The Kooky Side of Science
The Ig Nobel awards celebrate some unusual scientific "achievements"
The Ig Nobel prize is awarded to scientists whose discoveries and inventions “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
(AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
The Nobel Prizes are among the world’s highest honors. The awards are given to scientists, mathematicians, scholars, authors, and activists who have changed the world with their work. But scientific and intellectual breakthroughs can be fun as well as informative. These are the accomplishments that receive the Ig Nobel Prizes.
On September 20, Harvard University hosted the 22nd First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes. (The name is a play on the word “ignoble", meaning the opposite of noble.) In front of a crowd of curious onlookers, actual Nobel winners handed out 10 Ig Nobels celebrating weird and humorous achievements.
What makes something worthy of an Ig Nobel? It’s simple, according to Improbable Research, the organization that launched the Ig Nobels in 1991. All people need to do is come up with discoveries or inventions that “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” the group says on its website.
This year, Johan Pettersson took home the chemistry prize for a study that explained why people’s hair turned green in newly built houses in a town in southern Sweden. It turns out that hot showers with water from copper pipes were behind the mystery.
Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, and Tulio Guadalupe were honored with the Ig Nobel Prize in psychology. They proved that leaning to the left while gazing upon the Eiffel Tower in Paris makes the historic structure appear smaller.
The neuroscience prize was awarded to Craig Bennett and a team of researchers. They found that by using “complicated instruments and simple statistics,” scientists can detect brain activity in pretty much anything—including the brain of a dead Atlantic salmon.
Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada of Japan came away with the prize in acoustics for inventing the SpeechJammer. (Acoustics is the science relating to sound.) The SpeechJammer is a device that looks like a big radar gun with a small microphone and sensor chip mounted on top. It can quiet an overly talkative person by replaying his or her speech after a brief delay.
The Ig Nobel Prizes might seem silly. But many of the winners view the award as a glowing achievement in their careers. Kurihara told the magazine Laboratory Equipment that “Winning an Ig Nobel has been my dream as a mad scientist!”