The IgNobel Prizes, intended as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to their official counterparts, were presented by genuine Nobel prizewinners in the US late on Thursday.

Ivan Schwab and Philip May of the University of California were awarded the ornithology prize for their pioneering work on the ability of the woodpecker to avoid head injury.

Wasmia Al-Houty of Kuwait University and Faten Al-Mussalam of the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, took home the nutrition prize for showing that dung beetles are fussy eaters.

"The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative - and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which sponsors the awards.

The winners were given one minute to deliver their acceptance speech, with the time limit strictly policed by an outspoken eight-year-old girl.
 
The evening, despite attempts to curb the tradition, involved members of the audience throwing paper aeroplanes at the stage while a Harvard professor, Roy Glauber, dutifully swept up, as he has done for the last 10 years.

Glauber insisted on retaining his sweeping duties for the 16th annual ceremony this year, despite becoming a Nobel physics laureate last year.

Teenage repellant

Despite the ceremony's irreverent tone, the awards are taken increasingly seriously in the scientific community, with eight of the 10 winners this year paying their own way to attend the ceremony.

One of those unable to attend the ceremony for family reasons was Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, who was awarded the peace prize for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant.

The device makes an annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults.

He has also used the same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers.

Cheesed off

Three US scientists -  Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand - were awarded the acoustics prize for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

The maths prize went to two researchers from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation who worked out how many photos you need to take to ensure that nobody in a group photo has their eyes closed.

Not to be overlooked, Francis Fesmire of the University of Tennessee accepted the medicine Ig in person for his report "Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage".

Physics laureates Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of Paris University were honoured for their insights into why dry spaghetti tends to break into more than two pieces.

The results of study by the University of Valencia and the University of Illes Balears in Spain were not immediately clear, however, the judges deemed their study "Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature" worthy of the chemistry prize.

Also honoured for cheese research, Bart Knols from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands won the biology award for his part in research showing that female malaria mosquito are equally attracted to limburger cheese and human feet.

Annals of Improbable Research