South African Wits University associate professor Marcus Byrne and his Swedish colleagues who dressed up dung beetles in specially designed caps and boots as part of their research have been honoured with the world’s wackiest scientific award: an Ig Nobel Prize.
Byrne will attend next month's ScienceTeller – the biennial international festival celebrating storytelling and science communication in Dunedin, New Zealand from 25-27 October, 2013.
Byrne and his Lund University colleagues accepted their prize at a colourful 23rd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize awards ceremony at Harvard University, USA on 12 September, joining the illustrious and often eccentric ranks of winners who’ve been recognised since 1991 for conducting research that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think.
The research by Byrne and his team, which won the 2013 award for biology and astronomy, involved dressing the dung beetles in designer gear to help prove these insects use the Milky Way to orientate themselves, and that they climb on top of their dung balls to cool their bodies as they roll the ball away from competitors at the dung pile.
The experiments were conducted under the simulated night sky of the Wits Planetarium and the results were published in January. Bryne believes that science is the best method we have yet devised to sensibly describe and interpret the universe we live in, and festivals like ScienceTeller are important.
“ScienceTeller is one way to get across what is so. And, to do it in a way that is fun and attractive, so that we can be coaxed to examine our own world view and decide if science offers something closer to the truth, compared to its many alternatives,” he says. Festival Director Phil Bishop says Marcus Byrne will bring a different dimension to the festival, with his hands-on experience of working with the public through his science outreach programme and research. “He will be of interest to anyone who is a science communicator, teacher or scientist - we are thrilled to have Marcus Byrne in Dunedin as part of our ScienceTeller Festival.” Associate Professor Marcus Byrne teaches zoology and entomology at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa.
His research interests revolve around the use of insects for biological control; which includes dung beetles. He also coordinates an annual Science outreach exhibition called “Yebo Gogga”, which, in a mishmash of languages, means “hello insect”.
The exhibition has grown into a collection of animal and plant awareness displays aimed at the general public, and which attracts around 5000 visitors over six days each year. The key to its success is hands-on, face-to-face encounters with animals and plants, hosted by a student “expert”.
The biennial festival is generously supported by a number of sponsors – including founding sponsor, the University of Otago, in partnership with NHNZ and Otago Museum, and a number of other sponsors, funding partners and volunteers. Without their support this festival would not be possible. Byrne will give a talk as part of the SciTell series, “Dirty Dancing – Dung Beetle Celestial Orientation” on Saturday 26 October, 5pm. He will also give a presentation as part of ScienceTeller Festival on Sunday the 27th October 12.00 midday with “Joe Public meets the Gibby Gabbies – using insects for public awareness of science.” Both talks are being held at the Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum, Dunedin.
Delegate registrations are now available at www.scienceteller.com with a full programme online. Details regarding availability and entry costs for members of the public, to be made shortly.