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Not noble, but navel fluff study wins prize

  1. Not noble, but navel fluff study wins prize
    By Richard Macey
    October 5 2002





    Marie Curie won a Nobel Prize for discovering radium. Patrick White scored one for literature.

    But yesterday, an Ig Nobel, the very antithesis of the prestigious Nobel Prize, was awarded to Sydney University's Dr Karl Kruszelnicki for his research into lint accumulation in belly buttons.

    "I am honoured," the popular scientist babbled in Boston after collecting his Ig Nobel, presented for "achievements that cannot or should not be repeated".

    The competition had clearly been tough. One Ig Nobel winner researched the surface area of elephants, another had considered the decay rate of beer bubbles.

    Japanese researchers won an award for developing a device said to be able to translate dog barks.


    Yet another went to research into the asymmetry between left and right testicles in living men, as well as in paintings and ancient sculptures.

    "The left testicle always hangs lower, every medical doctor knows that," Dr Kruszelnicki said later, noting the study showed it had also been understood for centuries by artists.

    Dr Kruszelnicki's winning work centred on his Internet navel lint survey, which attracting 4799 responses.

    People were asked everything from their weight and whether their belly buttons faced in or out, to whether they used top- or front-loading washing machines.

    "Front-loaders are always gentler on clothes while top loaders knock out more fibres," he explained.

    People even sent in some of their belly button fluff to be examined.

    "We put some under an electron-microscope. Everything, no matter how boring, looks better under an electron-microscope."

    His conclusion? "The average generator of belly fluff is your slightly overweight, hairy middle-aged male."

    Slim, hairless women could also collect belly button fluff if they wore tight clothes.

    And navel lint tends to be blue, possibly because most clothing contains shades of that colour.

    Dr Kruszelnicki was presented with a set of wind-up chattering red teeth on a stick, which he will mount on his desk, and a certificate signed by three winners of the real Nobel Prize.

    "I was after their autographs ... and now I have them.

    "This validates what I am trying to do, present science to people in an interesting way, showing them the awe and wonder of the universe around."

    Indeed, the official Ig Nobel Web site notes that the awards "are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative - and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology".

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