At Thursday's Ig Nobel prize ceremony, paper airplanes, pointless chicken references, and acceptance speech poems sailed through Harvard's Sanders Theatre. The mood was part Mardi Gras, part Marx Brothers as the Annals of Improbable Research induced real Nobel laureates to play along with real scientists whose published work made people laugh, and think.
There was sword-swallowing from the Tennessee winner Dan Meyer, who studied the side effects of sword swallowing. There was ice cream from Toscanini's made - so the real laureates were told - using Japanese Ig Nobel winner Mayu Yamamoto's formula for deriving vanillin from cow dung. UMass's Craig Mello, last year's Nobel winner in medicine, was the first to dip his spoon into his dish as the crowd chanted "Eat it!"
There was 2005 physics Nobelist Roy Glauber, wearing a Chinese straw hat and wielding a twig broom, sweeping paper airplanes off the crowded stage as he has done for 10 years of Ig Nobel celebrations.
And there were chicken and/or egg costumes made out of black garbage bags that Mello, Glauber, and their good-natured fellow laureates Dudley Herschbach (chemistry 1986), William Lipscomb (chemistry 1976), and Robert Laughlin (physics 1998) climbed into and burst through on cue.
"This is transformational . . . We are talking about 30 years of studies," said Dr. Marianne Felice, chair of pediatrics at UMass, who spearheaded efforts to win the right to run the central Massachusetts branch of the study. "This is like the Framingham Heart Study for children, but better, longer and in more detail."
In the planning stages since 2000, the National Children's Study is intended to improve both prevention and treatment of major conditions such as birth defects, autism, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Under an initial $16.24 million, five-year federal grant, the state medical school will recruit 1,000 Worcester County women willing to let their children's growth and development be tracked as part of the 100,000-child national study.
"This is a heat-loving bug that you really find only in hot springs or in southern tier states," said epidemiologist Michael Beach of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We know we tend to see an increase in cases after an extended heat wave, and that's what we think happened this year."
Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the Massachusetts director of communicable disease control, added his reassurances: "We've never had a case in Massachusetts. We don't have that kind of environment."
Kevin Eggan blames a Massachusetts law that forbids researchers from paying women to provide eggs for stem cell research, though they can be paid for "donating" their eggs for fertility treatments. The law is meant to prevent researchers from exploiting poor women who might be willing to undergo the lengthy and occasionally painful procedures for a cash payoff.
"We've had hundreds of calls" from women expressing interest, Eggan told an audience of hundreds at a two-day Stem Cell Summit that brought some of the world's top stem cell researchers to Boston.
But no one, so far, has been willing to take the time, effort, and slight medical risk purely for altruism, he said.
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