Japanese scientists are uncelebrating the fact that their nation can now claim the dubious distinction of having received an Ig Nobel Prize for 5 years running, having achieved resounding success in everything from teaching amoeba to navigate mazes to novel uses for panda dung.
The Ig Nobel Prize seeks to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”; the record of Japanese researchers over the last decade speaks for itself:
2011 – Japan invents the wasabi alarm:
CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.
REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Makoto Imai, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami
2010 – Japan teaches their maze-navigating slime mould to design rail networks:
TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PRIZE: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber, Mark Fricker of the UK, for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.
REFERENCE: “Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design,” Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Dan P. Bebber, Mark D. Fricker, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Science, Vol. 327. no. 5964, January 22, 2010, pp. 439-42.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Kentaro Ito, Atsushi Tero, Mark Fricker, Dan Bebber [NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ARE CO-WINNERS BOTH THIS YEAR AND IN 2008 when they were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for demonstrating that slime molds can solve puzzles: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero]
2009 – Japan unlocks the power panda dung by using it to dissolve kitchen refuse:
BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.
REFERENCE: “Microbial Treatment of Kitchen Refuse With Enzyme-Producing Thermophilic Bacteria From Giant Panda Feces,” Fumiaki Taguchia, Song Guofua, and Zhang Guanglei, Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi, vol. 79, no 12, 2001, pp. 463-9. [and abstracted in Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, vol. 92, no. 6, 2001, p. 602.]
REFERENCE: “Microbial Treatment of Food-Production Waste with Thermopile Enzyme-Producing Bacterial Flora from a Giant Panda” [in Japanese], Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, Yasunori Sugai, Hiroyasu Kudo and Akira Koikeda, Journal of the Japan Society of Waste Management Experts, vol. 14, no. 2, 2003, pp. , 76-82.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Fumiaki Taguchi
2008 – Japan teaches the slime mould the secret of maze navigation:
COGNITIVE SCIENCE PRIZE. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.
REFERENCE: “Intelligence: Maze-Solving by an Amoeboid Organism,” Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, and Ágota Tóth, Nature, vol. 407, September 2000, p. 470.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero
2007 – Japan makes vanilla from cowpats:
CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung.
REFERENCE: “Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction,” Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Mayu Yamamoto
PRESS NOTE: Toscanini’s Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called “Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist.”
2006 – Japan discovers nothing of consequence
2005 – Japan learns what Dr. Nakamatsu has been eating for the past 34 years:
NUTRITION: Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats of Tokyo, Japan, for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years (and counting).
WHO ATTENDED THE IG NOBEL CEREMONY: Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats
2004 – Japan is honoured for unleashing karaoke on the world:
PEACE: Daisuke Inoue of Hyogo, Japan, for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.
WHO ATTENDED THE IG NOBEL CEREMONY: Daisuke Inoue
2003 – Japan solves the mystery of Kanazawa’s pigeon repellent statue:
CHEMISTRY: Yukio Hirose of Kanazawa University, for his chemical investigation of a bronze statue, in the city of Kanazawa, that fails to attract pigeons.
WHO ATTENDED THE IG NOBEL CEREMONY: Yukio Hirose
2002 – Japan is honoured for granting dogs the ability to speak to humans:
PEACE: Keita Sato, President of Takara Co., Dr. Matsumi Suzuki, President of Japan Acoustic Lab, and Dr. Norio Kogure, Executive Director, Kogure Veterinary Hospital, for promoting peace and harmony between the species by inventing Bow-Lingual, a computer-based automatic dog-to-human language translation device.
Even so, Japan still has some way to go to catch up with the sheer volume of deranged research output by US and UK universities – not that this is likely to be much consolation.