prizes.
"It's a strange honor to have, but I am thrilled," Dr. James Heathcote told the Associated Press. A British physician, Heathcote won the Ig Nobel for anatomy for his big-ear research.
The awards are sponsored by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.
Dr. Milo Puhan's Ig Nobel Peace Prize-winning discovery is a godsend for anyone who lives with an unbearably loud snorer. He found that playing the didgeridoo—that tubular Australian aboriginal instrument that emits a deep, rhythmic drone—helps relieve sleep apnea.
Puhan, director of the Institute for Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, studied didgeridoo playing after a patient with mild sleep apnea became convinced that it helped him.
Puhan recruited volunteers who learned to play a roughly 4-foot-long plastic didgeridoo. "Regular playing of a didgeridoo reduces daytime sleepiness and snoring in people with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and also improves the sleep quality of partners," his study concluded.
Why does it work? Puhan figures playing the didgeridoo helps people learn circular breathing (the technique of blowing out through the mouth while simultaneously inhaling through the nose) and strengthens the throat muscles used in breathing.