Last night, scientists from around the world traveled (at their own expense!) to Harvard's iconic Sanders Theatre for the "23rd First Annual" Ig Nobel Awards – a ceremony created to recognize those achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.
Above: A dung beetle navigates via the Milky Way – image based on research awarded the joint prize in biology and astronomy
This year's ceremony was one of the best in years. As usual, there were actual Nobel laureates in attendance, handing out awards; a scientific theme that mandated the audience hoot and holler whenever it was mentioned (this year's theme/word: "force"); and an opera in four parts. This year's opera: The Blonsky Device, a tribute to George and Charlotte Blonsky, who, in the early '60s, invented a machine for “facilitating the birth of a child by centrifugal force.” (U.S. patent No. 3216423A, pictured at left. The Blonskys were awarded the 1999 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of Managed Health Care.) But what really stood out about this year's awards were the researchers. Not their research, mind you – which, by the very nature of the awards ceremony, is always entertaining – but the researchers themselves.
Here's the thing: every year, awardees are allotted just a few precious seconds to deliver an acceptance speech. If they run over time, a young girl (nicknamed "Miss Sweetie Poo") comes tromping across the stage to cut them off, by shouting "PLEASE STOP, I'M BORED."
For years, Miss Sweetie Poo has been a necessary and effective tactic. She keeps things moving, and prevents the scientists from droning on about their work, as scientists are wont to do. And while award recipients always accept Miss Sweetie Poo's presence with grace and good humor, it's not often they actively anticipate her arrival, going out of their way to a) deliver an acceptance speech within the allotted time, or b) make the speech entertaining and/or loud enough to drown out the sound of her complaints entirely.
This year's awardees really went above and beyond in this regard. The recipients of the Ig Nobel prize in medicine showed up dressed as rats, and blasted opera music through the theatre's speaker system. The recipients of the psychology prize brought along a guitar, and played on through Miss Sweetie Poo's protestations. The recipients of the joint prize in astronomy and biology came wielding giant yoga balls (to represent giant balls of dub) and bounced them in unison while singing the praises of "crappy" research. Pretty much everyone was in fine form.
Point being: It was another fantastic year for mad science at the Ig Nobels. If you're already familiar with the awards, but happened to miss this year's festivities, you'll definitely want to check out the video recording of the ceremonies, which we will post here the second they go live. Same goes for those who've never watched the Ig Nobels. You can also tune into NPR's Science Friday program the day after Thanksgiving for their annual broadcast of the event.
Here now is the full list of this year's winners!
The Medicine Prize
Above: Uchiyama, accompanied by Xiangyuan Jin and Masanori Niimi (dressed as heart-toting mice).
Awarded to: Masateru Uchiyama and colleagues for assessing the effect of listening to opera on heart transplant patients who are mice.
Reference: "Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells," Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, vol. 7, no. 26, epub. March 23, 2012.
The Psychology Prize
Above: Laurent Bègue accepts his group's award and serenades the audience.
Awarded to: Laurent Bègue and colleagues for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.
Reference: "'Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder': People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive," Laurent Bègue, Brad J. Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, Medhi Ourabah, British Journal of Psychology, epub May 15, 2012.
The Joint Biology/Astronomy Prize
Above: Dacke and her colleagues, dressed in safari hats and wielding giant dung-balls, educate the audience on the importance of crap-science.
Awarded to: Marie Dack and colleagues for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.
Reference: "Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation," Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.
The Safety Engineering Prize
Above: A diagram from Pizzo's patent.
Awarded to: The late Gustano Pizzo, for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers — the system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane's specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival.
Reference: US Patent #3811643, Gustano A. Pizzo, "anti hijacking system for aircraft", May 21, 1972.
The Physics Prize
Alberto Minetti and Yuri Ivanenko accept their group's Ig Nobel – the latter, notably, while wearing swim fins.
Awarded to: Alberto Minetti and colleagues, for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon.
Reference: "Humans Running in Place on Water at Simulated Reduced Gravity," Alberto E. Minetti, Yuri P. Ivanenko, Germana Cappellini, Nadia Dominici, Francesco Lacquaniti, PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 7, 2012, e37300.
Above: a figure from the awarded research paper.
The Chemistry Prize
Above: Imai and all six of his co-authors accept their Ig Nobel.
Awarded to: Shinsuke Imai and colleagues for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realized.
Reference: "Plant Biochemistry: An Onion Enzyme that Makes the Eyes Water," S. Imai, N. Tsuge, M. Tomotake, Y. Nagatome, H. Sawada, T. Nagata and H. Kumagai, Nature, vol. 419, no. 6908, October 2002, p. 685.
The Archaeology Prize
Above: Crandall, accepting his Ig Nobel/being excellent.
Awarded to: Brian Crandall and Peter Stahl, for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not.
Reference: "Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton," Peter W. Stahl and Brian D. Crandall, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 22, November 1995, pp. 789–97.
The Peace Prize
Above: Ig Nobel helping hands demonstrate the forbidden Belarusian art of one-hand-clapping.
Awarded to: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.
The Probability Prize
Above: Tolkamp recounts his long career in cow-studies, and the at-times frustrating nature of dealing with bovine research subjects.
Awarded to: Bert Tolkamp and colleagues, for making two related discoveries: First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and Second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.
Reference: "Are Cows More Likely to Lie Down the Longer They Stand?" Bert J. Tolkamp, Marie J. Haskell, Fritha M. Langford, David J. Roberts, Colin A. Morgan, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 124, nos. 1-2, 2010, pp. 1–10.
The Public Health Prize
Awarded to: Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, for the medical techniques described in their report "Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam" — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck.
Reference: "Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam," by Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde, American Journal of Surgery, 1983, no. 146, pp. 376-382.
In the words of Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies for the Igs and editor of “Annals of Improbable Research”: “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year!”