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Ig Nobels Celebrate Nutty Accomplishments

7 October 2005 (All day)
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"Wars" and peace. The Peace Ig Nobel was awarded to work on a locust neuron that recognizes Darth Vader.

Artificial dog testicles and a mathematical study of how penguins poop collected two of 10 Ig Nobel Prizes last night at a ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The awards gala, sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, showcased scientific accomplishments "that cannot or should not be reproduced." Real Nobel Laureates handed out each award--a solid blue prism printed with the words "Ig Nobel Prize." In a coup for the Antipodes, fully half of the honors went to researchers from Australia or New Zealand.

John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland won the physics prize for patience: Since 1927, the team (and helpers) has monitored one drop of sticky black pitch dripping through a funnel every 9 years to demonstrate that seemingly solid pitch is actually a liquid. Edward Cussler and Brian Gettelfinger of the universities of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Wisconsin, Madison, respectively, captured the chemistry award for determining that people can swim as fast in guar gum syrup as in water. And the Economics prize recognized Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad student Gauri Nanda for designing a clock that runs away when an oversleeper hits the snooze button. She denied that her motivation was awakening lazy workers, saying, "I just wanted them to have something to laugh at in the morning."

A team from Germany, Finland, and Hungary, who calculated that penguins build up over 8 times the amount intestinal pressure humans do to expel excrement 40 centimeters away from their nests, could not obtain visas to receive their Fluid Dynamics prize in person. "Let's hope it had nothing to do with the explosive nature of our work," they had planned to say in a videotaped acceptance speech. But adding to their roadblocks, technical troubles interfered with the showing of the tape.

On the bright side, the flying paper airplane-riddled ceremony lost its "official keeper of the mop who will sweep the detritus off the stage" when mop-wrangler Roy Glauber won a real Nobel Prize (ScienceNow 4 October) and wasn't able to attend.

An international team earned the Biology prize for their work identifying the peculiar odors exuded by 131 species of stressed-out frogs, while Medicine went to the inventor of Neuticles: fake dog testicles that have been surgically implanted into more than 150,000 neutered dogs in 47 countries.

And the Peace prize went to researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom who found the one neuron in locusts that responds to Star Wars scenes featuring Darth Vader.

Related sites
The Ig Nobel Web site
Pitch drop experiment
Pooping penguin
More on swimming in syrup
The fleeing clock

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