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Awards Highlight Wacky, But Useful, Research

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Each October, a science humor magazine called The Annals of Improbable Research gently spoofs the Nobel Foundation by presenting "Ig Nobel" prizes to scientific research projects with dubious merit.

The internationally acclaimed awards ceremony is famously silly. Attendees must rise from their seats to venerate the King and Queen of Swedish Meatballs. But the research is real, and honored recipients serve as proof that even the oddest university lab work might someday matter to the economy. So here's a sampling of some of the 2009 Ig Nobel winners, and why you should care about what they've done.

: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman dons a bra that doubles as a gas mask.

The Chemistry Prize: Three scientists from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico earned this honor by "creating diamonds from liquid - specifically from tequila."

Why you should care: The scientists created diamonds in the form of thin films -- very thin layers of material used in semiconductors, microelectronic magnetic systems and, more recently, batteries. Thin-film diamonds are a big deal because diamonds are resilient and virtually impossible to scratch. Japanese steel maker Kobe Steel is among the companies that have researched thin film diamonds for practical use.

The prizewinning scientists say they need to do more research before they look for business funding. They also acknowledge that diamond films can be produced using other liquids, such as water. However, "tequila is better," says Javier Morales, a graduate student who accepted his Ig Nobel prize wearing a giant sombrero.

The Biology Prize: This award went to several scientists from Japan's Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences for "demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas."

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