13 Sep Japanese dentist wins Ig Nobel for measuring children’s sal…
Measuring the saliva of 30 children, including his own three sons, finally paid off for a Japanese pediatric dentist in the form of an Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Shigeru Watanabe, 68, accepted the award, which parodies the Nobel Prize, on Sept. 12 at a ceremony at Harvard University in Boston.
The Ig Nobels, founded in 1991, honor achievements that make people laugh and then think. Japanese have taken home prizes for the last 13 years.
In 1995, a team led by Watanabe when he was an assistant professor at the Health Science University of Hokkaido released a paper titled “Salivary Flow Rates and Salivary Film Thickness in Five-year-old Children,” the product of four years of research.
Watanabe’s team had 30 kindergarten children aged 5 chew six kinds of foods, such as rice, apples and cookies, and spit in paper cups before swallowing to measure how much saliva they excreted.
It turned out to be 500 milliliters a day.
They arrived at the number by adding the amount of saliva excreted when eating, with how much saliva they excreted during sleep and resting.
The team had estimates that the daily figure for adults was 570 milliliters, but until then, no one had published data on the volume of children’s saliva.
“There’s a strong idea that small kids excrete a lot of saliva. But actually, since their salivary glands and mouths are small, they excrete less than adults,” the team wrote.
Watanabe said he was surprised to hear he was getting the award for work he published more than two decades ago.
“Maybe they found it interesting that researchers seriously collected saliva from 5-year-olds,” said Watanabe, who is currently a professor of pediatric dentistry at the School of Health Sciences in Meikai University in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture.
For researchers, saliva tends to rank below blood and even urine as a field of interest. Watanabe said he was drawn to study saliva because it plays a key role in protecting teeth.
At the Harvard ceremony, his three sons, now adults, had the audience in stitches when they joined him onstage to do a skit demonstrating their dad’s experiment. Following his instructions, they chowed down on bananas, chewing and spitting them out into paper cups.
“Whether they want to or not, parents have to deal with a large amount of the saliva their kids produce,” the host of the awards ceremony said, explaining why Watanabe was chosen for an Ig Nobel. “Watanabe could be the first parent to precisely measure it.”