• Professor Colin Raston with his Vortex Fluidic Device... and unboiled egg. Photo credit: Flinders UniversityProfessor Colin Raston with his Vortex Fluidic Device... and unboiled egg. Photo credit: Flinders University

Ig Nobel Prizes for Australian Professors

Two Australian Professors have been awarded Ig Nobel Prizes for their research this year.  The Ig Nobel Prize celebrates that research that makes you laugh, and then makes you think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative, and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.

Like the Nobel prizes, Igs are awarded in a number of different categories - chemistry, physics, literature, management, economics, medicine, mathematics, biology, diagnostic medicine, physiology and entomology.

Professor Nick Enfield from the University of Sydney was part of the research team that claimed the Literature Prize this year for discovering that the word 'huh' (or it’s equivalent) seems to exist in every human language.  Professor Enfield and his co-authors Dr Mark Dingemanse and Dr Francisco Torreira of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, sampled 31 languages, including the Aboriginal language of Murrinh-Patha in Northern Australia, Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan, Argentine Sign Language, and Siwu in Ghana - and found that all have a word with a near-identical sound and function as 'Huh' in the English language; evidence, they proposed, that ‘Huh’ is an indispensable tool in human communication. Their research could help to make computers communication in more 'human' ways for instance when they don’t understand voice commands.

Professor Colin Raston from Flinders University was part of a team that won the Chemistry Prize for unboiling an egg. The quirky sounding experiment belies a major scientific breakthrough that is transforming the field of medicine and more. Professor Raston invented the Vortex Fluidic Device – a compact machine that is capable of unravelling proteins.  This revolutionary development has huge implications for the treatment of cancer, the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, the production of biofuels and food processing.  Professor Raston said "It’s not what we set out to do, to unboil an egg, but it's the way of explaining the science involved and helping the wider world realise the momentousness of it. The sheer scale of this is mind-boggling. The global pharmaceutical industry alone is worth $160 billion annually and the processing of proteins is central to it. The VFD is completely changing it – and is set to do the same for the fuel and food industries. It’s impossible to place a price on the value of this device."

The Professors received their Ig Nobel Prizes during a ceremony at Harvard University, present by real Nobel Prize winners. You can find out more about the Ig Nobel Prizes on the Improbable Research website or watch the whole of this year's ceremony on YouTube.

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