Tea bags three prizes for bizarre research

October 1, 1999

Britain triumphed in the 1999 Ig Nobels, the spoof awards, with three prizewinners honoured for academic celebration of the national obsession with tea.

The humorous science journal Annals of Improbable Research awards the Igs for research that "cannot or should not be reproduced" - genuine work whose bizarre nature sets it apart.

This year the United Kingdom recorded its best showing. Leading the way was the British Standards Institution, which took the prize for literature for its six-page specification of the correct way to make a cup of tea.

The physics prize was shared by two academics based at British universities: Len Fisher (Bath University) for calculating the optimal dunk time for a digestive biscuit and Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck (University of East Anglia) for designing a teapot spout that does not drip.

Dr Fisher and Reginald Blake, the BSI's manager of regulatory affairs, attended the prize ceremony at Harvard University. Dr Fisher, whose research was a deliberate exercise in popular science communication, said: "I'm honoured. One way to make science accessible is to talk about the science of the familiar."

Jeff Henriksen, a colleague of Mr Blake at the BSI, said the detailed technique to make a perfect cup of tea had been drawn up by British experts so that the industry had a precise standard against which to judge its different products.

However, Professor Vanden-

Broeck, whose research into fluid mechanics had shown the way pressure differences around a spout can cause tea to trickle back towards the pot, was not amused by his nomination.

The Kansas Board of Education was given the science education award for ruling that children should not be taught the theory of evolution. The board failed to send a representative to the ceremony.

The Nobel prizes will be announced in just over a week.

The Ig Nobel website is at http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-top.html

FANCY A CUPPA?

BS-6008-1980 ISO 3103-1980: Preparation of a Liquor of Tea for Use in Sensory Tests (heavily abridged)

Principle: Extraction of soluble substances in dried tea leaf,

contained in a

porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water. With or without milk.

1: Weigh, to an accuracy of plus/minus 2%, a mass of tea corresponding to 2g of tea per 100ml of liquor and transfer to the pot.

2: Fill the pot containing the tea with freshly boiling water to within 4mm 6mm of the brim (ie, corresponding approximately to 285ml in the case of the large pot and 140ml in the case of the small pot) and put on the lid.

3: Allow the tea to brew for 6 minutes.

4: Pour milk free from any flavour into the bowl, using approximately 5ml for the large bowl and 2.5ml for the small bowl.

5: Holding the lid in place so the infused tea is held back, pour the liquid through the serrations into the bowl. Experience has shown that the best results are obtained when the temperature of the liquor is in the range 80 85°C when the milk is added.

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