Readers of this blog will probably be aware of the high esteem/newsworthiness in which bananas (edible fruits, botanically a berry – a new snippet of information to me! – produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa) are regarded. Well, in keeping with that musan leitmotif, here’s another banana-themed item. At the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony in 2014, Kiyoshi Mabuchi et al. were suitably rewarded for their work investigating ‘why bananas are slippery’. Before this revelation elicits the anticipated “Eh? What?! They gave a prize for that??” reaction it should be pointed out that the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements that make people laugh, but then think. In this case the Japanese tribologists’ work not only showed why banana skins are so hazardous (the comedic value of people slipping on discarded banana ‘skins’ has been known for generations), but also why apple and tangerine peel are not so ‘dangerous’. OK, so much for the ‘laugh’, what about the ‘thinking’? The team is interested in how friction and lubrication affect the movement of human limbs. The polysaccharide follicular gels that give banana skins their slippery properties are also found in the membranes in our own bodies where our bones meet and it is hoped that the botanical work will ultimately help in the development of a joint prosthesis. Banana research, going out on a limb?
[Ig Nobel Prizes (administered by Improbable Research) should not be confused with the more prestigious Nobel Prizes, whose list of prize-winners for 2014 didn’t include any banana-related research (so far as one could tell!). It is, however, noteworthy that Ig Nobels are presented for work done relatively recently; work that earns a ‘proper Nobel’ often takes years for it to be recognised. We would be interested to hear of any Ig Nobel Prize-winners who have gone on to win a Nobel Prize for their ‘ignoble’ work. Who’d have the last laugh then? Something to think about! – Ed.]