Let's say you want to get your sheep from point A in front of the barn to point B behind the barn and you want to do it as easily as possible. Would research indicate that you should drag the sheep the shorter distance, through the barn over slanted boards running perpendicular to the animal, or will it be easier to drag the sheep around the barn over flat, smooth dirt?
Really, it happens. And the researchers who studied it even earned a prize.
Forget the Nobels; when you're studying topics like sheep dragging, you might win an Ig Nobel, awards for research that "has done something that first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK", says sponsor The Annals of Improbable Research. This year's award winners include everything from a report stating that chickens prefer attractive humans, a study that determined London's cab drivers have more developed brains than the rest of the populace, and a chemical investigation of why a certain bronze statue failed to attract pigeons.
For the ergonomist, however, none of the prize winning research could be more interesting than An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep Over Various Surfaces. Conducted by a team of researchers in Australia, the study looked at wood surfaces, plastic surfaces and wire mesh and the slopes of shearing shed floors to determine the surface type that requires the least expenditure of force on the shearer's part. The team, represented by John Culvenor who grew up on a farm and watched workers get hurt while dragging and shearing sheep, picked up their Ig Nobel at an awards ceremony last week at Harvard.
Incidentally, for anyone who wants to know the best way to get that sheep from point A to point B, Culvenor and researchers found that dragging a sheep across a sloping wood floor with the boards running parallel to the direction of the drag required the least amount of force. The cost of the modifications necessary to create this type of floor surface, said the researchers, should be justifiable because of the 15 percent decrease in the amount force required to drag the sheep and the subsequent lower risk of injury for the worker.
Sources: Wired News; HotAIR (website of Annals of Improbable Research)