A Pineapple for scientific curiosity

What is arguably the most bizarre science award in China once again paid its annual tribute to the spirit of curiosity.

Cat tongues are more efficient than brushes. Longer vacations mean a longer life. Even dinosaurs suffered from cervical spondylosis ... what is arguably the most bizarre science award in China once again paid its annual tribute to the spirit of curiosity.

“It’s a fantastic award because it celebrates not only science but curiosity in particular,” said Marcos Martinon-Torres, a professor from the University of Cambridge, who won a chemistry prize on Saturday. “Science is not always a straight path. You have to follow your curiosity. Sometimes you get lost and sometimes you discover the unexpected.”

Legend has it that ancient Chinese craftsmen had mastered advanced chromium metal coating technology so that the bronze swords unearthed from Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors pit were almost rustless.

But Marcos found it was the pit soil that functioned as a natural preservative due to its ph-value, small amounts of organic matter and fine granular structure.

China’s equivalent of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the US parody of the Nobel, the Pineapple award is given in fields including psychology, physics and biology. Ten awards were handed to global scientists who based their seemingly trivial findings on serious scientific activities.

David Hu and his team from the Georgia Institute of Technology won this year’s physics prize for “bringing a new dawn to the brush industry,” 10,000 years after the brush was invented.

Based on the research of tongues of six felines, Hu designed a highly efficient, detergent-saving brush that simulated the barbed microstructure of a cat tongue.

For as far back as medical records stretch, cervical spondylosis was thought to be a disease unique to bipedal human beings, born from the need to directly support the head on a cervical spine.

But Xing Lida, a professor from the China University of Geosciences, and his team of paleontologists from China, the United States and Japan found humans do not have a monopoly on cervical spondylosis. They detected cervical arthropathy from dinosaur fossils, winning them a Pineapple for biology.

First held in 2012 to honor imaginative research, the Pineapple award is co-sponsored by the Zhejiang Science Museum and Guokr, China’s leading popular science website. The award aims to arousing public enthusiasm for science among China’s young.

“Our goal is to make people see the beauty of science. We hope to help everyone get to know and understand science out of pure curiosity and bring out their love and respect for science,” said Xu Rui, official of the Zhejiang Science Museum.

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