Ig Nobel Prize

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A live frog is magnetically levitated, an experiment that earned Sir Andre Geim from the University of Nijmegen and Sir Michael Berry from University of Bristol the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in physics. Geim went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 for his work on graphene.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October for ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. The stated aim of the prizes is to "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." The awards are sometimes veiled criticism (or gentle satire), but are also used to point out that even the most absurd-sounding avenues of research can yield useful knowledge. Organized by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), they are presented by a group that includes Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University's Sanders Theater, and they are followed by a set of public lectures by the winners at MIT.[1]

The name is a play on the words ignoble ("characterized by baseness, lowness, or meanness") and the Nobel Prize. The pronunciation used during the ceremony is /ˌɪɡnˈbɛl/ IG-noh-BEL, not like the word "ignoble".

History[edit]

The first Ig Nobels were created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, editor and co-founder of the Annals of Improbable Research, and the master of ceremonies at all subsequent awards ceremonies. Awards were presented at that time for discoveries "that cannot, or should not, be reproduced". Ten prizes are awarded each year in many categories, including the Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but also other categories such as public health, engineering, biology, and interdisciplinary research. The Ig Nobel Prizes recognize genuine achievements, with the exception of three prizes awarded in the first year to fictitious scientists Josiah Carberry, Paul DeFanti, and Thomas Kyle.

The awards are sometimes veiled criticism (or gentle satire), as in the two awards given for homeopathy research, prizes in "science education" to the Kansas and Colorado state boards of education for their stance regarding the teaching of evolution, and the prize awarded to Social Text after the Sokal Affair. Most often, however, they draw attention to scientific articles that have some humorous or unexpected aspect. Examples range from the discovery that the presence of humans tends to sexually arouse ostriches, to the statement that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell, to research on the "five-second rule", a tongue-in-cheek belief that food dropped on the floor will not become contaminated if it is picked up within five seconds.

In 2010, Sir Andre Geim became the first person to receive both the Nobel and an individual Ig Nobel prize.[2][3]

Ceremony[edit]

The prizes are presented by genuine Nobel laureates, originally at a ceremony in a lecture hall at MIT but now in Sanders Theater at Harvard University. It contains a number of running jokes, including Miss Sweetie Poo, a little girl who repeatedly cries out, "Please stop: I'm bored," in a high-pitched voice if speakers go on too long.[4] The awards ceremony is traditionally closed with the words: "If you didn't win a prize — and especially if you did — better luck next year!"

The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, the Harvard–Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard–Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

Throwing paper airplanes onto the stage is a long-standing tradition at the Ig Nobels. In past years, physics professor Roy Glauber swept the stage clean of the airplanes as the official "Keeper of the Broom" for years. Glauber could not attend the 2005 awards – he was traveling to Stockholm to claim a genuine Nobel Prize in Physics.

The "Parade of Ignitaries" brings various supporting groups into the hall. At the 1997 ceremonies, a team of "cryogenic sex researchers" distributed a pamphlet titled "Safe Sex at Four Kelvin". Delegates from the Museum of Bad Art are often on hand to display some pieces from their collection, showing that bad art and bad science go hand in hand.

Outreach[edit]

The ceremony is recorded and broadcast on National Public Radio and is shown live over the Internet. The recording is broadcast every year, on the Friday after U.S. Thanksgiving, on the public radio program Science Friday. In recognition of this, the audience chants the first name of the radio show's host, Ira Flatow.

Two books have been published as of 3 September 2009 with write-ups on some of the winners: The Ig Nobel Prize (2002, US paperback ISBN 0-452-28573-9, UK paperback ISBN 0-7528-4261-7) and The Ig Nobel Prize 2 (2005, US hardcover ISBN 0-525-94912-7, UK hardcover ISBN 0-7528-6461-0), which was later retitled The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself (ISBN 0-452-28772-3).

An Ig Nobel Tour has been an annual part of National Science week in the United Kingdom since 2003.[5] The tour has also traveled to Australia several times, Aarhus University in Denmark in April 2009, Italy and The Netherlands.

Reception[edit]

A September 2009 article in The National, titled "A noble side to Ig Nobels," says that although the Ig Nobel Awards are veiled criticism of trivial research, history shows that trivial research sometimes leads to important breakthroughs.[6] For instance, in 2006 a study showing that one of the malaria mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae) is attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese and the smell of human feet[7] earned the Ig Nobel Prize in the area of biology. As a direct result of these findings, traps baited with this cheese have been utilized in strategic locations in some parts of Africa to combat the epidemic of malaria.[8][9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Abrahams, Marc (12 September 2012). "The Greatest Hits of Weird Science; What the Oscars could learn from the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.". Slate.com. 
  2. ^ Overbye, Dennis (October 5, 2010). "Physics Nobel Honors Work on Ultra-Thin Carbon". New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Ig Nobel announcement about Geim". Improbable.com. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  4. ^ Moeliker, Kees (2005-10-11). "The Guardian: "Infinity and so much more"". London: Education.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  5. ^ "UK Tour". 
  6. ^ Robert Matthews. ""A Noble Side to the Ig Nobels," The National, September 26, 2009". Thenational.ae. Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  7. ^ Knols BG (November 1996). "On human odour, malaria mosquitoes, and Limburger". Lancet 348 (9037): 1322. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)65812-6. PMID 8909415. 
  8. ^ "Ig Nobel Prize list of past winners". Improbable.com. Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  9. ^ Knols, B. G. J.; R. De Jong, R. (April 1996). "Limburger cheese as an attractant for the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae s.s.". Parasitology Today 12 (4): 159–161. doi:10.1016/0169-4758(96)10002-8. 

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