Japan is a world leader in scientific research and has many awards to show for it. Perhaps that’s why it’s a frequent winner of the coveted and prestigious Ig Nobel Prize.
That’s right, the Ig Nobel Prize. Unlike it’s less-well-known cousin, the Nobel Prize, the Ig Nobel prize honors achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The awards are sometimes veiled criticism (or gentle satire), but are also used to point out that even the most absurd-sounding avenues of research can yield useful knowledge. Japan is a regular winner, and this year was no exception. Japanese researchers have finally unlocked the secret behind why and how we slip on banana peels.
A Japanese team, led by Prof. Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Kitasato University in Kanagawa prefecture, rubbed shoe soles over a variety of fruits and directly on linoleum flooring. They found that the friction between a shoe and a banana peel was one-sixth the level of the friction when the shoe touched the floor directly. Banana-peel friction was about half the level of a two-millimeter-thick apple peel. The paper, “Frictional Coefficient Under Banana Skin,” was published in a journal of the Japanese Society of Tribologists called Tribology Online. (Tribology is the science of rubbing surfaces.)
Previous winners include a prize in 2012, when Japanese researchers determined the enzyme that causes people to cry when they cut onions. In 2011, Japan also won a prize for a silent smoke alarm that releases a mist of pungent wasabi oil that will wake up people nearby in case of fire or a related emergency. This alarm is no joke - useful for the hearing impaired, since April of 2009, several Japanese manufacturers have brought silent wasabi smoke and fire alarms to the retail market, recommending them for use in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels and private homes.
Past Japanese winners include Ig Nobel prizes for:
Biodiversity – Presented for discovering the fossils of dinosaurs, horses, dragons, and more than one thousand other extinct "mini-species", each of which is less than 0.25 mm in length. (1996)
Biology – Presented for measuring people's brainwave patterns while they chewed different flavors of gum. (1997)
Economics – Presented for diverting millions of man-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets. (1997)
Chemistry – Presented for an infidelity detection spray that wives can apply to their husbands’ underwear. (1999).
Peace – Presented for promoting peace and harmony between the species by inventing Bow-Lingual, a computer-based automatic dog-to-human language translation device. (2002)
Peace – Presented for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other. (2004).
Nutrition – Presented to Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu of Tokyo, Japan, for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years (and counting) (2005).
Linguistics — Presented for determining that rats sometimes can't distinguish between recordings of Japanese and Dutch played backward. (2007).
Biology — Presented for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas. (2009).
Transportation Planning — Presented for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks. (2009)
Apparently there is another award that is called the "Nobel Prize", and Japan does pretty well at that too, of course. Japan has won 18 Nobel prizes: 15 in the scientific fields of chemistry, physics and medicine (including seven in chemistry), two in literature and one “Nobel Peace Prize,” whatever that is.